Passenger Transport - May 25, 2009
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Senate Approves Rogoff, Porcari
Prior to adjourning for the Memorial Day recess, the Senate voted unanimously May 21 to approve the nominations of Peter Rogoff as administrator of the Federal Transit Administration and John Porcari as deputy secretary of transportation.
At Rogoff’s May 13 nomination hearing before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, members of the committee cited Rogoff’s 22 years on the Senate Appropriations Committee staff, specializing in transportation issues. “I believe public transportation faces both remarkable opportunities and serious challenges,” Rogoff testified.
Include Public Transit in House Climate Bill; Contact House Members Immediately
The draft “American Clean Energy Security Act” (ACESA), H.R. 2454, released May 15 by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, provides for no investment in public transportation. The legislation retains language that would establish emission reductions goals for the transportation sector—in Section 222, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions Through Transportation Efficiency—but no funding is made available from the bill’s proposed cap-and-trade system to finance transportation investments that reduce emissions.
The Committee began markup of the bill on May 18, and as Passenger Transport went to press, expected to complete consideration before adjourning for the Memorial Day recess during the week beginning May 25.
“One of the most powerful tools individuals may have to reduce their daily carbon dioxide emissions—the use of public transportation—is not part of the new climate change legislation,” stated APTA President William Millar. “Despite the facts that show providing greater access to public transportation may be the most effective weapon for combating climate change, there are no allowances from the cap-and-trade program for public transportation in the current climate legislation.”
A cap-and-trade program with investment in public transportation will produce more emissions savings and greater domestic job creation. Every $1 billion invested in federally aided public transportation capital projects supports approximately 30,000 jobs.
“APTA hopes that future versions of ACESA will include substantial new investment in public transportation,” Millar continued. “On behalf of the public transportation industry and the millions of additional people who could take public transportation, I call on congressional leaders to ensure that public transportation is a vital part of this important climate change legislation. It is the right thing to do.”
APTA continues to work with members of the committee to seek an amendment that would provide investment in public transportation under the ACESA cap-and-trade program. However, obtaining investment is problematic because of agreements made by committee Waxman with key committee Democrats regarding the amount of emissions allowances and allowance revenue provided to electric utilities and energy intensive, trade-exposed industries (e.g., the steel and automotive industries). These agreements are intended to bring Waxman enough votes to pass the bill out of committee, but very little allowance revenue is left for other investments, such as public transportation. In fact, one percent of emission allowance revenue could be worth up to $1 billion annually.
APTA strongly urges its members to contact their U.S. Representative, particularly members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, immediately. When talking to the members, please:
* Urge your representative or his or her staff to contact Waxman and the Energy and Commerce Committee to express support for transit investment;
* Explain that transit investment will bring climate revenues back to their local communities;
* Express strong concern that while ACESA contains new transportation planning requirements, it fails to invest in public transportation; and
* Explain that ACESA provides investment and transition assistance to numerous private industries, but overlooks the energy savings and emissions reductions from public transportation.
For additional information, contact Homer Carlisle.
FTA: Navigating Through ARRA—Certifications, Registrations, and Reports
BY JAMES LARUSCH, Chief Counsel and Vice President-Corporate Affairs
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) includes not only long-needed funding for transit capital projects, but also unprecedented certification, registration, and reporting requirements. These new requirements have led to a flurry of rulemaking as the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), U.S. DOT, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Congressional staffers rush to create systems that satisfy the need for transparency without unnecessarily burdening the transit agencies, contractors, and other recipients of ARRA funds.
Because these systems are being created quickly and—particularly in the case of FTA—the drafters are working hard to consult the transit community and general public as the systems are created, it has been a challenge to keep up with the latest information.
To help with this process, we have compiled the following guide.
The Easy Part: Certifications
ARRA includes three distinct certifications. The first (§1607) requires state governors to formally accept ARRA funding. Although you may have heard a great deal in the news concerning debate over some portions of the funds, no state has rejected transportation funds and every state has met the requirement. This certification is complete.
The second (§1201) is unique to the transportation programs and requires governors to certify that their states will maintain the level of state transportation funding planned as of Feb. 17, 2009. Again, all states have complied. DOT is reviewing the certifications, but transit agencies need do nothing more to complete the process.
The third (§1511) is a bit trickier. This certification says, essentially, that the project has been properly vetted and is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. The planning process is sufficient to rely on for this certification, plus your state’s governor may have covered all transportation projects in your state under a single certification based on the TIP/STIP process. Some governors, however, certified only highway projects. If that happened in your state, your mayor, board chair, or Metropolitan Planning Organization can make this certification. You can see the certifications on file with DOT here to review the governor’s certification and determine if you need a separate one.
Still Pretty Easy: Registrations
The transit industry has been concerned about Central Contractor Registration (CCR) requirements, and OMB has been unclear on just who must be registered. It is now clear that FTA grantees and sub-grantees must register in CCR.
At this point, it appears that the only contractors that must be registered are first-tier contractors of direct FTA grantees with contracts above $25,000. The good news? Whether a transit agency or a contractor, you have no requirement to complete the Online Representations & Certifications (ORCA) normally associated with the CCR process.
To start this process, find your Dun & Bradstreet Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number. If you don’t have one, you can obtain one free. You will also need other numbers and codes that amount to an alphabet soup of the regulatory world—including CAGE, TIN, NAICS, SIC, PSC, and FSC.
To follow this, see screen shots of the entire process here and download a user-friendly guide to assembling the various codes, which includes links to web sites. Your next step: click here and you are on your way. Ignore references to ORCA, part of registration you can avoid.
The Hard Part: Reporting
This is by far the most unsettled part of the process as the federal agencies and Congressional staffers continue to try to define the requirements.
On April 1, OMB published draft data elements the federal agencies would have to collect and asked for public comment. Comments closed May 1. APTA urged OMB to streamline the process by minimizing the amount of actual writing required, allowing small contracts to be lumped into a single report, and using formulas to determine the number of jobs created or maintained through the ARRA investment.
We don’t have a final decision from OMB yet, but will keep watching. You can always check APTA for the latest on this and other rulemaking issues.
ARRA contains three reporting requirements, and one outside the statutory requirements, to keep the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (House T&I) informed. The easiest is a report from the president to Congress on the environmental status of ARRA projects (§1609). To contribute the transit portions, FTA is drawing information already in the TEAM system and grantees need do nothing more.
