Dogfooding: Why Transit Employees and Managers Should Use Transit

The term “dogfooding”, derived from “eating your own dog food”, is popular in the tech sector, and implies that a company should use its own products wherever it can. Thus, in general, Apple employees should have Macs on their desks rather than Windows machines, and Google employees should use Gmail. The advantages of this are several. Most importantly, bugs can be quickly identified by employees using the system on a daily basis, and feedback can be channeled quickly through the organization. Secondarily, missing features can be quickly identified similarly. Employees will get better empathy for the experience of paying customers.

There are of course limits to this process. You would not expect Boeing Defense employees to take a helicopter home with them, or even operate one on a regular basis. However, for most consumer products companies, this is a highly useful practice.

Applying this to the transportation sector implies employees (including senior management) of highway agencies should use roads to get to work (I am sure this is true for the vast majority of even “multi-modal” DOT or highway agency employees).

Similarly employees, and management, and directors or council-members of transit agencies should ride transit to work.

(Update 2014-08-31: St. Paul Traffic Engineers should ride the every day until the signal timings are fixed.)

Now of course, no-one can systematically use the entire system, everyone is spatially constrained in where they travel. Further, the bus drivers on the first ride of the morning (or the last in the evening) cannot practically ride transit to work in a system that does not operate 24/7, since there is no bus to get the bus driver there, or take her home.

Still, there are many opportunities for many employees, and more importantly, directors and Board members, of transit agencies to use transit, and I think increasing this number would improve service.

I have not seen a local survey in the Twin Cities, but this has been done in other cities. (Updated 2014-10-21, See Eric Roper’s Met Council board not big transit riders, survey finds, along with two Opinions (10-24-2014) by Nick Magrino: Transit Usage of the Metropolitan Council Probably Relevant and Travis Norvell: Talk the Transit Talk: Then Walk the Walk.

In fact the travel passes (and especially travel passes for family members) are controversial.

  • New York City: From 2008 but with this gem “Why should I ride and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?”: MTA Revokes Travel Perks for Board Members
  • Washington DC: Washington Post survey of the WMATA Board found “Few ride the bus regularly.” (Though they do get a free pass).
  • San Francisco region:

    “In 1993, a grass-roots citizens group founded by Brown collected thousands of petition signatures and put a measure on the San Francisco ballot requiring the mayor, supervisors, and top city officials to ride Muni or other public transit to work at least twice every week.

    In the voter information pamphlet, Brown wrote: “Government is getting out of touch because too many officeholders and city workers act like potentates, not public servants. Send them a message! VOTE YES on AA to get them back to reality by riding the Muni twice a week.”

    San Francisco voters overwhelmingly agreed, with 65 percent voting to make this official city policy.

    So when was the last time you saw Mayor Ed Lee on your Muni bus?”

  • updated 2014-08-27: Houston, Texas, Metro execs to drive less, ride transit more

    About a dozen of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s senior managers will be required to ride public transit 40 times per month, and some will be giving up their staff cars or car allowances.

    “I know of no business where you can be successful without using your own product and believing in it,” George Greanias, Metro’s president and chief executive officer, said after announcing the changes during a public hearing today on the agency’s 2011 budget.

    Frequent use of buses or light rail will give Metro executives a better understanding of what the agency’s customers experience, Greanias said, while sending a message that Metro is committed to public transportation.

    David King notes that perhaps not coincidentally Houston is redesigning its network now.

  • updated 2014-09-10 Salt Lake City  Most UTA trustees ignore challenge to use own systemTransit » Just three of 16 accept a challenge to use bus and rail exclusively for seven days.
    (One of those who accepted, Keith Bartholomew, is a faculty member at Utah)
  • New Zealand, Auckland Transport’s Staff Shuttle connects between offices, rather than having staff use public transport, which is a bit slower. The post from quotes Radio NZ (source article no longer online):

    “Staff at the agency which runs public transport in Auckland are being offered a shuttle service for business trips between offices, because buses and trains are too slow.

    Auckland Transport (AT) is spending more than $122,000 over six months, trialling the shuttle between its downtown offices and its headquarters in Henderson.

    Public transport advocates say staff travelling between the Henderson and downtown locations should be using the bus and rail services at the door of both offices.

    AT wants to reduce its car fleet by 20 vehicles, and is encouraging staff to cut car use.

    “We’re providing options for staff, to have a tele-conference, to catch public transport using business AT HOP cards, and we’re also providing a shuttle between Henderson and Britomart,” AT community transport manager Matthew Rednall said.”

Thanks to the Twitter community for coming up with these examples of transit agency staff dogfooding (or being raked over the coals for free transit passes to encourage dogfooding). If you have other examples, leave them in the comments.

One thought on “Dogfooding: Why Transit Employees and Managers Should Use Transit

  1. Really great advice. City employees in St Paul used to have to actually live in the St Paul. There’s a good logic to it.


Comments are closed.