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October 26, 2009

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MORE FROM THE 2009 APTA ANNUAL MEETING

Small Operators Share Their Best Practices
By SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

Chief executives of three smaller public transportation agencies joined suppliers Oct. 6 in Orlando to share experiences unique to transit organizations of their size and to present best practices to benefit similar systems.

Carl G. Sedoryk, general manager/chief executive officer of Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) in Monterey, CA, described his agency’s growing reliance on public-private partnerships. He explained that—as federal revenue levels have remained flat and the state eliminated transit assistance—MST could only do so much by raising fares. That’s where the partnerships with local business and military interests come in.

For one thing, according to Sedoryk, farms in the region served by MST are responsible for 90 percent of the nation’s fresh produce, as well as a growing wine industry. The agency entered into a partnership with local wine growers and makers to introduce the Carmel Valley Grapevine Express, originally to transport workers but now also serving tourists. As another component of the partnership, one winery has provided 30 acres of land to grow mustard seed, which will be converted to biodiesel for use in MST buses.

MST is also helping area military installations cope with traffic congestion, using funds from the federal transit commuter benefit of up to $230 a month—approximately $2 million with no match required—to create 11 new express routes providing peak hour service to local Army and Navy communities. Nearly 1,000 military personnel signed up for the program in its first months, Sedoryk said, and enrollment continues to grow.

He noted that the city of Monterey and the Monterey Bay Aquarium provide a 20 percent local match and 100 percent of operating costs for the MST Trolley, which operates during the summer and on holidays.

Sedoryk provided a few guidelines for establishing partnerships: “Know your local businesses, remain active in local trade associations, nurture relationships with your key stakeholders, and don’t ignore the private sector.” Sedoryk pointed out that support from partners and allies can lead to assistance with transit tax and revenue measures, increased marketing exposure, and attracting non-traditional and/or choice transit riders.

Creation of an effective marketing plan was the theme of Michael S. Harbour, general manager of Intercity Transit in Olympia, WA. “Make your transit system easy for everyone to use,” he said. “Get people to try it once, then market it 24 [hours a day]/seven [days a week]/365 [days a year].”

He recommended designing high-frequency corridors, implementing a simple fare structure, providing outreach programs such as travel training, targeting specific populations such as young riders and commuters, and trumpeting any positive recognition. [Intercity Transit received the 2009 APTA Outstanding Public Transportation System award among agencies providing more than four million and fewer than 30 million annual trips.]

Daniel Ours, executive director of the Lakeland Area Mass Transit District (Citrus Connection) in Lakeland, FL, spoke about how individual community partners are helping to finance new bus shelters. For example, a Veterans Affairs clinic is providing support for a bus stop near its facility.

Kirk Shore, AVM product line manager with Clever Devices Inc. and a graduate of the Leadership APTA Class of 2009, reported that small transit systems should develop a formal process for meeting their future needs. He emphasized that investing in new technology is preferable to maintaining the status quo.

Alessia Marzano, a statistical expert in the Research Department of ASSTRA-Associazione Trasporti in Rome, the Italian association of public transit agencies, spoke about the reorganization of service in the Emilia-Romagna region. The marketing and communications campaign promoting the changes included door-to-door distribution of informative materials,
educational projects for students, and substantial information on the agency’s web site. As a result, she said, daily ridership on the area’s routes has shown a 71 percent increase with high customer satisfaction levels.

Jeanne Krieg, chair of the APTA Small Operations Committee and chief executive officer of the Eastern Contra Costa Transit Authority in Antioch, CA, served as moderator.

Motor Coach Industries Inc. sponsored this session.

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