APTA | Passenger Transport
December 20, 2010

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Read the classifieds in this issue to learn about 7 bids & proposals and 7 transit job opportunities!

2010: THE YEAR IN PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

Palm Tranís Forward Movement Last Year
BY CHUCK COHEN, Executive Director, and LILIANE M. AGEE-FINKE, Marketing and Public Information Manager, Palm Tran, West Palm Beach, FL

Cohen is a member of the Passenger Transport Advisory Board.

Palm Tran, Palm Beach County’s public transportation agency, provides transit services to the largest county in Florida. The agency persists in pursuing better ways of providing public transportation to the people who live and work within the county.

We operate fixed route transportation on 33 routes within the county and two routes connecting Martin County commuters with our routes in Palm Beach County. Our paratransit service, Palm Tran Connection, serves customers who qualify under the Americans with Disability Act, Transportation Disadvantaged requirements, and the Division of Senior Services program for eligible seniors traveling to and from senior centers/meal sites.

Here is a snapshot of the projects Palm Tran has implemented over the last 18 months, as well as projects we expect to complete in 2011.

The agency opened its Intermodal Transit Center in July of 2009. The facility offers convenient transfer access to all fixed route bus service operating in West Palm Beach and to South Florida Regional Transportation Authority/Tri-Rail commuter trains that operate between Miami Beach and just north of West Palm Beach.

The new Belle Glade Maintenance and Operations Facility opened this past May. The satellite facility, funded in part through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and other federal programs, provides a suitable base for expansion of service in the future.

During 2010, Palm Tran built and opened additional park-and-ride lots in Wellington and on the campus of the West Technical Education Center in Belle Glade. These programs received joint funding from Florida DOT and the Federal Transit Administration.

We used federal funds from both ARRA and the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program to purchase EMP fans for our bus fleet, as well as hybrid buses to reduce emissions and increase the efficiency of our service by improving our average miles per gallon operated. Palm Tran also received a federal earmark of $800,000 for the building of additional park-and-ride lots in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010.

Palm Tran will complete the installation of a new Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) system on its fleet of buses in FY 2011. This system will use enhanced Global Positioning Satellite technology to enhance the safety and security of transit personnel and passengers and to improve the productivity and efficiency of our service. The use of the real-time vehicle location technology will improve response time to bus incidents and should assist Palm Tran’s fixed route bus scheduling with reliability and customer information.

Awards and Recognition
Palm Tran continues to make its mission—providing safe, efficient, affordable, and reliable transportation—its primary focus, and it continues to receive recognition for its efforts.

The Florida Public Transportation Association (FPTA) presented the agency with top honors at its 2010 Annual Conference: the first-place Unit Safety Award for public transit systems operating more than 100 buses. FPTA previously honored Palm Tran six times during the past decade. FPTA also presented the agency with an Award of Honor in the electronic media category for “Transit Works,” a half-hour television show it produces in partnership with Palm Beach County’s Channel 20.

Also, Palm Tran CONNECTION’s Transportation Disadvantaged Local Coordinating Board received an award for the best Coordinating Board in the state of Florida from the Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged.

Overall, 2010 was a very good year for Palm Tran and we are looking forward to more success in 2011. Our fixed route ridership has nearly doubled during the last decade, growing from under six million riders in FY 2001 to record-breaking numbers in excess of 10 million in FY 2010. Average weekday ridership, for example, in FY 2010 increased more than 11 percent.

Public transportation agencies throughout the nation continue to examine how to expand or maintain service levels in the face of budget cuts, fare increases, and funding shortfalls in a problematic economy. Palm Tran is not unique, instituting budget cutbacks in the past three fiscal years. What may be unusual, however, it that the agency sees ongoing ridership growth on its fixed route service.

While the increase in Palm Tran’s fixed route ridership growth is in large part a clear demonstration of the community responding to a transit system that is responsive to its needs, our ability to continue to handle higher ridership on a number of routes poses additional challenges. We continue to look for ways that will allow us to expand service to meet our growing ridership demand without counting on an enhanced level of support from the county’s budget.

For example, Palm Tran CONNECTION has undergone consistent improvements in productivity, which has increased by more than 150 percent during the last decade. These improvements have enabled us to schedule and transport more than 800,000 annual paratransit passenger trips with a relatively stable operating budget, a key factor in meeting today’s service demands.

Our goals for FY 2011 for both fixed route and paratransit include further maximizing of our resources, using such new tools as hybrid bus technology and AVL to achieve additional cost savings and productivity improvements.

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