Passenger Transport - January 19, 2009
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Stimulus Package Unveiled
The $825 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, released yesterday by House Democrats, includes $9 billion for public transportation projects and $1.1 billion for Amtrak and high speed rail ready-to-go projects.
The bill includes $90 billion for infrastructure improvement projects. Of that, $30 billion would be allocated for highway projects, $10 billion for rail and mass transit projects, and $1.1 billion to improve the speed and capacity of intercity passenger rail service.
Rep. Dave Obey, (D-WI), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, called the package “the first crucial step in a concerted effort to create and save 3 to 4 million jobs, jumpstart our economy and begin the process of transforming it for the 21st century.” Democrats hope to approve the package by February and then send it to the Senate, in hopes that it will arrive on the new president’s desk by Presidents’ Day, February 16.
In a press release from Obey's office, the portion allocated to public transit would break down as follows:
New Construction: $1 billion for Capital Investment Grants for new commuter rail or other light rail systems to increase public use of mass transit and to speed projects already in construction. The Federal Transit Administration has $2.4 billion in pre-approved projects.
Upgrades and Repair: $2 billion to modernize existing transit systems, including renovations to stations, security systems, computers, equipment, structures, signals, and communications. Funds will be distributed through the existing formula. The repair backlog is nearly $50 billion.
Transit Capital Assistance: $6 billion to purchase buses and equipment needed to increase public transportation and improve intermodal and transit facilities. The Department of Transportation estimates a $3.2 billion maintenance backlog and $9.2 billion in needed improvements. The American Public Transportation Association identified 787 ready-to-go transit projects totaling $15.5 billion. Funds will be distributed through the existing formulas.
Amtrak and Intercity Passenger Rail Construction Grants: $1.1 billion to improve the speed and capacity of intercity passenger rail service. The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General estimates the North East Corridor alone has a backlog of over $10 billion.
Financing Commission Previews Funding Options
What does the future hold for funding transportation infrastructure?
This was at the heart of a presentation by commissioners from the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, held Jan. 11 as part of the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Four commission members provided a preview of their report—expected to be released in February—which will consider potential new financings options for the U.S. surface transportation system. They pointed out that the current gas tax covers only about one-fifth of the cost of the current transportation system.
One of the principal recommendations of the report is to move away from the current per-gallon gas tax toward a Vehicle Miles Traveled tax. The commissioners outlined the huge gap between existing revenue sources and the nation’s transportation funding needs. Said Commissioner Bryan P. Grote: “It’s not just an immediate problem, it’s a structural problem: the gap between revenue and needs.”
They also focused on such issues as climate change and the upcoming economic stimulus package, the latter topic generating such questions as: To what degree do we spend the money on highway capacity expansion vs. rehabilitation and maintenance and alternative transportation modes?
One questioner made the point that if the transportation industry does receive federal economic stimulus money, then the transportation industry must manage that money correctly. If it does not, industry experts and advocates would have difficulty arguing for substantially more authorization funding. This discussion evoked universal agreement. The panel was followed by a larger group of transportation industry representatives, including APTA President William W. Millar, who participated in a roundtable discussion titled The Future of Federal Transportation Funding and Finance—Paradigm Shift or More of the Same?
Transit: Pivotal to Energy, Environment, InfrastructureNew York MTA Committee Releases Sustainability Report
By Susan Berlin
Infrastructure renewal and expansion, climate change, and energy policy are three critical issues facing the U.S. and its metropolitan areas, and public transportation stands in the “sweet spot” where they overlap. This is the primary message of Greening Mass Transit & Metro Regions, a report prepared by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Sustainability and announced at a Jan. 8 event on Capitol Hill. A synopsis of the report is now available, while a draft version of the full report can be found online at www.mta.info/environment.
The report quantifies the environmental benefits of public transit, including nearly 100 recommendations for strategies and technologies to help the MTA region reduce its carbon footprint while generating long-term savings and economic growth.
The shift from single-occupancy vehicles to public transportation is of primary importance for both economic and environmental reasons, commission Chairman Jonathan F.P. Rose said in presenting the report to MTA Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Elliot G. Sander. Other speakers at the event included five members of Congress and APTA President William W. Millar.
Among its other findings, the report calls on Congress to pass a $1 trillion green stimulus bill that focuses on 21st-century transit and renewable energy, and to set a $1 trillion authorization level for the next federal transportation bill. It also proposes raising the monthly commuter transit tax benefit, which increased to $120 on Jan. 1, to $220 to provide parity with the current parking benefit; implementing a 40-cent increase in the federal gas tax over five years; and shifting the gas tax to mileage-based user fees.
“The MTA is committed to ‘greening’ both its capital and operating budgets,” said Sander, who also chaired APTA’s TransitVision 2050 Task Force. “We want to invest in green public transit and green housing clustered around public transit…we believe that green mobility is as important as green energy.”
“This report will stand as a template for the future of the New York region and other metropolitan areas,” said commission member Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association. “Our development process has to be greener, built around livable communities.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who hosted the Capitol Hill event, echoed Yaro’s comments. “Sustainability is more vital than ever before,” he said. “Beyond New Yorkers, the greening of MTA can serve as an example to transit systems across the country.”
Other members of the House who attended the event were Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Michael McMahon and John Hall(both D-NY), and James Himes (D-CT).
Rulemaking: What Can You Expect?
By James LaRusch
APTA Chief Counsel and Vice President, Corporate Affairs
A few weeks back, Passenger Transport published an article highlighting proposed rules at various stages of the regulatory process that were unlikely to be completed during the outgoing administration. What else might be looming on the regulatory front?
Often, when a new administration moves in, it institutes a freeze on regulatory actions. For instance, on Inauguration Day in 2001, President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card, issued a 60-day freeze on all regulatory actions then pending or passed during the Clinton Administration but not yet in effect. That order affected more than 300 rules, most of which were later discarded by the incoming administration.
A similar directive from President-elect Obama could delay or derail many of the most damaging proposed rules left unfinished. This could include U.S. DOT’s pending changes to its Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulation, originally proposed in February 2006 (not a misprint: the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published almost three full years ago); the Federal Transit Administration’s proposed changes to its School Service regulation; and FTA’s 2007 proposal to change the New Starts regulation. All three may be subject to a freeze.
Regulations passed in the last 60 days may also be revoked under a law known as the Congressional Review Act. This seldom-used statute was passed in 1996 and allows the House and Senate to adopt a resolution overturning a rule within 60 days of its publication. The Congressional actions can be passed by simple majority; amendments and filibusters are not allowed. If Congress acts under this authority, the administration is forbidden from issuing a rule that is “substantially the same.”
Although none of the regulations important to transit agencies currently fall into this category, any final rules passed in the waning days of the Bush Administration would be subject to Congressional review. Although we cannot be sure what direction either the new administration or Congress will take, we can be certain that the New Year will bring answers to many looming regulatory issues.
How Do You Keep Track of It All?
Will there be a freeze on any regulatory actions? Will the new administration withdraw pending regulations? And will Congress exercise its authority to overturn regulations?
The answers to these questions and other regulatory issues will be available online at www.apta.com.
Be sure to watch for upgrades, including the ability to obtain RSS feeds, which will alert you to new postings on the SAFETEA-LU Rulemaking and Notices page.
New Directions for Public Transit in 2009
With a new Congress and president, a dire economic forecast, and mounting concerns about climate change, 2009 looks to be a challenging year—and public transportation professionals are taking a realistic yet wide-ranging approach to their role in it.
