Thursday, September 25, 2008

F & M Center's 2007 "Streetcar Ridership Survey" disingenuous

On Sept. 19, NewsLanc interviewed Berwood A. Yost, Director of the Center For Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College, about the "Streetcar Ridership Survey" reported in the July 1, 2007, Lancaster Sunday News.

Backers of a streetcar system for downtown Lancaster have cited this survey as indicating community support for such a project. Further, by judging from the survey’s cherry picked Executive Summary, one might certainly be left with this impression.

The Sunday News article stated: "The [survey], completed in April [2007]…concluded that 83 percent believe that a streetcar system could improve transportation between downtown destinations…"

When Marv Adams, Editor of the Sunday News, was asked whether the reporter had simply lifted the misleading statement from the "Executive Summary" or actually examined the related question, his response was "No comment."

Salient revelations from the Yost interview were:

1) The Executive Summary states "Most respondents (83%) feel that a streetcar system would improve transportation between downtown destinations." As set forth, this assertion is disingenuous because the question failed to mention that trolley buses already run on much the same route. Yost acknowledged that information about the trolley buses was not provided.

2) The Executive Summary fails to point out only 2% cited lack of public transportation when asked "What if anything keeps you from visiting Lancaster city more often?" Yost pointed out that the question was only asked of the people who do not come downtown frequently.

3) In response to the survey question "How likely would you be to ride a streetcar system if it were available in downtown Lancaster", only 1% indicated streetcars were "more convenient than buses." NewsLanc asked "Isn’t this overwhelming indication of a lack of interest in substituting streetcars for bus transportation?" Yost replied "You can interpret it that way. All of this is open for interpretation. You’re asking me to do something that I wasn’t asked to do."

4) NewsLanc observed that the survey didn’t ask whether they "favored using $14 million or whatever the figure is, in tax money, to install a street car system, and undertaking a $300,000 annual subsidy to operate the system." Answer: "It wasn’t something that we were asked to do." Yost further claimed that figures related to the cost of installing or operating trolley cars were not available to him at the time of the survey.

5) NewsLanc observed that the survey didn’t ask "Would you be more likely to come downtown and use public transportation if we replaced the buses with these historic-type trolley cars?" Yost responded "Because that’s not what we were attempting to do."6) NewsLanc followed up with "But the purpose was not to determine whether streetcars would be more desirable, would bring more people?" Answer: "No. I don’t think that was ultimately it."

7) Yost said the survey was commissioned by the Lancaster Alliance and the questions were prepared by him and reviewed and approved by Jack Howell, its president.

8) Yost stated that, G. Terry Madonna, Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs, was "not involved" with the survey.

About the purpose of the survey, Yost said, "We were interested in people who were coming downtown - what they're doing when they get here and whether they would be looking for alternative means of getting around."

"You can quibble with the results," he continued, "but we weren't asked to come down with these recommendations - this is what we saw, anyone can review it and people can draw their own conclusions from it."

Yet, by what Yost chose to include in and omit from the Executive Summary, the bias shows.