Jameson Auten, Deputy CEO and Chief Operating Officer of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, understands that innovation is a trial and error process, and that things will get messier before they get better, but keeping your eye on the outcome, not the process, is the key to success.
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Cohen: Josh Cohen
Jensen: L’erin Jensen
Auten: Jameson Auten
Jensen: As Deputy CEO and Chief Operating Officer of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, Jameson Auten is no stranger to innovation in transit with the agency being one of the first in the nation to offer zero-fare service. But if Auten has learned anything during his career in transit it’s that innovation isn’t doing something just to do something. You’ve got to ask, “How can we make it better?” coming up on The Movement podcast. Let’s go.
F: The freedom of movement to access jobs, education, and social activities is a fundamental human right, but that freedom is not distributed equitably, undermining our ability to create vibrant and sustainable communities for all. Welcome to The Movement where we talk with the leaders who are reshaping their communities with brave decisions, inspired advocacy, and a stubborn unwillingness to accept the status quo all in an effort to inspire the next generation of leaders. Here are your hosts Josh Cohen and L’erin Jensen.
Jensen: Our guest today is Jameson Auten, the Deputy CEO and Chief Operating Officer at the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority where he has served in various roles since 2012.
Cohen: I first met Jameson in 2016 at an APTA Mobility Management Committee meeting, and then Jameson graciously hosted me on a visit to Kansas City to help me understand some of the innovative projects they’ve done to help achieve their mission of connecting people to opportunities.
Jensen: And Jameson was a key mentor in the career of one of our TransLoc colleagues, Tyler Means, who joined TransLoc a few years ago from KCATA. So thank you for sharing Tyler with us, and thanks for joining us on The Movement podcast. I want to start of, Jameson, by just kind of finding out what inspired you to dedicate your career to public transit.
Auten: Sure. Good morning, and thanks for having me here. And, you know, you all are welcome to keep Tyler.
Auten: We love Tyler to death, but he’s doing great things over there, and it’s awesome. It’s—
Jensen: We appreciate it. [LAUGHTER]
Auten: Yeah. So, you know what? I got into transportation by an accident. I hadn’t even thought about it, not one bit. I didn’t wake up and decide to go to college and pursue a degree in planning. I didn’t do any of that. My wife and I ended up moving to Richmond, Virginia. And we were starting a family early. And I was in the middle of a job search, and 9/11 happened. And, you know, everything kind of froze from then as the country tried to figure out what was going to, you know, how we were going to move forward. And I ended up taking a paid internship with the Greater Richmond Transit Company.
And it was odd to be, because my family—I come from a family of truck drivers. And I swore I was never going to do anything with a truck, no way no how; didn’t want to do it. “I’m going to college.” Went to college and I ended up playing with buses. [LAUGHTER] So I tell them, “I’m not in trucks; I’m in buses.” But in that internship it was pretty cool, and it really wasn’t bus related so much, it was really TDM, transportation demand management. So that’s where I kind of broke my—you know, cut my teeth, in that space. And TDM is really all about, you know, connecting—right—that whole ecosystem of transportation and encouraging people to get out of their car and stop driving alone and, you know, ride a bike, use a sidewalk, use a bus, vanpool, carpool, telework even. So that’s what I learned; I learned that whole spectrum. But the agency I was a part of was connected to the bus system, the transit system. So one day my boss at the time—his name is John Lewis; he’s a CEO in Charlotte right now.
Cohen: Sure. Yeah.
Auten: Yeah. He walked into my office and he said, “You need some operational experience, so I’m going to have you head up our paratransit system. And you need to learn it quick because in six months we’re bringing it in-house.” So that’s how I got into the transportation side, the purely transportation side of transportation and learned paratransit. We brought it in-house. It was a complete and total mess. And I got—you know, we got it fixed in a few weeks, and that’s not uncommon for when you’re bringing service in-house from contractors, but that kind—that experience taught me that, you know, things are going to get messier before they get better. And, you know, we had run that service with a contractor, and their on-time performance was about 88%, 89%. After a few months of getting things outlined and us really getting our feet on the ground, we were running at 92% and 93% and 94% on time, which is a huge difference. I mean, those couple percentage points are a huge difference.