Section 1512 includes a requirement for quarterly reports, the first one due Oct. 10. These are the reports for which OMB published the draft data elements—so it is still unclear what the final version will look like. We expect OMB to set up a centralized reporting portal for grantees to submit these reports; FTA is standing by to provide guidance once OMB publishes the requirements.
A requirement for periodic reports (§1201) started May 18. FTA grantees, however, only have to start filing these reports after they have an approved, executed grant. The upcoming reports are due Aug. 16, then each Feb. 17. DOT is still refining the reporting requirements and FTA will supply guidance once that is complete. We expect it to be filed through the TEAM system.
The final reporting requirement responds to the House T&I Committee. It is also a work in progress as the T&I staff finds ways to obtain the information the committee needs, establish standards to ensure the data is reliable and consistent, and minimize the burden on transit agencies.
The Bottom Line: Calculating Jobs Impact
The most difficult aspect in all these reporting requirements is answering the simple question—how many jobs did this funding create? To date, we have seen various proposals to count jobs in a variety of ways.
APTA will continue to work with the agencies and committee staff and advocate for the use of formulas to ensure the data is useful and that the data collection process does not overwhelm the process of rebuilding America’s public transit infrastructure.
Help is available as you tackle these issues. The best place to start is the FTA’s ARRA site. Be sure to check the page regularly and take advantage of the RSS system that will deliver update notifications directly to your e-mail inbox.
Executive Committee Approves Next Steps in APTA Governance and Committee Review
In an effort to create more balance and leadership opportunities in the organization, the APTA Executive Committee’s Governance and Committee Structure (GCS) Task Force will soon propose several reforms to APTA’s governance structure, including the way APTA’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors are selected.
Under the draft proposal, the Executive Committee would be composed of 15 members. The positions of chair, first vice chair, immediate past chair, and secretary-treasurer would continue much as they do now. However, instead of drawing additional vice chairs from particular areas of APTA (such as Research and Technology, Human Resources, or Rail Transit, for example), the plan would include 11 Executive Committee members, who would serve in an at-large capacity.
The plan would provide greater balance in the number of public and private members. The secretary-treasurer and the 11 at-large members would be selected to ensure eight members are chosen from the public sector and four from the private sector. Among the public members, transit professionals and transit board members would be balanced.
The plan would change the APTA Board of Directors as well. Directors would continue to be designated for the highest-dues-paying transit members, but spots for the highest-dues-paying business members would be added. Regional seats on the Board would continue, but regional boundaries would be redrawn to create more balanced regional constituencies. To strengthen the link with APTA committees, the chairs of certain APTA standing committees would have seats on the Board.
Listening sessions on the draft proposal will be held at the Rail Conference on Tuesday, June 16, at 2:30 p.m. and at the Transit Board Members Seminar on Tuesday, July 21. An informational webinar will also be scheduled. Questions and comments can be sent to GCS Task Force Co-Chairs Michael Townes, APTA’s immediate past chair and president and chief executive officer of Hampton Roads Transit, and APTA’s vice chair-business members, Sharon Greene, principal of Sharon Greene & Associates, or to any member of the GCS Task Force, or may be e-mailed.
APTA’s TransitVision 2050 report was adopted by the Board of Directors in October 2008. The major changes it envisions will broaden and transform how public transportation is organized and how its services are delivered. In leading the industry through these changes, APTA itself needs to evolve in the issues it embraces, the way it is organized and governed, and the leaders it turns to in positioning the industry to be successful in the coming decades.
With that in mind, the Executive Committee created the Framework for the Future Task Force, to examine the implications of TransitVision 2050 for APTA. Led by John B. Bartosiewicz of McDonald Transit Associates, George F. Dixon III of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, and Leslie R. White of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District, the task force reported its recommendations to the Executive Committee in October 2008. In November, the Executive Committee established the Governance and Committee Structure Task Force, charged with recommending how best to align APTA’s organizational structure with the sweeping and multi-modal vision of TransitVision 2050. The task force is led by Townes and Greene. Its members are drawn from a broad cross-section of our association, including transit system and business members, large and small properties, and numerous past APTA chairs.
The GCS Task Force presented its interim report to the Executive Committee on May 2, which directed that task force to finalize its plans, seek input from the APTA Board of Directors and membership, and report its final proposal to the Executive Committee by July 31.
Additional goals of the GCS Task Force are to improve the balance between public and private members in APTA governance; create a stronger role for committee leadership; develop clear pathways to leadership positions; promote the entry of a wider array of members into APTA’s governance; and devise a structure to bring the best talent forward to lead APTA into the future. Following the Executive Committee’s mandate earlier this month to proceed, the GCS Task Force will develop bylaw changes and other reforms needed to implement its proposal.
APTA Chair Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D., general manager and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, said she wants APTA members to take time to understand the proposed changes. She also wants to hear their views so she and the Executive Committee can refine the plan by late summer, so that a formal proposal can be presented to the APTA Board of Directors in time for consideration at its Oct. 3 board meeting. If the plan is approved by the Board, a vote of the general membership to change the bylaws and implement this new governance structure would then be held.
“Organizations such as APTA must always be ready to adapt to emerging strategic priorities,” said Scott. “I encourage members to share their thoughts with us, so that we can ensure a smooth, successful transition to the APTA of tomorrow. Our goal is to provide our members with more opportunities to lead our association and our industry in this exciting time for public transportation.”
Governance & Committee Structure Task Force Members
Sharon Greene (co-chair)
Sharon Greene and Associates
Michael S. Townes (co-chair)
President/Chief Executive Officer
Hampton Roads Transit
Paul J. Ballard
Chief Executive Officer
Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority
John P. Bartosiewicz
Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer
McDonald Transit Associates, Inc.
Christopher P. Boylan
Deputy Executive Director, Corporate Affairs & Communications
Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Mattie P. Carter
Memphis Area Transit Authority
Flora M. Castillo
New Jersey Transit Corporation
Senior Management Analyst
George F. Dixon III
Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority
Nathaniel P. Ford Sr.
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
Kim R. Green
Dr. Delon Hampton, Ph.D., P.E.
