Passenger Transport - June 22, 2009
APTA Chair Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D., right, speaks as part of a panel during the recent UITP World Congress in Vienna.
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
The future of public transit, specifically the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the coming federal transit authorization bill, was the primary topic at the June 15 Opening General Session of the APTA 2009 Rail Conference in Chicago. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) was the host system for the conference.
APTA heard from newly confirmed FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff and FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. They both
spoke about ARRA funding, noting that Congress will be keeping a close eye on the industry to see how it manages these projects—and how that management will reflect on the forthcoming transportation authorization.
During his opening remarks, APTA President William Millar emphasized the support President Barack Obama has shown for public transportation, specifically the inclusion in ARRA of $8.4 billion for transit projects and $8 billion for high-speed rail. He noted his attendance at a White House ceremony on high-speed rail and added: “To hear a president who ‘gets it’ about transit is just a wonderful thing.”
He called on Congress to dramatically increase the transit funding level in the next authorization bill to $123 billion over six years, as compared with $53 billion in SAFETEA-LU. Millar also noted that the current House climate change bill does not include transit, so he urged attendees to “keep working” to let their members of Congress understand the sector’s important role in the economy, the environment, and energy issues, all of which improve quality of life.
Millar announced that nearly 2.6 billion trips were taken on public transportation nationwide during the first quarter of 2009. Despite significant declines in gasoline prices, increases in unemployment, a general economic downturn, and lower state and local revenue, he said, public transportation use in the first quarter nearly matched that of last year’s modern record first-quarter ridership—declining by only 1.2 percent.
Comments from Chairs, Officials
“Public transit makes it possible for people to knit their lives together,” APTA Chair Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D., said at the session. She said the current moment for transit is “an extremely transformational period of time, the kind that only comes every 50 or 60 years,” adding: “If we don’t step up now, this will be one of the greatest lost opportunities we’ve seen.”
Scott also provided an overview of her major APTA initiatives, including the authorization effort; workforce development; APTA’s next Strategic Plan; and the Task Force on Governance and Committee Structure.
CTA Board Chair Carole L. Brown noted that her agency dates back to 1892 and needs fiscal and community support if it is to remain operational and keep meeting the community’s needs. “If we don’t address rail funding issues, we won’t have a rail transit legacy,” she pointed out. Echoing her remarks were CTA President Richard L. Rodriguez; Philip A. Pagano, executive director of Metra commuter rail; and Andrew Gruber, senior deputy executive director, legal and government affairs, for Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority.
Also speaking during the session were APTA Vice Chair-Commuter and Intercity Rail David Solow, chief executive officer of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority in Los Angeles, and APTA Vice Chair-Rail Transit Gary Thomas, president/executive director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
In prerecorded remarks, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood greeted conference participants and spoke about the key role of public transportation.
Speakers at the June 15 Opening General Session include, from left: William Millar; Peter M. Rogoff; Philip A. Pagano; Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D.; Gary Thomas; Joseph C. Szabo; Carole L. Brown; Peter Gertler, representing HNTB Corporation, sponsor of the session; David Solow; Andrew Gruber; and Richard L. Rodriguez.
BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor
What changes a choice rider into a “regular” rider? All the speakers at the June 15 “Service to Rail Customers—From Good to Great” workshop offered a range of answers and suggestions for other agencies to follow.
John Milano, senior director and senior associate general counsel, real estate and revenue development for Chicago’s Metra commuter rail system, cited the top two survey results that answered the question, “What keeps our people riding?” The answers: safe, on-time dependable performance, and value for money.
He also spoke of the importance of monthly labor/management meetings and “8:15” morning meetings, when all operations personnel convene to review the last 24 hours.
Metra’s biggest gain in customer satisfaction, the survey showed, was in its communications efforts during delays. “We spent a lot of money in customer-focused technology,” Milano said, citing the new public address systems in downtown stations, automated on-board announcements, and the Global Positioning Satellite system that sends automated messages back to the trains explaining delays. Metra also uses push/talk Nextel technology that provides conductors with up-to-the minute information they can deliver directly to the passengers.
“We are in the people-moving business, not the widget-moving business,” Milano said, noting how “you can’t beat face-to-face customer service.” For that reason, Metra has personnel in its stations, and has developed a Customer Assistance Team of rapidly deployable trained management officials who can assist with extraordinary events. The agency also has focused on weekend riders and recreational users, developing weekend pricing and easy-to-read travel guides mailed directly to likely drivers.
According to Metra’s last survey, 92 percent of riders would recommend the service to others. “That’s a pretty good number,” said Milano, “that gives us some room for improvement.”
Aaron Weinstein, vice chair of the APTA Marketing and Communications Committee and marketing and research department manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), gave a presentation on “Demonstrating the Benefits of Reinvestment.”
BART was brand new in the 1970s, but by the early 1990s, it had done something “unexpected,” said Weinstein: “It got older.” The rail system showed its age with long lines, escalators frequently out of service, aging rolling stock, and worn-out seats. In 1998, he said, it hit a new ratings low—74 percent—and “people were beginning to abandon BART.”