Passenger Transport, therefore, highlights in this issue visions of the year ahead from numerous perspectives. Transit system general managers, chief executive officers, maintenance personnel, paratransit operators, transit management professionals, and suppliers share what they see as their priorities in 2009.
These contributors cover an array of topics—from implementing system improvements to coping with expanding ridership at a time of economic downturn. Others describe the need to stay current with technology and human resources, offer tips on creating a safety culture, discuss the importance of paratransit service, and examine the impact of federal policy on the public transit sector.
Far-reaching, thoughtful, thought-provoking—but by no means comprehensive—Passenger Transport presents “Looking Ahead.”
Presidentís Perspective/Looking Ahead: A Year of Promise
By William W. Millar
As I think about what lies ahead for 2009, I’m reminded of the words of the great philosopher, Yogi Berra, who said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Anyway, here are my few thoughts on what is taking shape for the public transportation industry at the federal level.
Washington, DC, is abuzz—awaiting the inauguration of our 44th president, Barack Obama, and his new administration. Everyone is talking about the number of people planning to attend this historic event and the logistics of getting to and from the many different venues, from the swearing-in, to the parade, to the inaugural balls that evening. All eyes are on public transportation—as the only way there’s a fighting chance to accommodate this record number is by relying on buses and trains ... or walking.
Not only here in Washington but across the country, there’s much anticipation for our new president, grounded in the realities of the economy and the recession. I thought one of the commentators on MSNBC summed up the mood of the American people very well as we begin 2009 by noting that she has never seen such a high degree of both hope and fear simultaneously.
As I think about the upcoming year for our industry, I fall much more on the hope side, as there is so much promise and opportunity to advance public transportation. America today faces many challenges that public transit can help solve.
Support for public transit is at an all-time high. The American public has shown it strongly supports public transit by taking it in record numbers and by voting for increased funding in state and local ballot initiatives on Election Day, even in the middle of the economic meltdown.
APTA recently commissioned research to better understand where Americans stand on public transportation as we ramp up our legislative efforts. Nationally, a super-majority of Americans—73 percent—support the allocation of their tax dollars to expand and improve public transit, and there is even higher support “inside the Beltway.” As I see it, Americans get it. They understand that we need affordable ways to get around. They understand that we need to eliminate the stranglehold that foreign countries have on us due to our dependence on their oil. They understand that unless we reduce the amount of travel in cars, we will never be able to sufficiently reduce our carbon emissions. They understand that our quality of life is dependent on not being stuck in traffic, and that we must provide more—and better—travel options for older adults as well as future generations.
While I am optimistic about the year ahead, I am also realistic about the impact that the economy is going to have on each of our budgets. With local and state tax revenue decreasing, transit systems will have to reduce expenses, cut service, or increase fares. Businesses are also looking to contain costs and weather the impact of the recession. Hopefully, the economic stimulus bill can jump-start our economy and shorten the recession, while also giving a boost to many public transit projects.
Right now, it’s all about economic stimulus in Washington. Thanks to our members who answered our call for ready-to-go projects, APTA has identified $47.8 billion in transit needs that could be met by a two-year stimulus bill, and our survey identified more than $12 billion in projects that could be advanced in fewer than 90 days. As Congress works to get an economy recovery bill completed, there will be many different proposals and iterations. Our good friend, Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has recommended $12 billion for public transit and $5 billion for high-speed and passenger rail in his economic stimulus proposal. It is unclear what the Senate will propose as I write this.
It’s important that we all make the case for public transit investment in the economic recovery legislation. Now is the time to invest in infrastructure for the 21st century that will have the triple benefit of boosting the economy, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and decreasing carbon emissions. It’s also important that transit systems work to make sure their ready-to-go projects are ready to go as quickly as possible once the stimulus money is made available.
While President-elect Obama had asked for a bill to be on his desk by the time he is inaugurated, Congressional leaders are saying they will be done by mid-February. Time will tell!
Turning to other legislative issues for 2009, authorization of SAFETEA-LU legislation will be front and center. This important piece of transit and highway legislation expires on Sept. 30, and I believe we are well positioned to push for significant increases in investment and other favorable policy changes
The APTA Board of Directors approved recommendations developed over the last year by the Legislative Committee and the Authorization Task Force that calls for investment of $123 billion for public transit, more than double the current investment, and our Research, Communications, and Advocacy (RCA) program is now in full gear. Congress is going to have to wrestle with finding new revenue sources or increasing the gas tax to fund the bill, so there will be many twists and turns during the year.
It is also expected that Congress will focus on energy and climate change legislation this year, and our goal is to make sure that public transit is part of these bills.
So as I sum up my thoughts for the year ahead, let me quote Yogi Berra again: “The future isn’t what it used to be.” You’re right, Yogi; it is going to be better.
2009: A Year of Opportunities for Public Transportation
By Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D.
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority
Happy New Year! I say those words with a deeper sincerity this year than in years past. After the devastating hardship of last year’s economic downturn, I genuinely feel great anticipation and excitement with the arrival of 2009 that I have not felt in a long time over the arrival of a new year.
Looking ahead for 2009, I am very hopeful that we will see the dawning of a new era of national importance for public transit all across America. This year, major decisions will be made at all levels—national, state, regional, and local—that will have an impact on public transportation organizations throughout the country:
* How much money will the federal government allocate for public transportation in the next six-year transportation authorization bill?
* How much money will President Obama provide to public transportation in his economic stimulus package?
* Will transit receive a fair share of the allocation?
* What actions will be taken at local levels to increase investment in public transportation infrastructure and services?
The answer to each of these questions is key to our industry and communities of all sizes throughout North America. Because how we manage our systems during this period in time is critical to the outcome, I suggest we stay focused on the things that matter most: performance-driven accountability, safety, reliability, security, and our best in customer service.
For the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), where I serve as general manager and CEO, that means continuing our work to maintain a safe, reliable, and environmentally-friendly system; implementing innovative and prudent business practices; and doing all we can to enhance the overall quality of our services.
Over the course of the past five years, MARTA has participated in an extensive rail car rehabilitation program that has been a critical element of the authority’s emphasis on “state of good repair” and system preservation. For $246 million, MARTA overhauled 218 of its oldest cars. This vitally important capital project was designed to increase service reliability and on-time performance as well as to enhance the overall customer experience.
The savings we received rounded out the beauty of the program. Not only did we increase our safety profile, but we also lowered operations costs and saved money. By refurbishing our rail cars instead of buying new ones at $3 million each, the average cost of a new rail car in 2005, MARTA saved an estimated $448 million. Most importantly, in just this past year, our rail car reliability has improved by over 22 percent, which has contributed to better on-time performance and overall customer satisfaction.
Engineers and rail car specialists from Alstom Transport in Hornell, NY, took each vehicle down to its shell and rebuilt it from the ground up using new components and designs. Each rail car received new brakes and propulsion systems, new communication systems, interior lighting improvements, new stainless steel hand-grabs and refurbished seats, door and climate control system upgrades, easy-to-clean rubberized floors, new equipment and upgrades to the auxiliary electrical system, and a redesigned ergonomically enhanced operator’s cab.
The last renovated rail car was delivered Dec. 31, 2008, and acceptance testing is scheduled for a February completion. MARTA is also preparing to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of its rail service this year. We will also host a rail car symposium to help us look carefully and creatively at our recently approved “Concept 3” 14-county Atlanta regional transit expansion plan, which calls for a $56 billion investment over the next 30 to 50 years. We have invited transit agencies and rail car manufacturers from around the world to join us and our regional partners. We believe this will be a preeminent event featuring inventive and contemporary rail car technologies that will be of specific assistance to policy makers and staff across our region and state.