So I’ve kind of learned that things get better; they get messy, then they get better, as long as you keep your eye on the outcomes. And it’s been a fun time in transportation. And from there I really got—that’s when I really got into it. That’s when the bug hit me, that, “You know what? There is a long runway in this industry,” and, you know, you get to impact people. So if you think about the number of people that a bus driver gets to interact with in a day on any route—it could be a short route, long route, doesn’t even matter—if a police officer interacted with that many people in the same amount of hours or a fireman interacted with that many people in the same amount of hours, that’s a bad day.
Auten: I mean, think about that. That is a bad day. So we have the opportunity to interact with a ton of people, and whether we’re the lifeline to where they need to go or whether they’re a choice rider or whether they’re just new to a city and trying to check it out by way of bus, we get to interact them and positively impact each and every day. And, I think, you know, that’s the big reason now why I’m in transportation, is because of that. You know, that’s it right there, is that, you know, we get to touch people. So it’s been a fun ride. Looking forward to seeing where it goes next.
Cohen: Wow. I’m always interested in inflection points. Right? And the inflection point you just shared there was John Lewis walking in and saying, “Hey, I want you to work on paratransit.” That seems like that’s a big ask—right—to someone who maybe didn’t have a ton of operational experience. Maybe he knew you had that in your blood, maybe that logistics experience perhaps. But, I mean, you know, tell me about that, those early days where you were having to navigate something that was fairly new to you.
Auten: Oh, my God. It was—I think that’s where my hair went. [LAUGHTER] You know, I think I left my hair there. You know, the ironic thing of it all—and I’m not a superstitious person—I accepted that job; my start day was April one. So joke was on me. Right? April Fools’ Day; joke was on me. But, you know, we dealt with fires. We dealt with fires. And, you know, what was running through my mind is two things, “Are we going to fail?” and then the quick answer was, “No, we’re just going to power through whatever we need to power through,” but also in that process, you know, I remember calling John. I remain good friends with him today.
I remember calling John and saying, “Hey, I’m sorry.” And he goes, “What do you mean you’re sorry?” I said, “Well, you know, we have all these customer complaints; we’re talking about this at the board. You know, we may make the paper.” And he said, “Knock it off.” He said, “You know, this is what happens. Paratransit is a hard, messy operation that we try to smooth out so the customer doesn’t see all the gyrations that happen on the backend. That’s our job, but it’s the reality that this is the business. And we are going to have times when we fall down. We’re going to pick ourselves up, and we’re going to come in every day and dedicate ourselves to the customer. So get off the phone. Stop apologizing and get to work.”
Auten: And that crystalized it for me clearly that, you know, the work that we do is hard work, but, you know, that’s what we do. The upside to it all, you know, from an asset based accounting, really, is that it adds so much to the positive ledger, to people’s lives. You think about the person that’s using traditional paratransit; they’ve got to know what they want to do the day before. They’ve got to book their reservations, then they’ve got usually a pickup window, and then with Kansas City it’s 30 minutes. So how are they working like I am you with you right now? You know, if I’m in the window, in my pickup window, I’m looking for the vehicle because it’s going to leave me if I’m not there. So, you know, looking at how do we deliver that service, try to make it better, try to make it where it can impact people’s lives positively, you know, that’s what was weighing on not just me but the whole team. The whole team understood that that was what the, you know, that’s kind of what the weight was on the shoulders of getting it right versus not getting it right, was really someone’s ability to live their life the way we do. And that’s a heavy weight.
But, you know, we powered through it, and we made some quick changes. You know, we swallowed pride and called the contractor back and said, “Hey, we’re having this issue and that issue.” And they said, “Hey, here’s what you do.” You know? And from that lesson, you know, your contractors can be partners even after the transactional relationship is over. So I think that’s the other unique part of transportation, the transportation family, is that this industry is willing to share, and we were able to leverage that as well. But, yeah, those early days were a little bit nail-biting. There was no operational experience at all. The team under me had plenty of it.
Cohen: Yeah. Yeah.
Auten: And we were able to harness them and get things righted quickly. No one got fired, so there’s the happy ending.
Cohen: Yeah. Yeah. Wow. It sounds like John did some good work there to help you get in the right frame of mind to understand how to better serve the needs of the community there.
Auten: Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely.
Cohen: Well, let’s chat a little bit. I want to—you know, when I first got connected with you it was you were doing some work around innovation at KCATA. And I’m really—you know, this time in transportation over the course of the last, I mean, especially five to—probably the last five to 10 years has just been, you know, innovation has been this big part of this. Right? So I’m curious what innovation means to you and how you define success with some of the innovative projects that have been on your plate or that you’ve spearheaded over your time at KCATA.