In response, the agency launched a $1.2 billion reinvestment program that resulted in continued growth in satisfaction, peaking at 86 percent in 2004 and staying fairly stable in the last four years. The top gains in the past 10 years were reliability of ticket vending machines, 38.4 percent, and reliability of faregates, 26 percent.
Weinstein’s suggestions to other agencies included:
* Invest for success. “It takes a lot of money; you can’t do it incrementally. You really need to make a big push to replace equipment.”
* Start at the bottom. “The best time to start a customer satisfaction survey is when you’re limping along and it’s time to invest.”
* Use sound methodology. Make sure your sample is representative of your riders.
* Put your satisfaction to work. Every two years, “we time our surveys to coincide with our budget process, using it to inform spending priorities.”
* Celebrate success. “When your satisfaction survey has demonstrated positive results among your customers, engage your marketing professionals and communicators to reinforce your success. Reinforce your capital campaign, citing ‘your fare/tax dollars at work’—so they’ll know they’ve invested and there will be improvements coming.”
Joel Gauthier, president and chief executive officer of Montreal’s AMT (Agence Metropolitaine de transport), noted that, for a time, the system—with packed trains and “good press”—found it difficult to convince the government to invest. AMT was created in 1996 to respond to decreased transit ridership; since its creation, it has shown growth. This was achieved, Gauthier said, by creating three more commuter trains and taking into account suburban sprawl, where riders would tire of congestion and opt to use the less expensive and more reliable public transit.
However, last summer, he said: “We were leaving people on the platform every morning when gas was $4 a gallon—and that became a nightmare.” So the system switched from single-level to double-decker rolling stock, increasing its capacity.
“We were creative,” he said. Being mindful of the environment, AMT invested in dual-mode electric/diesel locomotives.
The service has fare integration, which allows passengers to use a single ticket or monthly pass on any mode. It instituted an annual pass system with the “reward” of one free month, and added heated shelters.
Because the key to dealing effectively with customer satisfaction is providing information, Gauthier said, AMT sends out text messages when there is a delay, and answers all e-mail within 48 hours. The system uses direct mail whenever it introduces new services or changes the schedule, and staff members meet with customers at designated stations twice a year.
Initially, the top staff at AMT was composed primarily of financial or operations people, Gauthier observed, so “we shifted the culture of the enterprise to make it customer-oriented.”
Jeffrey Busby, the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) general manager of strategic planning, said his agency has been measuring the customer experience since 1997, and its revised 2008 survey provides additional insights into the question: Who takes the El every day?
Busby noted that the composition of ridership had changed: “We are no longer just carrying people to and from work,” and the use of the system for non-commute trips “is a clear trend over time, speaking both to the vibrancy of the city and the relevance of CTA to people who are not ordinarily transit customers.”
The economic motivators he cited include gas and parking prices (greatest impact on infrequent customers) and a change in job situation and general cost of living increases (for commuters). “One of our successes,” said Busby, “is that we’re motivating people to leave their cars behind.”
During the Q&A portion of the workshop (for which there was plenty of time because of the “crisp presentations,” commented moderator Neil Peterson, executive advisor, Booz Allen Hamilton), one person asked: “How do you keep customers happy when some projects might take years to complete?” Gauthier’s response was that AMT does not announce a project until it is nearly finished, so the agency can say that “within a span of 90 days, you can expect to see ‘x’ improvements.”
Another participant asked the speakers what “two things” they would implement to improve ridership. Milano said Metra’s most important attribute is on-time
performance and reliability, so the system is in the very early stages of rolling out “next train arrival.” The second thing would be continued infrastructure upgrades.
Gauthier responded by saying: “Invest for reliability, invest for comfort. Second, be very aggressive in informing your customers, as in, what time will you arrive.”
Weinstein called BART’s 78 percent of choice riders a “mixed blessing,” so his system’s “two things” would be on-time performance and service frequency, along with delay advisories.
In response to the question of steps an agency can take not to lose customers during massive rehabilitation projects, Peterson’s immediate response was: “Kill ’em with kindness. Put people on the platforms. Distribute special fare coupons. Suggest they take a bus or a taxi. Go way overboard.” Busby added: “Make sure people know there will be no service prior to their buying their tickets. Put signs at fare machines, but make sure the first thing riders read is ‘Service is disrupted.’”
One of the last suggestions by the panelists was to become comfortable with sharing information with outside parties, such as Google Transit. Said Gauthier: “As long as you get information to your customer, you’ll see satisfaction go up.”
Weinstein added that using other concerns can be a cost-saving strategy. “In many cases, other parties have built platforms we wouldn’t have been able to build ourselves,” he said. Further, he noted that BART held its first bloggers breakfast two weeks ago. “That’s the kind of transparency we’re moving toward,” he said.
Speakers at the “Service to Rail Customers—From Good to Great” session are, from left, John Milano, moderator Neil Peterson, Aaron Weinstein, Joel Gauthier, and Jeffrey Busby.