We plan to let our customers know that traveling on MARTA’s rail system is not only safer, but that we are also doing business in a sensible and cost-conscious manner. The economic challenges of the day not only demand that we do so, they also require a coming together of transportation-oriented agencies and organizations in a new way.
Here in the Atlanta region, new partnerships and coalitions are on the verge of forming, which will transform our region into a world-class transit center. In the first week of 2009, leaders from transportation boards of the metro Atlanta area and the state met for the first time for a constructive conversation on our area’s future transportation outlook, with transit expansion one of the main topics discussed.
Of foremost importance, however, is the need for a unified effort to move our region forward. Without doubt, such unity will be essential to MARTA’s efforts as well as the efforts of other participating agencies to obtain the funding and legislative support necessary to achieving future goals and objectives. We all agree that what’s needed now is an exceptional display of extraordinary leadership on all levels. At MARTA, we are proud that every elected official and leader in our state and region will resolve to do whatever is necessary to protect the interests and well-being of public transportation and our customers.
Nationally, it seems the stage has been set for such relief. As President Obama begins his first term, it is encouraging to know that investments in transportation infrastructure and services are central to the conversations he is having regarding the economic stimulus package he will propose to Congress. It is to be hoped that state and local governments will follow his lead. As I look ahead to the year before us, I have to believe they will.
With ridership numbers up and a growing appreciation for public transit as an essential economic and environmentally friendly component of our nation’s communities, it seems the time is right for a new era to dawn for our industry. As the general manager and CEO of the ninth largest transit agency in America, APTA’s chair, and a passionate proponent of public transit, I commit to doing all that I can to make that happen. I trust our paths will cross as we take up this fight together.
May each of you have a happy and successful New Year!
Dealing with Growing Ridership Despite Tough Economic Times
By Paul Ballard
APTA Bus & Paratransit CEOs Committee
Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority and Regional Transportation Authority
Last year may have been our country’s toughest economic time since the Great Depression, but for public transit, the new customers kept coming. We all struggled during 2008 to manage skyrocketing ridership as our budgets shrank beneath us. Some of us were ready for growth when fuel prices shot up, and some of us weren’t.
Will we be ready for another new wave of passengers in 2009 or 2010?
Indications are that the current cutback in oil production will drive gasoline prices higher than ever. We’ll again risk outgrowing our ability to provide quality service. Or maybe not: There are several things we can and must do.
First and foremost, we must actively participate in APTA’s legislative initiatives to approve a new surface transportation authorization bill and options for increasing federal funding under the new administration in Washington. That much is obvious.
Locally, we’re working with the Tennessee Public Transportation Association, area Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and elected and appointed officials to develop a steady, reliable source of dedicated funding for public transportation across Tennessee. In addition, at Nashville MTA/RTA, we’ve identified some key operational components that we believe will prepare us for the tidal wave of new passengers we’re likely to see in the coming months.
Here’s our checklist for success, including projects we want to continue as well as some that are already in progress.
* Fast-track fare collection. Last year, we absorbed double-digit ridership increases month after month without having to extend schedules. We accomplished this primarily through increasing our partnerships with businesses willing to pay for employees to ride public transit, and by making it easy for individuals to pay with credit or debit cards. Through our EasyRide partnerships, riders simply swiped their employee ID cards through the farebox, and we billed their employers for the total number of trips. For example, Vanderbilt University faculty, staff, and students took more than 60,000 rides in October, and the university paid with one check at the end of the month. Tennessee state employees are among those enjoying the same benefits, and this month Nashville Electric Service became the most recent addition to the EasyRide program. We’ll be working hard this year to sell EasyRide to as many employers as possible. Two years ago, Nashville MTA began accepting credit and debit cards on all of its revenue vehicles. Suddenly, we appealed to a whole new demographic: potential riders who didn’t know how to use the bus, suffering in silence from fear of the farebox. The familiar MasterCard and Visa logos now greet these riders as they board. Everyone knows how to swipe a credit or debit card, and using them means faster boarding for MTA.
* Regional consolidation. It makes sense for smaller agencies to combine, join with larger agencies, or find new ways to work together to achieve economies of scale and improved passenger convenience. On Dec. 1, 2008, the Nashville MTA assumed management of the RTA. The regional agency is responsible for suburban bus routes, vanpools, and commuter rail. By contracting to use MTA’s management team, RTA instantly acquired expertise in finance, personnel, marketing, and administration that it badly needed but could not otherwise afford. The combination will also facilitate coordination of passenger service between suburban and metro lines and between buses and trains.
* Improved technologies. We can use buses and vans much more efficiently by taking full advantage of new technology in every area. Automatic Vehicle Locators (AVL) are the latest work in progress at MTA. At present, we use AVL for automatic stop announcements. By summer, we expect to take advantage of this global positioning technology to tell us in real time exactly where our buses are and how efficiently our schedules are structured. We will be able to calculate on-time performance with no guesswork. We can identify problems immediately and respond to scheduling issues for a rapidly growing ridership. As another example, our partnerships with employers and introduction of credit cards on all vehicles are possible only through the very latest technology in electronic fareboxes. In this case, the farebox manufacturer helped ease the pain of mastering the technology. The difficult part was negotiating the credit card service to fit the passengers’ needs. We discovered that applying it for practical use was part technology, part sheer determination. As transit managers, we must move beyond our comfort zone to stay a step ahead of customers’ increasing expectations in the future.
* Safety enhancement. The passenger rail industry took some hard shots in 2008, not just in this country, but globally. Recent Congressional action requiring positive train control by 2015 can be turned into a winning formula by restoring public confidence. While much work remains to be done on implementation, this is a good opportunity to reassure the traveling public that public transportation providers are committed to making what is currently the safest mode of transportation even safer.
* Emphasis on Bus Rapid Transit and light rail. Even as demand for public transit grows and budgets tighten, passengers expect miracles for their (taxpayer) money. Anything that zips them past the gridlock of stalled traffic in our busiest urban corridors is sold. We want light rail along corridors of greatest density, or we want light rail to guide development to areas of less density.
Either way, the staggering construction costs of light rail are beyond the means of many metropolitan areas. In some cases, BRT can perhaps pave the way to lay the tracks, eventually. For now, Nashville and many other urban areas will look to BRT as an affordable, practical, and timely way to alleviate congestion. We expect to implement BRT increments, as big or as little as we can fund, starting in 2009.
It’s always difficult to predict how the future will unfold, but these are activities that Nashville and middle Tennessee will pursue in the coming year, no matter what happens. These will be the mainstays of metropolitan transit systems of our size in 2009.
Despite Financial Woes, Keep Building...The Public Transit Customers Will Come!
By Joyce Eleanor
APTA Vice Chair, Bus & Paratransit Operations
Community Transit, Snohomish County, WA
Like many public transit agencies around the country, my own mid-size bus and vanpool operation in northwest Washington State faced serious budget challenges heading into 2009.
Last year’s volatile fuel prices and the severe drop in sales taxes—our primary funding source—led to drastic cost-saving measures and a fare increase for Snohomish County’s Community Transit. But, looking at our growing ridership and lofty capital plans, I presented my staff with two mandates: We would not cut staff, and we would not cut service.
To the credit of everyone at our agency, including my conservative chief financial officer, we found a way not only to maintain service in 2009, but increase it, while at the same time moving full speed ahead on some of the most exciting transit projects in the Puget Sound region.
Chief among these projects is our 17-mile Swift line, which will introduce Bus Rapid Transit to the region. Construction has begun on the line’s 24 stations, which will feature stylish weather protection, ticket vending machines, and next bus arrival signs. Swift will not only improve transit service on our busiest corridor, it will greatly increase service available to our customers.
