Passenger Transport - February 16, 2009
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Congress Advances Economic Recovery Act; Provides $8.4 Billion for Transit
The long-awaited American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appeared headed for a final vote in both houses of Congress as Passenger Transport went to press, after both chambers passed separate versions in previous weeks and resolved their differences in conference on Feb. 11.
Initial reports indicate that the bill is now $789 billion, which provides a total of $16.4 billion for public transit and high-speed intercity rail. Of this amount, $8.4 billion will be for public transit (including $750 million for New Starts and $750 million for rail modernization); $8 billion will go toward high speed intercity rail.
The Senate’s amended version of the bill had passed that chamber on Feb. 10 by a vote of 61-37. The legislation then went to the House-Senate conference committee, and it now will be sent to each house for a largely formal final vote before being sent to the president for his signature.
APTA President William W. Millar sent letters to the leadership of both conference committees, urging them to:
* Adopt, at a minimum, the $12 billion level for public transportation investment contained in the House-passed economic recovery bill;
* Retain the $8.4 billion for transit formula grants included in the Senate bill;
* Provide the $2.5 billion for New Starts/Small Starts investments included in the House bill;
* Provide the $2 billion for Fixed-Guideway Modernization formula grants included in the House bill;
* Allow transit systems to use a portion of economic recovery funds for operating expenses to halt employee layoffs, service cuts, and fare increases;
* Remove new restrictions on transit formula funds for rural areas and smaller cities.
* Include no less than $2 billion for high speed intercity passenger rail corridors as provided in the Senate bill and $300 million for intercity passenger rail grants (Sec. 4401) as contained in the House bill;
* Retain the Senate’s supplemental discretionary grant program for surface transportation only if public transportation programs receive no less than $12 billion and high speed passenger rail investment receives no less than $2 billion;
* Support the $100 million for public transportation security assistance, railroad security assistance and Amtrak security updates in the Senate bill; and
* Retain the commuter tax benefit included in the Senate bill.
Millar emphasized the importance of public transportation in helping the nation recover from its economic crisis. “Investment in public transportation and high-speed and intercity passenger rail infrastructure will spur immediate job creation and help achieve critical national goals: better access to jobs for workers, reduced fuel consumption from our transportation system, and decreased greenhouse gas emissions,” he noted.
Updates on the legislation will appear on the APTA web site.
Transit Agencies Face Financial Crunch
By SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
It could be termed the transportation paradox: Public transportation agencies are providing more rides than ever—the highest number in 50 years—demand for this kind of transportation continues to increase, yet, those same agencies are being forced to cut service, raise fares, and postpone system maintenance.
Why? It doesn’t appear to make sense. If more people than ever before are choosing public transit, why would agencies limit these choices?
The current economic downturn has affected all government spending, including public transportation, and the situation is largely similar among all transit agencies, regardless of their size or service mode. The funding for public transit is not keeping up with the demand for transit by citizens all over the country.
When the philosophy of not investing in public transit is married with the nation’s economic crisis, one arrives in . . . St. Louis, whose circumstance is very dire. Metro in St. Louis is preparing to implement significant cuts in service on March 30, eliminating close to half (43.7 percent) of its MetroBus service, nearly one-third (32 percent) of MetroLink light rail, and 15 percent of paratransit.
Moreover, the first part of a two-part fare increase went into effect Jan. 1, increasing base fares by 25 cents and eliminating the MetroLink light rail free-ride zone in downtown St. Louis; the second phase will follow in 2010.
These cuts will impact the entire region,” said Metro spokesperson Dianne Williams. “There really won’t be any transit user who’s untouched.” She noted that Metro is working to create the best system possible with the funds it has available, which means “shrinking the footprint,” providing less service outside the immediate St. Louis area, rather than cutting all routes proportionately.
Looking for Help
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is looking to the state legislature for help with its projected deficits for the next three years by considering the recommendations of the New York State Commission on MTA Financing to raise more than $2 billion annually through a payroll tax. “We hope that we don't have to implement these draconian service reductions and fare increases, which are way beyond the rate of inflation,” said Elliot G. Sander, executive director and chief executive officer of the MTA.
Across the country, David A. Boggs, executive director of Valley Metro RPTA in Phoenix, is facing a similar situation. “Like most major metropolitan areas, we are held captive by the challenge created with a significant decline in sales tax revenues, and are being forced to make some tough decisions,” he said, which includes a proposed fare increase – the agency’s first since 1994.
Raising Fares, Cutting Service
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority will increase fares by 25 cents on March 1 to prepare for a $7.2 million projected shortfall for the fiscal year. “It’s unfortunate that sales tax revenues have declined so significantly,” said KCATA General Manager Mark Huffer. To save money, he said, “we have frozen all hiring, we’ve cut travel for the staff … we’re looking system-wide at underperforming routes,” he said. “We want to impact the smallest number of people, but the shortfall is so significant that service reductions are inevitable.”
Consolidation of service is the basis for the Denver Regional Transportation District’s proposal to shut down one of several routes on the Southeast Light Rail Line, a change that could save $252,000 per year.
With very few passengers using this 10-mile route, RTD General Manager Cal Marsella explained, “this change will simply have people transfer from one of the light rail routes to another, rather than having a one-seat, no-transfer ride.”
Progressive Thinking, Efforts
As the situation becomes more acute—and before legislators can implement a dramatic change of investment philosophy—some agencies have come up with targeted efforts to minimize service cuts.
For example, Metro in St. Louis, about to radically reduce service, may receive help from an unexpected source: St. Clair County, IL, part of the agency’s service area, has offered to fund the Missouri portion of the existing MetroLink light rail route to continue midday service to Illinois.
Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri has found $2.2 million to cover part of a budget deficit that will forestall a possible 20 percent cut in service: he transferred the money from a state fund earmarked for cleaning oil spills.
Jawauna Greene, spokesperson for the Maryland Transit Administration in Baltimore, said that Howard County, MD, will provide funding to maintain the existing level of transit service in the county, and that West Virginia—served by MD MTA’s MARC commuter rail service—has offered to cover expenses for that line.
The statewide agency is “trying to increase operational efficiencies” as a way of economizing, she said. “We didn’t think it would be prudent to ask our riders to pay a higher fare.”
Major Concerns in California
California is one of the 10 largest economies in the world with a gross state product of more than $1.6 trillion. It also ranks as the one state where people would most like to live – apart from their own. That second fact might pale in the face of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to slash funds for the State Transit Assistance program this fiscal year, and eliminate it completely the year after, because this program has been the only ongoing state source of funding to transit agencies in California.
In Oakland, the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) is facing money shortages even though voters approved a parcel tax increase last year. Said AC Transit General Manager Rick Fernandez: “Our receipts from sales and property taxes are down, but it is the catastrophic loss of state funding that has really put hurt on us and other transit agencies in the state.”
Last November, Los Angeles County voters approved Measure R, which will invest $40 billion over a 30-year period in comprehensive public transit and traffic relief efforts through a half-cent increase in the county’s sales tax. And yet, despite passage of that initiative, the region will still have to manage shortages.
“The Metro board is loath to cut service because the voters went out on a limb for us,” said Marc Littman, deputy executive officer/public relations for Los Angeles Metro. “We are trying other economizing measures: a hiring freeze, cutting back on new contracts for services. Metro is looking to tighten its belt in many arenas. Once we see what’s happening with the state transit budget cuts and the federal stimulus package, the Metro board will deal with the operating deficit this spring,” he added.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is addressing a projected deficit of nearly $100 million through Fiscal Year 2010 by freezing more than 400 positions, decreasing contract spending, and postponing implementation of new technologies. “We are working every day to reduce costs and manage our resources to provide as much service as possible in these difficult times,” said Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., SFMTA executive director/chief executive officer, adding that “ the state of California is virtually abandoning its commitment to funding transit operations and local tax revenues are falling sharply.”
The Riverside Transit Agency is currently examining service options to ascertain where it could reduce duplication of routes and eliminate service with low ridership. “We would be proposing these changes that ultimately improve our system’s efficiencies regardless of the economic climate, said RTA Chief Executive Officer Larry Rubio, “but the climate accentuates the need for this move.”
The elimination of STA funding may force the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System to cut its service, and the Sacramento Regional Transit District – despite record high ridership – had to implement a fare increase in January as a result of the loss of $18.3 million in state funding.
An unstable economy has an unfortunate ripple effect on all industries—from banking to housing to public transit. So while the methods of coping vary, financial worries are common to public transit providers throughout the nation. Further, nearly every economist quoted these days says that the economy will continue to worsen before it improves.
So as America moves into the spring and the weather warms, public transportation agencies will feel both the figurative and literal heat even more as gas prices inevitably rise, and demand for public transit rises, too.
Financial Downturn Hits Business Members
Public transportation agencies and suppliers run on cash and available credit—two resources currently in short supply because of ongoing fiscal downturn. Just as transit officials are facing their distinct set of problems and issues, so are the businesses that design and build their facilities, make their vehicles, and provide management services.
The increased difficulty of obtaining access to credit is one outcome reported by several APTA business members, as is trouble securing operations funding.
Sandy Lautenberg, vice president-operations, North America, for Trueform LLC in Edison, NJ, explained: “In this situation, maintaining a proper minimum level of funding for operating expenses becomes very important.” Specifically, she described the differing requirements for performance and warranty bonds, such as how much collateral a transit agency must post, and the need for alternative forms of security.
“If agencies are not educated as to alternative forms of security that are legal to use, some companies that are eligible to bid won’t be able to do so because of the lack of bonding capacity, because the surety doesn’t want to let go of the money,” she noted.
Lautenberg also emphasized that, regardless of what happens to the economy in coming months, lags in funding will have a lasting impact.
Another side of the tightening financial market is increased competition for funding among municipalities and transit agencies.
“I’m cautiously optimistic about where we’re going in a three-to-six-month time frame, maybe even a longer-term time frame,” said Angela Iannuzziello, president of ENTRA Consultants in Markham, ON, and APTA vice chair-Canadian members.
Consultant Jeffrey Parker of Jeffrey Parker & Associates in Chilmark, MA, pointed to the uncertainty his clients face. “They are in a wait-and-see mode on a lot of projects because their own resources are down,” he said.
Because of the economic shortfall, Parker said, these clients “can’t make commitments on projects; they want to do the prudent thing, not incur interest costs on bonds, and not issue money on projects at a time when they might need those monies for operating expenses.”
Looking for New Strategies
The need to develop new ways of doing business is another outcome of the current tough financial climate. Jerome Premo, executive vice president with AECOM in Orange, CA, and co-chair of the APTA Business Member Programs Committee, said his firm is “tied closely to the health of our customers and clients. When transit agencies face tough times, we’ve got to be creative, just as the agencies need to be creative. I really can’t overstate this: the situation is not us vs. them, it’s all of us together. This is a real test of whether we can work together to get the right stuff done right now.”
This need to work together will be aided by stimulus monies, which would provide the equivalent of an extra year’s funding in the middle of the current fiscal year.