Auten: Sure. I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not just doing something to do something. It’s not willy-nilly, you know, taking a bunch of public funds and investing them in a project that you don’t have a clear understanding of. What it is, to me, is looking at ways where we can improve a system or a service so that it has positive impacts, whether that is providing access to work or education or healthcare or whatever, housing, or whatever. That’s what innovation is to me, “How can we do it better?” We can use the word “efficiently.” Sometimes it’s not about cost. Some services based on the areas where they need to be delivered, the cost of the service is going to fluctuate based on how you design it, but it’s really what gets the job done. And sometimes those costs are different.
KCATA has been a little different from the rest of the industry in that we kind of got out there earlier. We had some leadership change here, and you’re going to make me talk about Bridj, so I’m just going to do it on my own. [LAUGHS] We had some leadership change here back in 2014, ’15, and then again in ’16. But in about ’15 we started saying, you know, “Is this the right model?” We started questioning not only the service models but as an organization. So, as an organization, you know, we’re the regional transit authority here in Kansas City. We’ve got seven counties that we serve; three of them are in Kansas, and four of them are in Missouri, very different demographics, very different use of land space. You’ve seen it yourself. Where I sit now, very dense, high capacity vehicles. You get out into the other parts of our service area and there’s a whole different mindset and whole different vehicle approach, service approach.
So we looked at that, and we looked at the fact that there are five different transportation providers in the city, each of them all distinct, and there were different maps, different fares, different schedules, different call centers and rules. So one of the early things we did was we all cobranded under the RideKC brand. So from the customer perspective, you’ve got one RideKC. We’ve got integrated maps, so there’s one map; there’s one fare. So we cleaned all that up. On the backend there’s a whole bunch of different costs and revenue sharing deals and stuff that, you know, again, you know, the public doesn’t need to see that. That’s our job, to make that work. So we did that, but then we also looked at our answer to equation.
So our answer to any equation was 40-foot bus. You know? “You’re a small town with low densities; what’s our answer? Forty-foot bus.” “You’re an urban core, high densities; what’s our answer? Forty-foot bus.” So no matter what, it was a 40-foot bus. So then we started questioning how do we deliver service differently, and we landed on microtransit. So we were very early on the microtransit project. We did that with a company called Bridj. You can go and look it up. We learned a lot from it. We learned that there was actually a market for it. We learned that we did not market it to that market right. We learned that our projections on ridership were nowhere near what they ended up being. Go back to that marketing, what we learned from marketing, and we ascertained that that was the big reason why. So the bottom line was the people that loved the service—the people that rode the service loved it; the problem was it was about 16 of them.
Auten: So after a year we did about just under 1,200 trips, I think, 1,100 trips, and then we took what we learned and we applied that to a Freedom On-Demand model which is an on-demand, TNC-like service using our taxi partners that was focused on our fare transit users. Again, you asked about innovation; so there it is there. Now our people who use paratransit have an opportunity to do same-day trips. The cost is a little different. It’s about five dollars a mile, but it enables us to provide a more flexible service, a service that’s more in tune with how people live versus a traditional paratransit service. And we still have the traditional service as well.
Around that time we also made fare free for folks that qualified for fare transit. So we really gave them a range of options; you could ride the bus for free; you could ride paratransit; or you could ride the premium service, our Freedom On-Demand, TNC-like service. So that’s what we did. And the goal for those projects for Bridj was to learn. I mean, it was really to learn about this new service, and that happened. So when we measure it in terms of ridership, failure; when we measure it in terms of what we gleaned from it and applied to our future services for Freedom On-Demand, we did that well. That flourishes today, three years in and still going strong.
But then our partners in Johnson County pulled out the microtransit card again, and we did that project—we’re doing that project with you all, and Johnson County is really the group that’s contracted with. We help from an on-street, kind of Q&A standpoint. And we were able to help inform that project. And, of course, Tyler knew all about Bridj as well. And that microtransit project, as you know, is highly successful, a model for, in my opinion, for the rest of the country in that Johnson County has 40-foot buses where they’re required.