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
Transit-oriented development (TOD) refers to a number of policies intended to bring together residential, business, and retail spaces in proximity to a public transportation station or hub. As presented by experts from throughout North America at a June 16 session, however, that broad definition covered many different techniques for planning and economic development.
G.B. Arrington, co-chair of the APTA Land Use and Economic Development Subcommittee and principal practice leader with Parsons Brinckerhoff, gave a presentation on the Tysons Corner redevelopment project in Northern Virginia as well as moderated the session.
According to Arrington, Tysons Corner—located halfway between Washington, DC, and Dulles International Airport—is “arguably America’s largest TOD project” and “the original edge city, an example of sprawl on steroids.” The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (Metro) plans to open four new Metrorail stations in the area by 2013 as part of a plan to transform an office and shopping region into a walkable, mixed-use downtown area.
“When we started with the process, the questions were: where do we put the growth? How do we want to go? What can we do to make TOD work?” Arrington said.
Within the Tysons plan, 95 percent of new growth will be located within a three-minute walk of transit, either Metro or a proposed shuttle service, he noted. Another change from the current overbuilt area will be the addition of 160 acres of new parks and more than 80,000 new residential units.
“When we’re done transforming Tysons, it will be one of the 10 largest downtowns in the U.S.,” Arrington stated. “It will be a place where people want to live, defined by green stewardship: the civic heart of Northern Virginia.”
Curvie Hawkins Jr., director of planning for the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) in Fort Worth, TX, and Tim Baldwin, AICP, vice president of URS Corporation, reported on The T’s plans for commuter rail on a southwest-to-northwest corridor running from southwest Fort Worth and the north end of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Service is scheduled to begin in 2013, operating on existing freight rail lines.
Hawkins emphasized the role of the five affected jurisdictions in the planning process. When the line enters service, he said, it will help The T cope with ongoing population growth: the region gained 185,000 residents—equal to the population of Salt Lake City—between 2000 and 2009, and both population and county employment are projected to climb 41 percent by 2030.
“The new line will focus on serving activity centers rather than the traditional commuter,” he added. The line will cover Texas Christian University, the Medical District, downtown Fort Worth, the city’s Stockyards district, and the city of Grapevine en route to the airport.
“Our purpose,” Baldwin added, “was not to dictate land use decisions or tell cities how to develop around stations. We wanted to work with the corridor cities to explore their TOD potential—if they wanted it. Our aim was to increase long-term ridership.”
Art Washuta, regional vice president for AECOM, and Brad Smid, an employee of the city of Edmonton, AB, spoke about the ongoing expansion of light rail in the city, which began with a 6.9-kilometer line in 1978. When the newest extension opens in April 2010, Edmonton will have 20.5 km of light rail.
Washuta explained that Edmonton, the oil capital of Canada, has only 3,000 people per square mile; in contrast, Chicago has 13,000 people per square mile.
Heather Tabbert, AICP, program manager, special programs, for Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), described how transit overseen by her agency serves about eight million residents in a six-county area. RTA has four major TOD-related initiatives: planning programs, a regional working group, implementation action items, and a White Paper on value capture strategies.
The key elements in all of RTA’s local TOD studies must be realistic and implementable, said Tabbert. They must incorporate residential, office, and retail market analysis, and be developed with the help of the public.
Another region considering TOD is the South Coast area near Boston, which includes 31 cities and towns. Kristina Egan, South Coast rail manager for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation, noted plans are underway for a commuter rail corridor in that region.
“The rail line will provide mobility benefits, and also job access benefits,” she said. “It will give residents of this area access to the strong job market in the Boston area, while also creating jobs closer to home.”
G.B. Arrington, standing left, moderates the June 16 session on TOD challenges and opportunities. Panelists include, seated from left, Curvie Hawkins Jr., Tim Baldwin, Heather Tabbert, and Kristina Egan. Not shown are Art Washuta and Brad Smid.
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
People who work around transit rail equipment—as well as drivers and pedestrians in rail corridors—can easily fall victim to injury or death if they don’t pay attention to their surroundings. A June 16 session titled “You Bet Your Life! Human Factor Risks in Operation and Right-of-Way Incidents” addressed this issue from the distinct vantage points of technical research, public transit agency implementation, and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) educational programs.
Geomatic Technologies has developed an electronic program to evaluate track condition without requiring foot patrols. David Petterson, business development executive for the company, called examining every inch of track on a railroad line “one of the most arduous and thankless tasks in the railroad industry,” and said it can be dangerous to the person walking along the track.
In contrast, the company’s Mechanized Track Inspection (MTI) allows employees at a remote site to evaluate by observing recorded rail, track, and corridor imagery from a vehicle, which operates in place of an on-track foot patrol.
MTI consists of two components. First, a field collection system mounted on a track vehicle collects synchronized positional and high-resolution digital image data of the rail, track, and corridor environment. Then the office system allows foot patrollers to use this data to find and identify defects in the rail corridor; it also provides a seamless interface to the railroad’s asset management system.