Delon Hampton & Associates, Chartered
San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans)
Celia G. Kupersmith
Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District
Michael P. Melaniphy
Vice President, Public Sector
Motor Coach Industries, Inc.
William R. Mooney
Chief Operating Officer
Chicago Transit Authority
Hugh A. Mose
Centre Area Transportation Authority
Jennifer A. Paul
South Florida Regional Transportation Authority
Jerome C. Premo
Executive Vice President
DMJM Harris, An AECOM Company
Golden Empire Transit District
David L. Turney
President and Chief Executive Officer
RTI, Inc. (A DRI Company)
Gary M. Webster
Chief General Manager
Toronto Transit Commission
Leslie R. White
Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District
Richard A. White
Executive Vice President
DMJM Harris, an AECOM Company
APTA Budget Approved; Dues Remain the Same for Third Consecutive Year
At its meeting in May, the APTA Executive Committee approved the APTA budget and business plan for Fiscal Year 2010, which begins July 1. Reflecting the difficult economy and members’ need to control costs, the $26.5 million APTA budget contains numerous cost-cutting measures and keeps membership dues at the same rate for the third consecutive year.
APTA’s legislative, advocacy, and outreach efforts remain a high priority in the budget since many important issues, including authorization of the transportation bill, climate change/energy legislation, and high-speed rail, are on the agenda for Congress and the Administration this year.
The austere budget includes no salary increases for APTA employees, an increase in employee health care contributions and other employee benefit reductions, while generally maintaining member program and service levels. With the aim of maintaining the high quality of conferences and workshops, the budget includes, for the first time in three years, nominal increases in certain program and meeting registration fees.
“This budget is a responsible budget that reflects the same kinds of hard choices we are making in our organizations,” says APTA Chair Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D. “APTA staff and the Executive Committee worked hard to develop a budget that has no dues increase but continues to provide a high level of service to our members.”
LaHood Awards ARRA Funds for Transit Projects
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced a total of $742.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for public transit projects throughout the U.S.
The projects receiving ARRA grants have already entered into Full Funding Grant Agreements with the Federal Transit Administration; the ARRA funds do not increase the federal commitment to the projects, but expedite funds committed under the existing agreements.
On May 13, Vice President Joe Biden submitted his first quarterly report to the President detailing progress implementing ARRA. The report, which covers the period ending May 5, shows that more than $88 billion has been made available for all programs and projects, and more than 3,000 transportation construction projects have been funded in 52 states and territories.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority received ARRA funding for two projects: $195.4 million for MTA Long Island Rail Road’s East Side Access and $78.9 million for the first phase of MTA New York City Transit’s Second Avenue Subway.
East Side Access refers to a new direct 3.5-mile commuter rail extension from LIRR’s Main and Port Washington branch lines to Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan’s East Side; it will be the railroad’s first Manhattan service that does not go into Penn Station.
Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway involves the construction of 2.3 miles of new subway on Manhattan’s East Side from 96th to 63rd Streets, connecting with the existing Broadway Line at the 63rd Street Station. It incorporates three new stations—at 96th, 86th, and 72nd streets—and modification of the existing 63rd Street Station, as well as new tunnels.
In Eugene, OR, the Lane Transit District (LTD) received $2.9 million in ARRA funds to complete the $41.3 million Gateway EmX Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) extension.
LTD General Manager Mark Pangborn commented: “Small Starts funds created a foundation for this project, but the arrival of ARRA funds is the final piece of the funding puzzle and allows the construction to move full steam ahead.”
“The project is underway and creating jobs as we speak,” said LTD spokesperson Andy Vobora. “You could say that having the project budget fully funded will allow us an opportunity to evaluate project enhancements such as bike and pedestrian path lighting adjacent to the line, real-time passenger information, etc.”
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) received $78.4 million in ARRA funds for early work on the light rail Green Line, which will run from North Carrollton in the northwest to Buckner in the southeast. DART Executive Director Gary Thomas called the grant a “vote of confidence,” adding: “These funds will go a long way toward creating jobs and improving connections across north Texas.”
“We’re still trying to find out some of the nuances,” commented Patrick Nowakowski, executive director of the Dulles Corridor Rail Project for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, on the $77.3 million in ARRA funds for the rail expansion to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, VA. “Certainly the ability to have more cash available this year will lower our financing costs and will improve our cashflow situation. It should free up some of our local money to do other things at this point.”
The Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) Mid-Jordan TRAX light rail line in Salt Lake City received $90.9 million through ARRA.
According to Ralph Jackson, UTA deputy chief of program development: “These funds will allow UTA to accelerate work on the Mid-Jordan line. By getting this money up front, UTA will be able to keep more workers on the job and move forward more quickly with construction.”
Rail Conference to Convene in Chicago; Szabo, Welbes to Keynote
It’s nearly June, which means it’s almost time for the 2009 APTA Rail Conference. Sign up now so you won’t miss out on hearing from newly confirmed Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Joe Szabo and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Executive Director and Acting Deputy Administrator Matt Welbes, who will provide the latest news, ARRA guidance, and other updates.
Among the many workshops are several focusing on high-speed rail and positive train control—particularly important and instructive in light of the $8 billion in ARRA funding for high-speed rail. Another of-the-moment topic is workforce development, so check out such sessions as labor/management relations and partnerships and the challenge of filling the ranks. Transit-oriented development is one more area of focus at the conference.
Also, plan to attend the professional training options and workshops that follow APTA’s 2009 Rail Conference, including:
Thursday, June 18, will offer several workshops. Of critical importance will be FTA’s ARRA Briefing, 8-9:30 a.m., to discuss grant applications and reporting requirements, and to introduce the process established for making grants under the ARRA supplemental discretionary program announced in the May 18 Federal Register.
Also on Thursday: The “Positive Train Control” (PTC) workshop from 8:30 a.m. to noon will focus on how FRA will oversee the implementation of Congressionally-mandated PTC. For an open discussion of the federal waiver process, light rail and commuter rail technology, new rolling stock, and new operating concepts in relation to the traditional regulatory approach, plan to attend the “Shared Track” workshop, 1:30-4:30 p.m.
There is a separate $75 fee to attend either or both of these workshops for those not registered for the APTA conference.
Free Congress Foundation Establishes New Center
The Free Congress Foundation established a new Center for Public Transportation on May 18, with the purpose of building support for public transportation, especially urban and intercity rail, a non-partisan, non-ideological public consensus.