Auten: They’re looking to expand microtransit through the rest of the county because that’s what their people, their population will use, and they’re using it. And they’re able to market it right, along with TransLoc and able to reach the customers who are using it. That program is going extremely well. So the biggest takeaway that I have from innovation was have a plan and if it fails, fail fast and move forward; learn what you can learn, apply it to the next, and keep going. As long as we’re positively impacting lives, it’s great. And I’ll be quiet here in one second, but one of the proudest moments for me was going in front of our board and doing away with our innovations division. We did away with it because we had accomplished what we wanted to do.
We wanted to inject that line of thought throughout the organization. And we did that, and now we don’t have to stand to the side and force people to think that way. Now they think that way automatically, so it was time that we didn’t need that department any more. And that was part of our DNA, so we just dissolved it. We got a lot of applause on that, and we moved forward. So that’s who KCATA is now; we don’t have an innovations division to poke the bear. The bear has been poked, and, you know, it has the DNA—the DNA of innovation is in it now. So that’s who we are.
Cohen: I love it. I love it. Well, that’s—I love that concept of learning. I think, that’s—to me, that’s the key.
Auten: Yeah. You know, if you don’t—you know, if you stop learning, what do you have? Right? I mean, that—the person that says, “I have nothing else to learn,” needs to learn humility, because if you want to be centered, go talk to a kid. I don’t know if you have kids. I think you do.
Cohen: Yeah, yeah. I have three.
Auten: I have kids. If I want to be humbled and centered, I talk to them. And, you know, because they see things differently. And that—sometimes we get too caught up in the politics. You know, “What if my ridership tanks? And what if this? And what if that?” You know, as long as we have a plan, you know, those things, we’ll deal with that, but let’s figure out what works for people. And you can’t go wrong if that’s that track you’re on.
Cohen: Well, that’s the same lesson you pulled from John Lewis at the beginning of your career, so I think that’s a good lesson there.
Jensen: Jameson, you mentioned fare-free. I’m sure the pandemic has impacted this, so bring us up to speed on the latest on fare-free in Kansas City.
Auten: Well, I’m not going to say fare-free; I’m going to say zero-fare. As soon as we say free-fare or fare-free, someone says, “Nothings free; there’s no free lunch.” And I get it; and I believe that.
Auten: Our fare is zero. We still want people to know that there’s a value to what you’re getting, so we don’t use “free.” The pandemic pushed it even further. It pushed it even further. So we went fully zero-fare over a year ago, and we have no intent on going back. We started our first route zero-fare was our Prospect MAX bus line that kicked that off in December of ’19, and that had always planned to have an introductory six-month fare at zero. That was part of—
Cohen: Is that a bus rapid transit line?
Auten: Yeah, it’s a bus rapid transit line. And, you know, everyone said, “You’re going to—you know, people are—you’re going to have people hanging out all day and graffiti and overcrowding,” and, you know, all the things from the studies from the early ’90s, people said we’d had. We had none of that. You know, we kept very careful watch on what was happening. We did have people who were drinking beer in the bus stops. You know what? Those are the same guys who have been drinking beer in the bus stops for the past 20 years.
Auten: We didn’t have any more onboard issues than what we normally had. In fact, if you look at our operator assault numbers, which have always been low anyway—but, you know, one is one too many—they’ve gone down. They’ve gone down. I think it’s a combination of the zero-fare, so they’re—most of our conflicts started from a farebox dispute.
Auten: Now that there’s no dispute at the farebox, there’s no farebox. We still have fareboxes; we have bags over them. We have operator barriers. There are shields on the bus for safety as well. So those numbers have gone completely down. COVID hit, and I’ll tell you like I tell everybody else, whether our numbers in 2020 were great or whether our numbers in 2020 were dismal, it’s an outlier. It’s an outlier. So we can talk about it, you know, in terms of trivia, but I don’t use them. I compare to ’19 because ’19 was more normal, whatever normal is.
So when COVID hit and everything shut down, we did see some things. Right? If people weren’t going to work so we didn’t have a lot of bus riders who were going to work, our numbers dropped, our ridership dropped like everybody else’s. We’ve recovered quickly. We’re actually about 80% right now of what our ridership was on paratransit, 85%. But we still didn’t have big issues. Now, we had more people more houseless or homeless, whatever term you use, people riding the bus because it is zero-fare. But that’s not an issue that we can solve. You know, people will point to that, and that’s really the only thing you can point to. But I always point back and say, “What’s the real problem? Is the problem that homeless people exist? Is that the problem? Because they’ve always existed. Or is the problem that you can now see them, that they’re in your face? Now you can see them, and you can’t look them in the eye. What’s the problem?”