Petterson reported that MTI generally finds a higher number of defects than conventional foot patrols and provides a detailed report on typical track defects. He added that the program leads to improved employee safety, increased flexibility, better defect management, and improved productivity.
New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit) employees Janet M. Clark, director, communication services, and Barbara Lazzaro, safety education program specialist, gave a presentation about their agency’s educational efforts. Through partnerships with Operation Lifesaver and state agencies, NJ Transit uses a variety of media to spread the word about driving and walking safely around its trains.
Its Rail Crossing Enforcement Program focuses on safe driving behavior at grade crossings, using billboards, posters, handouts, and other media to promote the message. Schools can use an offshoot of that program targeted to teen drivers that warns about becoming distracted while driving near a grade crossing.
NJ Transit’s other safety efforts include the “Safety Rules” program for children, developed in house and now available for licensing by other agencies, and pedestrian safety messages on board trains and in stations.
Lazzaro presented excerpts from a video titled Look to Live, created in partnership with Operation Lifesaver, which presents six rail safety scenarios to teen drivers.
Levern McElveen, a safety and security specialist with FTA, showed a video titled A Knock at Your Door, recounting actual incidents during which rail transit employees were injured or killed. Family members of the victims participated in the making of the video, he said, allowing FTA to “tell the story in a personal and emotional way.”
McElveen stressed that the message of the video is simple and direct, saying: “The rules are important; don’t become complacent.”
The moderator for the session was Georgetta Gregory, program and project supervisor with the Consumer Protection and Safety Division of the California Public Utilities Commission.
From left: David Petterson, Georgetta Gregory, Levern McElveen, Janet M. Clark, and Barbara Lazzaro.
BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor
What are the challenges? Who will take on the risks? These questions and more were covered in the Monday afternoon session, “Public-Private Partnerships,” moderated by Michael I. Schneider, InfraConsult.
Philip A. Pagano, executive director, Metra, compared the PPP project of Metra with Union Pacific Railroad (UP) to a heart patient undergoing surgery to clear his arteries, “because that’s what we are doing—unclogging a major artery so freight and passenger trains can operate much more effectively and efficiently.”
For the area’s commuters, the joint project will provide several major benefits, including improving commuter trains’ on-time performance by 10-15 percent; easing pressure on the crowded Burlington Northern Santa Fe line by attracting riders to the improved UP West line; and increasing such safety features at stations as better pedestrian gates, more inter-track fencing, and a new “another train” warning system.
Dennis Duffy, executive vice president/operations, Union Pacific Railroad, who explained the numerous challenges Metra and UP had faced, said that overcoming the challenges was well worth the effort: “This project is a great benefit to both [our organizations].”
Robert Tuccillo, associate administrator for budget and policy, FTA, discussed public transit’s state of good repair by detailing the “FTA P3 [Public Private Partnership] Report to Congress,” calling it “a reference tool.” It presented an array of information, including the different types of PPPs, benefits, risk allocation and risk sharing (“one of the toughest ones to understand”), and their legal implications (“what kind of bonding requirements do you need, what state laws are in place?”). He noted that some of the keys to success in completing PPPs were political leadership, legal and financial expertise available up front, and the transfer of key risks to the private sector.
Kathryn Pett, partner, Nossaman LLP, delved into challenges and obstacles in developing contractual agreements that shift risk, noting that PPPs are “a different way of procuring and delivering projects.” Because PPP delivery may run counter to public procurement policies, the public sector, said Pett, “should be ready to tailor the procurement process on a case-by-case basis.” Some of the obstacles she cited, which vary from state to state, include appropriations restrictions; qualifications-based selection laws—not based on fees alone; conflict of interest laws that bar architects and engineers from being both designer and contractor for the same project; and a requirement for contractors to identify major subcontractors from the start.
Rod Diridon, chair of APTA’s High Speed and Intercity Rail Committee, board member of the CA High Speed Rail Authority, and executive director, Mineta Transportation Institute, gave an overview of the high-speed rail program, noting the support of both President Obama and Gov. Schwarzenegger, and joking that he had decided to go along with the program rather than “buck the Terminator.” Diridon noted that the $34 billion effort is “the biggest construction project in the history of the nation.” When it is completed (somewhere between 2020 and 2030, “depending on the financing available”), it will be 790 miles long.
Following Diridon was Alene Tchourumoff, manager finance practice, InfraConsult, who provided some of the details prepared by her firm regarding the contracting process. She cited a study that asked such questions as: What type of risk would you be willing to take (“All firms would accept the risks within their realms, such as construction companies would take construction risks.”); How do you balance the level of risk that the private sector takes on with what you’re going to have to pay for it?; and Who is the most efficient holder of which risks? She closed by noting: “You must have an efficient and competitive procurement process and must ensure that your enabling legislation is in place.”
Roger Moliere, chief, real property management and development, LA Metro, discussed “Leveraging Local Dollars: LA Metro’s PPP Program is Underway.” This project could not be moving forward, he said, if the voters hadn’t passed a sales tax initiative last November. He cited the goals of the PPP: accelerating delivery, reducing costs through contracting and construction methods, developing projects integrated with existing transit/highway infrastructure, and allocating risk.
