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Public Involvement Techniques

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Chapter 1  |   Chapter 2  |   Chapter 3  |   Chapter 4  |   Index of Techniques

4. Using Special Techniques to Enhance Participationskip page navigation

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4.A - Holding Special Events
4.A.a - Transportation Fairs
4.A.b - Games and Contests

4. Introduction
4.A
4.B
4.C
4.D

4.A.a - Transportation Fairs

What is a transportation fair?

A transportation fair is an event used to interest community members in transportation and in specific projects or programs. It is typically a one-day event, heavily promoted to encourage people to attend. Attractions such as futuristic vehicles can be used to bring people to the fair, and noted personalities also draw participants. New Jersey Transit holds an annual fair in a transit terminal with a festival aimed toward children—including participatory and educational exhibits.

A transportation fair focuses on visual elements, such as exhibits, videos, and maps or models of projects. A speaker or presenter is not required but can help focus the attention of viewers on the purposes of the fair. A fair gears individual displays toward a desired message. Once prepared, exhibits can be used again at another location and date.

A transportation fair has these basic features:

  • Visual interest and excitement;
  • Variety in exhibits: maps, photos, models, slide shows, videos, full-size vehicles, giveaway items;
  • Accessibility in a central location for the target audience;
  • Extensive publicity to attract participants;
  • Attraction for a wide variety of people;
  • Ability to elicit comments and points of view of participants—always on a voluntary basis; and
  • Impermanence.

Why is it useful?

A transportation fair presents information to the public. Participants are encouraged to view exhibits, ask questions, consider information, and give comments. In San Francisco, a commuter mobile van travels from show to show to promote alternative means of commuting.

A transportation fair creates interest and dramatizes a project or program. Graphics present goals and messages in a comprehensible and visually interesting way. Interactive audio-visual and computer-based displays make programs come alive and encourage public comment. (See Interactive Video Displays and Kiosks.)

A fair is a one-time event. With good publicity, it becomes a known opportunity for people to participate in transportation planning. The date and place can be chosen to fit within an agency schedule. It can be held annually, as in Boston’s World-Class Commuting Day. A fair helps agencies or organizations understand public reactions at a specific point in time.

A fair keeps participants informed, interested, and up-to-date. Sharing information and discussing issues gives participants a status report on projects and programs. At a fair, people become educated on technical issues and gain a better understanding of the effort involved and milestones achieved.

Does it have special uses?

A fair provides an opportunity for casual community input. As an informal short-term event, it can be held in central locations where many people pass by, such as a store downtown or a shopping mall. (See Non-traditional Meeting Places and Events.) A fair asks participants to focus on a project’s or program’s components and details and offer advice and comment. For example, in Idaho twelve transportation fairs were held in urban and rural regions to talk about statewide transportation improvements.

A fair emphasizes specific, positive points about a subject. It can include exhibits of all types to highlight the wide variety of people, organizations, and effort involved in a project or program. It allows an agency or organization to point up salient, desirable points about a project, while responding to potential drawbacks.

Who participates? And how?

Fair attendees are self-selected. Responding to publicity, individuals decide whether or not to attend—often based on the location and date of the fair. Because a fair is not an invitational event, a representative sample of community groups or stakeholders cannot be expected to attend. Despite this self-selection, a diversity in viewpoints is usually represented.

People participate through taking part in activities. Attendees examine the presentations and ask questions about the exhibits. At a typical fair, before attendees leave they are encouraged to fill out questionnaires or response forms with written comments, which are collected and analyzed for input. (See Public Opinion Surveys.)

How do agencies use the output?

The principal output is improved community awareness. Written and oral comments by community residents are collected at the fair and used as input to a project or program. This information may be anecdotal but, with analysis, may be of use within the sponsoring organization. As a special example, fairs were held in the Phoenix, Arizona, area to help employers present alternative commuting ideas and programs to employees and get their feedback.

Comments should be used in association with other community input. Comments assist agencies in becoming aware of opinions and stances of participants, often before they become solidified or difficult to modify. Because they are made in a casual atmosphere, the comments are sometimes more conciliatory than would be the case in a different setting.

