May 10, 2010
The classifieds in this issue include three chief executive officer positions!
|COVERAGE OF 2010 BUS & PARATRANSIT CONFERENCE
Host Forum: Working Smarter, Conserving Resources
BY SARAH HOLLANDER, For Passenger Transport
Shorter waits for phone callers, more miles between bus breakdowns, less overtime: these are just a few of the results the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) attributed to data-driven performance management at its May 3 Host Forum during the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference.
Gale Fisk, executive director of GCRTA’s Office of Management and Budget, explained how the agency improved service and saved $15 million over a two-year period by using a strategy called TransitStat. Fisk noted that TransitStat challenges the status quo: “People used to give the same tried and true urban legends for reasons. That doesn’t work anymore. Now you’ve got to back up what you say with real data.”
TransitStat isn’t a software: it’s a philosophy, a way of using data to spot trends, dig for causes, and suggest solutions, said Dr. Floun’say R. Caver, GCRTA’s director of quality service. “You already own everything you need to start this program,” he said.
The authority based TransitStat on successful PerformanceStat projects at other public agencies. The New York Police Department first used the process in the mid-1990s to identify and tackle crime trends. Baltimore followed, using the system to improve efficiency on everything from filling potholes to collecting trash and replacing street lights.
In Cleveland, a TransitStat team of GCRTA representatives meets weekly. For example, the group focused on a significant problem with overtime, analyzing the situation by the workers, work type, and cause. By shifting schedules and making other changes, the agency shaved $2.3 million from its overtime budget this year.
GCRTA also used TransitStat to investigate a growing problem with bus breakdowns. Planners had 60 days to analyze the problem and try to turn the trend around. They reviewed reasons for tow calls, shifts and procedures at maintenance garages, and employee complaints about part availability and inspection gaps.
By shifting employees to late evening and early morning hours and making other changes, GCRTA reduced its backlog of work orders by 65 percent, cut towing costs by $150,000 a year, and increased average miles between service interruptions to more than 8,000.
A similar effort helped improve service at GCRTA’s telephone information center. In 2008, the agency lost nearly 30 percent of calls because of customer hangups. A review found that staff were taking more than three minutes to answer calls. With no money for more staff, GCRTA looked for other solutions.
The agency reviewed schedules and breaks, defined objectives, and aligned work shifts with call volumes. Detailed weekly performance reviews help employees monitor their progress. The department also began meeting biweekly to create a team-based culture where employees can share tips for moving calls along. As a result, the same number of employees answered 11 percent more calls the next year.
After mining data for the source of problems, GCRTA strives to deploy resources quickly and follow up relentlessly, said Joseph A. Calabrese, chief executive officer and general manager/secretary-treasurer.
Fisk agreed. “We’re not victims,” he said. “We can actually manage. We can generate change.”
Benefits of Branding
In another presentation at the forum, GCRTA detailed successes with creating brands for three of its services—free downtown shuttles, park-and-ride motorcoaches, and HealthLine Bus Rapid Transit. Creating separate identities has helped attract new customers, said Stephen Bitto, director of marketing.
For example, the park-and-ride commuter coaches feature high-backed comfortable chairs, drop-down tables, and real-time station information on bus arrival times.
GCRTA has seen average daily downtown ridership increase from 800 on its former loop bus service to 3,500 to 5,000 on its current trolley-replica buses. The agency also picked especially friendly drivers for the two downtown shuttle routes, which operate free through sponsorship by a local bank.
The agency bought the city’s first articulated buses for the BRT HealthLine, which run in dedicated median lanes and boast extensive public art and landscaping. The sale of naming rights to two area hospital systems helps pay for maintenance.
For all three services, GCRTA’s goal is to exceed expectations in the face of sometimes derogatory opinions about public transportation.
“Our feeling is, if you get them on board the first time, they won’t want to get off,” Bitto said.