At our ground-breaking ceremony in December 2008, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) lauded the project for our partnership with local jurisdictions and for keeping jobs in the region.
While we would like to put more of our funding into service, we recognize that access to our system can be a barrier, so we are also building new parking capacity. Our new Mountlake Terrace Transit Center will double the capacity of the old park-and-ride at the same site. The environmentally friendly project includes a four-story, five-level parking garage with solar energy panels that will feed the grid, the daylighting of a historic stream that runs through the neighborhood, and extensive use of recycled materials. Our community involvement includes a cast glass art project designed by local high school students.
We’re also increasing parking capacity in the northern part of our service area with construction of a new 200-stall commuter park-and-ride in Marysville. This rapidly growing area already has several park-and-rides, but demand has increased along with population growth.
Another exciting partnership in our region this year is the ORCA (One Regional Card for All) smart card project. The program will simplify fare collection on seven transportation agencies in the Puget Sound region by allowing passengers to swipe their card on a reader to pay their fare. The other participating transit agencies are Everett Transit in Everett; King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit, both in Seattle; Kitsap Transit in Bremerton; Pierce Transit in Lakewood; and Washington State Ferries. In our effort to improve the transit experience, this complex project aims to consolidate more than 300 types of fare media onto one card!
As ORCA and Swift demonstrate, technology is important to Community Transit’s operation. We’re now developing a transit technology program that will allow us to employ the most advanced technology available to assist in our operations. Among the most exciting features are the use of Global Positioning Satellite systems to track our bus locations, automatic passenger counters, automatic stop annunciation, computer-aided dispatch, real-time bus information, and transit signal priority. The transit technology program should give us better ridership data, improve our operations, and improve the transit experience for passengers.
Clearly, 2008 was a challenging year for Community Transit. My challenge to the agency this year, and to others throughout the country, is to look at ridership trends and invest now in projects that will pay off for years to come. It’s not easy, and not every agency can do it. In our case, we used up years’ worth of reserves and delayed some purchases to continue on our path. And my fingers are crossed that the economy will rebound this year. But I’m very proud of the fact that Community Transit has shown that—with planning, hard work, and a dedicated staff—it’s possible to continue providing great service, maintaining jobs, and improving service for our customers.
Trump the Slump! Top 10 Steps to Fight Back
By Aaron Weinstein
APTA Marketing and Communications Committee
Department Manager, Marketing and Research
San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District
OK, financial support is down 15 percent and you have 20 percent more riders to accommodate. If you’re a public transit manager facing this kind of scenario, you’re not alone. And, unfortunately, things are going to get worse before they get better….
So what to do? You have two choices:
Option A: Hide under your desk and wait it out, or
Option B: Retool anything and everything to become more efficient and more customer-focused.
If you do decide to risk crawling out from under your desk, here are 10 ideas on how to trump the economic slump.
Declare a fiscal emergency. Transit professionals who have lived through earthquakes, hurricanes, or terrorist attacks know that people come together during emergencies to do great things. Sometimes an emergency is just what the doctor ordered to tackle antiquated work rules, unproductive service, or performance problems. Your organization won’t know it’s an emergency, though, unless you declare it. They await your signal to spring into action.
Engage staff at all levels. In large organizations, communication can be spotty. Communicate directly with staff at all levels, and engage them to find efficiencies and better ways to serve the customer. Many of their “global” suggestions may be off the mark because staff lack adequate information, but their “local” suggestions will give you insight into areas where you lack the data. You’ll be amazed at the problem-solving skills your employees show you when you bother to ask. Record and respond to each idea, identify the few best to implement, and thank everyone for their help.
Line item budget. Ultimately, finding savings is hard work, and there’s no substitute for a budget that delineates expenditures right down to each purchase. That’s too much detail for most CEOs to digest, so delegate the detail to your lieutenants and focus on areas with the biggest potential for savings. Since most of your costs are labor, consider creating a line-item position budget, too. Focus on positions charged with process/compliance versus those that provide tangible services to the public (see “Eliminate red tape,” next).
Eliminate red tape. Map out your hiring, purchasing, and other processes, and eliminate steps that aren’t absolutely necessary. There’s nothing like a crisis to break through barriers to streamlining work (plus your team will thank you immensely!).
Reward savings and efficiencies. Establish an organization-wide goal for savings, and reward everyone if the goal is met. A crisis will only motivate your staff for a few months, while organization-wide rewards will sustain motivation for the length of the crisis (could be a few years, folks).
Share the pain. We all know that cutting perks won’t do much for the budget, but consider the symbolic value to employees and customers. You won’t successfully lead the charge unless you have your troops behind you. Show that you’re personally committed to sharing the pain, whether it be spending a day in the trenches or foregoing perks (except APTA travel, of course).
Focus on the customer. Customer focus is often the first casualty during a fiscal crisis. Appoint a customer advocate for the budget process, and make sure that voice is heard. Cutting services and raising fares may ultimately be necessary, but try to avoid the classic downward spiral …
Beware of “opportunities.” With federal stimulus spending imminent, beware of projects that will saddle your agency with operating costs for years to come. Expansion is great, but press stakeholders for a firm commitment to fund the operation. The stimulus opportunity can put you in the driver’s seat, but only if you act now. Of course, you could instead invest only in projects that create operating efficiencies, but that might not be too popular, would it?
Management 101. Organizational change can be complex and overwhelming. To allow you to focus on substantive issues, appoint someone to manage the process; get the right people at the table for each decision; and establish objectives, timetables, and metrics for every measure you take.
Communicate, communicate, communicate (because you know you’ll regret it if you don’t). Tap your communication professionals to craft the message and media to reach every constituency, including employees; customers; funding agencies; and businesses. Remember communication is a two-way street. Schedule regular check-ins to hear what stakeholders are saying to avoid surprises.
In summary, it’s easy to lead during an upturn when there’s plenty of money to keep everyone happy and nothing needs to change. But what we choose to do during a downturn? That’s a true test of leadership.
Getting into the Race on Procurement Issues
By Michael P. Melaniphy
APTA BMBG Procurement Committee
Vice President Public Sector
Motor Coach Industries Inc.
In auto racing, when the cars approach the starting line, the crew chiefs will usually call over the radio and tell the driver to “Tighten your belts, it’s time to go racing.” As we begin 2009, that seems like pretty good advice for those of us in the public transportation industry as well. After coming off a year that saw some of the biggest ridership gains of our generation, we should expect 2009 to be a race to find ways to retain those new customers and grow our public transportation systems.
This is going to be a very exciting year for our industry. The general public and many of our elected officials see and appreciate the benefits of safe, efficient, and accessible public transportation. In many cases, we no longer have to explain why public transportation is important; instead, we have to develop new ways to effectively convey our expansion plans and the mechanisms needed to fund them. The overwhelming positive results of many tax initiatives across the country this past year support this new reality.
In 2009, we hope to see the new federal funding legislation drafted, debated, and enacted. By all indications, this legislation should bring with it record funding levels. The federal government will have new leadership this year and, as a result, so will the Federal Transit Administration. This will be on top of the new federal procurement regulations as outlined in 4420.1F. Add to that the anticipated economic stimulus package being proposed by President-elect Obama. By all indications, this package is expected to invest significant new funding into our public transportation infrastructure. This bodes well not only for transit systems, but also for the broad spectrum of private sector partners specializing in the transit field. This includes consultants in multiple disciplines, vehicle manufacturers, engineers and architects, construction firms, project management organizations, suppliers, and yes, even lawyers.