But that’s a problem that transit, transportation can’t fix. We can be part of the solution. We’ve been working with social workers to have social workers ride our buses. We’ve had some pretty good success stories with that to try to get people services that are needed. But at the end of the day, you know, we’re just a reflection of society, and we can’t fix that. So, in terms of zero-fare, to answer your question, it’s going well. It’s going to continue to stay here. We’ve—you know, with the CARES Act and all the rounds of funding that have come through we have funding for zero-fare through the end of ’22 or ’23; 2023, okay? So we’re not going anywhere with it, and we’re going to continue, and we’re going to measure it. You know, we would have data for you now except that we’re in 2020, 2021. So I could share that with you, but it really doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Cohen: A lot of agencies decided to go zero-fare during the pandemic to reduce the touch points, if you will. So I know Councilman Eric Bunch, who we had on the podcast last year, talked about from the city council perspective the zero-fare proposal. You know, but I think that was unfunded. Right? They still had to find the money to kind of help fund that. So, I guess, how did the pandemic impact that, or is it just a function of because of CARES and because of the pandemic you’re able to kind of expedite that process there?
Auten: Yeah. So that money is still sitting there. We haven’t touched it. It’s there for us.
Auten: It’s there. It’s absolutely there for us. And, you know, I’ll tell you. Councilman Bunch has been transit before transit was cool. And he’s been a huge proponent of bus, walking, biking. He does that. He lives that. You’ll catch him on the buses with his kids and on the bike trail. So that money has been there. You know, the CARES funding hit, and we decided to use that. You know, so we haven’t touched it yet, but it’s there, so we’re in a very good position. And, you know, I think that the council and our mayor who is a huge proponent of it as well are seeing the benefits and seeing what it means.
We’ve had University of Missouri Kansas City, UMKC, do an economic impact study for us. Our regional planning agency, Mid-America Regional Council, is in the process of doing an impact analysis for us as well on zero-fare. And the Urban League is going to include us in their study for the State of Black Kansas City and how zero-fare impacts Kansas Citians as well. And we fully expect fantastic results, but whatever they are we’re going to share them; we’re going to be very transparent. But I can tell you that, you know, from the pandemic hitting and the council putting that money aside to support zero-fare, all indications are that we’re going to continue to go with it. And we’ll use that money at some point, Josh. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not going to let it sit there. It’s not going to go bad. [LAUGHTER] We’re going to use it; we just haven’t used it yet.
Auten: What’s been really interesting is the City of Fresno, California, they just a few weeks ago—they’re going in the same direction, and they got a lot of their information from our CEO Robbie Makinen on how we were able to do that in Kansas City. Robbie and Phil Washington, the CEO at LA Metro, are good friends. And, you know, Robbie was announcing talking about zero-fare at a conference, and Phil out of the blue says, “You know what? We’re going to do that too.” He had been thinking about it as well, so we’ve been talking with LA Metro about what our experience has been. There’s been some legislation introduced in Jeff City of all places, you know, Missouri. Missouri funds public trans—we get less than $300,000 a year from the state for our system.
Auten: Yeah. But one of the electeds there introduced zero-fare. It got defeated, but there was conversation on the floor, the legislature floor about zero-fare, so it’s picking up a lot of traction, not just here but across the country. It’s interesting to watch how it’s really taken off, and I think systems found that when they went free for COVID they didn’t have the big problems that they thought that they’d have, so now they see it as a viable option.
Cohen: So, L’erin, this kind of connects, I think, to a couple of the blog posts that we’ve put up at TransLoc. One is I did The Moral Argument for Free Public Transit, I think, about a year or so ago, and then several months ago about, you know, Your Mayor Should Be Riding The Bus and so kind of speaking to Councilman Bunch’s experience riding the bus. So I think some of these themes, I think, that you’re putting into place, I think, we’re philosophically onboard with. And I can’t wait to see some more data once we get to a steady state to kind of see how that actually goes.
Auten: Yeah. No, I agree. And, you know, once we have all that collected, we’ll certainly share that. You know, we—Kansas City is great because we’re going to try something and then we’re going to share the results. And whether the results, you know, are fantastic or whether the results are less than what was desired we’re going to share them, because we think that it’s part of our obligation to help, you know, what we share, to share that so others can take from it or say, “We’re not going to try that,” or just helping inform how the industry grows. Because we look at other systems to see what they’re doing as well for best practices and try to see what fits for our individual markets as well. So that—again, it’s a sharing kind of an industry. And I think it’s been really exciting to be a part of transportation. It really has.