“The vision the center will offer is a rebalanced national transportation system in which rail and highway travel complement each other,” according to the mission statement. “Some journeys will always be more convenient by car. But Americans should be able to travel from any point in the country to any other point without using a car, if they so choose. They had that option as recently as the 1950s. By re-creating it, we can ensure that America is not held hostage by crises in the Middle East or other oil-producing areas.”
William S. Lind, who co-authored the foundation’s transportation studies with its late chairman, Paul M. Weyrich, serves as director of the center. The executive director will be Glen Bottoms, who recently retired from a 25-year career with the Federal Transit Administration.
Hydrail Technology Featured at June Conference
Hydrail technology—which uses hydrogen fuel cells instead of traditional diesel-electric generators to power rail equipment traction motors—will be the topic of the Fifth International Hydrail Conference June 11-12 on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, hosted by the Charlotte Research Institute.
Specifically, the conference will examine “hydrolleys”: streetcars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, which eliminates the need for overhead catenary wires. Those can cost $4.5 million per mile, according to Stan Thompson of the Hydrogen Economy Advancement Team of the Mooresville/South Iredell Chamber of Commerce in Mooresville, NC, which has proposed using hydrolley technology for future extensions of the Charlotte Area Transit System’s LYNX light rail line.
Speakers will include Walter Kulyk, director of the Office of Mobility Innovation at the Federal Transit Administration, and Dale Hill, chief executive officer of Proterra LLC, a manufacturer that has done extensive hydrail research.
Thompson explained: “Once the industry realizes that there is a less expensive wireless option in the wings, the next thing is to get one demonstrated at top speed so as to not slow down the renaissance of streetcars, which is central to [President] Obama’s anti-sprawl plan.”
The program agenda and conference registration are available online.
COMTO Supports APTF
APTA President William Millar, center, accepts a $5,000 check to support the American Public Transportation Foundation’s Shirley A. DeLibero Scholarship—for an African-American student pursuing a career in public transportation—from Julie Cunningham, president/chief executive officer of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), and COMTO board member Brad Mims. COMTO has pledged to contribute an additional $5,000 to the fund in each of the next two years, for a total of $15,000.
Apply Now for Leadership APTA Class
Leadership APTA is accepting applications through June 29 for the Class of 2009-2010, with 25 individuals to be selected for the year-long professional development program.
Currently, more than 275 program graduates lead and serve in executive and senior leadership roles at APTA, at transit agencies, in the private sector, and in related public transit organizations worldwide. This is the 13th year for the Leadership APTA program.
More information is available online or from Joe Niegoski.
Public Transportation is Providing the Ultimate Customer Experience
BY BEVERLY A. SCOTT, Ph.D., APTA Chair and General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority
How do I define the “customer experience”—the focus of this issue? It’s first and foremost by recognizing that our employees—at every level—are the single most critical element of our customer service experience.
It’s doing our best—pulling out all the stops—to make sure that our customers have the best rides, the best trips, the best service, the easiest commutes, the least hassle—each and every day. It’s concentrating on the big and little things, and bringing laser focus to bear on those inconveniences and irritations that require attention and improvement.
It’s recognizing that there are both lifeline and lifestyle customers—and they are equally important!
It’s ensuring that public transit in North America is a system of first choice—not last resort.
It’s establishing that the last mile is as good as the first mile.
These are truly new and exciting times for our industry, and they offer a future of tremendous possibilities and opportunities—and challenges.
Challenges that fall into the category of ‘the good with the bad”! “Good” that we have significantly increased ridership; “bad” that in many cases, the sharp economic downturn has limited our ability to provide much needed additional service.
And yet, we keep on keeping on. These astounding ridership numbers do not happen just by themselves. All this progress and more is a result of your efforts, and the quality of service we provide.
Each day, the work that we all do:
* Keeps America moving.
* Makes American business more competitive.
* Provides personal mobility and critical lifelines.
* Strengthens communities and neighborhoods.
* Promotes energy independence, sustainability, and livability.
Most significantly, our work makes it possible for people to knit their lives together, to create a truly valuable “customer experience.”
Simply put, the hundreds of thousands of public transit employees across North America are the heart and soul of our industry.
No matter the challenge, it’s our showing up for work every day that makes everything hang together.
We are a people service industry. All that we do, every day, is focused on the simple yet oh-so-important goal of attracting new customers and retaining and strengthening our current customer base. Whether it’s through adding amenities—such as plusher seats or free WiFi—or through security measures that help ensure that customers reach their destinations safely, every day the work we do contributes to every customer’s experience. In my 30 years, I can say that the vast majority of times, that’s a positive contribution!
We have a new president whose administration is clearly committed to charting a bold and exciting course for the recovery and future prosperity of America—and public transportation is a key player in this effort. The $8.4 billion for investment in public transit funding and the $8 billion for high speed rail in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was certainly a very welcome down payment.
As we do this together, we must use our imagination and our experience and our talent to ensure that we keep the customers we have; convince lifestyle customers with numerous travel options to leave their cars at home; reach out to seniors and persons with disabilities to enable them to access public transit; and enhance our partnerships to “teach” a new generation of Americans that public transportation is the best way to travel.
Speaking of that new generation—our youth—one of my top initiatives as APTA chair is workforce development—a key to our industry’s survival. I don’t think I’m far off the mark to say that most of the people reading this article will be retiring in the next 5 to 10 years.
Plain and simple, our industry simply cannot afford a “brain drain.” Not now, as we contribute to helping the economy, saving energy, and aiding the environment, and not in the future. So on behalf of our current and future customers, in October 2008, I established a “Blue Ribbon Panel on Workforce Development.” The purpose and work of the panel is threefold: to identify and make available the range of existing programs and resources that support the workforce needs of the transit industry; to develop and lay out a long range workforce development plan for the next 5-10 years; and to transform, rebrand, and reposition transit as both an employer of choice and a critical part of the solution to our future global competitiveness and sustainability. That work, headed by Doran Barnes—which involves many of you—is developing an aggressive way to implement the transition when retirements start taking place, which includes fast tracking, mentoring, and succession planning.