The new administration has made it abundantly clear that time is of the essence. As such, the public and private sectors must work together toward a common goal of building better systems with expanded capacity in a sustainable way as quickly as possible. This means that we must find methods to expedite the procurement process in mutually beneficial ways.
One of the key components of that process will be an equitable allocation of risk. Taking the time to understand more fully the implications of risk allocation and the multiple mitigation strategies that exist can yield quantifiable benefits for all parties. Look for this to be a key issue in 2009.
As we face a worldwide economic contraction, we must be cognizant of the potential impacts on our industry. In general, transit is a low-margin industry for the private sector. As companies review their business units in these challenging economic times, some are making tough decisions about whether to remain in the public transportation business at all.
We need competition to maintain a healthy industry. Bid proposals by multiple bidders are one of the basic tenants of the public sector procurement process. As such, it is incumbent upon the public sector to draft solicitations that take into account the realities of the current economy. This includes realistic bonding, insurance, and indemnity requirements, as well as performance criteria that are not excessively punitive in nature.
As the public transportation industry grows, we have the opportunity to improve the efficiency, safety, and image of the service put on and under the street. The private sector has made noteworthy gains in all of these areas. Vehicles are smarter, better looking and cleaner, construction techniques are greener, and new software is allowing us to do things unimaginable just a few short years ago. The state of the art is advancing rapidly, and it is going to be exciting to see how the implementations of these new technologies are going to transform our industry for the better.
It’s time to tighten up those belts and get up on that steering wheel because we are headed for a fast-paced and exciting ride in 2009, and the green flag just dropped.
Paratransit: Providing Accessible Transit for All
By Tammy Haenftling
Chair, APTA Access Committee
Assistant Vice President, Paratransit Management Services
Dallas Area Rapid Transit
I wasn’t supposed to be here. My dream and goal when I graduated high school was to be an executive secretary, or even a personal assistant to a well-known rock star (Stevie Nicks). That’s what I was born to do. That’s what I trained to do.
Well, things don’t always turn out the way they are “supposed to,” or maybe they turn out exactly how they’re meant to be.
When I turned 18, I started my career in the transit industry, working for the Dallas Transit System, which was the bus system for the Dallas area before Dallas Area Rapid Transit was created. I was hired as a service planning clerk, the first step to my big-time dream job of an executive secretary. Then, along came DART in 1983, and I obtained my dream job of being the assistant to the assistant general manager of operations! I had arrived. It also didn’t take long for me to figure out that that was not enough for me.
Anyway, fast-forwarding to the early 1990s, I was sent to work in an area called “paratransit,” wondering what the heck I did to deserve such a punishment. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I had come home. I found my calling. Working to serve people with disabilities is one of the most rewarding and challenging things a person can do. It’s what I have been doing for almost 20 years now, and it is what has led me to my role at APTA. I chair the APTA Access Committee.
When I ran for committee vice chair, I did so with the notion that I wanted to make a difference for people with disabilities, to ensure that their needs are considered in everything that we do. I believe we all have a responsibility to consider accessibility for all in everything that we do. It is not just for people who work in the paratransit or special services industry; it is for all who work in the transportation industry.
In these tough economic times, balancing our budgets, both personal and corporate, can be a real challenge. We have to make tough decisions regarding our needs versus our wants. This is especially true for people with disabilities, many of whom are limited in their earning potential as it is, and who must often forego any discretionary spending.
Since transit agencies are not immune to changes in the economy, transit executives must make some difficult decisions as well. Unfortunately, it is in times like these that paratransit programs and other accessible services, with their associated costs, are prime targets for spending cuts.
I would caution all of us against a knee-jerk reaction to the very real economic situation, proposing spending cuts to accessible services without considering how these cuts will adversely affect people with disabilities. ADA Paratransit especially is a vital mode of transportation for those customers that need, and are entitled to, its provision. Instead of looking at people with disabilities as a population that we “must serve” by law, we should be embracing them, not just in tough economic times, but always. Also, accessible services benefit all people, not just people with disabilities. A vehicle that is made easier to board for people with disabilities is easier to board for everybody.
People with disabilities depend on ADA Paratransit programs and other accessible services to maintain a satisfactory quality of life. Many of them use these services and programs to get to and from medical appointments, religious and social events, grocery and other shopping needs, and to simply stay connected with family and friends. People with disabilities want to do the same things that everyone else does. Transit agencies that make major spending cuts in accessible services have the potential to impact this segment of our community in a very negative manner.
So, my plea is simple. When looking for areas to cut, please look for the money in places other than accessible services. Please consider that, should we all live to the ripe, old age to which we aspire, we will most likely be a person with a disability in our later years. What will we want for ourselves when this happens?
Moving Transit Ahead to an Even Better Future
By Jonathan McDonald, PE
Chair, APTA Research & Technology Committee
San Francisco, CA
Last year will always be remembered as the year that the “old” economy crashed. While it is too early to tell, 2009 is certainly shaping up to be the year the “phoenix of the new economy” rose up out of the ashes. We have the unprecedented opportunity and challenge to help rebuild our society for the better by developing public transit that is integrated, attractive, and valued in our communities.
In the old economy, Americans spent 18 percent of their income on transportation, only to spend 2.5 hours per day in their cars, and waste more than $100 billion annually in traffic jams. Transit, however, can change this equation because those of us who use public transit only spend 8 percent of our income on transportation, thus improving the quality of life for those few who can use it today.
The challenge to all of us in the transit field is how to provide this advantage more widely: to provide, say, 25 to 30 percent of the 1.3 billion personal trips taken by Americans each day vs. the 1.6 percent currently taken. Is such a massive transformation of society even possible? Is America capable of building and financing such massive infrastructure?
The answer to both questions is most definitely yes, because we did it before with the interstate highway system and the development of suburban America just 60 years ago. But how would we go about building it and what would transit look like?
Because of the vast amount of financing needed for such an endeavor, it is unlikely that the old way of funding transit through raising taxes would be sufficient or even acceptable to the extent needed to build the hundreds of billions of dollars of new infrastructure needed. As such, we must look outside the box for opportunities to partner with users and benefactors alike to come up with a creative and economically efficient and attractive way to build systems.
This process will include more than just public-private partnerships. It will be a union of common interests between labor, employers, commerce, and government to deliver transportation that serves the majority of the population’s daily trips in urban areas and provides viable transportation, not only within cities, but also between urban areas. Public transit developed in this way, by and for the entire community, is likely to look different from transit today. Whether or not any particular community votes for space-age monorails or historic streetcars is not the point here. The point is that transit will begin to take on more of the following characteristics of an overall transportation system because the community will depend on transit for its overall transportation needs.
Clean, comfortable, safe, and secure: Transit needs to be clean, comfortable, and safe enough to send your kids to school on it or your grandmother to the store on it.
Integrated: Transit needs to be integrated—not only among modes, but also within our communities and lives. This means that travel from one end of a metro area to the other must be seamless, although not in the sense of a single trip or mode as is common today. Rather, seamless in this context refers to an integrated transit system that minimizes delays between agencies and modes. Common transit coordination issues such as trip planning, payments, policies, and access are worked out so passengers barely notice changes in agency or mode. More importantly, though, transit must be integrated into our communities.
Dependable: Transit needs to be famous for its frequency and punctuality.
Easy to use: Transit must be simple and easy to use so that both young schoolchildren and the elderly who use walkers can ride flawlessly.
Availability: One of the most prevalent reasons why transit is not used more today is lack of availability. Transit will need to provide service nearly everywhere whenever passengers need to be there.
