May 25, 2009
See numerous senior transit positions — including two CEOs, one assistant general manager, and a senior vice president — in today's Classifieds.
|SPECIAL ISSUE: THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
PART Provides Quality Service for the Choice Commuter
By JAKE KEYS, Corporate Communications Coordinator, Daimler Buses North America, Greensboro, NC
Record numbers of Americans are taking to public transportation and boosting ridership numbers to their highest levels in more than 50 years. With support for public transportation growing, the challenge for transit operators now is how to reach out to customers who have not traditionally relied on public transit.
This is exactly the market where the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) in Greensboro, NC, has found success since its first run in 2002. Roughly 90 percent of PART’s riders have cars and other access to transportation, making them “choice customers.” This means that, to PART, customer service is and must remain a priority because its customers aren’t reliant on public transportation; they have options.
“We know that, in order to keep our customers coming back, we have to make our service convenient for them,” said Scott Rhine, PART programs manager. “It is very difficult to get someone to leave their car and use public transportation, but very easy to lose them with just one bad experience.”
PART has a territorial jurisdiction of 10 counties and currently provides transportation services in eight of its member counties in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina. The agency also provides intercity bus service in cooperation with North Carolina DOT on two major travel corridors in the state.
The system’s customers are generally traveling from rural areas to hospitals, universities, or central business districts in the region. Most of PART’s runs also go approximately 30 miles without a stop, making the service even more unique.
When searching for the right vehicle for these runs, PART chose to partner with Daimler Buses North America and selected the Orion VII heavy-duty, clean diesel transit bus. The low floor Orion VII offers custom-designed forward-facing seats and overhead storage racks, giving it more of a motorcoach feel to passengers. Rhine called the bus model “a very good fit for PART”; its amenities include reading lamps, WiFi, reclining seats, and foot rests, allowing customers to sit back and relax, read the newspaper, or check e-mail on their way to and from their destinations.
Despite offering these benefits to enhance the customer’s experience, however, PART knows it must run on time because its passengers depend on this service to get them to their job or school.
“I began riding the PART bus to save money when fuel prices got high. Today, I would ride if fuel was free,” said S.R. Darstein, a rider on PART’s Winston-Salem Express route. “The PART drivers and passengers have become a kind of community to me, an eagerly anticipated part of my day. I especially want to commend the PART drivers. They are friendly, courteous, and helpful. Riding the bus is definitely the most stress-free way to commute.”
To help make PART service even more convenient, the agency established a network of park-and-ride facilities located at major intersections throughout the Piedmont area. Commuters can drive to these hubs, park their cars in a safe, clean environment, and take PART to their final destination. Most of the park-and-ride sites are located on land owned by PART, with a few locations owned by NC DOT, near the 10 major travel corridors the agency serves.
“All of our success to date, and plans for the future, should be attributed to the regional partnership and continuous cooperation and support from all our city, county, and state partners,” Rhine said.
Vicki Bailey, a rider on PART’s Davidson County U.S. 52 route, said: “The staff and management have been excellent to work with and have responded to any issues that have come up. I would recommend PART to anyone trying to save money and have a comfortable and safe trip to and from work.”