“The focus on quick delivery [of federal stimulus funds] is something that is music to our ears,” he said, “because it isn’t just contractors who are affected. Those of us who partner with public agencies need to do lots of different things to position agencies to let contracts…bus makers, rail car makers, and the myriad of sub-suppliers to makers of vehicles are all looking forward to passage of the bill. Many people have projects at the point where they have to move forward.” He added that “the working capital situation is tough right now, regarding transit agencies getting the cash flow to react to the current situation.”
Biden: Invest Now in Transportation Infrastructure
Vice President Joe Biden and other dignitaries—emphasizing the critical importance public transit holds in America—recently spoke about the need to invest in public transportation infrastructure at the Maryland Transit Administration’s MARC commuter rail station in Laurel, MD.
Biden noted that the economic stimulus package will work to create and save three to four million jobs, 70,000 of which are in Maryland—but, he added, “only if and when we pass the bill.”
The vice president said that 400,000 jobs will be created over the next two years nationwide if America invests in improving and upgrading the nation’s infrastructure, including public transportation systems as well as highways, bridges, and ports.
Also during the event, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) noted that the Laurel station was built in 1884 by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and is the busiest on MARC’s Camden Line. He stressed the urgency of Congress taking “bold federal action” on a bill “targeted to the investments America needs to compete internationally…Maryland will put the money to work immediately.”
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said the infrastructure bill would support investments that would help more than two million Maryland residents. “If Congress truly wants an end to the recession, it will make these investments today,” he stated.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called for establishing “a foundation for sustained economic growth.”
The event in Laurel was just one stop of many that President Barack Obama and Biden are making to drive home the critical need for infrastructure investment as a core element of jumpstarting the nation’s economy.
For example, on Feb. 11, Obama traveled to the Fairfax County Parkway – just outside Washington, DC – with Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, his choice to head the Democratic National Committee. The trip underscored how highway, bridge, public transit, and other public works projects could quickly create many jobs. The previous day, during a town hall meeting in Fort Myers, FL, Obama made a case for high-speed rail and public transportation, saying the days of sprawl are over and adding: “Everyone recognizes that’s not a good way to design communities.”
Also on Feb. 11, LaHood met with more than 40 leaders of state DOTs from across the country in preparation for final passage of the economic recovery bill.
FTA: Prepare Now for Federal Grant Funds
Regardless of the final outcome of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, two facts are clear: There will be stimulus money for public transportation, and there will be an imperative to move quickly: Award money quickly, hire people quickly, implement projects quickly.
To help transit agencies and other stakeholders prepare in advance, the Federal Transit Administration has posted detailed information on its web site.
Historically, transit agencies work through three sequential steps in their federal funding applications: planning, procurement, and internal processing. Because of the urgency behind this stimulus funding – and the intent to require grantees to begin work within the first 90 days of award – those historical, traditional approaches can no longer apply.
Instead, APTA and the FTA are urging agencies to “Get Ready NOW,” which means working on all three steps – planning, procurement, and board processing – simultaneously, in parallel, and immediately.
Need for Concurrent Preparatory Actions
For the planning effort, an agency should work through its Metropolitan Planning Organization (or through states where there is no MPO) to have its project placed on the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). Concurrently, procurement officers should begin lining up sources, issuing procurement bid documents subject to the availability of funds.
At the same time, policy boards should begin their internal processing. Each board should provide direction to staff, dispensing pre-approval to the extent it can, as far ahead of time as possible, and it should plan to be ready to move as soon as the money is available. That means that boards must begin developing their processes concurrently with their planners and procurement personnel about what will be required to move a project forward. Since each board is uniquely local, with its own set of parameters and rules, it is recommended that boards be prepared to call an emergency meeting should the agency receive an award well before the next meeting is scheduled.
Environmental requirements that apply to projects – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 4f of the Department of Transportation Act, among others – must be met. But with the focus on speed, however, it is unlikely that any agency could obtain a Record of Decision in a timely fashion. So agencies should consider prioritizing projects that have completed or nearly completed NEPA or that qualify as categorical exclusions. To the extent that other environmental requirements apply and have not been satisfied, prospective grantees should consult with managers of affected resources at the earliest opportunity.
FTA—Working on Your Behalf
FTA is committed to updating the industry on how best to respond successfully to the stimulus infrastructure monies that will become available. The question-and-answer section of its web site includes its interpretations of the various provisions of the pending bills, and will be monitored to ensure that it provides information based on the most current version of the legislation.
New Report Highlights Benefits of Increased Investment in Public Transit
By JOHN R. BELL, Program Manager-Communications
A new APTA discussion paper explains how raising America’s public transit ridership by 10 percent annually would make critical progress toward solving the country’s economic, energy, and environmental problems.
Such a steady and significant increase in ridership would bring many benefits:
* 8.9 million American “green jobs” supported
* $730 billion in increased business sales
* By 2020, a reduction in U.S. oil consumption of nearly the entire amount currently imported from the Persian Gulf, or the combined amount of all U.S. offshore reserves
* By 2020, elimination of almost 8 percent of the entire transportation sector’s carbon emissions
* An 11 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 2020
By 2030, each American household, using public transportation or not, would save an average annual of $2,830. In addition, the U.S. trade deficit would be dramatically reduced by the decline in fuel consumption.
This consistent level of ridership growth would bridge the gap between public-transit market share in United States and the European Union as early as 2030, according to Changing the Way America Moves: Creating a More Robust Economy, a Smaller Carbon Footprint, And Energy Independence.
The report also notes that a smaller annual ridership increase—5.5 percent—would amount to doubling ridership by 2020, tripling it by 2030, and growing it tenfold by 2050. This would still achieve great improvements, but at a slower pace:
* By 2020, a 6.5 percent reduction in VMT
* By 2050, a reduction of carbon emissions by more than one third
* By 2050, fuel savings of more than the amount of oil currently imported from OPEC countries
This 5.5 percent annual increase in ridership would make the U.S. public transportation market share equal to its share in the European Union by 2045.
The benefits that public transit can bring on a national level could not be more necessary, the report notes. The record increase public transit ridership since 1995 is straining capacity and budgets and is in many cases adversely leading to service cuts. At the same time, the share of America’s oil consumption that comes from foreign countries has increased from just over one-third to almost three-fifths since 1975. Moreover, the growth in vehicle miles traveled has increased at more than four times the rate of the U.S. population.
* The U.S. transportation sector generates about one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions—a share that is rising rapidly, mostly due to the increase in VMT.
* U.S. transportation petroleum use is almost 185 percent of U.S. petroleum production.
* American households spend 17.6 percent of their budgets on transportation; the average European Union household spends just 11.9 percent.
The investment required to achieve a 10 percent annual ridership increase would be $134.2 billion in capital costs and $102.3 billion in operating costs per year in current dollars, the report notes. However, this investment, which would come from federal, state, and private sources, is only 1.6 percent of national GDP and would result in savings to individuals and a boon to the economy. Moreover, every $1 billion in capital investment in public transportation yields $3 billion in increased business sales, and every $1 billion in operating investment in public transportation yields $3.2 billion in increased business sales. Such investments would pay far-reaching dividends at a time when our economy needs a large stimulus.
The report outlines how this steady growth could be brought about on the regional and community level: In areas with populations over 3 million, public transit “would carry a majority of all travel for work and a third of travel overall. Light, heavy and commuter rail systems would be extensive and act as a high-capacity backbone … supplemented by high-frequency streetcar and bus systems covering a large area of the city and surrounding region.”
Cities of one to three million would have solid commuter rail, light rail, streetcar and BRT systems, including extensive paratransit network, and carry more than one third of all work journeys and almost a fifth of travel overall. Areas with 500,000 to one million people would offer a dense network of high-quality street car, BRT and bus and paratransit systems, with service provided on a frequent basis. Cities of 100,000-500,000 would feature streetcar, bus and paratransit, while in areas with less than 100,000 residents, public transit would consist of fixed-route bus and paratransit service, with flexible service to rural areas.
The benefits of more public transportation have been recognized around the world, the report notes. The city of Madrid has grown its public transit ridership by 70 percent in the last 20 years. Likewise, Shanghai has a plan in place to increase public transit trips from 21 percent of modal share in 2000 to 35 percent by 2020. And France plans to double its high speed rail network in the coming decade, as part of its effort to reduce carbon emissions to their 1990 levels.
Changing the Way America Moves: Creating a More Robust Economy, a Smaller Carbon Footprint, and Energy Independence is available here. It serves as a companion publication to APTA’s TransitVision 2050, which was published last October and is also available on the APTA web site.
TriMet Welcomes Service on WES Rail
Feb. 2 marked the first day of service for Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon commuter rail line, Westside Express Service (WES), which provides weekday rush-hour service on a 14.7-mile route that connects the suburban cities of Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin, and Wilsonville. TriMet reported that the line provided 1,900 trips on opening day, about 610 during the morning rush hour and more than twice that number in the afternoon.
Just three days earlier, on Jan. 30, local and regional elected officials and project partners participated in an opening ceremony in Tigard, OR. They boarded special WES trains and traveled along the commuter rail line to the Tigard Transit Center. Guests at the event included Rep. David Wu (D-OR), Washington County Commission Chair Tom Brian, Federal Transit Administration Region 10 Administrator Rick Krochalis, and the mayors of the four cities.
Following the dedication ceremony, WES offered free rides to the public and hosted community celebrations at the five stations on the line.
“WES will provide fast, convenient commuter service to an area that is difficult to serve with traditional bus service,” said TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen. “By utilizing active freight tracks for commuter service we were able to make use of an existing resource while adding a new travel mode for our riders.”
“About 15 years ago, we had a vision of adding a travel option to this crowded and growing corridor, but had few options in front of us,” Brian said. “Using existing freight tracks and building WES is a great story of innovation and collaboration, and now is a great asset to our region.”
TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch described how some riders were trying out WES to see how it will fit into their daily commute routine. “One rider new to transit traveled on our MAX light rail system to Beaverton,” she said, “where he transferred to WES to get to his job at the southern end of the WES alignment [in Wilsonville]. He previously had driven every day to his job. He's very happy and thinks he will save about $200 per month on gas by riding MAX and WES.”
WES is a project of TriMet; Washington County; the Metro planning agency in Portland; Oregon DOT; and the communities of Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin, and Wilsonville. It provides the first passenger rail service on this line since 1933.
A Conversation with HART's David Armijo: Part 1 of 2
By DOUG EADIE
The Board of Directors of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) in Tampa, FL, named David Armijo HART’s chief executive officer in August 2007. HART is a multi-modal system of local and express bus routes, paratransit service for the elderly and mobility impaired, and the TECO Line Streetcar System, combining for more than 13 million passengers in 2008. David oversees the agency’s 734 employees, a fleet of 235 vehicles, and a total capital and operating budget of $117 million.
David’s more than 25 years of experience in the transportation industry includes the startup of rail projects in Los Angeles and Dallas and development from the ground up of the system in Santa Fe, NM. His multi-faceted background also includes managing toll roads in Orange County, CA, and the Red Cross fleet in San Diego.
Since coming to Tampa Bay, David has balanced HART’s budget and is leading the agency into a new phase of growth, with major projects like the Bus Rapid Transit system, an extension of the streetcar line into downtown Tampa, and improved service to Tampa International Airport to be implemented in the next two years.