Schneider closed the session by stressing that “our collective objective is to build projects to provide public mobility, not to create PPPs.” Calling them “a means to an end,” he said that APTA’s task force on the subject had concluded that PPPs cannot substitute for public policy, oversight, or resources.
Michael I. Schneider moderates the June 15 session on public-private partnerships. Panelists are, right photo from left, Philip A. Pagano, Dennis Duffy, Robert Tuccillo, Kathryn Pett, Rod Diridon, Alene Tchourumoff, and Roger Moliere.
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
Safe operation must be one of the key responsibilities for public transit operators, but they aren’t the only ones facing this challenge. Transit professionals and suppliers joined representatives of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the National Safety Council (NSC) at a June 15 luncheon in Chicago titled “Leadership and Organizational Change—Starting with the Basics and CEOs Who ‘Get It.’”
John Ulczycki, group vice president-research, communication, and advocacy, National Safety Council, explained that the session took its title from his organization’s annual “CEOs Who Get It” award, which recognizes business and community leaders whose personal understanding of safety affects their corporate culture. Sir Moir Lockhead, chief executive and deputy chairman of FirstGroup, the parent company of First Transit, was among the most recent winners of this award.
For example, Ulczycki said, Lockhead made an executive decision to ban all his employees from using cell phones while on the job. The speaker cited statistics showing that drivers speaking on cell phones, hands-free or not, are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers not using the devices—and, just as important, individual drivers run the same risk as bus and rail operators.
“Whether or not legislators ban cell phone use while driving, CEOs who ‘get it’ already have,” he added. “Texting and e-mail may bring a greater risk, but talking leads to more crashes…Eighty percent of all crashes involve distraction.”
Capt. Jeff Bayless, managing director-aviation safety with United Airlines, described how the airline has a “laser focus” on the fact that safety is the basis for everything it and its employees do. He described the “positive culture” at United, which encourages employees to self-report errors without penalizing them, and how the airline follows up on these reports.
Amy Kovalan, vice president of safety for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), offered the case study of a 2006 derailment caused by track deterioration. The investigation of this incident, she said, led to a heightened investment in infrastructure renewal, with steps including analyzing the process; using the right tools and technology for each job; repeated employee training; and auditing the results.
Michael T. Flanigon, director of FTA’s Office of Safety, called on rail operators to work toward having no right-of-way fatalities, which he called “an achievable goal.” His primary example was Norfolk Southern, a freight railroad that has won 20 consecutive E.H. Harriman Awards for safety from the Association of American Railroads.
Picking up from Ulczycki’s comments about establishing a safety culture at work, Flanigon stressed that “it’s not enough to have safety rules; you must have a strong culture of following those rules” while working for continuous improvement.
“People are going to do what’s expected of them,” added Carmen Bianco, an executive consultant with Behavioral Science Technology Inc. “We must create a culture that is truly supportive of safety,” he said, defining such a work atmosphere as a series of concentric circles: a personal safety ethic is in the center, surrounded by leadership style; best practices; and organizational culture.
Thomas F. Prendergast, chair of the APTA Standards Development Oversight Council and chief executive officer, South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink), Burnaby, BC, presided at the luncheon program.
Speakers at the June 15 luncheon session include, from left, Thomas Prendergast, John Ulczycki, Capt. Jeff Bayless, Amy Kovalan, Michael T. Flanigon, and Carmen Bianco.
Los Angeles Metro earned the top honor, the Team Achievement Award, for the second consecutive year at the 17th Annual APTA International Rail Rodeo, held June 13 at the Chicago Transit Authority’s Skokie Yard. Rodeo award winners received their honors June 14 at the first Rail Rodeo Banquet, held in conjunction with the APTA Rail Conference in Chicago.
The Team Achievement Award goes to the competing public transportation system with the highest combined score in the operators’ and maintainers’ competitions.
The maintenance team from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia—Jason Rickert, Mike O’Grady, and Ed Carruthers—took first place in the maintenance competition. Second place went to the Los Angeles Metro team, which included Eric Czintos, Ronnie Burt, and Glen Abraham, while Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) came in third with a team comprised of James Bledsoe, Alford Fisher, and Robert White.
In the operators’ contest, Danai Lambert and William Collart of the Sacramento Regional Transit District placed first, with Los Angeles Metro’s Robert Rodriguez in second place and the TriMet team of Laura Walker and David White in third.
Fifty-two contestants representing 11 public transit agencies participated in the rail rodeo: 32 maintenance workers and 20 operators.
Gary Thomas, left, APTA vice chair-rail transit, presents the Team Achievement Award to representatives of Los Angeles Metro at the first Rail Rodeo Banquet, June 14 in Chicago. Members of the authority’s maintenance team are, from sixth from left, Eric Czintos, Glen Abraham, and Ronnie Burt; operator Robert Rodriguez is third from right. Also participating in the award presentation are APTA Chair Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D., fifth from right, and First Vice Chair M.P. Carter, second from right.
