One of the best ways to influence transit decision makers as well as improve your knowledge of the transit field is to get involved. Two ways to get involved are attending meetings of public transit advocacy groups and public hearings about proposed transit projects put on by the regional transit provider.
Los Angeles has two major transit advocacy groups. The Transit Coalition usually meets the fourth Tuesday of the month in downtown Los Angeles at Phillipe's Restaurant at 6:45 P.M. Usually meetings feature guest speakers that hold high positions in area transit systems; Art Leahy, CEO of Los Angeles Metro, is a frequent guest. Southern California Transit Advocates usually meet the second Saturday afternoon of the month at a location in downtown Los Angeles. The meetings also often feature guest speakers.
Other cities also have transit advocacy groups. New York Straphangers is an organization dedicated to improving transit in New York. Transportation Alternatives is another New York based group which is interested in improving not only transit but bicycling and pedestrian alternatives as well. If you live in the Chicagoland area, consider Active Transportation Alliance. Active Transportation Alliance again covers modes of transportation besides transit. Since I am based in southern California, I am most familiar with southern California transit advocacy, and everyone would agree southern California needs a lot of transit advocacy (one of the reasons why I moved here was because I thought southern California needed me!) Please send me information about transit advocacy groups in your area and I will include it in a list of transit advocacy group links I am currently working on.
Transit advocacy groups vary in their effectiveness. The most effective groups are the ones that display the best knowledge of how transit actually works combined with a pragmatic view of what can actually be accomplished with limited resources. The least effective groups are the ones that demand transit improvements that cannot possibly be made, like demanding that Los Angeles's subway system operate twenty-four hours per day. If it operated twenty-four hours per day, then the tracks could never be maintained (yes I know that New York's subway operates twenty-four hours per day - most New York subway corridors have four tracks allowing for this). Both southern California transit advocacy groups discussed above have been successful in the past in getting Metro to modify some of their service proposals.
As this entry is getting too long, check back next time to learn how you can get involved by participating in public meetings put on by the transit provider.