Passenger Transport - July 19, 2010
As part of APTA’s Telling Our Story initiative, riders on Trinity Railway Express commuter rail recently were greeted by system leaders bearing cookies, prizes, and a chance to tell their stories. From left are Bill Velasco, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) board chairman; Dick Ruddell, president/executive director, Fort Worth Transportation Authority; and DART President/Executive Director Gary Thomas.
A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to the Senate Banking Committee calls for a partnership between DOT and APTA to develop a process that will allow public transportation agencies with similar needs to participate in joint procurement and identify additional opportunities for standardization, especially for new systems.
The report, titled Potential Rail Car Cost-Saving Strategies Exist, examines ways that transit agencies can economize on the purchase of rolling stock at a time when they may pay more than $3 million per car, often using federal funds. It includes characteristics of the U.S. market for transit rail cars, the federal government’s role in funding and setting standards for them, and the challenges transit agencies face when procuring them.
GAO determined the characteristics of the U.S. market for transit rail cars by reviewing the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) National Transit Database and the APTA database to determine the number and types of passenger transit rail cars in the U.S., and interviewing officials from 23 of the 54 U.S. rail transit agencies as of 2008, along with rail car manufacturers, transit agency consultants, and FTA and APTA staff. The report also incorporates worldwide rail car data and interviews with manufacturers, transit officials, and officials from railway associations.
The office discovered that “U.S. demand for transit rail cars is limited and erratic” and that U.S. transit rail cars comprise about 5 percent of the worldwide fleet. Transit agencies often seek custom car designs to deal with legacy infrastructure requirements and interoperability issues with existing fleets, or simply for preference.
The report noted that the Federal Railroad Administration’s safety standards apply to commuter rail cars and that FTA has provided funds to help APTA develop voluntary standards for light and heavy rail vehicles. Congress currently is considering legislation introduced by DOT that would give FTA more regulatory authority in relation to rail transit safety.
“Market challenges still exist, including the small size of many orders that may affect price. Joint procurements, whereby transit agencies combine orders, can help them increase their order sizes; however, they can only combine orders if a design exists that meets both agencies’ needs,” GAO stated.
The report is available here.
Linda S. Watson, chief executive officer of the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (LYNX) in Orlando, is joining the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) in Austin, TX, as its president/chief executive officer.
Watson has more than 25 years of transportation-related experience. Before joining LYNX, she served as general manager of the Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority and assistant general manager of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority.
Watson is past chair of the Transportation Research Board and served as APTA vice chair-human resources from 2002 to 2005; for APTA, she currently is a member of the Bus and Paratransit CEOs Committee, Public-Private Partnerships Committee, and Research and Technology Committee. Her other affiliations include being a lifetime national associate of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, a board member of the National Transit Institute at Rutgers University, and a board member of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America.
BY WILLIAM MILLAR, President, APTA
Happy birthday, ADA!
Americans have more and better public transportation in part because of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. I thought that, on the occasion of the Act’s 20th anniversary, it was a good time to take a look (both back and forward!) at how the public transportation industry has improved the accessibility to transit services and facilities not only for persons with disabilities, but also for all Americans.
Let’s consider just a few of the changes in public transportation resulting from ADA’s passage:
* Buses and rail cars come better equipped with handrails that certainly help some people with disabilities—and also help many other riders—every day.
* Kneeling mechanisms on buses, low floors on light rail vehicles, and high-level platforms on commuter rail systems make it easier not only for persons with disabilities, but also for people without disabilities, to use public transportation.
* Driver or automated stop announcements make it easier for all passengers to know where they are.
And the list goes on and on and on.
Changes Over Time
Most of the 106 million Americans born in the last 25 years don’t know there was any other way, but there was a time when buses were not accessible to persons in wheelchairs; where rail stations were only built with stairs, not elevators and escalators; and where the administrative headquarters of transit systems could not be entered by a person in a wheelchair.
But such things as these are rapidly becoming relics of the past as transit systems have implemented ADA.
To do this, however, new types of service and technologies had to be invented or adapted. These range from the low-tech solution of installing raised bumps at the edge of a rail platform to help people with sight difficulties detect its edge, to the complex way-finder systems that use radio signals to guide people through stations.
Some technologies have turned out to be largely transitional, such as wheelchair lifts on buses. These were initially widely implemented, but now most transit systems have moved to low floor buses with ramps. Technologically, this is much simpler and easier for most customers to use.
How have these technologies and techniques been developed? Many were created by the original equipment manufacturers, suppliers, and transit systems trying to do a better job of serving their customers.
Their efforts received a big boost when, in 1991, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Equity Act provided funding for Project ACTION, sponsored by Easter Seals.
Over the years, Project ACTION has developed financial support for technologies, techniques, and training—all to make public transportation more accessible and usable by people with disabilities, not to mention all persons opting to ride.
APTA’s Access Efforts
APTA has been actively assisting its members in implementing ADA in many ways.