David is a member of the Board of Directors of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. He serves on APTA’s Bus, Rail, and Legislative committees and the American Public Transportation Foundation Board of Directors.
I recently spent a half-day with David, discussing his work as HART’s CEO. This and my next column summarize David’s comments.
Doug: As you look down the road a bit, David, what do you see as the strategic issues facing HART that deserve your close attention as the agency’s CEO?
David: You should know, Doug, that I had my eye on the Tampa Bay region for a decade before I was chosen to head HART. I saw a region whose growth and development guaranteed it a place among the elite of metropolitan areas in the United States, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be here.
Above all else, Doug, we’re at the tipping point here in Tampa Bay. The HART board and I, along with HART staff and key stakeholders in the community, have a tremendous opportunity to take an already excellent agency to the next level: to go from really good to truly great. It’s a privilege—and really exciting—to play a leadership role in helping to ensure that HART realizes its tremendous promise, putting a comprehensive transportation system in place to meet rapidly growing demand. (Ridership has increased 7 percent annually for seven years and growth is accelerating, while traffic gridlock in the region has become an ever-greater nightmare!)
So we’re poised to grow dramatically here in Tampa Bay, expanding our services to include Bus Rapid Transit and eventually light rail. The future’s bright, but we’ve got to focus on generating the dollars to finance system expansion.
In that regard, to be honest, HART, which will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, traditionally hasn’t been aggressive in seeking taxpayer support for public transportation here in Tampa Bay—primarily, I think, because we’ve lacked a comprehensive, inspiring vision to share with the community. Well, the past is the past, and with a clear vision for the future in hand, the leadership of the HART board’s Revenue Alternatives Task Force, and strong stakeholder support—most notably from Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio—we’re preparing for a sales tax referendum in 2010.
So system expansion and related revenue enhancement top my strategic list as HART’s CEO, but I’m also spending substantial time in building internal executive management capacity.
As you well know, Doug, systems aren’t merely physical infrastructure and equipment. More than anything else, HART is people, and the effectiveness of our executive management will be a huge factor in our ultimate success as a transportation system. So I’ve spent a tremendous amount of my time putting a new layer of executive managers in place, to ensure leadership and oversight in such key areas as construction, procurement, strategic planning, and human resource management.
I know what you’re probably thinking, Doug: Isn’t this a big deviation from the popular notion that flat organizations are most effective? You’re right, I’m anything but politically correct where the flat-is-good philosophy is concerned. Twenty-five years in the business have taught me, among other things, that you’ve got to have really top-notch executives in place to provide hands-on leadership and direction for critical functions—that is, if you intend to grow while also efficiently managing operations. To my way of thinking, one of my foremost challenges as CEO of HART is organizational development, and a huge piece of that is executive capacity building.
Doug: What executive leadership attributes and skills do you think are most critical in your success as HART’s CEO?
David: There’s one attribute, Doug, that tops the list, in my opinion: integrity. What I mean is following through on promises—walking the talk.
If people inside and outside HART can’t take me at my word as HART’s CEO, then I’ll be far less effective as a community leader and partner with my board in leading HART into the future. So I never, ever make promises that I don’t intend to keep.
Strategic planning is an obviously critical CEO skill, and I’ve worked closely with my board to implement a process that has resulted in a clear vision for the future and detailed strategies for getting there. We’ve made sure that the board is in the strategic driver’s seat, taking the lead in fashioning our plans for the future, rather than just passively reacting to finished plans that staff produce.
I really do take seriously the idea of a Strategic Leadership Team that includes the board, CEO, and top executives, working hand-in-hand in setting strategic directions. Another skill that I’ve worked hard to develop and hone over the years is stakeholder relations, which, of course, involves a big dollop of communication. There’s no way HART can build community support for adequate funding for system expansion without the enthusiastic support of key stakeholders like the Tampa Mayor and Council and the Hillsborough County Commission.
Doug Eadie is president & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company. You can reach Doug here.
Technology Aids, Innovates, Leads
By SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor
The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.
– Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)
This is a time of technological transformation for the public transportation industry. Who would have thought 20 to 25 years ago, for example, that a commuter could pay for a subway ride – or receive real-time information about train delays or route changes – through a cell phone? Or that a traveler’s security could be enhanced through closed-circuit television cameras or a bus driver’s ability to contact police through a touch of a button?
Why is technology so important? Many reasons, highly varied. Technology reduces cost, increases productivity, and promotes safety. It can speed delivery of products; it can make passengers more comfortable. It can produce ways to store energy; it can make materials lighter and more cost-efficient.
From TCIP standards in communications capability to automatic vehicle location, from traffic signal priority to positive train control and collision avoidance, technology is the backbone of the industry as well as its innovator.
In the pages that follow, a variety of APTA members present various perspectives on the value of technology. For as Linda J. Bohlinger, APTA vice chair, research and technology, said: “It’s not just a back-office application anymore.” Bohlinger, who also serves as vice president and national director of management consulting for HNTB Corporation, added: “ It’s used in all aspects of a transit agency – from administrative to on-board equipment on buses and trains, to asset management to security and ITS.”
Value of Technology Overall
As the nation continues to try to find its way out of the devastating economic downturn, technology nonetheless continues to advance.
“I see technology really fulfilling two roles in public transportation,” said Kirk Talbott, chief information officer for the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin, TX. “First, delivering better information to our passengers, such as predicted on-time arrival and the ability to get better trip planning of information, and the other thing is potentially lowering costs or increasing efficiency – more service delivered for same or lowered costs.”
Bohlinger echoed Talbott’s comments about the efficiency role, but added that technology helps an agency accomplish its mission.
Many opportunities exist regarding what’s available in technology, observed Thomas Parker, executive manager, transit systems compliance, for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District and chair of APTA’s Universal Transit Farecard Standards program, but those opportunities come with a built-in problem.
“People tend not to be patient with technology,” he said. “When something new comes to the table, you can’t expect it to work right first time out of the box. Be mindful that you have to be patient with it. When something is being developed, it must include the whole ecosystem, and that typically takes time.”
While many technological efforts are very costly, the cost-benefit ratio connected to these projects can make an initial investment worthwhile. According to John M. Inglish, general manager/chief executive officer of the Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City, investing in rail technologies provides a big advantage “because you have the ability to add capability at a pretty low cost. If you’ve invested in that big technology, you’re in better shape than if you had not. From that perspective, the technology will allow you to expand rapidly.”
Technological ‘Wizardry’ in the Pipeline
What technologies are agencies working on right now? Because needs and resources differ from system to system, so does technological development. Here are just a few examples:
* Capital Metro is developing a computer-aided dispatch automatic vehicle location program for demand response, which Talbott called “a massive technology investment.” He added: “Our hopes are that, by better knowing where our vehicles are, on the paratransit side, you’ll be able to dispatch more intelligently.”
* In Pittsburgh, Dil Asivatham, director of infrastructure and information technology services for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, noted that his agency is prototyping a text-based message system about bus schedules at the bus stops. This program will likely have two main benefits: Increased visibility, in that the customers will be able to see when the next bus will arrive, and decreased customer service calls, because the information will be readily accessible.
* UTA is “heavily invested right now” in electronic fare collection, said Inglish. The agency wants a system that operates with a standard credit card that becomes contactless through an embedded microchip, and will measure how far people ride. “I want to charge people with how far I take them,” he said, “and to change the fare according to market conditions. I may want to charge them less for six blocks vs. 20 miles into the suburbs.”
This approach, Inglish noted, “will give us the ability to extract more revenue for our services than we’ve ever done before – having people pay more in correlation to the value of the service. If you buy a Big Gulp, you’ll pay more than for a can of Diet Coke.”
Further, said UTA Chief Technology Officer Clair Fiet, implementing any kind of change in the fare collection process uses technology to “inform” readers on all buses and gates. “We can be efficient and can do it almost overnight,” he explained.
Value During a Recession
“Human nature likes to continue doing things the ways they’ve done them in the past,” said Talbott, “and public transit seems to be rife with human nature. When you inject new technology, it opens up possibilities: you can either keep doing things they way you’ve done it – and fight the technology – or you can adapt the way to do things to the new technology.”
Before a recession, he observed, a transit agency might spend millions of dollars on new technology that then requires an ongoing maintenance cost. “In a recession,” he said, “if people never change their business processes to take advantage of the cost savings, they’ll just see the initial costs and ongoing maintenance and they’ll get frustrated with it.”
The advantage he sees in a recession, therefore, is that “it really gets an agency to analyze its business processes and ask: how can we do this better, or how can we do this for less money?” he added.
During a recession, said Asivatham, “you can throw money away on too much technology. The proper and strategic use of technology is to drive efficiencies within departments.” This is why the Port Authority is working on methods of providing access, including secure access, to its network, by multiple modes and from any location.
Stressing that this is not something the organization has asked for or committed to, Asivatham termed it “foresight from the technology standpoint. We’re making it available without making any huge capital investment. From strategic leveraging of existing technology, we’re providing capabilities for the organization to be flexible.”
Said Bohlinger: “The challenge in a down economy – as it is in any economy, since transit agencies are generally operating at the margin, funding-wise – is determining what kind of technology is appropriate for each size and type of agency.” To that end, she described a joint APTA/Transit Cooperative Research Program effort to develop a tech portal on APTA’s web site geared toward APTA board members, CEOs, and general managers, which will describe different types of technology and their application for public transportation, and will provide links for further research.
“Operating costs are really an area of concern with most transit organizations – how to do more with less,” said Asivatham, “so the proper use of technology certainly goes a long way to solving that problem.”
Taking Advantage of Technology
Exciting technological innovation is underway in France these days. In Nice, for example, because people don’t like to see wires in urban environments, streetcars operate with battery packs on their roofs. The packs provide enough capacity to enable a streetcar to travel through a “no wires, please” section, and then reattach itself to wires after and recharge.
In Bordeaux, streetcars use an embedded third rail for power, but the only time the rail is “hot” is when the vehicle is directly over it. As Inglish related, otherwise, “you can walk on it” with no ill effect.
Inglish said he hopes that UTA becomes one of the first U.S. transit systems to implement such a network, but he acknowledged: “It’s a struggle for American systems to step out of America – it’s an arrogance we’ve got to get over. Technology is all over, all around us, and we should be smart enough to pick from the best.”
Technology is crucial to the industry, now and in the future. “All the new advances in transportation will be in technology,” Bohlinger said. “Technology will really be the way that transit survives in the next era.”
High Speed Rail: On a Roll in California and the Nation
By ROD DIRIDON SR.
In the 1960s, the Japanese Shinkansen captured the world’s imagination as the first “bullet train,” followed in the early 1980s by the French TGV and later by similar high speed trains, now traveling at speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour, in Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, China, Korea, Taiwan, and many more of the more advanced countries of the world.
The Japanese and French high speed trains have carried many billions of riders without a single fatality, while freeways in the U.S. killed 43,000 people and maimed hundreds of thousands more last year.
The U.S., assumed to be the world’s technological leader, is now trying to catch up with the rest of the world’s more advanced transportation programs. With 11 congressionally designated high speed rail corridors since the mid 1990s, progress has been slow—until recently.