Let me close with these thoughts: This is not a time for timidity. This is not a time for deferring decisions. We need to think big, we need to have vision, and we need always—always—to do our daily best on behalf of our millions of customers who depend on us every day to take them where they want to go.
Improving the Customer Experience: An Overview
BY DONNA AGGAZIO YOUNG, Special to Passenger Transport
Today more than ever, public transportation systems understand that investing in passenger-focused efforts means good business. Particularly in economically troubled times, many systems have shown that concentrating on items ranging from amenities to reducing or eliminating noise in a train car enriches the customer experience. These measures also help build ridership that in turn can serve as a cost-effective alternative to reducing service or eliminating other features to cut costs.
Impact on Ridership
Each year, public transit systems offer more numerous and varied amenities to keep up with the demands and expectations of savvy commuters.
One popular example is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which continues to bring innovative service that draws riders. In October 2008, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) replaced an existing bus line with the new HealthLine BRT, which serves the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals corridor. GCRTA reports that ridership for the Health Line—which features BRT vehicles, proof-of-payment fare collection, and dedicated bus lanes—increased by 60 percent for the first quarter of 2009 versus the first quarter of 2008.
Other regions in the country as well are looking to grow ridership with innovative bus service. In preparation for its introduction of Swift BRT service in November, Community Transit in Snohomish County, WA, unveiled its first BRT station in Everett May 5 in connection with the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in Seattle. Once it is completed, the 17-mile Swift line will utilize signal prioritization, information kiosks, and frequent peak period service.
Fare and pricing adaptations also can affect ridership and the overall experience. Several transit systems including Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Los Angeles Metro, and the Chicago Transit Authority have announced plans to consider using credit and debit cards as forms of payment. “Making payment as easy as possible is a benefit to the customer,” said WMATA spokesperson Steven Taubenkibel.
Earlier this year, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) completed a first-in-the-nation trial of near-field communications technology, which allows for touch-free electronic payment using mobile phones.
Tools, ‘Sssh,’ Information, Art, WiFi, and . . .
Throughout every region of the country, public transportation systems are working to enhance the customer experience by integrating, expanding, or offering new services.
In the last year, for instance, Orange County Transportation Authority in Orange, CA, launched an online trip planning tool and free transfers to connecting transit services; New Jersey Transit Corporation bus passengers now can receive up-to-the minute travel information by e-mail; and Metro Transit, serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, offers real-time information for bus departures using NexTrip technology.
Another option for rail customers in the past year has been the QuietRide—a pilot program begun in January by SEPTA, designed to improve the rider experience by silencing a train car full of cell phones, voices, and other electronic devices. After SEPTA completed the pilot, it conducted a survey revealing that 92 percent of passengers wanted the QuietRide concept extended to all services where possible. In response, SEPTA expanded the program in April 2009 for peak period travel on most regional rail lines.
However, improving the passenger experience involves more than enhancing the level of personal comfort. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) reported that raising the visibility of uniformed personnel on board trains can yield high marks for customer satisfaction. A 2008 DART survey showed a 16 percent increase in the customer sense of safety and security over a similar 2006 survey.
One system implemented an innovative “amenity,” in the sense of amenity meaning something that improves a customer’s public transit experience. In May 2009, SEPTA began its Customer Connection program, which offers riders the opportunity to meet staff and ask questions or make suggestions and comments. SEPTA has found that creating ways to receive customer input, such as the Customer Connection, is a valuable resource that ultimately helps provide better service to the customer.
Displaying artwork is another method of enhancing the customer’s experience. In the past year, Los Angeles Metro commissioned more than 250 art and design projects—locally produced—for bus stops and rail stations throughout the system. Metro wanted art that created a sense of place and engaged the transit customer while also mirroring the rich contemporary and popular culture of the region it serves.
Today’s customers demand connectivity when and wherever they travel. In early 2009, BART finalized an agreement to provide WiFi for its riders throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The online social networking tool Twitter has also taken root in public transportation as a way for a system to communicate with its customers: systems such as BART use Twitter to pass along news of general interest and service updates. Customers in turn use Twitter to share news and photos. Currently, BART has more than 3,500 “followers” on Twitter.
Relaying information is yet another part of a complete “customer experience,” particularly when the information contains updates about threats to public health and reassurances that public transportation is safe. With the recent outbreak of H1N1 flu, for example, many public transit systems took a public role in addressing questions about transmission by providing critical information to their customers on basic health measures to limit the risk of infection.
Last summer’s record high gas prices brought many “choice” riders to public transportation. Through the efforts described above—and more—the industry has been hard at work to determine ways to hold onto those riders and to make the experience of public transportation the best it can be for all customers.
APTA: Serve the Passenger’s Needs
In early 2009, the APTA Marketing Committee formed a Ridership Experience Task Force, setting as its goal to create a visionary approach and form a collaborative partnership with the bus manufacturing industry toward improving the look, feel, and amenities of the transit bus.
“The task force seeks in the long term to create a better ride and evolve bus design through collaborative partnerships,” said task force Chair Kathy Shaw Clary, director of sales, marketing, and public relations with the Greater Richmond Transit System in Richmond, VA.
Goals for the task force in 2009 include:
* Developing a list of ideas to bring forward about changing vehicle design and identifying key people for that role;
* Initiating a thought-provoking and ongoing dialogue between the transit industry and the public on how to evolve transit bus design to create a next generation of vehicles;
* Developing collaborative partnerships with the manufacturing industry and its suppliers to produce environmentally conscious material and advanced design features;
* Collaborating with design schools and leading mobility research departments to develop a bold new vision of public transportation in the near future; and
* Building relationships and study groups with industries that can offer new amenities as standard and cost effective options.
Keeping Passengers Cool in Houston
By MICHAEL P. MELANIPHY, Vice President Public Sector, Motor Coach Industries Inc.
It is no secret that the weather gets hot in Houston. In fact, the temperature inside the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County’s buses can get really high. It is not unusual for the interior temperature of buses parked outside during the midday base period to exceed 130 degrees F.
To provide a comfortable environment for its customers and drivers, Houston Metro must cool the coach interiors prior to the afternoon pullout. Often, this necessitates idling the coaches for 30 minutes or more in the parking lot so the air conditioning system can have an opportunity to work. With a fleet of more than 300 commuter coaches, that is a lot of idling vehicles consuming fossil fuels and putting exhaust fumes in the environment. Metro leaders knew there had to be a better solution.
