May 25, 2009
See numerous senior transit positions — including two CEOs, one assistant general manager, and a senior vice president — in today's Classifieds.
Public Transportation is Providing the Ultimate Customer Experience
BY BEVERLY A. SCOTT, Ph.D., APTA Chair and General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority
How do I define the “customer experience”—the focus of this issue? It’s first and foremost by recognizing that our employees—at every level—are the single most critical element of our customer service experience.
It’s doing our best—pulling out all the stops—to make sure that our customers have the best rides, the best trips, the best service, the easiest commutes, the least hassle—each and every day. It’s concentrating on the big and little things, and bringing laser focus to bear on those inconveniences and irritations that require attention and improvement.
It’s recognizing that there are both lifeline and lifestyle customers—and they are equally important!
It’s ensuring that public transit in North America is a system of first choice—not last resort.
It’s establishing that the last mile is as good as the first mile.
These are truly new and exciting times for our industry, and they offer a future of tremendous possibilities and opportunities—and challenges.
Challenges that fall into the category of ‘the good with the bad”! “Good” that we have significantly increased ridership; “bad” that in many cases, the sharp economic downturn has limited our ability to provide much needed additional service.
And yet, we keep on keeping on. These astounding ridership numbers do not happen just by themselves. All this progress and more is a result of your efforts, and the quality of service we provide.
Each day, the work that we all do:
* Keeps America moving.
* Makes American business more competitive.
* Provides personal mobility and critical lifelines.
* Strengthens communities and neighborhoods.
* Promotes energy independence, sustainability, and livability.
Most significantly, our work makes it possible for people to knit their lives together, to create a truly valuable “customer experience.”
Simply put, the hundreds of thousands of public transit employees across North America are the heart and soul of our industry.
No matter the challenge, it’s our showing up for work every day that makes everything hang together.
We are a people service industry. All that we do, every day, is focused on the simple yet oh-so-important goal of attracting new customers and retaining and strengthening our current customer base. Whether it’s through adding amenities—such as plusher seats or free WiFi—or through security measures that help ensure that customers reach their destinations safely, every day the work we do contributes to every customer’s experience. In my 30 years, I can say that the vast majority of times, that’s a positive contribution!
We have a new president whose administration is clearly committed to charting a bold and exciting course for the recovery and future prosperity of America—and public transportation is a key player in this effort. The $8.4 billion for investment in public transit funding and the $8 billion for high speed rail in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was certainly a very welcome down payment.
As we do this together, we must use our imagination and our experience and our talent to ensure that we keep the customers we have; convince lifestyle customers with numerous travel options to leave their cars at home; reach out to seniors and persons with disabilities to enable them to access public transit; and enhance our partnerships to “teach” a new generation of Americans that public transportation is the best way to travel.
Speaking of that new generation—our youth—one of my top initiatives as APTA chair is workforce development—a key to our industry’s survival. I don’t think I’m far off the mark to say that most of the people reading this article will be retiring in the next 5 to 10 years.
Plain and simple, our industry simply cannot afford a “brain drain.” Not now, as we contribute to helping the economy, saving energy, and aiding the environment, and not in the future. So on behalf of our current and future customers, in October 2008, I established a “Blue Ribbon Panel on Workforce Development.” The purpose and work of the panel is threefold: to identify and make available the range of existing programs and resources that support the workforce needs of the transit industry; to develop and lay out a long range workforce development plan for the next 5-10 years; and to transform, rebrand, and reposition transit as both an employer of choice and a critical part of the solution to our future global competitiveness and sustainability. That work, headed by Doran Barnes—which involves many of you—is developing an aggressive way to implement the transition when retirements start taking place, which includes fast tracking, mentoring, and succession planning.
Let me close with these thoughts: This is not a time for timidity. This is not a time for deferring decisions. We need to think big, we need to have vision, and we need always—always—to do our daily best on behalf of our millions of customers who depend on us every day to take them where they want to go.