Who leads a transportation fair?

Agencies or private groups sponsor fairs. Public agencies hold fairs to detail a specific project and its impacts and to demonstrate support for it. Private transportation management groups hold fairs to attract new members or explain new programs. Representation of public officials at a transportation fair can be productive, depending on the fair’s purpose. For example, in the San Francisco area, employers sponsor fairs, with assistance from public agencies.

A transportation fair requires no leader on the day of the event. However, a fair can be scheduled with specific times for presentations or brief talks or to introduce featured attractions such as celebrities. At such times, a moderator or other person is needed to make introductions.

What are the costs?

A fair requires support staff within an agency, and the work required can be substantial. Finding a site—usually on land or in buildings that are privately-owned—takes advance preparation. Agency representatives must be alerted to attend if needed to respond to inquiries or explain technical issues.

Material needs are extensive. Graphics should be sufficiently large and well-prepared to address principal issues. Photographs may be required for orientation. Slide presentations are often desirable. Substantial exhibition room is essential. Written materials can supplement graphic presentations. Take-away souvenirs, including buttons, maps, brochures, or imaginative graphics, are useful reminders of the fair’s subject. For example, an annual transportation fair for an employer in the Washington, D.C., region includes table-top exhibits by employers, give-away items with emblazoned information, and contests or drawings for seed money to start a vanpool. (See Public Information Materials; Games and Contests.)

How is a transportation fair organized?

A fair is managed by an existing organization. It may have a chairperson or director, depending on the extent or importance of the event. A fair needs staff to manage the exhibitors, oversee production of graphic or written materials, and make the physical arrangements on the day of the event. In the Los Angeles area, for example, fairs are sponsored by private firms and managed by their employer transportation coordinators.

Organizational meetings are necessary to set the policy and goals for the fair, select a date and place, solicit exhibitors, and develop publicity for wide public distribution. Specific assignments and delegation of responsibilities help assure on-time production of exhibits.

How is it used with other techniques?

Not a stand-alone approach, a transportation fair pairs well with other techniques and shows the products of public involvement, such as the results of a brainstorming session. (See Brainstorming.) It can be sponsored by a civic advisory committee to show work in progress. (See Civic Advisory Committees.) With videos or fixed exhibitions, fairs can display goals or accomplishments of a public agency. (See Video Techniques; Interactive Video Displays and Kiosks.)

A fair helps interest community residents in transportation or sets the stage for upcoming events, such as a complex, large-scale project. It is used to elicit candidates for membership in a civic advisory committee. It also is used to present awards to individuals who have contributed to improvement of transportation services.

What are the drawbacks?

A fair cannot replace other techniques. As a one-time event with self-selected participants, it is not usually representative of all interests. It is temporary in intent and thus does not meet Federal standards for continuing public involvement. It cannot replace a public process that records statements in a more formal manner, where local people are certain they are being heard by appropriate authorities. (See Public Meetings/Hearings.)

A transportation fair does not bring public consensus. There is no deliberation between potentially opposing groups. The principal intent in a fair is to disseminate information, not to receive ideas. Attempts by the sponsor to derive consensus from a fair may cause problems; the sponsor becomes vulnerable to charges of not taking public involvement seriously.

Representative comments cannot be expected because a fair is not likely to include all potential participants. In fact, comments from participants are appreciated because they are to some extent unexpected. In certain instances, little or no feedback will be directly useful to an agency. However, unarticulated comments do not mean that the fair was a failure; many participants do not view writing comments as an essential element of their enjoyment of the exhibits at the fair.

For further information:

Caravan for Commuters, Boston, Massachusetts (617) 973-7189
Commuter Transportation Services, Los Angeles, California (213) 380-7750
New Jersey Transit (201) 491-7079
Regional Public Transportation Authority, Phoenix, Arizona (602) 262-7242
Rides (Commuter Services), San Francisco, California (415) 861-7665
Washington, D.C., Council of Governments Ride-finders Network (202) 962-3327

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For more information about the TPCB program, contact Michelle Noch at FHWA (202-366-9206) or John Sprowls at FTA (202-366-5362).

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