The maintainers’ team members from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority—from left, Ed Carruthers, Mike O’Grady, and Jason Rickert—take first place in their competition at the rail rodeo.
William Collart, left, and Danai Lambert accept the first-place operators’ honor on behalf of the Sacramento Regional Transit District.
BY CARMEN GRECO JR., Special to Passenger Transport
Environmentally sustainable transit systems that work to attack climate change and global warming were in the spotlight during the June 17 Closing General Session of APTA’s 2009 Rail Conference in Chicago.
Session participants heard from Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Sadhu A. Johnston, chief environmental officer for the Chicago mayor’s office. The choice of speakers was no accident, as both cities are at the forefront of new transportation solutions to reduce carbon emissions in heavily-congested urban centers.
Hannemann outlined his city’s plan to build a new 20-mile light rail loop on the island. Voters approved a 0.5 percent increase in the island’s excise tax to help fund the project, which he said is finally on a fast track now that President Barack Obama is committing billions of ARRA dollars to fund new transit projects.
He said Hawaii has no choice but to build the light rail project as the area has seen its gas usage double over the past 20 years to 290 million gallons per year, pumping close to 5.8 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
“The only real choice for us is to turn to transit,” the mayor said. “There is no road space to expand from the mountains to the seas, and that inspired us to build this light rail system. We have to give the people more choices. That’s what we lack today. We have so many cars on this island. We have as many registered cars as we do residents.”
Hannemann continued: “The timing is right. We have a president who is embracing it. We ignore climate change at our own peril.”
Johnston touted Chicago’s efforts to become “the greenest city in America” by implementing new systems and infrastructure enhancements to its commuter trains and buses. Adding 12,000 bike racks at transit stations, building 120 miles of roadside bike lanes, and starting carpooling and car-sharing programs have helped the city reduce its carbon emissions by 1 percent per year since 2002, he said.
He noted that Chicago is also converting bus engines to operate on biodiesel and ethanol, establishing recycling programs on trains and buses, and repaving streets and alleys with photo-catalytic cement, a reflective material that reduces heat and lessens smog.
The cement “has a chemical reaction with the sun and the smog and it keeps the material white and reflects the heat up,” Johnston said. “It eats smog about eight feet above where people are walking. We will be the first city in the U.S. to use this material on streets and alleys.”
Twenty-one percent of Chicago’s green efforts focus on new transportation projects and programs, he said, adding: “Transit is integral to a green city. We need to promote transit-oriented development, invest more, and make transit easier for people to take. Promoting alternative forms of getting around, from walking to biking, is always important.”
Michael Townes, president and chief executive officer of Hampton Roads Transit in Hampton, VA, and immediate past APTA chair, praised the Honolulu and Chicago leaders for making transportation systems greener and adapting new infrastructure and operations for the 21st century.
“Chicago and Honolulu are leading the way on sustainability," said Townes, who presided over the closing session. “Both know what it means to take a comprehensive approach. What we do every day will enhance the sustainability of the communities we serve.”
Hideyuki Ninomiya, director, transportation systems and equipment, for Sumitomo Corporation of America, introduced Hannemann. Nippon Sharyo/Sumitomo Corporation of America sponsored the session.
BY MARTIN SCHROEDER, Senior Program Manager-Rail Programs
The key question at the June 16 session “Fare Collection Technology Reaches Adolescence” was: Is fare collection technology mature or still in need of training wheels?
Tim Weisenberger, electronic payments program manager with the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and the session’s moderator, opened with this question, then followed with a timeline of how far the industry has come. At this heavily attended session, panel members provided a thorough look at technology, standards, system implementation, payment and international cooperation that together are defining a myriad of fare system design options.
David Weir, Translink senior program coordinator for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Oakland, CA, provided an overview of Translink’s smart card-based fare collection system, which now integrates 26 transit agencies in the San Francisco Bay area. In addition to traditional gated systems like the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, Translink operates with proof-of-payment processes in use with Caltrain commuter trains; future plans are underway for incorporating parking products that will use the Smartlink card.
On-board commuter fare collection and inspection was also the topic of David Kutrosky, deputy managing director of the Capital Corridor Joint Powers Authority in Oakland. The system can use wireless communication to issue and validate Amtrak tickets on board, using 100 percent fare inspection with hand-held devices. This technology generated extensive discussion.
Standards development—including application of the APTA Contactless Fare Media System standard and ISO’s international standards—were addressed by Brian Stein, sales manager with Giesecke & Devrient America, and Chung Chung Tam, revenue systems engineer, Chicago Transit Authority. They discussed how U.S. and international efforts see mobile phones as an ideal platform for fare systems that leverage the flexibility of the phones while encouraging competition in the payments market to reduce transit transaction costs and expand patron choice.
Brian Zingg, senior vice president, business development, for Payspot, provided insight into alternative payment approaches using third-party reloadable debit systems such as e-Pay, which serves 34,000 retail locations nationwide. These systems reduce transaction processing costs from those associated with credit cards while minimizing use of cash.