The California High Speed Rail Authority Board, created by the California State Legislature in 1996, has as its task to design, build, operate, and maintain a 220 mph rail system to interconnect the state’s metropolitan areas: San Diego, the Inland Empire, Los Angeles, the Central Valley, the San Francisco Bay area, and Sacramento. The authority’s board, with five members appointed by the governor and two each from the state Senate and state Assembly, has expended more than $70 million to complete the federally required environmental and engineering studies and bond-worthy business and implementation plans.
That level of preliminary investment was necessary to assure that the more than $40 billion needed for this construction project—one of the largest in the nation’s history—is well spent in the correct corridors, with stations in the best locations and using the most effective technology.
The result is a final Program Environmental Clearance approved by the federal government and certified by the CHSRA board on July 9, 2008. That plan provided the detailed background information for both technicians and voters to review as the $9.95 billon statewide high speed rail bond passed Nov. 4, 2008. These bonds provide California’s share of the project costs, with the remaining funds coming from federal grants and tax incentives plus around 30 percent from private investors.
Indeed, private investment is a major part of the high speed rail plan. Two top bond-worthy financial consulting firms agree that the completed CHSRA system will gross more than $3.5 billion per year and net as much as 40 percent of that amount after all operating and maintenance costs. That net income will amortize a significant amount of private investments to help build and later expand the basic 790 miles, double-tracked, electrified, grade-separated, right-of-way protected, safe, and fast system.
Why High Speed Rail?
The question may remain: why does California need high speed rail? The answer: it just makes good economic sense!
California’s population will double in size from the current 36 million to over 60 million by mid-century. To meet that transportation need, we can choose either 3,000 more lane-miles of freeways and two new international airports, at a cost of more than $100 billion, or the planned high speed rail system, for more than $40 billion. Further, the added freeways and airports would reach their full capacity in the 2050s, while the CHSRA system would meet those needs until 2100 with no more capital expenditures than to add more rail cars.
Economically, the CHSRA system is expected to create 160,000 jobs to build and stimulate an added 450,000 permanent jobs, none of which can be outsourced. Finally, highways and airports don’t pay for themselves, but high speed rail around the world helps build extensions and support other transportation system elements.
Environmentally, the choice is even clearer. The highway and airport alternative would create more than 18 billion more ponds of global warming gases and use more than 22 million more barrels of oil per year than the high speed trains, which operate with electricity. High speed rail would mean a huge step toward independence from imported oil. The rail system also would synergize the effectiveness of the state’s other public transit systems and help focus growth around the train stations, while the highway and airport alternative would continue to promote urban sprawl and the desecration of our last farmlands and open spaces.
Is it too good to be true? Careful review by the state and federal authorities validated the CHSRA environmental clearance, business plan, and implementation program. Every other industrialized country in the world has or is building high speed rail. They can’t all be wrong!
Now is the time for high speed rail in California and the U.S.! Our economy is staggering; we need those jobs and the federal government is willing to help build these systems, in part, to create employment. Also, climate change has become a crisis throughout the world. In fact, the vast European and Japanese high speed rail networks are a primary reason why both areas meet the old Kyoto Accords. The U.S. has 4 percent of the world’s population, but it creates almost 30 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.
We owe it to our beleaguered economy, to our local and the world’s environment—and to our children to support this creative solution to the state’s long-term transportation challenge.
Will we be able to tell those youngsters, as global warming becomes more severe, that we’ve taken all possible actions to meet the challenge? Will future generations consider us good ancestors?
When Ice Storms Paralyzed Louisville, TARC Kept Buses Moving
On Jan. 28, a major storm blew across the midwestern U.S., bringing with it frigid temperatures and snow and ice that put a thick coat of silvery glass on cars, trees, and utility wires. However, the icing that created a winter wonderland in Louisville, KY, also downed trees and utility lines and caused power outages to more than 200,000 customers locally.
The storm forced many businesses, schools, and doctors’ offices to close their doors and left many residents in homes without heat. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear declared a statewide emergency, and President Obama designated the state a federal disaster area.
On the afternoon the storm began, the Transportation and Maintenance departments of the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) in Louisville made sure that all 185 of its buses pulled out of the garage for the afternoon peak. As the storm worsened the next day, TARC put out service advisories on all routes and kept track of detours on streets with downed trees and power lines.
Over the next two days, TARC radio and road supervisory members managed more than 40 detours at any one time.
Meanwhile, the TARC3 paratransit operation saw 80 percent of its 1,500 scheduled customers cancel on Jan. 28, and had to reroute vehicles quickly. The paratransit service missed almost no scheduled pickups, and the extra capacity on the vehicles was used to deliver people without power to shelters.
TARC was able to maintain high standards of performance and keep the public informed through the use of technology, backed up by careful coordination and regular internal communications.
“It could have become a totally chaotic situation,” said TARC Executive Director J. Barry Barker. “I can’t imagine how we could have managed so well without the technology linking us together and keeping everyone informed.”
Communications between the Transportation, Customer Service, and Marketing departments allowed a regular flow of information on TARC delays and detours throughout the two days of the paralyzing weather. Essential personnel received notification of all changes in routes and schedules through text messages and by e-mail.
Although the storm left TARC’s webmaster iced in, she was able to update the TARC web page by remote. When her power went out, her supervisor was alerted by cell phone and coached on how to update the detour list. The web site’s detour page received 1,500 hits during the first two days of the bad weather, and the agency spokeswoman was able to release the most current information during early-morning media calls to her home.
Customer Service representatives received detailed detour sheets by e-mail, which allowed them to stay on top of the latest information and respond to customer questions by telephone.
In the TARC3 paratransit office, the staff was able to monitor the location of its 78 vehicles equipped with Mobile Data Terminals and operated by MV Transportation. The steady flow of location information meant that the agency could quickly reroute the vehicles when customers canceled their trips. The system used the extra capacity to transport people to shelters and bring essential personnel to TARC. This flexibility and efficiency would have been impossible if the drivers had had to rely on phone instructions or paper manifests.
In spite of the challenging conditions, people got to dialysis, made it to work, and were shuttled to and from emergency shelters. Even the Frankfort Avenue Trolley Hop went forward as planned, providing free rides for people attending arts and entertainment events on the last Friday of each month.
TARC is in the process of moving to the next level of technology with the installation of Automatic Vehicle Location devices in its buses later this year, along with an upgraded radio system. Next year, if the arctic breezes again wreak havoc on Louisville, the agency will be able to provide more detailed information at a quicker pace.
One regular rider summed up TARC’s performance this way: “Thank you [TARC] for all you've done throughout this awful week.”
LYNX Team Develops Online Software to Track Performance
The Central Florida Transportation Authority (LYNX) in Orlando has developed an internal training program—Service Excellence Training—to enhance its customer-centric goals and help the agency present a higher level of customer service for both internal and external customers. The program establishes service standards for safety, courtesy, efficiency, and cleanliness.
As part of this program, LYNX has created a number of subcommittees to develop and maintain the purpose and vision. For example, the agency found that the reporting of performance measurement regarding daily operations needed improvement, and formed a committee for the purpose of standardizing LYNX measurements and results for employees.
“This group looked at all functional areas of the organization and developed a measurement strategy for key areas in the agency,” said LYNX Chief Executive Officer Linda S. Watson. “Part of the strategy was to minimize the work of providing the data to a system for online viewing of measurements, as well as bringing efficiencies to the National Transit Database (NTD) reporting requirements.”
The LYNX Information Technology team, in collaboration with the subcommittee, designed a software application to allow for data collection, online reporting of performance measures, NTD reporting capabilities, and online historical NTD comparisons with peer agencies.
The program will use data warehousing concepts to manage all functional data reporting elements and connect to LYNX applications used in the management of operations to obtain the necessary data. The system will then provide reporting capabilities including online dashboards.
“The online dashboards will allow staff to view performance measures on a day-to-day, month-to-month, or year-to-year basis with just a glance,” Watson explained.
LYNX anticipates that the system, when fully developed later this year, will bring efficiencies with NTD reporting. This will allow for standardization of NTD data collection, analysis, reporting, and sharing of historical data with peer agency analysis.
From an internal standpoint, the system ultimately should allow LYNX to interpret the organization’s performance and to recognize those employees of outstanding work due to good performance, or even take corrective action to enhance their performance if needed.
LYNX has contracted with Technology Solution Providers of Fairfax, VA, to develop the system.
Meeting the Challenges Facing Rail Operators
By ALBERT SCALA
The pressures of volatile energy costs, operating efficiency, and global climate change increasingly challenge rail operations. Energy consumption and efficiency have become the top issues and priorities for our industry as we endeavor to reduce both our carbon footprint and our energy use.
To meet these challenges, the public transit industry should lead the way to help our rail operators achieve economical, sustainable mobility now and into the future. They can only accomplish this by making reductions in energy usage and our carbon footprint a key strategic aim for our industry.
Many operators outside the U.S., including both the European Union and Nordic Railways, allow contracting entities to include criteria linked with environmental concerns in rail vehicle procurements. They believe action at the community level encourages the investments required for the manufacture of more energy-efficient and less polluting vehicles. Further, the resulting increased demand for energy-efficient vehicles would create markets of sufficient size and the necessary economies of scale to broaden industrial production to large series.
Europe promotes the market’s introduction of clean and energy-efficient vehicles, reducing fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions and thereby improving air quality. To accomplish this, operational lifetime costs of energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and pollutant emissions are included as award criteria for all procurements of road transport vehicles by public agencies.
We can see examples of this working today. Bombardier Transportation recently launched an innovative portfolio of technologies, products, and solutions that maximize energy-efficient operation and total train performance. In Japan, the design of the latest N700 series next-generation bullet trains not only makes the vehicles faster and more comfortable, but also eco-friendly and 19 percent more energy-efficient.
In the U.S. market, the potential for energy efficiency in railways has been largely untapped. While some research efforts have been made in this area, on a national level, the APTA Rolling Stock Technical Forum believes there has not been a major examination of this potential. The complex and multi-faceted issue of energy efficiency in railways and the wide range of innovative technical solutions presents a strong case for carrying out a more comprehensive and coordinated investigation in the near future.
Efforts of the Rolling Stock Technical Forum
The APTA Rolling Stock Technical Forum for 2009 will address energy efficiency, investigating and validating solutions ranging from the introduction of innovative traction technologies, components, and layouts to the development of energy-efficient rolling stock, operation, and infrastructure management strategies. The forum also will generate new validation standards for the energy performance of those products. As an APTA entity, we believe we are in a key position to address societal needs for more efficient and less costly rail transportation.
The question facing the forum is whether the public transit industry should set environmental standards for rolling stock. Specifically, should we even consider developing guidelines or a manual regarding environmental requirements for rolling stock?
The positive goals for these guideline standards are threefold:
* Environmental protection and contributions to sustainable mobility;
* Establishment of new environmental standards for the procurement of rolling stock; and
* Dialogue and cooperation with railway suppliers and agencies.