Cohen: I want to dig right into that just a little bit more, which is that, you know, the Bridj project that you did that you alluded to was kind of one of the first kind of what I call agency-related microtransit projects. You know, certainly we had the microtransit project that you alluded to with Johnson County that TransLoc is working with you on. You have the zero-fare project that you mentioned as well. It seems like there’s kind of something in the water in Kansas City—right—that, you know, like, Kansas City is kind of, like, pushing the envelope here. And so I’m curious; what’s going on in Kansas City that’s allowing the region really to lead on all these fronts? Help me understand kind of what it is. Is it Tyler? Can we blame Tyler for this? I don’t know.
Auten: It is all Tyler Means. [LAUGHTER] No. I think, you know, we have a leader here in the organization. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to talk to Robbie Makinen and hear him speak, but when you do, the passion is evident. And Robbie is a smart guy. Robbie is not a transit guy, so he did not come up in transit. He’s a social worker by trade, and he’s always people first. And he started asking a lot of questions. “Why? Why can’t we? Why don’t we?” you know, “Have we ever thought about this or thought about that?” And everything aligned.
So from his leadership we were able to start looking at things from a whole different point of view. And, you know, quite frankly, a lot of the transit people thought he was crazy at first. And you can put me in that camp. At first I was like, “What is this guy talking about?” But now—like, we were just talking about this internally the other day. Now he knows transit now. He’s been on the job a little over five years. He’s a transit guy now, but he’s a social worker guy first. And now that allows us to look at things differently. We used to—everything, if you go back and look at our annual reports and everything else, you’ll see pictures of buses; you’ll see pictures of bus stops. Why is that? It’s not the bus; that’s just the means of how we get people back and forth. We’re not—our core business isn’t buying buses and taking pictures of buses, it’s connecting people to opportunities. So he really put that, stamped that on our foreheads. And that—we’ve been able to move forward that way.
But the other piece is that he’s also a relationship person. So relationships with our mayor who grew up riding the bus system and council folks like Eric Bunch we talked about who are big proponents of TDM, basically but then also, you know, folks like the governor who doesn’t know transportation but understands—you know, if you start talking to the governor about on-time performance and deadhead and revenue hours, his eyes are going to glaze over. But us transit geeks, we love that stuff; we’ll talk about that for hours. But if you talk to him about outcomes, about how many people we’ve been able to transport to schools, and, “Hey, you know, of that, this percentage got their degrees, and now they’re working here or they’ve kept the job for this long. And here’s how it’s impacted the family,” Robbie understood all of that. He understood how to translate transit-speak to what people need to know about transit.
So I could tell you that we do 13 million trips a year; it doesn’t mean anything. It means something to you. You get the magnitude of that. It may be impressive or not. [LAUGHS] But your average Joe whose taxes are funding what we do, that’s just a number.
Auten: You know, but if I tell them that, you know, 12% of our people are able to get and keep a job at, you know, $40,000 a year because of that ride and now that ride doesn’t cost them anything, now the lights go on. And that’s what Robbie understood long before the industry understood. And that’s what’s happened in Kansas City, not just in transportation, the whole dynamics of this place have changed.
I know people who—you know, Hallmark is based out of here. I know people how have gotten hired by Hallmark back in the ’90s and came and looked at the place and said, “No way. I’m not going there.” The downtown has been revitalized. Even since I’ve been here in 2012 it’s different from what it was, you know, eight, nine years ago. You see a lot of KC T-shirts. You see a lot of KC hats. There’s a sense of pride in being from Kansas City, and that’s been going. I noticed it when we first moved here, and it’s only gotten stronger. So, I think, everything is aligned, that people are looking at Kansas City differently; Kansas City is seeing itself differently, and it’s allowing us to try these things.
You know, we were a finalist on the Hyperloop testing center. It went to West Virginia, but we were in—they informed us that it was going somewhere else a week before they made the announcement. That didn’t happen in Kansas City 10 years ago. That wouldn’t have happened. But we were in that conversation all the way to the end. So I just think there’s that dynamic that’s going. I know I said a lot of words, but to wrap it all up it was Tyler Means. [LAUGHTER] It was Tyler Means.