A lively question-and-answer period followed the presentations, which painted a vivid picture of advances in fare collection technology. Is fare system design in a stage of adolescence? Maybe, but it’s looking more like a rebirth.
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
Staying current with technology is a challenge for any public transportation system, but it’s especially difficult for a transit agency with an extensive built infrastructure that requires retrofitting to make the job work.
“When we think of new technology, we look at it with optimism,” said moderator Jonathan H. McDonald, chair of the APTA Research and Technology Committee and principal-managing leader of Stantec Consulting Inc., during a June 15 session at the APTA Rail Conference “But when we have to implement that new technology in an existing infrastructure, we face challenges.”
Herb Nitz, manager, communications engineering and development, for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), presented an overview of installing advanced communications technologies in a century-old rail transit system.
CTA built its first elevated line in 1892, and that line is still in operation; the newest El route, the Orange Line, entered service in 1993. Most of the agency’s elevated and subway lines opened in the 1940s and 1950s, Nitz said, meaning that the telephone and public address technologies serving the lines date back to the 1950s.
When CTA began instituting newer technologies—installing the first multiplexed communications on the O’Hare Extension in 1984, the first optical system on the Orange Line at the time of its opening, and expanding fiber optic use during the 1996 rehabilitation of the Green Line—“we took stock of what we had to provide state-of-the-art communications infrastructure that supports all voice, data, and video needs of the CTA,” Nitz explained. “We needed the communications system to be reliable, redundant, innovative, scalable, able to adjust to and take advantage of new technologies, maximize investment, and minimize operating and maintenance costs.”
Today, CTA has installed fiber optics in all 144 of its rail stations, but the agency isn’t finished yet. “Now we’re looking at advanced systems we would never have dreamed of five years ago,” Nitz said, such as a closed circuit television/security network and a wireless video network that now also incorporates the more than 12,000 security cameras on CTA’s bus fleet.
Ron Keppel of Emcom Systems used the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) emergency call box modernization project in Philadelphia as an example of the implementation of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications. Because the exterior call boxes were still in good shape and expensive to replace, SEPTA chose a multiple-step process of upgrading the internal circuits and creating a VoIP-based system similar to a local area network.
“At this juncture, there are over 400 emergency call boxes and wayside phones connected to the SEPTA system, and that’s just the beginning,” Keppel said. “Once the VoIP network is in place, it will be relatively easy to add on to it: cashier booth intercoms; elevator phones; a new public address system and radio; and a video controller.”
Stephen Rayment, chief technology officer for BelAir Networks, reported on the incorporation of his firm’s wireless technologies into trains, stations, and rail yards. He pointed to the growing prevalence of personal wireless electronic devices and how it has led to widespread interest in WiFi opportunities on board rail vehicles and in stations.
“Originally, riders were interested in accessing the Internet on the train,” Rayment noted. “Now, there’s so much more: on-train ticketing and, seat reservations, working with conductors equipped with handheld devices; train mechanical telematics and diagnostics; driver performance monitoring; even car location tracking along line and in train yards.”
Increased rider safety is another benefit of this technology, according to Rayment: real-time closed circuit television; radiation, chemical, and smoke sensors; and improved intercom connections.
Michael Fitzmaurice, MASC, P.E., senior communications/communications-based train control engineer for Parsons Corporation, described the impact of underground distributed antenna systems for wireless communications. Transit tunnels provide limited space for underground antennas, he said, as well as external threats such as water leaks.
Fitzmaurice presented an overview of the different antenna technologies and how they could work for various transit applications.
Participants in the "Implementing New Technology in Older Infrastructure" session are, from left, moderator Jonathan H. McDonald, Michael Fitzmaurice, Herb Nitz, Ron Keppel, and Stephen Rayment.
APTA Rail Conference attendees listen to Metra Executive Director Philip Pagano during the June 15 Opening General Session at the Hilton Chicago. More than 1,000 people attended the conference.
The June 16 Rail Products & Services Showcase brought together 65 companies in 77 booths—nearly twice as many as last year—to present new ideas in rail technologies and components.
Graduate students from Virginia Tech's Industrial Design Program School of Architecture and Urban Design present their visions of the next generation of intercity rail at a June 16 session on advances in rolling stock technology.
An exhibit on sustainable transportation, created by the Swiss Embassy in collaboration with APTA and the Swiss Federal Office of Transport, presented information on infrastructure and maintenance, land use development, long-term financing and funding plans, and high-quality and sustainable solutions.
BY DOUG EADIE
The chief executive officer as Heroic Leader is a pretty attractive figure to most of us, and most of us probably think of the U.S. presidency in these terms. Guided by a clear vision for the future that he or she aspires to create and blessed with the communication skills required to paint a vivid picture of that vision for others, the Heroic Leader inspires optimism, enthusiasm, and commitment.
The Heroic Leader energizes people, and that’s an obviously critical facet of CEO-ship, especially in troubled times that test our mettle and invite self-defeating pessimism.
