APTA | Passenger Transport
October 25, 2010

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In Ottawa and Chicago, Transit Partners with Suppliers
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

Ottawa, ON, and Chicago are just two of the North American metropolitan areas whose public transit agencies are discovering that partnerships with their suppliers “have helped us break through” to better, more cost-efficient service—in the words of Alain Mercier, general manager-transit services for OC Transpo/City of Ottawa. Representatives of participating transit agencies and businesses relayed their experiences during a session at the APTA Annual Meeting in San Antonio, TX.

Mercier described how his system worked together with New Flyer and Clever Devices to replace one of the oldest bus fleets in Canada with new, reliable vehicles from New Flyer, equipped with software from Clever Devices.

“The cost of business had been increasing while customer value was falling,” he explained. “We were seeing growth in passenger demand, but it had prevented the agency from meeting the city’s greenhouse gas mitigation goals …. We needed a bus partner that was a technology solution provider, not just a bus manufacturer.”

After discussions with New Flyer about “concepts to integrate maintenance, fleet options, and technology,” Mercier said, OC Transpo opened a new facility and took receipt of the first buses in a 306-vehicle order in September.

Paul Smith, executive vice president, sales and marketing, for New Flyer, noted his surprise at being a full partner in the process rather than just helping the agency explore its options. He listed the various savings from the process: reduced fuel costs; lower engine overhaul costs; reduced future midlife overhaul costs; limited future maintenance costs because of the newer fleet; lower inventory costs; savings associated with improved bus availability and improved vandalism protection; and a better environmental footprint.

John P. Walsh, chief research and strategy officer for Clever Devices, said the concept of “multiple partners, both public and private, working together for a single goal” was unprecedented.

“Usually, each participant in the process is an island of information, providing technology solutions for its own purposes without providing maximum benefit to the transit agency,” Walsh explained. “These missed opportunities limit the opportunities to improve system reliability and provide validated performance metrics. Leveraging technology solutions to benefit both the transit agency and their vehicle providers through a collaborative process can deliver these outcomes for both parties.”

As a result, all partners have access to “true business intelligence and decision support systems that have not been available before,” he said, while the transit agency achieves “measurable, real reductions in operating costs … [and] migration from a reactive, non-predictable, inefficient maintenance model to more efficient, less costly condition-based maintenance.”

Speakers from Chicago provided a different perspective, referring specifically to the replacement of antiquated technology in Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) stations and vehicles and how the authority benefits from the expertise of the manufacturers. Peter Ousley, CTA chief of staff, explained the situation briefly: “As much as we pride ourselves on being able to maintain our buses, we wouldn’t try to build our own buses.”

He listed some of CTA’s innovations, such as allowing the use of contactless credit or debit cards to pay fares rather than relying on dedicated fare media; public-private partnerships to upgrade facilities, such as the $4 million in upgrades needed at the North/Clybourn Station; corporate sponsorships of agency assets through a 502(c)3 corporation; and establishment of the Adopt-A-Station program to promote community support of its local station,

Elizabeth Gallagher, program director with Chicago Transit Partners, reported on the partnership over the past two decades between CTA and her organization, which comprises AECOM and Kenny Construction. “We work as an integrated team,” she said. “CTA has budget constraints and doesn’t want to pay for a management team, so we work with our core team.”

Among other efforts, Chicago Transit Partners lowered the amount of slow zones in the CTA rail system from 23 percent in 2007 to 10 percent in 2010, and oversaw the $529 million capacity expansion on the Brown Line. Its future plans include state of good repair upgrades throughout the system and modernization of 100-year-old structures.

“We want to profit from these efforts, but responsibly,” added CTA’s Ousley. “We want a win-win situation. We’re also interested in the impact on communities. We don’t accept the argument that because we’re in financial crisis we shouldn’t look ahead. These relationships keep us whole and poised to ride the crest of the recovery.”

The Principle Partnering Group LLC sponsored the session.


Speakers at the session on transit agency-business partnerships include, from left, Elizabeth Gallagher, Peter Ousley, John P. Walsh, Paul Smith, and Alain Mercier; moderator Paul P. Skoutelas; and Lolalisa King, representing The Principle Partnering Group.


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