Jensen: Oh, that’s funny.
Cohen: So anybody who hasn’t met Tyler Means, that should be your goal from here on out, is get to know Tyler Means.
Jensen: I feel like a lot of what I heard from you, Jameson, was that what it takes is having people in decision-making roles that care about people, is kind of what it comes down to. Just, like, what a novel idea? [LAUGHS] But, yeah, amongst other things. Obviously then also being able to communicate those things, but it sounds like that’s one of the differentiators, is you have people who genuinely care about the outcomes and how they affect people instead of just, like, the bottom line.
Auten: Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, we take our fiduciary responsibility uber seriously, I mean, super seriously. We really do. But at the end of the day you can’t be afraid to take risks. You know, if people wouldn’t have taken risks, we wouldn’t be sitting here where we sit now, none of us would be. You know, someone took a risk to start TransLoc. Someone took a risk to settle Kansas City. Right? Someone took a risk to do these things, and we can’t sit back on our laurels, otherwise we get status quo. And for Kansas City status quo wasn’t—it wasn’t working. It just—you know, that, the answer to the equation being 40-foot bus just was not working, and we had to figure something out. So out of necessity—right? Every—you know, what was it? Necessity is the—how’s that go? What’s that saying
Cohen: Mother of invention. Yeah.
Auten: The mother of invention is necessity. I almost said Mother Nature.
Cohen: Yeah. No, that’s great. Well, Jameson, thank you so much for introducing us not only to Kansas City but to some of the projects you’ve worked on with KCATA and really how you’ve been influenced by leaders who are aligned with what your mission there is at KCATA, which is connecting people to opportunities and really doing it with a people focus. So thank you so much for joining us on The Movement podcast.
Auten: Thank you. I appreciate the time. And if there’s a few minutes, can I ask you a question?
Auten: TransLoc has been working with different transit system around the country. We’ve been working together. What can transit systems do to help that relationship be better? I know that we put out RFPs and we, you know, we have a rigid format we have to use. Is there anything that we can do on our end to help the movement, if you will, go faster or be better from your perspective?
Cohen: That’s a great question. You know, I think, doing what you’re doing, which is telling the story and, you know, sharing that there are different ways to solve these problems than some traditional ways that we always do it, I think, is probably the best thing to possibly do. Because you know just as well as I do that, you know, it’s risky to be the first person to try something. It’s also pretty risky to be that first follower. Right? And it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to go follow that crazy guy.” Right? But being that second follower or third follower or fourth follower is a lot easier. Right?
And so, you know, I think about this all the time. You know, certainly there’s a larger conversation about racial justice that’s going on in our country right now. And I think about this all the time in the sense that, you know, we have to be willing to have these conversations in order for us to make any progress. Right? And so, you know, obviously things like how do we make transit better, I think, is going to require, you know, just what you’re doing, which is having these conversations and talking to people. And I know you do that; I know you go to the conferences. I know you serve on the boards. You kind of—you do all the right things that you need to do, but I think doing what you’re doing. What do you think, L’erin?
Jensen: That’s exactly it. You guys both got it right. I think being willing to take risk is what it comes down to, try something new. As you said, not being afraid to fail and failing fast and then, you know, moving on if that doesn’t work, that’s really what it comes down to for us.
Auten: Well, thank you. I just—you know, we always get the perspective of the transit systems, and I think it’s important to get the perspective of our partners as well to make sure that the needs of our partners are met as well. And it’s a—we can’t do it alone. Transit systems can’t do it alone, and, you know, that’s one of the big takeaways that we’ve seen throughout the industry over the past few years, is that we can’t do it alone, and we’re not looking at you all or bikes or scooter as competitors; we’re looking to complete the whole ecosystem. And to do that we’ve all got to make sure we understand what the other needs. And so thank you for allowing me to ask that question. I just wanted to get your perspective on that.
Jensen: And I think—one more thing to the end of that is that we’re all in it to solve the same problem. So TransLoc is a B-to-B or a B-to-G business, but really who we’re trying to serve is riders. Transit agencies are just an intermediary, they’re just a way to get to the riders, but that’s ultimately who it’s all about, so we all have the same goal.
Auten: That’s right.
Cohen: I love it. I love it. Thanks again, Jameson. I appreciate it.
Auten: No, thank you. Thank you.
F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at TransLoc.com or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter at @CohenJP. Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.
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