If APTA and forum members concur with this approach, the guidelines will develop through involvement with various user groups within the railway industry. Collaboration is essential to bring together all stakeholders involved in the purchasing of new rolling stock and make it work. These stakeholders will help specify the performance requirements before issuing the invitation to bid or request for proposal (IFB/RFP). The process must be organized and include agency, consultant, supplier, and sub-supplier personnel.
All participants agree on the benefits of a long-term environmental strategy. The environmental requirements for an IFB/RFP account for a single step in a long process that includes adjusting general environmental requirements to fit a specific IFB/RFP, environmental evaluation of the offers, cooperation with the chosen supplier(s), and evaluation of environmental performance after delivery of the rolling stock.
These guidelines are intended both to help agencies choose the level of environmental performance of their future trains and as an instrument to:
* Comply with mandated environmental requirements;
* Guide the relevant departments towards more environmentally adapted specifications; and
* Help agencies strengthen their environmental profile.
The guidelines will identify the environmental requirements and recommendations including general/policy requirements, energy consumption, exhaust emissions, energy sources, noise, vibrations, restricted materials, and resource management covering production, maintenance, recycling, and waste.
The guidelines will apply a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method to allow evaluation of all important aspects as the total environmental load from the train, e.g. maintenance and energy consumption during operation. The guidelines also specify procedures for appropriate environmental adapted reuse and scrapping after the operation phase.
We understand that there is no simple and unique solution to address these challenges, and that this effort may face resistance at various levels. Additionally, introducing technologies with better performance is often accompanied by high initial cost and, therefore, insufficient customer demand. Manufacturers are also unlikely to produce special vehicle series to respond to incentives aimed at improving energy efficiency or reducing pollutant emissions.
However, in the long term, these guidelines are expected to result eventually in lower costs of clean and energy-efficient vehicles through economies of scale, wider deployment of these technologies, and a general improvement in the environmental performance of the whole fleet.
Counteracting the Retirement ‘Brain Drain’
By MERYL NATCHEZ
The baby-boom generation is in its sixties, and the U.S. Department of Labor projects that the number of workers in the 55-and-older group will grow by 49.3 percent in the next eight years. What does this mean for transit?
For many agencies, it means that key operations, maintenance, and management talent will be walking off the floor and out the door in the next few years—and decades of detailed knowledge will leave with them. Most workers learn by doing, and details of how we work aren’t documented. In an economy in which everyone is trying to do more with less, the specter of massive retirement is particularly ominous.
In the past, the ability to capture and translate this knowledge was expensive and time-consuming. Today, advances in tools and technology have slashed development cycles and costs.
Applications such as Articulate, Adobe Connect, Flash, and a host of others allow experienced instructional designers to take existing information and quickly repurpose it into true interactive training materials, capturing key information and making it available to the organization even when the key people who possessed it move on.
One example concerns MTA New York City Transit’s elevators and escalators. NYC Transit is the largest agency in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, with approximately 250 mechanics and electricians who focus on elevator and escalator repair. NYC Transit relies on experienced personnel and their specific expertise to keep these transit structures operational. However, many senior personnel are slated for retirement over the next few years.
Recognizing the value of senior personnel’s detailed knowledge of these complex and varied systems, NYC Transit instituted a pilot program last fall to develop the first segment of a formalized, on-the-job training program that captures and documents their expertise and develops a knowledge base for the future.
The initial program consists of video of senior personnel performing selected procedures, merged into a computer-based training curriculum that mechanics can use on hand-held devices in the field. A technician can have the benefit of specific, detailed, hands-on video with them at the repair site to walk them through the repair.
While this technology is not exactly Princess Leia in holographic format, the program does provide a way to bridge the gap when senior personnel are not (or will not be) available. On finalization of the pilot, NYC Transit plans to develop a training program that will cover a wide variety of elevator and escalator procedures. The agency also is expanding the program to include pumps and fans.
This is just one way in which technology can capture valuable knowledge to counteract retirement trends. The NYC Transit pilot program required less than two person-months of development effort and created templates that the agency will leverage for even greater reductions for the rollout.
With appropriate planning and cooperation, a transit agency can incorporate input from experienced subject matter experts at all levels, and the organization can benefit. This is true for management, operations, safety, leadership, customer service, and human resources, as well as mechanical and electrical training.
The use of electronic media for mandatory safety, orientation, and career-development is already wide-spread in the corporate world. A few examples include:
* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health information about anthrax and flu exposure delivered to cell phones;
* Corporate and cultural orientations delivered online in half-hour segments with knowledge assessments for each segment;
* Safety alerts and response via personal digital assistant; and
* Leadership seminars with teleconferencing presence from the highest level of the organization.
Each of these techniques can form part of a plan to ensure knowledge retention. But organizations need to start planning now, using that expertise to ensure that the organization can continue to move forward as older workers move on.
Warehouse Technology Means Better Data
By KENNETH HERRSCHER
In many public transit agencies, applications grow to solve management’s need to know how well it is performing in all aspects of operations, including accounting and finance, maintenance and coach operations, scheduling, customer service, marketing, and risk management.
The systems face many issues related to their operations. Is ridership increasing, and will that lead to revenue growth? How well are coach operators performing? Are they safe? Do they comply with performance standards? Are we using them effectively? Are customer complaints increasing or decreasing? What is our accident rate? Are we transporting more riders from every vehicle revenue service mile and hour? Do our vehicles arrive at their stops on time?
The problem is that such questions are often difficult to answer for planning, scheduling, and operations departments. To help them find solutions to these questions, transit agencies may develop in-house applications based on Microsoft Access and Excel.
Recently, one of our transit clients, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) in Orange, CA, found itself surrounded by numerous information silos dealing with key performance-indicative questions. Almost every department kept its own scores of similar Enterprise Performance Indicators (EPI). However, within months after implementing these information silo applications, OCTA managers found that they had incomplete and duplicated answers that did not agree with other silos’ answers to the same questions.
The solution for OCTA was implementing an industry standard data warehousing model to merge the silos’ source application data into a single version. The Enterprise Data Warehouse, TransitFACTS, includes data marts to facilitate ad hoc queries for transit analysts on such topics as payroll and retirement benefits; coach operator and vehicle scheduling; bidding; attendance; vehicle maintenance; accident and risk management; contract ridership; market development; and university pass and employer pass usage billed to employers who subsidize their employees’ commutes. TransitFACTS also offers an Operational Data Store (ODS) to facilitate monthly operational and financial reporting to OCTA and its board of directors.
Every night, OCTA imports ridership data from the farebox system into the ridership and pass data marts and the library of web-based reports developed for the OCTA Board of Directors’ monthly operational review meetings. A farebox connection to the two-way messaging system on each vehicle enables us to collect the Global Positioning Satellite system latitude and longitudinal coordinates at the time the fare was collected or the pass was used.
Transforming Bad Information into Good
As OCTA’s Geographic Information Systems department reviewed the new GPS-based farebox transactions, the agency occasionally found that all of a route’s transactions were “off-route”: the transactions were made on streets with valid routes on them but, based on the time stamps, the farebox captured the wrong route. Some of these errors occurred from incorrect data entry, as the farebox software does not edit a coach operator’s logon information; others occurred because of equipment malfunction, or because the data was simply not produced by OCTA’s version of farebox software.
As an alternative to spending millions of dollars on a farebox upgrade, OCTA decided to use TransitFACTS to evaluate the erroneous farebox transactions in context with other applications, such as automatic passenger counting, fixed route scheduling, and the coach operator’s scheduling systems.
We designed a sophisticated nightly load process to review the time stamps and GPS coordinates of the raw farebox ridership transactions. It also examined the fixed route and coach operators’ scheduling systems to determine the correct route, trip, pattern, direction, and Stop ID to be assigned. This process preserved the original values of these columns, with the correct data values stored next to the originals they replaced.
By creating a set of performance reports, OCTA was able to correct events that led up to capturing more than $1 million worth of unclassified revenue in a single month. The term “unclassified revenue” refers to revenue not classified by a farebox key or revenue that defaulted to a specific key, as none was pressed to record the fare properly.
An Enterprise Data Warehouse such as TransitFACTS can serve as the catalyst for change a transit agency needs to improve its customer service. By keeping all the data in one repository, the needs of the entire agency are better supported.
Advanced Solutions: Meeting Daily Challenges of Transit Agencies
By KEITH SHEARDOWN
While Bombardier is recognized as a leader in passenger rail equipment with advanced vehicle designs, the company also has developed many innovative technologies to enhance the use of transit equipment, inventories, and the most important asset: people.
To improve the efficiency of operating and maintaining rail transit equipment, we launched a business unit whose only mission is to help transit professionals run a better system.
Bombardier created this business, Technology Solutions, to identify challenges transit systems face daily and rapidly solve these problems by improving vehicle reliability, increasing vehicle availability, and reducing the cost to deliver transit service. We firmly believe that every single technology investment must actually improve the performance of the business, and do it quickly.
Two areas where the company has had good success are in materials management and training and development.
Every transit system faces the challenge of having the right part at the right time. Carrying too little inventory means running the risk of holding equipment out of service and not being able to meet passenger demand. Too much inventory means tying up limited cash resources and finding enough space in your storeroom to house all of the material. As trains (and buses) use thousands upon thousands of spare parts, the task of having the right quantity on hand is a daunting one.
When we examined the issue, we looked outside of transit and found a software company that had built solutions for oil rigs, ships, and remote mines. At first glance, there are very few similarities between transit and a marine vessel. However, the two have one important thing in common: parts availability is just as critical on board a ship as it is at any transit system.
This software essentially looks at two key drivers to recommend inventory levels: the consumption rate and how soon suppliers typically deliver material after receiving an order. When we know this information, we are in a better position to identify the right time to place an order (the “order point”) and how many to buy (the “order quantity”).
The challenge is how to monitor consumption rates and supplier performance on 50,000 parts or more—every month! In many transit systems, this is done on an ad hoc basis or not at all. The software solution looks at the data monthly and revises order points and order quantities to meet the performance criteria (fill rates) specified by the organization placing the order.
As it appeared that the software service was very easy to support, we tested the software for both functionality and ease of implementation at two sites, one in New Jersey and one in Adelaide, Australia. Bombardier selected Australia for a beta site as we wanted to test the implementation without actually meeting with the people at the site; we did it all with six e-mails and one conference call.
In less than one year, Bombardier reduced inventory investment by more than 10 percent while also cutting “stock-outs” by 44 percent. In essence, we freed up cash to be used elsewhere in the business and yet were able to provide better parts availability to our maintenance organizations, resulting in improved vehicle availability and less downtime. In times of diminishing budgets, this sort of solution can be an alternative to reducing service or cutting employment levels.
Training and Development
Bombardier recently launched a new service whereby we provide a turnkey eLearning solution. The service includes the Learning Management Software, course design and development, and an external server to host the associated data.
Some organizations consider training an expense rather than an investment, but we have seen a tremendous return on investment when we develop eLearning courses that meet the needs of the business and are tied into strategic objectives. We have experienced 60 percent reductions in the time required to train vehicle technicians through the use of eLearning.