Cost-effective: Transit will be an economical choice that is right for the majority, so it will need to be less expensive than an automobile—but this does not mean absolutely cheap. Transit agencies will be able to pay for operations and system upgrades through monies earned on fares or other sources of revenue generation.
Time-competitive: Transit will need to be as fast as other forms of transportation. This is more than trip time as we measure it today. Transit must be time-competitive for passengers from the time they leave their point of origin until they reach their destination.
Supports social and economic development: Transit will be woven into the fabric of society so transit planning becomes an integral part of land use and economic development.
Environmentally sound: Unlike the automobile culture of today, the transit centric culture of tomorrow will be clean and green.
One thing about the future is relatively certain: if transit does nothing to help change the future, the economic phoenix of 2009 will mean a poorer standard of living for Americans. But if we are creative and build transit to its capability, developing a system that takes care of most of people’s average 4.3 trips per day, the public will now be free to choose to have only one car in a two-income family. Americans will be able to choose to send their children to school on transit available in the neighborhood. The elderly will be able to get around without waiting for family to drive them.
And, most importantly, the vast majority of Americans will have a higher standard of living and quality of life now that they are not tied to an automobile that costs a good percentage of the wages they earn.
Human Resources Supports Workforce Development
By Mary Ann Collier
Chair, APTA Human Resources Committee
Director of Human Resources
San Joaquin Regional Transit District
At long last, the human resources field has become a more integral part of the strategic business management of many organizations, including some transit agencies. HR professionals have provided leadership to aid in this achievement. However, several external forces and circumstances have added impetus as well.
* Most of us are keenly aware of the aging workforce in the transit field and other industries. Over the next five to 10 years, many transit-employed baby boomers will be retiring, taking a wealth of institutional knowledge with them.
Several public transit agencies have actively engaged in the process of succession planning, workforce development, and targeted recruitment. Transit agencies such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon have implemented programs to address this issue. These agencies will be ahead of the pack in addressing the dire need for new leadership.
* The next issue is how we retain current employees and retrain them to keep them effective in their current positions. So many of the functions in operations and administration require good use of technical skills. With an aging workforce and the influx of new technology, transit organizations have an even greater challenge before them.
A flip side to the second issue is, given the current national economic conditions, what happens if the baby boomers delay their retirement? Two issues emerge: fewer opportunities for recruiting from the next generations and insufficient funds at many agencies for implementing development and intern programs concurrent with maintaining the current workforce.
* We in the transit industry must make careers in transit attractive to the new workforce. Human resources professionals need to do a recruiting makeover starting with job descriptions, marketing vehicles, and by taking a more active use of Craigslist, MySpace, and Monster.com to find their next-generation workforce. Most industries will face the need to recruit from the next generation. We must be able to compete effectively with other industries to attract the desired talent for the public transportation industry.
* Once we successfully recruit the next generation, will our corporate culture, as it exists today, allow us to retain the talent? The expectations of Generations X and Y are different from those of the aging workforce. They want to work smarter, using technology; have greater opportunity for advancement; have flexibility to balance family and career; and have a portable career.
What is being done to address these issues?
* Several agencies noted above have implemented plans to address the exit of baby boomers and the development of the next generation of leaders in their organizations. I encourage HR professionals in other transit agencies to find out as much as possible about the existing programs and emulate and modify them to meet their specific needs.
* The APTA Human Resources Committee is working on six focus areas over the next two years that address the identified issues. Recommendations from the committee will be made accessible to transit agencies.
* APTA Chair Dr. Beverly Scott has named a blue-ribbon panel to address workforce development issues over the next year. The panel, consisting of a broad cross-section of professionals and organizations, can take a strategic look at these issues and provide recommendations.
* It is significant that the chair of APTA selected workforce development as a priority focus during her leadership. This initiative, in addition to the other HR efforts, speaks to the importance of workforce development now and in the coming years. We as an industry have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us. We are up for the challenge. We will make a difference!
Together We Care: For Customers, Each Other, and the Planet
By Greg Cook
Chair, APTA ITS Public Transportation Forum
Director of Transportation
Las Vegas, NV
Moving ahead in 2009 is a welcome challenge in Las Vegas. As the director of transportation for Veolia Transportation and contracted by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), I have just witnessed a year completed with the highest ridership in the system’s history: more than 64 million passenger trips.
RTC’s on-time performance for the year was 96.5 percent, based on more than 7.2 million time points, the broadest measurement of timeliness possible. The system operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; the technology we currently deploy in the fleet makes such reporting possible.
Vehicles are equipped with an ACS Automatic Vehicle Locator/Global Positioning Satellite system, passenger counters, automated fare boxes, head signs, voice annunciators, camera systems, and a DriveCam G Force-activated accident review camera system. The buses in the fleet are double-decks, 60-foot articulated, Bus Rapid Transit vehicles, and 40-foot buses powered by hybrid, compressed natural gas, and diesel engines.
We move a huge workforce to their jobs every day, all 24 hours of it, and we move a lot of visitors who—even with the economic downturn—still come and fill the Vegas strip daily. While all this service goes on and buses get fueled, washed, maintained, and placed back on the ready line to go back into service, Veolia is constantly promoting its “Together We Care” program. By that we mean: We care for our customers, each other, and the planet.
Realizing that, every minute of every day, our choices and actions deeply affect the people we come in contact with, keeps us centered. We are concerned for their safety and also their sense of well-being, and their sense of satisfaction within their city. As we go forward in 2009, we will look at where we are doing a good job and living our values. We will look to do better every day, and we will follow an action plan to get the job done right.
We are counting on new technologies (such as commuter alerts) to provide direct information to people’s cell phones and personal digital assistants. We will examine ways to generate fuel economy, better on-time performance, and better maintained equipment. We are running safety teams (groups of drivers with one supervisor) to help improve our safety record. We hold Tailgate meetings where our supervisors meet a driver at a recovery point or transit center and they discuss three to five pre-selected hot topic points. And we run a “Going for Green” program year-round that keeps our employees focused on maintaining a great attitude with all we come in contact with, while teaching the employees how to calm disgruntled attitudes when they encounter them.
As chair of the ITS Public Transportation Forum, I work with our group to learn about new technologies from around the world as well as in our own great country. When we share our ideas and concepts and study new technologies, we find ways to improve our service delivery to people in cities around the country. It is our responsibility and duty to improve what we can and leave things better than we found them for generations to come.
Public Transportation Business Opportunities
By Jeffrey Wharton
Chair, APTA BMBG Business Development Committee
Executive Vice President/GM
IMPulse NC, Inc.
Mount Olive, NC
The strain our industry is facing as a result of the current economic conditions is certainly cause for concern. However, this is also a time to be bold, visionary, and proactive. As chair of the APTA Business Member Board of Governors Business Development Committee and the International Subcommittee, I see great opportunities through business development, ingenuity, and technology.
Our committees are committed to the promotion and facilitation of business development and business opportunities in both the global and domestic marketplaces. APTA’s public transit and business members receive access to a variety of research, trade missions, expositions, and information exchange among domestic and international stakeholders in the public transportation industry. We work closely with the Federal Transit Administration to define missions and populate trade delegations, plus we provide support for foreign delegations that visit the U.S. seeking the rich technology and quality products and services that APTA members can offer.
From my company standpoint—as a manufacturer of overhead contact system hardware—we are seeing a higher demand for product quality and life cycle for public transit systems as a direct result of increased ridership. The transit system demand is causing accelerated wear on the electrification systems and associated infrastructures.