In 2006, the agency approached Motor Coach Industries to help develop a clean alternative to enhance the customer experience. The solution they found is a shore-power electric air conditioning system.
Metro, MCI, and their supplier partners Hamilton Sunstrand, Sundyne, Carrier, and Cummins worked together to develop this coach configuration, unique in the public transit bus industry. Adding even more green credentials to this project, Metro mandated these coaches be powered by hybrid-electric drive systems.
As a result, the Metro fleet now includes more than 100 hybrid-electric MCI commuter coaches with the capability to be cooled without ever starting the engine. Instead, the vehicles can be plugged into electrical outlets located in the parking spaces at the garage, and the electricity supplied from the grid then powers a new, all-electric air conditioning system.
When it is time for them to pull out, the coaches are unplugged and a 480V, three-phase, 25kVA generator takes over. All of this electrical routing is managed by a newly developed power center that uses technologies from the aviation and rail industries.
An additional passenger amenity that results from this shift to electric accessories is the provision of 110V outlets on board, located along the coach walls next to the passenger seats. Now passengers can plug in their laptops while riding to and from work, making them more productive as well as cool.
PART Provides Quality Service for the Choice Commuter
By JAKE KEYS, Corporate Communications Coordinator, Daimler Buses North America, Greensboro, NC
Record numbers of Americans are taking to public transportation and boosting ridership numbers to their highest levels in more than 50 years. With support for public transportation growing, the challenge for transit operators now is how to reach out to customers who have not traditionally relied on public transit.
This is exactly the market where the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) in Greensboro, NC, has found success since its first run in 2002. Roughly 90 percent of PART’s riders have cars and other access to transportation, making them “choice customers.” This means that, to PART, customer service is and must remain a priority because its customers aren’t reliant on public transportation; they have options.
“We know that, in order to keep our customers coming back, we have to make our service convenient for them,” said Scott Rhine, PART programs manager. “It is very difficult to get someone to leave their car and use public transportation, but very easy to lose them with just one bad experience.”
PART has a territorial jurisdiction of 10 counties and currently provides transportation services in eight of its member counties in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina. The agency also provides intercity bus service in cooperation with North Carolina DOT on two major travel corridors in the state.
The system’s customers are generally traveling from rural areas to hospitals, universities, or central business districts in the region. Most of PART’s runs also go approximately 30 miles without a stop, making the service even more unique.
When searching for the right vehicle for these runs, PART chose to partner with Daimler Buses North America and selected the Orion VII heavy-duty, clean diesel transit bus. The low floor Orion VII offers custom-designed forward-facing seats and overhead storage racks, giving it more of a motorcoach feel to passengers. Rhine called the bus model “a very good fit for PART”; its amenities include reading lamps, WiFi, reclining seats, and foot rests, allowing customers to sit back and relax, read the newspaper, or check e-mail on their way to and from their destinations.
Despite offering these benefits to enhance the customer’s experience, however, PART knows it must run on time because its passengers depend on this service to get them to their job or school.
“I began riding the PART bus to save money when fuel prices got high. Today, I would ride if fuel was free,” said S.R. Darstein, a rider on PART’s Winston-Salem Express route. “The PART drivers and passengers have become a kind of community to me, an eagerly anticipated part of my day. I especially want to commend the PART drivers. They are friendly, courteous, and helpful. Riding the bus is definitely the most stress-free way to commute.”
To help make PART service even more convenient, the agency established a network of park-and-ride facilities located at major intersections throughout the Piedmont area. Commuters can drive to these hubs, park their cars in a safe, clean environment, and take PART to their final destination. Most of the park-and-ride sites are located on land owned by PART, with a few locations owned by NC DOT, near the 10 major travel corridors the agency serves.
“All of our success to date, and plans for the future, should be attributed to the regional partnership and continuous cooperation and support from all our city, county, and state partners,” Rhine said.
Vicki Bailey, a rider on PART’s Davidson County U.S. 52 route, said: “The staff and management have been excellent to work with and have responded to any issues that have come up. I would recommend PART to anyone trying to save money and have a comfortable and safe trip to and from work.”
Reaching Out: Travel Training Provides Older Americans with Independence
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
As the U.S. population ages, more and more people are becoming either unable or unwilling to drive, but they don’t want to give up their independence. Many of them have no experience using public transit—and that’s where travel training programs are proving essential or effective.
Big and Small, Transit Systems Offer Programs
In California, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) has operated the Senior Marketing Program since 2004 to help older riders feel comfortable with making the shift to public transit. Participants learn how to use various OCTA resources—the online trip planner and Customer Service Center—and take a brief trip that includes demonstrations on such bus features as the farebox, wheelchair ramp, and stop request.
“New riders may have a lot of questions,” said Judy Leon, OCTA marketing outreach specialist, “such as how to plan their trip; is the bus safe and how is it maintained; and, in general, what’s going on, including any service changes and up-to-date information including other access programs.”
OCTA gives promotional passes to all participants in the program, allowing the system to track transit trends. “We have ongoing relationships with senior centers, who are the ones who usually request for us to give the classes,” Leon added.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit began providing outreach to seniors more than 20 years ago, according to Sue Bauman, vice president-media and communications. “It began when we were identifying markets other than the usual business-commute market,” she said. “What came to mind were people who either cannot drive cars, don’t own cars, or—as they aged—became warier about their driving.”
Rather than conducting surveys or tracking senior ridership patterns, she said, the seniors “all have anecdotal experiences they share with us. They’re always eager to have us come out; they’re enthusiastic, they stay in tune with what’s going on, and they don’t want to be isolated because of either inability or fear of driving, especially after dark. It’s very positive that they have this option.”
DART also has expanded its senior outreach into the larger community by sponsoring an annual celebration during May, Older Americans Month. “The event brings together more than 50 exhibitors and live entertainment,” Bauman said. “It’s our way of thanking the organizations for their support through the year, but also a way to get seniors together with the agencies that support them in various ways.”
Smaller public transit agencies also understand the importance of travel training. For example, although the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CAT) in North Little Rock has fewer employees and, therefore, less opportunity to present training regularly, the agency does make visits to senior residential complexes and fitness centers that cater to people over 50, and participates in community senior fairs.