For example, we maintain and operate the GO Transit commuter rail fleet at a site in Toronto, which has numerous contractors who visit. These people require orientation training to ensure that they know our safety policies and procedures as well as what to do in the event of an emergency.
For many years, our health and safety advisor provided this training in person through a three-hour course, which tied up a valuable resource.
Nothing is more important than safety, and contractors are exposed to many potential hazards for the first time. But we believed that we could deliver an improved course and better value to both contractors and our health and safety advisor. In working collaboratively with that advisor, our instructional designer, and our course developers, Bombardier developed an eLearning course that contractors can take in advance of their visit to our site, with the added benefit of reducing the amount of time required by the health and safety advisor to one hour for a site walkthrough and other critical elements of the course.
Next up on eLearning is a direct linkage between the most common reliability faults and improved course content. Our goal is to reduce work where technicians do not find the defect (known as “No Defect Found” or “NDF” work orders) and to reduce how often equipment must come into the facility to find the defect (what we call “repeater” work orders). We are convinced that improved course content that speaks directly to where the organization and technicians need more knowledge will reduce the numbers of these work orders. The potential savings may total more than 10 percent of the maintenance labor budget.
TriMet Embraces Open Source Technology
As public transit ridership grows around the country, transit agencies are looking for new ways to provide riders with helpful information and innovative tools without having to purchase, build or reinvent technology products. Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon is doing this by embracing open source technology.
Innovative Tools Equal Satisfied Customers
One of TriMet’s best examples of using open source technology for customer benefit is its interactive online system map. Since 2003, when the agency introduced its first online map, new technologies have dramatically changed the world of online maps, and customers wanted more. TriMet selected an open source alternative using GeoServer, OpenLayers, and PostGIS. This solution was standards compliant, met TriMet’s requirements, and had a broad development community that extended a superior level of support.
Customers can quickly access stop and amenity information, plan a trip, and see schedules and real-time arrival data with the online map as their central navigation tool. Map users can also store multiple trips and revisit them again and again. The application incorporates driving and biking directions and links to other outside sources of information such as Microsoft’s Virtual Earth and Google StreetView.
“This new tool gives TriMet customers, especially those new to transit, a level of familiarity with our system and builds confidence that they can ride successfully,” said Tim McHugh, TriMet’s chief technology officer.
Open source technology has emerged as a popular means for information technology (IT) professionals to implement new software products without significantly impacting their organizations’ bottom line. It offers a collaborative approach to the design, development, and distribution of software with free access to the source code. One benefit to this approach is often the large user, developer, and support base that builds around the software, which results in faster-maturing and more innovative products.
“Open source is like the Wikipedia of the software world,” McHugh said. “It’s a business model that enables free and open access to—and enhancement of—the resources we want and need to serve our customers better.”
Through open source, TriMet and its customers have been able to benefit directly from the collaboration this approach encourages. For instance, developers have created more than half a dozen transit tracking applications for the iPhone, giving TriMet customers tools that it did not have the resources to develop itself.
Conversely, TriMet developed Timetable Publisher, an open source application that transforms scheduling data into easy-to-read timetables and simplifies the production of printed on-street schedules and web schedules. TriMet released this application so other agencies could use and contribute to it, resulting ultimately in better, faster, more accurate information for customers. TriMet makes this and other developer resources publicly available through the web site developer.trimet.org.
Maximizing Resources, Minimizing Costs
TriMet has also embraced open source technology as a means of keeping costs down. Even more, the open source approach helps the agency collaborate with other developers in the pursuit of a better, more practical end product. The agency can call on the software’s developers and contributors to troubleshoot problems and implement solutions.
“Free software, support from all over the world—it’s an approach that works,” said McHugh. “All around, embracing this technology makes us operate efficiently and continue being wise stewards of our public dollars.”
The agency’s operating system is Linux, one of the first offered via open source. TriMet also uses open source options like Apache, Tomcat, MySQL, and PostGIS for its back-end servers and databases, as well as its IT development tools like the Plone content management system.
When selecting open source software, TriMet uses focused evaluation criteria to ensure the software meets its needs. Can the agency support and maintain it internally? Does it have an established developer base? Does it have support and maintenance options? Additionally, while there is no initial fee for the software, TriMet still calculates and compares “free” with the long-term operating costs and resources needed to use the software.
“If the software doesn’t fit, we don’t use it,” McHugh said. “It’s important we do our homework because, in the end, it’s all about will work for our customers.”
No Going Back
TriMet has built a reliable and efficient approach to its IT operations by embracing open source technology. Ultimately, though, it’s the agency’s customers who win.
“Open source has matured considerably since it first became popular,” said McHugh. “That’s why we’re seeing more and better software emerging. We’ve chosen to take advantage of it so we—and our customers—can reap the benefits.”
CTTRANSIT: Becoming More Responsible Environmental Stewards
By DAVID A. LEE
Connecticut Transit (CTTRANSIT) is proud of its experience with technologies that directly advance our mission to be responsible environmental stewards and efficient energy consumers. We helped pioneer the deployment of solar voltaic technology that converts sunlight into electricity: the array on the roof of our Hartford operating facility was at one time the largest in Connecticut.
CTTRANSIT conducted the definitive scientific study of hybrid-electric buses in conjunction with the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering and the University of Connecticut. That research demonstrated conclusively the energy efficiency and cost effectiveness of hybrid technology for buses.
More recently, we have operated one of only four hydrogen fuel cell buses in the United States, with five more to be delivered in 2010. The hydrogen fuel cell bus is a true zero-emission vehicle; the only carbon footprint from wellhead to tailpipe is from the truck used to haul liquid hydrogen from Niagara Falls to the United Technologies fueling station in South Windsor, CT. Unit for unit, the fuel cell bus is twice as energy-efficient as conventionally fueled vehicles.
Public transit has always had some difficulty embracing new technologies. We’ve all known managers who lived by the motto, “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” We’ve also all known managers—maybe ourselves on occasion—who lament that new equipment doesn’t work exactly the way the salesman promised. Many are reluctant to volunteer their transit systems to be the guinea pigs for new, but unproven, technologies. In what seems to be a never-ending era of scarce resources, investment in new technology competes with the necessity to maintain existing services and infrastructure.
And yet, there can be no question that technological advance has been a powerful transformative force in our industry. The idea of a low floor bus was once the holy grail to ease boarding and alighting for all passengers and replace expensive, difficult-to-maintain wheelchair lifts with a simple ramp. Alternative fuels, including compressed natural gas and biodiesel, have become commonplace. Sophisticated scheduling software has enabled a new generation of transit planners to cut runs and assign vehicles with maximum efficiency.
Customers tell us over and over that their holy grail—easily accessed, real-time information on bus service—is now state-of-the-art. Web sites have become a universal sales booth, as well as our means of providing instantaneous communication with customers throughout the region.
Embracing technological progress in the years to come will challenge our ability to make resources available. Government and industry must provide resources for research and development; transit systems must develop expertise at all levels to manage and maintain new technologies; and decision-makers must be willing to budget resources for demonstrating experimental new systems and equipment, as well as to deploy proven new technologies.
Is Your Data Fresh and Local? A Self-Assessment Questionnaire for Bus and Rail Operations
By TED WOODS
Lately, the things we eat have come under increased scrutiny. We have been surprised at the places where tainted ingredients show up and the extent of their harmful effects. We want our food to be delivered efficiently and its ingredients to be healthy for long-term prosperity. The value of locally grown produce, with fewer transactions in the supply chain, is being understood more fully. This helps us ensure reliable sources and easier delivery methods, avoiding extra processing and contamination along the way.
Transit authorities have begun to apply the same level of investigation and continuous improvement philosophy to key operational data. It turns out that a relatively few elements of critical data shape many of our real-time decisions as well as our periodic reports and planning. You need these data elements to be timely, accurate, consistent across reporting periods, and obtainable without a lot of labor-intensive effort.
It is not just an academic issue. All of us have experienced firsthand the side effects of consuming unhealthy data.
Generally in the information technology (IT) industry, poor data quality can add 10-20 percent to operational budgets, with even higher rates in the service sector. Just imagine if your operational costs were 20 percent lower or, better yet, you could deliver 20 percent more service, largely based on existing assets and communications/IT infrastructure.
So, we thought it would be fun to share with Passenger Transport readers a sample questionnaire, highlighting some of the most important data elements and best practices identified in our Transit Data Fusion program. This questionnaire has no right or wrong answers, just a brief discussion after each question.
We encourage all transit professionals to go out and find the answers in their organizations; if nothing else, you will spend some quality time with people in other departments and generate some good discussions. You may be dissatisfied with some of the answers you find, or you may have trouble finding a good answer, and hopefully that will spur you into action.
1. How many devices must a rail or bus operator log onto before entering revenue service or starting a new trip? How much pre-trip time is associated with device boot-up and logon?
With the proliferation of on-board devices, single-point vehicle logon is becoming increasingly important. But it is easier said than done; to do it right requires both on-board and back-end integration of several systems, as well as data pre-load before pull-out. If the bound record of operator ID, train/bus ID, and work assignment is captured correctly on every trip, and immediately made available to other systems, there are huge benefits. It turns out that this bound record is key to much of the operational data quality discussed throughout this questionnaire.
2. Are your dispatchers able automatically to get health reports and critical alarms from trains and buses that are in service? If so, can they dispatch replacement service before a vehicle fault causes a service disruption?
In a few cases we have found transit authorities that have adopted a “zero disruption time” policy, through the deployment of “strategic” replacement trains and buses. Traditionally this required an onerous commitment of standby rolling stock. But given today’s technology, it is possible to take a flexible, data-based approach to on-road service quality while maintaining an acceptable vehicle and operator spare ratio.
3. Are you confident enough in your on-time performance and missed trip data that you regularly sit down with your operators’ union representatives and jointly discuss ways to improve? Do you make OTP and trip reports available to your customers?
With the right amount of system integration, it is possible to drill down into aggregate OTP and trip numbers and pinpoint specific problems. It may be that a few particular trips or just a couple of operators are skewing the data for everyone.
4. What is your lag time between collecting fare collection and passenger count data and making service adjustments as a result? Do you track vehicle load factors on each route and trip?
For many transit authorities, the lag time can be six months or more, with no clear feedback process into trip planning and scheduling. However, some do it as often as weekly, and have negotiated flexible work rules to support this level of customer responsiveness and efficiency.
5. Is your vehicle mileage data estimated or actually measured? Is it collected automatically from a single master source? Are you able to accurately separate revenue and non-revenue vehicle miles? Do you encounter large variations in mileage from one reporting period to the next?
Vehicle mileage is one of the most important data elements and has ripple effects throughout the organization. It drives everything from scheduled maintenance to funding and reimbursement. With current technology and some system integration, it is possible to achieve good accuracy and reap many benefits.
6. What percentage of your line maintenance employees are users on your central maintenance management system? Do they use it 100 percent of the time for work order data entry, electronic service manuals, and parts picking?
Given the state of some maintenance management systems, considerable data on maintenance events may never be captured. People develop lots of shortcuts and work-arounds because of system limitations. Often this happens not because of inadequate software functions, but instead due to poor quality reference data, poor availability of data terminals close to where the maintenance work is actually performed, and other aspects of the system affecting user friendliness. To help bridge this gap, handheld wireless devices for maintenance and other yard/shop functions are becoming more feasible.