We find, however, that with reductions in operational budgets, limited maintenance personnel, and shrinking inventories of spares, maintaining reliable and affordable public transit is facing its greatest test. This is why it is so important to use the highest-quality, technologically proven equipment designed to meet and exceed the rugged environmental and electro-mechanical endurance conditions both for today’s demand and to withstand tomorrow’s requirements as well. Companies that invest in product design improvement, technology enhancements, and time-tested quality products will be better suited to weather this economic storm. They also will be more likely to be around in the future.
Not only in the U.S. but also internationally, we are seeing an increase for high-end products and designs to provide the required dependability and longest service life. While price is always important and usually the first issue to come up between customer and provider, the total cost is becoming much more important in that it evaluates reliability, safety, maintenance, operation, and replacement expense.
The public transit industry must react quickly and seize the opportunity to provide greater public mobility with long-lasting environmental contributions while securing a high quality of life for future generations. Today’s best bet is to invest in public transit.
Procurement Committee Goals for 2009
By Lisa DeGrace
APTA Procurement and Materials Management Committee
Director, Contracts, Procurement and Material
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority
The vision of the APTA Procurement and Materials Management Committee (PMMC) for 2009 is to increase participation and provide guidance and training to the transit industry regarding procurement, material management, and diversity.
To achieve its vision, the committee has been amended to add a co-vice chair, business members, to act as a liaison between the PMMC and the Business Member Board of Governors (BMBG). This position will facilitate communication and dialog among transit properties and businesses. Additionally, the committee has added a position for chair, standards, to emphasize the importance of standards in the procurement arena and report on working groups’ progress in procurement planning, terms and conditions, risk, and technology.
Prior PMMC conferences have partnered with APTA Bus Technical and Maintenance Workshops. To interact with the entire industry, PMMC will now hold concurrent workshops with the APTA rail and bus conferences in alternate years. Workshops will be scheduled to coincide with product displays and showcases.
The PMMC workshop for 2009 will be held June 16 to 18 in Chicago, in concert with the Rail Conference. The committee will also hold meetings in Seattle during the Bus Conference, Chicago, and Orlando during the 2009 Annual Meeting. PMMC meetings and workshops are open to all.
The committee invites member participation and welcomes comments on future workshop sessions.
Safety Culture: The Essential Foundation
By John O'Grady
APTA Rail Safety Committee
Chief Safety Officer
Toronto Transit Commission
Over the past two years, the term “safety culture” has crept into the transit vocabulary. APTA conferences in Toronto, San Francisco, and San Diego have each featured sessions in which member agencies and the Federal Railroad Administration have emphasized the need to work on our corporate culture. Why the emphasis on such a soft topic?
We have learned from bitter experience that rules, procedures, and directives are meaningless if not followed consistently by everyone, on every shift, in every location. If we are honest, many of us will acknowledge that shortcuts are common. If we need proof, virtually all the track worker fatalities across the industry in recent years have involved procedural violations.
In the 1980s and 1990s, we focused on developing system safety and standard operating procedures for all activities. We now need executives who insist that these systems are implemented and produce positive results. Supervisors have to ensure that the management systems are translated into consistent safe work behavior. And we need to engage the front-line workers in the quest to eliminate exposure to hazards. They know the work better than anyone, but are they asked to contribute?
How would we recognize a positive safety culture if we saw one?
A positive culture starts with leadership who passionately show they care about safety. If we don’t care whether our workers go home to their families unharmed, if this is not the most basic value in the company, then why should workers care about quality, productivity, or service?
We simply cannot foster a sense of mission, shared values, and teamwork without placing the highest value on team members. In practical terms, this means ensuring that pathways of communication are open from track level and shop floor to the C-Suite. Workplace deficiencies must be fixed right away. New equipment has to be designed with safety integral to the specifications. High-quality practical training is a given. Senior leadership has to find a way to measure exposure to risk and make reduction a key performance indicator. Tailpipe measures such as accident rates are not enough.
Managers and supervisors have to walk the talk. We have to know the hazards and be able to show workers that controls are adequate. We have to be in the car house, division, and at track level to ensure that all the controls are in place and listen to the workers to know if the controls actually do work. We need to empower workers to know that we will tolerate, indeed insist upon, service delays in the name of imminent safety risk. We need to reinforce safe behavior, not just discipline unsafe acts.
In a positive safety culture, workers look out for each other and share responsibility for safety. They watch each other’s backs and are not reluctant to point out dangerous behavior. People give and receive feedback on safety openly and will not tolerate unsafe behavior. This includes workers giving corrective feedback to superiors without fear of reprisal. When they encounter unsafe conditions, they fix them. If they can’t fix them, they report the hazard, confident it will be corrected right away by management.
In a positive safety culture, workers are proud of what they do. Why does this matter?
Public transit is entering an unprecedented period of expansion. We need to attract and retain good people, especially as the “baby boom” generation enters its retirement years. Companies with proud workers, in a caring environment with an excellent safety record, will be at a competitive advantage in recruiting young workers.
We are also entering a period of technological advancement. Older manual systems are being converted to automatic train control. Maintenance systems require advanced technological diagnostics for repair. Increased ridership will put an ever-growing premium on reliability. Maintenance workers will also need to be knowledge workers. New technologies will drive the same culture change to favor open feedback and communications, less hierarchy, and more collaboration and teamwork.
To achieve a positive culture, safety cannot be just another box to tick off on a checklist. It must be an integral value shared by all members of the organization. Positive safety culture is the essential foundation to corporate success in 2009 and beyond.
A Perspective on Changing Times for Public Transit
By Gene Walker
APTA Bus Technical Maintenance Committee
Golden Gate Transit
San Francisco, CA
As we enter 2009, the public transit industry will face the usual gamut of local concerns. With the current economic recession, we will also face some new and unforeseen challenges.
Over the past year, the “Hot Topics” discussed at meetings of the APTA Bus Technical and Maintenance Committee have included the next generation of engines, alternative fuels, advancing electronic technologies, green technologies, environmental matters, and employee training, including the number one topic of concern regarding recruitment of new employees. The following is a snapshot of each of these topics and the concerns associated with them.
Next Generation of Engines/Alternative Fuels: The next generation (2010) of diesel engines and alternative fuels, including compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, hydrogen, and biodiesel blends, are on the horizon for new coach orders. Diesel engines will have Selective Catalytic Reduction exhaust after-treatments and Diesel Exhaust Fluid (aka Urea). With these will come a new set of challenges: associated infrastructure changes, increased maintenance, and required training.
Advancing Electronic Technologies. Technological advancements in communication devices, Global Positioning Satellite systems, Automatic Vehicle Location, Automated Passenger Counters, auto annunciators, electronics, lighting, and other on-board equipment will each present their own sets of challenges. Mechanics and technicians will need additional training to remain current on maintaining these technologies.
Green Technologies. Green technologies, along with continuing environmental concerns, will influence facilities and maintenance programs. While green technologies can offer reduced operating costs, they will likely further strain already tight budgets due to their initial cost. Environmental concerns will continue to require changes in the way bus maintenance is performed to embrace more environmentally friendly and acceptable best practices, all at a cost.
Changing Workforce. With reductions and/or loss of funding for transit, coupled with increased ridership and the retirement of a maturing “baby boomer” workforce, 2009 will be challenging for even the most experienced transit professionals. Not only will we lose staff resources, we may lose employees’ work ethics, skills, knowledge, and experience. We are also faced with the problem of attracting skilled, prospective candidates to a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week industry.
With the current recession, the entire service industry, including automotive and trucking, has suffered huge layoffs. While we might assume the recruitment pool would be plentiful, competition is elevated for the available workforce. Even with rising unemployment, transit will find challenging the recruitment of employees with so many anglers in the pool trying to hook the most qualified candidates.