But the Heroic Leader model, while inspiring and even essential in times of crisis, is really quite limited and doesn’t begin to capture the full value that CEOs bring to their organizations. The fact is, the overwhelming majority of the time our public transportation systems aren’t contending with the extraordinary crises that demand heroic leadership. Rather, day after day after day they function in a changing, challenging world that demands a different kind of CEO, what I call the Empowering Leader.
The Empowering Leader is passionately committed to growing the people around him or her: building their capacity to lead and manage, helping them learn to grapple with the day-to-day issues that determine organizational effectiveness.
One of the most impressive Empowering Leaders I’ve met over the past quarter-century is David Boggs, who has been executive director and CEO of the Regional Public Transportation Authority (popularly known as Valley Metro) in the Phoenix metropolitan area since April 2005. Despite his 40 years of incredibly diverse executive experience—including 14 years in the for-profit sector, 30 years in transportation, seven years as a chief financial officer, and 17 years as a CEO—David is a thoroughly modern leader who has blazed trails in empowering the people around him.
I recently spent a fascinating couple of hours talking with this Empowering Leader about his approaches to human capacity building at Valley Metro.
Doug: David, the term “empowerment” seems like a buzzword to many people. Talk about what it means to you as a CEO.
David: Well, Doug, to me it’s much, much more than just a political slogan: it’s almost the definition of the mission of the modern CEO. I learned really early in my life—working in Dad’s department store, becoming an Eagle Scout—that being a one-man band won’t get you very far, and as I worked my way up in the field of management, from operations analyst to CFO and eventually CEO, two things became crystal-clear: first, organizations are above all else the people making them up; second, helping those people become better at doing their jobs is the pre-eminent route to organizational success. Sure, you’ve got to have planning, you need operating systems, facilities, equipment—those things are indispensable—but people top the list in my book, and always have.
Now, I have heard “empowerment” used as a political slogan, but when I think of empowering people, I think of three very practical things I regularly do as a CEO to help them become more effective members of the Valley Metro team: ensure that there is a strategic framework that their work fits into and that they understand; show them that I really do care about them as human beings; and put in place effective education and training programs aimed at updating and sharpening their leadership and management skills.
Doug: Give me some practical examples of your work as an Empowering Leader at Valley Metro.
David: On the strategic front, we’ve invested heavily in long-range planning at Valley Metro, and with the enthusiastic support and participation of my Board of Directors, which represents the 15 governmental entities making up Valley Metro, we have developed a 20-year blueprint to guide development of our regional transportation system, and we make sure that our employees understand where they fit in the grand scheme of things—where this whole shebang is headed over the long run.
At a more nuts and bolts level, and at the more “touchy-feely” end of the spectrum, I make a point of being a very visible, highly accessible CEO internally, and my people really do know that I’m genuinely interested in them. I use a lot of humor to keep the culture fun, even though we work very hard. And my office door really is open to anyone who needs to see me, for any reason.
I also make it a point to get out of headquarters as much as possible to visit the people on the front lines who keep the system running. When my wife and I are in town on Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example, I make on-site visits to the people who are working, not celebrating, so they know we really do care about the personal sacrifice they’re making.
Doug: What about education and training, David?
David: Experience has taught me that education and empowerment go hand-in-hand, Doug, and I take my role as Educator-in-Chief at Valley Metro very seriously. Drawing on my 40 years of leading and managing, I was inspired to develop a detailed course—people at Valley Metro call it the “Boggs Method”—on executive leadership and management that I actually teach periodically. We get into things like the key elements of leadership and management, how to communicate effectively, time management, and handling the emotional/psychological dimension of management.
I want to point out that informal teaching is just as important as what we do in the classroom, and as Educator-in-Chief at Valley Metro one of my most important roles is to set high expectations for my people, to give them the opportunity to grow, and to help them learn through experience.
You know, Doug, when I arrived on the scene at Valley Metro, I found an organization without much credibility and a staff that wasn’t very respected in the region. I’m not an aficionado of the slash and burn school of leadership, so I spent my first few months on the job listening and learning, rather than “cleaning house,” and it was soon clear to me that we were blessed with good people who hadn’t been allowed to excel. Well, we soon faced a trial by fire that turned out to be a phenomenal growth experience for my team, the great majority of whom are still in place today, by the way. To make a long story short, we were forced to convert to a new contractor, and the political and technical complexities involved made this a true crisis. Working day and night, we pulled it off, and in the process we got a huge jolt of self-esteem. This is empowerment in the purest sense!
Doug: You’ve talked about empowering staff, David, but what about your Board of Directors?
David: I’m really fortunate to have 15 board members who are extremely supportive and solidly committed to the cause of regional development generally and to Valley Metro. But Empowering Leaders, in my opinion, are responsible for helping their boards become more effective governing bodies.
One way this plays out in practice is providing the board with top-notch, empowered staff who make it possible for board members to deal effectively with complex, high-stakes issues. I also spend a significant amount of time with our board members, visiting them individually and attending events on their home turf. The bottom line is to “over” communicate at all levels, and to stay focused on what is truly relevant, without losing sight of the future!
Doug Eadie is president & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company. You can reach Doug here.