7. From their PCs, do all members of your management team have direct access to reports and querying capabilities in all major operational systems? Is it available from a single integrated source?
In some cases we have counted a dozen or more transportation-related systems in a single authority, with overlapping and sometimes conflicting data. There is a big need for standardized data warehouses and business intelligence systems to broker the timely, accurate, and complete interchange of data between legacy operational systems and allow them to remain unchanged when new “casual” users are added.
8. Have you ever assessed the benefits of improved data quality in terms of cost savings, improved customer service, increased revenue, improved safety, and funding/reimbursement advantages?
So, how did you and your organization do? What did you learn and what areas of improvement are you most interested in? We encourage you to pursue projects around the highest-priority items you discovered. Maybe you can’t say your data is “certified organic,” but we could all benefit from a healthier, more cost-effective transit management lifestyle based on the highest-quality data ingredients.
A Critical Need for Systems Engineering in Surface Transportation
By ANNE O'NEIL and CAROLYN HAYWARD-WILLIAMS
Systems engineering is an essential tool for the development and delivery of technology-based solutions in the defense, space, security, and information technology (IT) sectors. Extensive documentation proves the value added from its methodologies and tools. Yet systems engineering is still in its infancy in the transportation sector.
Numerous investment programs in Europe have applied systems engineering techniques in the past five years, such as the Dutch High Speed Line, the London Underground Infrastructure Investment, and the Copenhagen Metro. Systems engineering also is being developed and applied in Australia by agencies such as the Australian Railtrack Corporation. But it has not seen comparable levels of adoption in the U.S.
The Federal Aviation Association’s systems engineering department and processes primarily reflect defense and National Aeronautics and Space Administration experience. The Federal Highway Administration has developed systems engineering guidance relating to the Intelligent Transportation Systems initiative. State and local transportation agencies have begun assessing the role of systems engineering in capital construction projects and asset management initiatives.
Advancements in transit communications, tracking and location systems, smart card technology, financial/back-office systems, and human resources/asset management systems are “crying out” for systems engineering practices to facilitate the application and migration of these technologies as part of capital investment. The significant increase in integrated systems and software-based applications requires new approaches to plan, design, and procure these solutions. Furthermore, delivery of most transportation capital investment programs on time and on budget proves to be a challenge as a result of these advances.
The European experience demonstrates that the added-value of systems engineering applications in transit varies as a result of the inconsistent approach in application. This largely results from limited systems engineering expertise, and knowledge base within the sector, including among transportation suppliers, government agencies, A&E companies, and consulting firms. Furthermore, the standards which define and outline systems engineering are geared toward the defense and IT sectors, with limited detail relating to the some of the key delivery challenges associated with transit—specifically the evolutionary migration of technology and solutions given the ongoing operational demands, often around the clock in nature, of transit systems.
APTA, supported by the International Council on Systems Engineering, has embraced this challenge and has formed a new Systems Engineering Subcommittee, listing as its purpose raising awareness of systems engineering principles and benefits across the U.S. transit industry and developing guidance and best practice documentation to be applied to capital investment programs within the transit industry.
Members of this subcommittee—including U.S. transit agencies, engineering firms, and suppliers—have identified systems engineering awareness at the executive level as their first major challenge.
Documentation of the business case of systems engineering within the transit industry is well underway and will be presented in June at the APTA 2009 Rail Conference.
Editor’s note: The authors are co-chairs of the APTA Systems Engineering Subcommittee.
Public Transit Sees Changes in the Age of Web 2.0
By ERT DREDGE
It’s been five years since the Web 2.0 revolution—or, more accurately, evolution—got properly underway, and it’s easy to see the imprint of that change on the world. The web is now a place of rich user interfaces that rival and surpass desktop applications, and hundreds of millions of people showcase their ideas on blogs and their social connections on social networking sites. Web sites like Facebook, Flickr, Wikipedia, and YouTube are growing by leaps and bounds, fueled by the continuous input of everyday people around the globe.
A consideration of how Web 2.0 has affected the public transit industry leads one first to consider the web sites of various transit agencies, where nowadays one can readily find blogs detailing upcoming changes with local systems and current system alerts. The most significant development on transit agency sites in recent years, though, has been the introduction of online trip planners, with the most cutting-edge transit sites now simply exporting their standardized schedule information to Google so their riders can plan their trips via embedded versions of Google Maps.
Looking forward beyond the current state of transit agency sites, however, takes an examination of the other fruits of the Web 2.0 world.
One of the most obvious changes in the last five years of online technology has been the dramatic increase in the number of sites that rely on crowdsourced input and the network effect to drive their growth. Wikipedia is developed by thousands of volunteer contributors and editors, and MySpace and other social networking sites are only interesting because other people already are using them. The larger the number of people who are already using one of these sites, the more useful that site is.
The ability to derive small amounts of volunteer work from each of a large number of people—by getting many people to write articles, post videos, or upload lists of their friends—allows everyone to take a small portion of the cost of, say, writing an encyclopedia, but everyone can enjoy the benefit.
Significantly, public transit has always been greatly impacted by both the positive and negative repercussions of network effects: One person riding a bus isn’t really a transit system at all; it’s just somebody with a big vehicle and a really huge monthly car payment. But if you get enough people together, riding in the same direction at the same times, they all get to share in the costs of maintaining the system. If you get too many people trying to ride the same vehicles in the same direction, you get overcrowding, at least until you can purchase more vehicles.
You already can see the early beginnings of crowdsourcing and network effect information sharing on the public transit industry. Neighborhood blogs and web sites contain comments and tips about local transit stops with no input from transit authorities. Meanwhile, the transit agencies themselves ask their patrons to watch out for suspicious packages. These are early and easily spotted examples.
In the next five years, we should expect to see the lessons and growth of the online network effect and crowdsourcing web sites showing up in the public transit industry. Before long, systems will be able to plot their own routes over hundreds of miles, using routes and data collected from a wide variety of sources including transit agencies, private jitney services, traffic reports, and ratings from individual end users. (Imagine a transit route plotted on Mapquest with a casual note beside one leg of the journey: “Don’t take the #471 bus between 2 and 3 p.m., it’s way too crowded.”) “Dynamic ridesharing” ventures are already under development, using the agility of modern mobile telecommunications to mix parts of private vehicles, taxi fleets, and public transit agencies into new mobility solutions. We are sure to see social networking groups of people who have nothing else in common except their daily commute on the same bus.
Public transit has collected crowds of users for years. It’s only natural that crowdsourcing will come to have a dramatic impact on how it functions.
How High Tech Can Help the Daily Commute
By JONATHAN McDONALD and GARY PRUITT
We are at the dawn of a renaissance in public transit. All over the country, ridership levels are surging and systems are nearing capacity. The little systems we built as social equity projects are now really being used by the masses.
As transit operators struggle to deal with the surge in growth, lack of funds, and an aging workforce; the question becomes: where can they turn to help them attract new riders and help manage the system? Technology is an obvious answer, but how?
To illustrate an example of the role technology plays in public transit, we look at a transit system in the not-too-distant future through the eyes of three users: Joe Rider, Markus T. Manager, and Sgt. O’Leary.
A Day in the Life of Transit
The alarm rings and, after hitting the snooze bar three times, Joe Rider is ready to get up. It’s 6 a.m. After a quick shower and shave, Joe sits down to breakfast, only to have his iPhone flash the message: “Route 814 is delayed due to an incident. Suggest alternative route???”
As Joe browses through his options, he discovers that Route 913 will get him to the office only 10 minutes later than normal, even though he has to walk an extra block to get there. He hits <Accept> on the screen and the alarm that tells Joe to leave the house adjusts itself, synchronizing to the new route.
As Joe sits down to his breakfast, Sgt. O’Leary’s dispatcher has received a call from transit dispatch that a pickpocket has been detected on Bus 7863 on Route 814. The camera on board identified suspicious behavior and alerted transit security. As Sgt. O’Leary enters the bus, he identifies the suspect immediately from the dispatcher’s description. The situation is resolved within a few minutes, causing a delay of only 16 minutes to Route 814.
A cup of coffee and a few minutes later, Joe walks up to Bus Stop 2289 and local Bus 913 arrives one minute later. In exactly seven minutes according to Joe’s watch, Bus 913 arrives at the rail station, and he runs up the escalator to jump on the train to downtown just as it leaves. Joe thinks to himself: “Boy, I’m sure glad I downloaded that new Smart Pay application. It’s so much faster than all those old farecards. I don’t even think about it—ever. Cool!”
Just as Joe gets onto the train, Markus Manager detects a surge in demand from the buses that feed the train system on his system manager dashboard. The automatic notification system has calculated that passengers will be delayed by more than five minutes on platform waiting for a train in 15 minutes. To compensate, he dispatches the on-call operators and, within the required 15 minutes, additional trains enter the system—just in time.
Meanwhile, during his 27-minute rail trip into work, Joe checks e-mail, his schedule, and his personalized online news service, arriving ready to attack the day. Of course, he spends the first 30 minutes of his day discussing the harrowing, near-death highway commute experienced by his co-worker Bob, but otherwise it is a normal day.
Before Joe leaves for home at the end of the day, he receives a message “Your laundry is ready to pick up. Pick up or deliver to Stop 2289?” He hits <Deliver> and changes the delivery box back to his regular stop, 2286. On the way home, he picks up his laundry in the secure lockers behind Stop 2286 and walks half a block to his home.
What We Learned
Each of these people benefited from technology that made their lives easier and helped public transit work better for them and the public.
For Joe, technology applications downloaded onto his iPhone allowed him to reroute his commute and pay for it, minimizing delays and transaction time.
Moreover, additional integration of third-party services such as laundry into transit made using transit more convenient in these hectic times.
For Sgt. O’Leary, the addition of on-board detection tools enabled him and the rest of the security team to respond quickly, efficiently, and safely to an incident. This gives riders a justifiable feeling of safety while on board a bus or train.
For Markus, the addition of demand management tools enabled him to optimize the transit system to minimize costs and maximize passenger throughput.
Affordable Smart Card Reader Technology
By TAMARA HALBRITTER
According to the Smart Card Alliance: “Since the late 1990s, U.S. transit agencies have made significant investments in contactless smart card-based automatic fare collection (AFC) systems, with over $1 billion in contracts awarded for new systems that incorporate the latest developments in information technology (IT) and use contactless smart cards as the primary fare medium.”
However, many small public transit agencies have not had the opportunity to take advantage of this technology because of its high cost. Until recently, agencies were limited to a few propriety choices of equipment.
As payment media have evolved from cash to magnetic fare media to contactless smart cards, demand has increased, resulting in more affordable system technology.
Now, transit agencies of any size have the option to deploy a stand-alone, smart card-based AFC system or integrate their fare collection operations with larger regional transportation programs.
An interoperable smart card reader system allows paratransit and small transit agencies to expand their service into larger areas. It also gives agencies the ability to carefully track ridership, better manage data, and make more informed decisions for planning purposes:
* Data management. Agencies can collect ridership and service performance data, quickly upload data to a PC, and store it in a database. Staff can also download configuration information and new fare policies to the system.
