GCRTA Launches Transit Ambassador Program to Improve Community Engagement


CLEVELAND, Ohio — Residents of northeast Ohio riding public transportation in Greater Cleveland will begin to see teams of red-jacketed “ambassadors.” On Tuesday, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) announced the launch of a transit ambassador program.

“This was born out of conversations to be able to create a safe environment and maintain that safe environment, not only for our customers but also for our staff,” RTA CEO India Birdsong said at a press conference announcing the ‘initiative.

When fully staffed, 10 unarmed ambassadors will work in shifts at stations and on the RTA’s HealthLine. Four other licensed social workers will accompany transit police as crisis intervention specialists to help defuse crises, conduct mental health and addictions outreach and build relationships with law enforcement agencies. social services.

“Their focus is on customer service while reducing the law enforcement footprint on the system,” explained RTA Transit Police Chief Dierdre Jones.

Ambassadors will be responsible for helping riders navigate the system, providing general information and maintaining a clean environment. Additionally, RTA executives said teams would help customers “understand and comply” with fare policies and contact transit police for assistance if needed.

The initiative follows a 2017 Cleveland City Court ruling that the transit system’s fare inspection methods were unconstitutional. Prior to this time, RTA Transit police officers had arrested some customers and demanded to inspect transit passes. A judge said the practice violated customers’ 4th Amendment rights protecting them from unreasonable search and seizure.

Following the ruling, drivers became responsible for checking fares, which some say led to backups while passengers boarded buses.

“We’d like to see that responsibility taken away from the operator and distributed to these transit ambassadors to help make it a more seamless, elegant and frictionless experience for riders,” said Robert Winn, a volunteer with Clevelanders for Public Transit (PTC).

The organization advocated changes to alleviate delays and slow service. Winn and others believe the RTA’s ambassador program fails to address one of cyclists’ top concerns.

“We’re excited to see crisis intervention specialists, we’re excited to see transit ambassadors, but we think they have the potential to do more – in terms of improving the passenger experience,” he said. “Ideally, we would see Transit Ambassadors help restore all-door boarding and help expedite that process of boarding and paying fares.”

At Tuesday’s press conference, RTA executives said its new ambassadors will not inspect fares, but will have “de-escalation conversations” with customers who have not paid. They said the system is the process of determining how to effectively operate all-door boarding.

A recent survey of GCRTA runners found that fixed-route bus riders cite bus punctuality, cleanliness, and safety as the most important factors. RTA leaders hope the addition of ambassadors will address all three areas. CPT advocates said it was a step in the right direction.

“All of the additional wayfinding customer service and crisis response is a net positive, but all of the onboarding and proof of payment is something we’d really like to see,” Winn explained.

Initially, Transit Ambassador teams will operate at stations and on the RTA HealthLine in 2 shifts. Eventually, the RTA plans to expand the program to other locations and routes.

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