“We will provide travel training, but it isn’t a regular part of our outreach,” explained Executive Director Betty Wineland. “We supply information…and when we visit a facility or just speak with someone who calls in, we offer the training.”
Easter Seals Project ACTION offers a lesson plan to create and implement travel training programs. At a May 5 session during the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference, a presenter from Project ACTION joined representatives of King County Metro Transit in Seattle and Pierce Transit in Lakewood, WA, in discussing the role these programs play with public transit agencies and the use of travel training to move persons with disabilities away from paratransit and onto fixed ride vehicles.
“Is travel training the answer? It’s part of the answer,” said Karen Wolf-Branigin, training and technical assistance director for Project ACTION. She cited a survey showing that 106 transit agencies have contacted her organization for help with travel training, primarily to reduce paratransit costs and support customer independence.
“We need more than concern for the bottom line; we need to understand what we can do for you,” said Spencer Cotton, Americans with Disabilities Act certification administrator for King County Metro Transit.
Cotton noted that transit agencies should “assess community accessibility” and reach out to social service organizations when preparing transit training programs. He noted that other populations—such as special education students or young people transitioning from school to work—may benefit from learning more about how to access public transit.
IndyGo Unveils State-of-the-Art Radio Room
The Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation (IndyGo) recently opened its state-of-the-art Radio Room, which integrates its fixed route and paratransit dispatch in a single facility along with high-tech operations. The remodeled facility brings together IndyGo’s new Computer Aided Dispatch/Automatic Vehicle Location (CAD/AVL) real-time Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system with an upgrade to its radio communications and hardware that ties into Indianapolis’ Metropolitan Emergency Communications Agency (MECA).
IndyGo employees staff the fixed route operation, while a private provider runs the paratransit system under contract. The agencies faced numerous challenges in co-locating two separate teams and radio systems, but now they report an improvement in cross-departmental communication.
“We were unsure how this combination of departments would be initially received and were pleasantly surprised to see an instant increase in communication,” said IndyGo Chief Operating Officer Trevor Ocock. “If one group received traffic alerts or detour information, they were passing it along to the other department’s dispatch team. This kind of communication will ultimately benefit our passengers.”
The agency reported better operational efficiencies resulting from the new technology.
Being able to track buses’ on-time performance, analyze passenger boardings, and inform riders with automated stop announcements should ultimately assist in route analysis and generate overall improvements for the passenger experience.
IndyGo expects to complete installation of the CAD/AVL hardware on all its buses by midsummer, with full operation of all new technology expected by fall.
The system upgrades were part of IndyGo’s technology plan, while the CAD/AVL project received funding through a federal grant.
Dealing with the Unexpected
While the improvements have rolled out in a convenient timeline, the process wasn’t exactly what IndyGo originally envisioned. Instead, the renovation of the Radio Room resulted from an emergency situation.
In May 2008, operations staff identified a mold substance beneath the subflooring of the 20-year-old Radio Room and Service Center; a mold remediation company came in within hours to evaluate the threat.
IndyGo ordered an emergency action plan to rule out airborne contamination of the operations workforce. In addition, four tornadoes that devastated part of the agency’s service area struck during the move of the radio room and equipment.
“In hindsight, the discovery of mold had a positive impact on our plans to upgrade our facility,” said Ocock. “It also presented a valuable exercise in emergency planning and communication. We were able to react quickly and didn’t lose any service in the process.”
Empowering Passengers with Real-Time Information
By STEVEN HALBERSTADT, Director of Marketing, Digital Recorders Inc.
Historically, public transit passengers seeking information on route structures and stop times have been limited to information obtained from static, printed schedules. Many transit agencies have begun providing this information online and in other electronic formats, making it more accessible to an increasingly technology-savvy public.
However, just as news web sites and mobile alerts have elevated expectations of “breaking news” notification well beyond the daily print editions offered by newspapers, passenger demand for dynamic, interactive, real-time transit information is also on the rise. The ubiquitous nature of modern electronic data is driving the demand for more detailed and timely passenger advisory systems.
Passengers are no longer satisfied with just knowing when the bus is supposed to be at their stop; they want to know when it will be there.
In contrast to scheduled arrivals and departures, a passenger advisory system must employ complex algorithms that account for day-to-day operation variances. Examining this challenge with transit agencies across the U.S. shows several critical success factors: information must be accurate and available in real time; route and schedule data must be current; and delivery to the end user must be personalized.
When evaluating how best to provide a passenger advisory system, one might first consider what methods should not be employed. That is, a simple countdown to a scheduled arrival or departure time is not a reliable estimate. An accurate system must dynamically account for scheduled travel times, route structures, vehicle locations, and speeds.
Because scheduled travel times, stops, and route structure form the base on which system estimates are made, it is of vital importance that these data points be both current and correct. In-service schedule or route changes not taken into account in the system will likely have adverse effects on accuracy. Likewise, human error can come into play when inserting data into the system. Consequently, a passenger advisory system should have the capability of interfacing to existing scheduling software and include rule-based verification tests on imported data.
Once accurate data and processing is in place, the next challenge is to deliver the best possible end-user experience. Today’s transit passenger has ready access to technology and uses it in profoundly different ways compared with even a few years ago. Customers expect real-time information to be delivered to computers, cell phones, and personal digital assistants at their discretion and in an interactive fashion. They also expect the availability of up-to-date information at transit stops via displays such as electronic signs, flat-screen monitors, and kiosk units.
Transit agencies can also offer further value through informative search capabilities and the delivery of personalized arrival alerts, providing a new level of satisfaction and confidence to the riding public.
When selecting a web-based interface, one must ensure that the interface is independent of the users’ computing platforms and accessible on multiple device types. By incorporating familiar features such as Google™ maps and controls, an interface can be provided that is both instantly recognizable and always up-to-date.
VTA Leads Bicycle and Pedestrian Network in Santa Clara County
By LINH HOANG, Public Relations Supervisor, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, San Jose, CA
When people think about the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), it’s usually synonymous with images of buses and light rail. However, VTA is also a Congestion Management Agency, and therefore supports the bicycle and pedestrian communities by working with the Santa Clara County and 15 cities to enhance additional trails, bicycle and pedestrian programs and policies, and design and construction of bicycle and pedestrian pathways, trails, sidewalks, bridges, ramps, bicycle lockers, storage and gates.