* Reporting. The back-end system often includes standard or custom reports, which give agencies an excellent way to evaluate information for operational assessments and potential modifications to business rules and fare policies.
* Global Positioning Satellite system information. Agencies can integrate the smart card system with new or existing GPS equipment. This allows them to add location information to usage reports for enhanced service planning.
* Smart card management. Since each card within the system requires a unique serial number, agencies can track card usage; add fare products; modify access rights as necessary in the event that a card is lost, stolen, or no longer valid (hotlisting); and provide balance protection options to the rider.
* Card fulfillment and distribution. Transit agencies can set up point-of-sale terminals at their offices or other facilities. The smart card reader connects to a PC, where a transit employee selects which fare products to load onto the card and inputs customer information for card registration. Agencies can request cards pre-encoded with dollar values, and rely on a vendor for telephone and web-based fulfillment options.
One example of a smart card reader designed specifically for use by small transit agencies is the contactless AcuFare 100TM Smart Card Reader System developed by Acumen Transit.
The system accepts various fare types and configuration information that correspond to the agency’s specific needs and operating requirements.
Wireless Technology and Licensed Spectrum: What You Know Can Help You
By BARRY EINSIG
Wireless technologies and spectrum can provide either great opportunities or major challenges to public transit agencies, depending on how they view, plan, and manage their wireless resources.
Much like land use planning, proactive frequency planning can deliver a remarkable advantage for transit agency senior executives when considered as a potential asset to be leveraged. Wireless spectrum is like land use: without proper planning for lack of frequencies, sharing of frequencies, interference by others, or five-year programs, it can have a dramatic impact, positive or negative, on transit capital and/or operating budgets. Lack of planning and coordination can also impact the day-to-day operations of a system or the ability to respond in an emergency.
The opportunities that exist today for transit agencies result from the continued development of wireless technologies using internet protocol, which means that all wired and wireless systems can be managed as a single common network. This process has many advantages, including reductions in operational cost; ease of maintenance; enabling integrated data rich networks; and delivery of critical information from integrated voice and data networks from the field to operations or to others in the field. Because it is real-time and reliable, this data can be published to the riders of our systems.
One example of a great opportunity often overlooked by transit agencies is the 700 MHz narrow band spectrum. Because many transit agencies have little input in their regional planning commissioners or knowledge of the opportunity to acquire new spectrum available due to the Federal Communications Commission’s Digital TV transition, they may not work to gain access to these licenses to be able to expand their existing coverage, networks, or data capabilities.
Most of the challenges in wireless spectrum result from the lack of knowledge and planning for new technology migration, and opportunities created by FCC actions. Many occur because the transit industries, as well as many individual agencies, do not have an active role in the planning, proceedings, or positions taken on various licensed spectrum. Not maintaining an active role with regard to licensed spectrum means that the control of this spectrum is delegated to other users who may not have the same objectives or may be in conflict with what is best for transit agencies.
Many resources are available to help transit agencies to learn more about the issues and get involved. The Communications Subcommittee of the APTA Research and Technology Committee meets four times a year, at TransITech, the Bus and Paratransit Conference, the Rail Conference, and the Annual Meeting. Most of all, appoint someone on your staff to learn more about the opportunities and challenges in wireless spectrum available to your organization right now.
Greater Dayton RTA Introduces Audio Ads on Board
The Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag contains 31 words. “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun” has only 14 words. Now the public transportation system in Dayton, OH, has partnered with an audio ad company to send messages to commuters in 10 seconds.
The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority has teamed with Commuter Advertising, a Chicago-based startup, to broadcast the 10-second advertising messages, using an annunciator system already installed on RTA buses. As a result, existing technology finds a new, revenue-generating purpose by providing local businesses the opportunity to reach transit riders with their messages.
“The RTA found an innovative marketing opportunity in our operations infrastructure,” said Marketing Manager Sabrina Pritchett. “We found a way for our technology to work even harder for us.”
Pritchett said businesses are always interested in talking to RTA riders, so this advertising program fills a need in the market.
The RTA recently reinstated its print advertising program and, at the same time, became a pioneer by implementing an audio program. The agency’s bus annunciator system, developed by Continental, already uses Global Positioning Satellite software to make stop announcements; Commuter Advertising expands this system to provide dynamic advertising opportunities.
With this program, a local florist can broadcast a brief message to commuters on Valentine’s Day as the bus approaches the flower shop. At the same time, the transit agency can take advantage of an important new revenue source.
Commuter Advertising developed proprietary methods to sell, manage, and upload transit audio commercials. Over a period of 90 days, the RTA worked closely with the advertising firm to coordinate the engineering activities required to upload audio on the buses. They designed test activities to mitigate risk to bus operations; now the RTA can seamlessly upload new ads on a weekly basis.
In addition to the audio announcements, Commuter Advertising offers 10-word text scrolls on LED bus screens, also powered by the RTA’s annunciator system.
“Rider feedback revealed intrigue in both short-format audio and visual content. The combination results in a rider who is interested to learn more about the stores they pass every day on their commutes,” said Katherine Hill, chief operating officer for Commuter Advertising.
“Our agency works with businesses to identify RTA locations and rider groups in a thoughtful way that enhances the commuting experience. Since the message must be relevant to riders for our program to succeed, we’ve developed tools that make transit schedules come to life for the marketer,” Hill added.
Within the first 30 days of beginning a multi-year contract with RTA, Commuter Advertising signed more than $25,000 in advertising contracts, working with both local and national clients.
“Commuter Advertising uses our transit data to project revenue based on a variety of factors, including the total number of annual riders and media spending in Dayton. So far, the program has been a success. We now have 15 to 20 new clients already spending money with the RTA,” Pritchett said.
Forecasts call for the sale of limited inventory to maintain a premium product and avoid intrusiveness. Commuter Advertising and the RTA are surveying riders regarding the types of advertising messages they want to hear and their opinion of the new advertising program.
Initial reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, especially when riders learn that a portion of the generated revenue comes back to the RTA, helping to maintain service and stabilize fares.
AROUND THE INDUSTRY
Pittsburgh Sees the Light at the End of the North Shore Tunnel
Port Authority of Allegheny County workers in Pittsburgh can see “the light at the end of the tunnel” following the Jan. 15 completion of the mining phase of the agency’s North Shore Connector project. The Port Authority used a 500-ton tunnel boring machine (TBM) to mine twin tunnels, each 2,200 feet in length, underneath the Allegheny River as part of constructing the 1.2-mile light rail extension from downtown Pittsburgh to its neighboring North Shore.
The project took less than a year to complete since its beginning Jan. 22, 2008, at the “launch pit” adjacent to PNC Park, home field of the Pittsburgh Pirates. From there, the TBM mined approximately 50 feet below ground level under the Equitable Resources building on the North Shore, then under the river at a rate of 30 to 40 feet per day, eventually reaching the heart of downtown Pittsburgh.
On July 10, 2008, the TBM completed the first tunnel when the TBM broke through the “receiving pit” wall in downtown Pittsburgh. Mining of the second tunnel resumed Oct. 14, 2008. The Port Authority estimates that the North Shore Connector will enter service in 2011, providing a link between Pittsburgh’s South Hills communities and its North Shore neighborhoods, entertainment venues, and business centers.
Now that the mining phase is complete, the Port Authority will disassemble the TBM and ship it back to the manufacturer, Herrenknecht A.G. in Germany.
New Orleans RTA Introduces ‘Lil’ Easy’ Circulators
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority and Veolia Transportation recently introduced a new form of public transportation to the recovering neighborhoods of the Lower Ninth Ward. The “Lil’ Easy” neighborhood circulator operates with 10 new biodiesel-powered shuttle vans from Daimler Buses North America.
The route followed by the colorful 14-seat Lil’ Easy vehicles includes only three scheduled stops and 24 flexible stops, which require a reservation. Lil’ Easy only goes to the flexible stops where passengers have made advance reservations and are waiting. Customers can book rides as far in advance as a week or as soon as 60 minutes before their departure.
Cesar R. Burgos, chairman of the RTA Board of Commissioners, noted that Lil’ Easy service connects to regular fixed routes. He added: “RTA is extremely excited to provide this new service, especially in an area that was so hard hit by Hurricane Katrina.”
Authorization and Stimulus Funding--Front and Center at APTA Legislative Conference
This year is the most important in history for the future of public transportation—with both the stimulus package providing for transit-related funding and the upcoming authorization affecting the next six years of public transit.
How will the forthcoming surface transit authorization bill affect your agency? Can you affect it first, before it becomes law? Who are the Congressional staffers you should know? What are some key tips on how best to share your transit stories?
To find the answers to these questions and many more, make plans now to attend the 2009 APTA Legislative Conference, March 8-11 at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC.
Because of the significance of these two measures, APTA member participation is not only critical—it is central.
This year’s conference will feature opportunities for participants to submit funding requests for Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations to their Congressional representatives. The program also includes key legislative and other committee meetings where attendees can ensure that their views are part of APTA’s legislative agenda. And as in past years, the schedule includes time for visits to Capitol Hill.
In addition, attendees will learn how potential changes in transit and transportation programs may affect systems and transit-related businesses, and will hear speakers discuss developing federal initiatives on climate change and high-speed intercity passenger rail. The Federal Transit Administration will hold a workshop on the New Starts and Small Starts programs, and as Passenger Transport went to press there were plans for a workshop on how systems can use the forthcoming economic stimulus funding.
Norman Ornstein, a commentator and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, will address the afternoon session on Sunday, March 8. Ornstein, who writes “Congress Inside Out,” a weekly column for Roll Call, has also written for such publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
This year’s schedule includes a reception at the National Building Museum, which features the Green Community exhibit sponsored by APTA, and a performance by The Capitol Steps, a musical political satire group.
Take note: This will be the last major Washington meeting before the current SAFETEA-LU expires in September, which makes this a crucial time for public transit professionals to make their voices heard on the upcoming authorization and FY 2010 appropriations funding. Participants will also have the opportunity to network with a number of members of Congress and Congressional staffers who are expected to provide the latest information on future legislative actions.
More information on the APTA Legislative Conference is available here, under the “Conferences & Calendar” section.
APTA Now Accepting Award Nominations
The APTA Awards Committee has announced that it will accept nominations through April 14 for the 2009 APTA Awards program.
Called the “best of the best” of the public transportation industry, the recipients of the APTA Awards are outstanding role models of excellence, leadership, and innovation whose accomplishments have greatly advanced public transportation.
Award categories for 2009 are: Outstanding Public Transportation Manager; Outstanding Public Transportation Board Member; Outstanding Public Transportation Business Member; Outstanding Business Executive of the Year; Local Distinguished Service; Hall of Fame; Innovation; and Outstanding Public Transportation System. The awards will be presented during the APTA Annual Meeting in October in Orlando, FL.
APTA invites members to participate in the awards program by nominating top individuals and organizations who deserve to be recognized for their significant contributions.
More information about the awards program, including nomination criteria, is available online here. Questions may be addressed to Erin Cartwright.