I am reminded of the farmer that could not get his mule to work. After much thought, the farmer attached the mule’s favorite treat, a carrot, to the end of a pole, held it in front of the mule, and the mule chased it all day, dragging his burden behind him. Working Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. is hard to beat. However, transit agencies with 24/7 operations are not the “carrot” that many seek for employment. It might be good in a pinch, but as soon as the economy turns around, or after we have trained new employees, we lose a portion of our workforce to the service industry that is not 24/7. The trick today will be to identify what “carrot” would draw candidates to a 24/7 industry and keep them until they are ready to retire. Only then will we reach sustainability of our workforce.
Public transit professionals tend to be generous with information sharing because we do not compete directly with one another for market share. However, with today’s added challenge of sustaining a viable workforce, many transit professionals may hold their recruiting secrets close to the vest because we do compete for quality employees.
An additional dilemma for public transit is that journeyman-level bus mechanics are not plentiful. Transit mechanics and technicians require specialized training, and the pool of candidates is just not there. APTA is now addressing this critical need, as are localized efforts, but this void is by no means solved yet.
Here are a few suggestions that Golden Gate Transit has found successful to enhance quality recruitment:
* Do not rely solely only on the Human Resources department recruiters, but involve everyone possible in the organization in recruitment efforts.
* Ask your Marketing department for advertisement space on your coaches.
* Place recruitment banners on your facilities.
* Contact your local vocational colleges and the unions for candidates.
* Most importantly, make certain that your organization has the knowledgeable staff to achieve recruitment goals. If you do not have the necessary resources, or perhaps have no Human Resources department, then research outsourcing your recruitment services.
Continue sharing “lessons learned” and “best practices” with other transit professionals in your network. Transit professionals may not like to discuss their failures, which they may consider “tarnished” and lack the “shine” of successes. Nevertheless, sharing experiences from those failures will be an asset to others. Sharing what does not work can be as helpful as what does.
Training budgets and strategies must expand. Transit operators must become innovative in “sharing” training in their regions.
Research any training needs and be certain that the training provided is tailored appropriately. If you do not have the resources to conduct such a review, take advantage of available outsourcing services. When you schedule training classes, offer any openings to other regional transit agencies and ask them to do the same. This type of innovation thinking is a win-win for everyone.
Most individuals facing this gambit of issues would probably decide it was time for a career change, but transit professionals are a resilient group that never shies away from a good challenge. We recognize that recruitment and sustainability of our workforce is our biggest challenge not just in 2009, but also for years to come. Always remember that problem has been secretly growing for decades and there is no magic pill, so don’t give up.
Transit Professionals Make a Commitment to Sustainability
By Rich Weaver
APTA Senior Program Manager-Planning and Programs
January 2009 marks the launch of the one-year pilot phase of APTA’s Sustainability Commitment.
The concept of sustainability comes from an understanding of the significant social and environmental impacts from human activities imposing economic, ecological, and social costs on communities. The public transportation industry is increasingly aware of sustainability, recognizing its importance to the future well-being of all communities. Its challenge lies in minimizing these costs while offering strong transportation benefits.
“Increasing public and political attention is being paid to the role of transportation in addressing climate change and energy security issues, while also improving the livability of our communities,” said Fred Hansen, chair of the APTA Sustainability Task Force. “For this reason, it is particularly important to have a large majority of APTA members sign on to this commitment if we are to credibly promote the sustainability credentials of the transit industry in the eyes of a new Congress and new administration, as well as the public at large.”
Across the U.S., public transportation systems and businesses are looking closely at their mission and incorporating sustainability practices into their planning, construction, and operations[h1]. And yet, transit is, in itself, a vital component of a sustainable community.
APTA Sustainability Commitment
Under Hansen’s leadership, APTA developed the Sustainability Commitment. Open to all APTA members—in both the public and private sectors—this is a commitment to a set of actions on sustainability.
“Working together through the APTA Sustainability Commitment, the public and private sectors can provide national leadership in promoting a greener future. This is an important opportunity for our industry to tangibly demonstrate our respect for the needs of future generations,” said Diana Mendes, chair of the APTA Policy and Planning Committee and senior vice president and director of strategic investments for AECOM Transportation.
Susannah Kerr Adler, vice president and manager-architecture and buildings resource center, Parsons Brinckerhoff, agreed: “APTA’s Sustainability Commitment is seen as a way to enable the promotion and development of an organization’s sustainable mindset. By creating an industry-wide definition, we can then establish a baseline that is understood by all, and encourage both public and private members to embrace a culture of sustainability that is meaningful to that particular organization.”
Why sustainability now?” asked Michael S. Townes, president/chief executive officer of Hampton Roads Transit in Hampton, VA, the first APTA member to sign up for the Sustainability Commitment. “For Hampton Roads Transit, acting sustainably is just good business. There may be some upfront investment costs but the return on investment is tremendous. Having our staff focus on the more efficient use of energy has already been well-repaid, for example.”
The pilot phase will allow APTA members to concentrate on refining elements of the commitment and testing base requirements and prerequisites to ensure appropriate measures for each level. Action items create quantifiable goals for short- and medium-term (one to three years) plans in operation, maintenance and capital, products and services, and in education and outreach. Reduction targets are set for key environmental, social, and economic indicators to meet the minimum requirements. Lastly, stretch goals are longer-term (four to six years) programmatic and process goals that challenge the organizations.
APTA has created a checklist of conforming processes and reduction targets to help members achieve one of five commitment levels. These include:
Entry: Committing to base principles, including making sustainability an organizational goal and inventorying such sustainability indicators as water usage, carbon emissions, energy use, and recycling levels, within one year of signing.
Bronze: Meeting Entry level requirements along with six action items including establishing “Green Teams” and energy efficiency targets for products and achieving reduction targets in sustainability indicators, such as waste or electricity use, of 2 percent over baseline within one year.
Silver: Meeting both Entry and Bronze level requirements, achieving a total of 18 action items, reduction targets of 5 percent over baseline, and three stretch goals, such as ensuring all new construction meets LEED-like principles within three years.
Gold: On top of achieving the first three goal levels, an additional 18 action items, reduction targets—reducing an organization’s carbon footprint in terms of emissions per passenger mile—of 10 percent over baseline and three additional stretch goals within three years.
Platinum: All 36 action items achieved plus six stretch goals. Platinum members will increase reduction targets, such as reducing water pollutant discharge and water use per vehicle mile, by a minimum of 20 percent over baseline and adding three more stretch goals within a maximum of six years.
For further information on the sustainability commitment, contact Rich Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org or Petra Mollet at email@example.com, or visit www.apta.com/research/sustainability.
Marketing Workshop Is Feb. 22-25
The 2009 APTA Marketing & Communications Workshop, Feb. 22 to 25 at the Hilton Financial District in San Francisco, will consider a number of timely and important topics for transit marketing and communications professionals. The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District is the conference host system.
The workshop serves as an important educational forum with sessions focusing on all aspects of public transit marketing and communications, including making the most of marketing budgets; crisis communications; “green” marketing; public-private partnerships; and successful ridership initiatives.
The workshop program kicks off Feb. 22 with a special session to introduce attendees new to the transit industry to the resources and people who can help make their entry into the industry easier. The conference also will include numerous activities—such as the Marketing Exchange, roundtables, and Dinner Groups—to bring together marketing and communications professionals for discussions in an informal setting.
Information on the workshop, including the preliminary program, registration form, and hotel registration, is available online at www.apta.com, or by contacting Jack Gonzalez at (202) 496-4824 or firstname.lastname@example.org.