“VTA is more than bus and light rail. We work diligently to create an environment that allows Silicon Valley residents to have options when they bike,” said Chief Congestion Management Agency Officer John Ristow.
As the region’s Congestion Management Agency, VTA works across many areas, including transportation programming and land use planning, in its efforts to enhance and promote the bicycle and pedestrian communities. The authority identifies cross-county bicycle corridors to plan and implement a seamless bicycle and pedestrian travel network that is continuous across city and county boundaries.
VTA, in striving to promote a greener lifestyle for the communities it serves, also has created an environment that welcomes bicyclists and pedestrians on bus and light rail. Bicycles are allowed on all VTA coaches, and electronic bike lockers are also available. Many light rail lines can drop off passengers directly to the bicycle and pedestrian trails highlighted by the Bikeways Map produced and distributed by VTA. The map has gained popularity among the region’s bicycle and pedestrian communities and has been in high demand.
It is anticipated that eight bicycle and pedestrian bridges or trails will open in Santa Clara County by the end of this month, funded by VTA’s Bicycle Expenditure Program (BEP). The BEP project list has constantly evolved since its creation in 2001. Prior to 2004, the BEP was a 10-year program mostly funded through revenues expected from the 1996 Measure B Transportation Fund for Clean Air and from local Transportation Development Act funds. The program received additional funding through the Regional Bicycle Pedestrian Program administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in 2004.
Over the course of the program’s eight-year history, BEP funds have supported 23 completed projects including Uvas Creek Trail in Gilroy, the Coyote Creek Trail in Milpitas, and the San Jose Los Gatos Creek Trail, giving residents the opportunity to enjoy their local creeks and trails by biking and by walking. In partnership with VTA, the cities of San Jose, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, and Los Altos are instrumental in ensuring the process that results to such completion is efficient and, ultimately, best served by the public.
The recent opening of the Mary Avenue Bicycle Footbridge in Cupertino is among those projects. Cupertino Councilwoman Dolly Sandoval, also chair of the VTA Board of Directors, noted that bicycling has been a great alternative for many residents.
“It’s the partnership between VTA and cities that make projects like the Mary Avenue Bicycle Footbridge a reality,” said Sandoval. “This bridge allows bicyclists a direct and safe route to and from Sunnyvale and Cupertino.”
The most recent BEP program list, updated and adopted in 2005, totals 46 projects.
“VTA makes every effort to support passengers’ willingness to bike instead of drive to work or school,” said General Manager Michael T. Burns. “VTA is committed to promoting an economical and environmentally friendly alternative.”
It is a priority for VTA to provide a wide variety of transportation options, from bus and light rail to bicycle and pedestrian networks. VTA is committed to continue its collaboration with the county and neighboring cities to enhance livable communities.
Improved Transit Stops Draw More Passengers, as ‘Elite’ Shows
By SAUNDRA LAUTENBERG,Vice President, Operations, Trueform LLC
The time passengers spend waiting for a bus, trolley, or train often can make or break their larger transit experience and their perception of the public transit agency in general. As passengers wait, the infrastructure they encounter is the “shop window” for their evaluation of the quality of the transit service—and it offers the agency a chance to put its best foot forward.
What do passengers really want as they wait? They want information—about when the next vehicle will arrive, and the best route to get to their destination. They want a safe, well-lit environment. They want a transit stop that is attractive and well maintained, without graffiti or other traces of vandalism. If they are physically challenged or visually or hearing-impaired, they want features that will make the transit stop and its amenities accessible to them. And if they’re environmentally conscious, as so many are today, they will appreciate knowing that the infrastructure incorporates sustainable materials.
Anyone who has waited for a transit connection knows that the waiting experience on many systems needs improving. Trueform has developed a system designed to enhance both the passenger’s experience and the agency’s objectives.
Our Elite Transit Stop system delivers clear, concise real-time schedule information and provides safety and convenience at a transit stop. Depending on the options selected, passengers can access route information, real-time and next bus messages, and even available touch-screen journey planning and smart ticketing functions. The system, designed in conjunction with disability and access user groups and complying fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act, offers features that are important to customers with disabilities—from a tactile bumper foot for wheelchair users and the visually impaired to Braille and auditory route information enhancements.
If the solar lighting option is selected, the Elite units can illuminate the immediate area, making for a safer transit stop. In addition, at the touch of a push button, the solar function will backlight the map, making it easier for passengers to obtain information at night and during periods of inclement weather.
Steel and aluminum construction, rugged finishes, and anti-graffiti paint will help keep the bus stop attractive and in good condition.
Proven Increase in Ridership
Since the Elite system was first installed in Manchester, England in 1997, thousands of the units have been successfully deployed throughout the world. Currently, Elite systems are in operation in London and in North America from Oregon to Florida to Winnipeg, Canada.
Transport for London (TfL) has reported dramatic ridership increases on its bus routes equipped with Elite units. From 2003 to 2005, these routes achieved their highest passenger numbers since 1969 and their fastest growth since 1945. The bus routes saw ridership increase 7.3 percent over 12 months and 19 percent over three years. Undersubscribed night routes showed a 16 percent jump in ridership, which TfL credited in part to Elite’s solar-lit poles that provide a welcoming, safe environment and increased map legibility.
Helping Agencies Plan for the Future
While creating a positive experience for passengers, the Elite system also helps the transit agency achieve its goals and low life-cycle costs.
The units are constructed of 100 percent Buy America components and 100 percent recyclable materials, with some parts made from pre-recycled components. The design means the system needs little maintenance: for example, changing route information—often a labor-intensive effort that weighs on an agency’s operating budget—can be easily accomplished, significantly minimizing operating budget expenditures.
When a transit agency wants to introduce new route information to the system, it need not dismantle the pole or remove or replace flags: workers need only unscrew the vandal-proof strip above the route tiles, remove and replace the incorrect tiles, and refasten the strip. With quick-release fastenings for rapid assembly and maintenance, the entire operation takes virtually two minutes; a similar effort with conventional transit stop hardware could take half a day.
Agencies can purchase the Elite system according to their budget: stripped down, fully loaded, or anywhere in between. Numerous options are available, such as if a transit agency wants to put real-time information on its 10 busiest routes and install audio-enhanced information at certain locations.