Congressman Beto O’Rourke takes constituent outreach seriously. Not satisfied that he was reaching a broad enough segment of his El Paso constituents with traditional town-hall meetings, the freshman Democrat has taken up an unorthodox approach: holding discussions on local buses.
Americans for Transit’s Rider’s Blog caught up with O’Rourke recently and asked him to explain:
When I campaigned for Congress I campaigned on accountability and transparency and said I would host monthly town hall meetings and quarterly veterans town hall meeting, both of which we’ve done. So we were around the office saying, these meetings are great, we get a lot of people at them and great questions, are reaching a lot of people, but what’s the next step? How can we do better?
We came up with the idea of taking the town hall to a population that typically do not show up to our regular town halls, and these are the customers on our public transit system. In El Paso, unlike some other communities, people who ride the bus do so, for the most part, because they can’t afford a car. Unlike DC or NYC or Boston, there are no parking issues, but it (public transit) is really an affordability issue. I felt like this was a population that was very underrepresented in our town halls and I wanted to have a chance to reach them.
The Congressman says he holds the town halls just like he would a regular one, explaining what he’s been working on in Congress and then opening the floor to questions. And he reports that transit riders have been pretty engaged:
During the portions of the route that were less busy I had a chance to sit down and introduce myself to each rider, ask them if there was anything we could help them with, and we got a lot of takers. There was a woman who is a US citizen, was born here, her mother is not, but her mother has been living here for 35 years. She wanted us to help with her mother’s citizen application process, which we are very happy to do.
How many Congress members ever set foot on a bus, let alone go out of their way to get in touch with riders?
Elsewhere on the Network today: Peninsula Transportation Alternatives explains how the San Francisco Giants reduced car trips to games by almost one half. Bike Portland reports that the city is starting to see a market for high-end, car-lite housing. And Boston Biker relays that a family grieving for their son, who was struck by a truck driver while biking, will sue the trucking company, alleging negligence.