For example, APTA’s Access Committee continues to address elements related to ADA paratransit services, and it has also focused on accessibility subjects crossing all modes—such as senior mobility, technology, and regulatory issues. In addition, APTA’s Accessibility Consensus Standards program has developed standards and recommended practices on rail gap safety management, paratransit call centers, and fixed route stop announcements. On top of all this, APTA has fulfilled requests from its transit agencies for peer reviews of paratransit operations. We have completed four of those in the last year and a half.
APTA works closely with Project ACTION and has developed relationships with many other partners who have been helpful in implementing ADA. They include:
* Federal Transit Administration Office of Civil Rights;
* Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy;
* Department of Education Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers;
* The U.S. Access Board;
* Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund;
* American Association for People with Disabilities;
* Paralyzed Veterans of America;
* United Spinal Association; and
* National Council of Independent Living Centers.
In this issue, in fact, you’ll find perspectives from APTA members and persons in the disabilities field on what ADA has meant to our industry.
Research is also a critical component of improving access. APTA collaborates with university centers that examine how best to serve persons with disabilities. And, through the Transit Cooperative Research Program, experts have produced close to 50 reports—all revolving around ADA and accessibility.
From “Transit Operations for Individuals with Disabilities” to “Policies and Practices for Effectively and Efficiently Meeting ADA Paratransit Demand,” we have worked with researchers to ensure that transit systems continue to examine problems, identify solutions, and find ways—whenever possible—to innovate.
So, what has all this meant for persons with disabilities? Well, last year there were nearly 200 million paratransit trips taken mostly by persons with disabilities—and hundreds of millions more trips taken by persons with disabilities on fixed route buses and rail services.
This increased mobility has enabled persons with disabilities to find jobs more easily, to participate more fully in society, and to contribute in more ways than all but the most ardent proponents of ADA could have imagined before its passage.
All these improvements, of course, have not come without cost. Many transit systems have allocated significant sums in their budgets to ensure that these accessibility improvements are made, that complementary paratransit services are offered—and often, the importance of this tremendous investment has not been recognized.
All this leads one to ask: What does the future hold?
One answer might be—more of the same: More persons with disabilities able to participate more easily in society as service is expanded and improved. Still, some stations and facilities must be made accessible, but with 99 percent of transit buses, 84 percent of rail cars, 94 percent of bus stations, and 85 percent of light rail stations already there—and hundreds of millions of trips made each year by persons with disabilities—it’s clear much progress has been made.
So once more, let me say: Happy birthday, ADA!
BY DONNA McNAMEE, Member and Past President, Board of Trustees, LAKETRAN, Lake County, OH
After 25 years as a disability rights advocate and nine years as a transit board member, I have witnessed many changes in both public transit and the world at large. Chief among them is the evolution in the nation’s built environment: public transit has done more than any other industry in the lifetime of ADA to improve freedom, choice, mobility, and independence for people with disabilities.
Now, we all have the option to be customers of a public transportation system that is one of the most essential guarantors of the basic rights we share with all Americans—freedom to pursue our lives as we wish.
July 26, 2010, marks the 20th anniversary of the date when ADA was signed into law. It remains the most comprehensive federal civil rights legislation protecting the rights of people with disabilities the world has ever known.
While ADA has never been duplicated, in just 20 years it has become the world’s recognized model for other nation’s efforts toward similar civil rights protections for their citizens with disabilities.
Transit board members have a unique opportunity to help ensure that ADA is followed, not only in principle and letter, but also in spirit. At the 20th anniversary of ADA, public interest, new technologies, and an even greater emphasis on mobility and livability in our communities continue to advance mobility options for people both with and without disabilities. Many of these options go “above and beyond” ADA but fundamentally reflect the original scope and spirit of the law.
As public transit’s policymakers, we have a responsibility to help create livable communities that offer economic opportunity and are environmentally sustainable for the benefit of all our citizens. The 21st-century success stories will be the measure of how well we did today to move the nation beyond ADA of the 1990s to a nation where communities and their transit systems offer universal accessibility to everyone.
McNamee chairs the APTA Transit Board Members ADA Subcommittee and Easter Seals Project ACTION’s National Steering Committee.
BY MARY A. LEARY, Ph.D., Senior Director, Project ACTION and Transportation Initiatives, Easter Seals, Washington, DC
“I want to live a spontaneous life.” That’s what one young man told us at an event hosted by Easter Seals Project ACTION(ESPA) in partnership with the Division of Career Development Transition on the need to increase focus on transportation for youth with disabilities.
As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of ADA, are we close to this vision for spontaneous living? According to a National Council on Disability report: “In the transportation industry, I think we’ve seen great success and a sea change in perspective that has equaled access to accessible transportation for millions of people who, before, could not get a ride.”
ESPA was founded 22 years ago to help build bridges and provide technical assistance to the disability and transportation communities to increase accessible transportation. At the 2010 APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in Cleveland, the organization showcased one result of this effort: “Walk and Roll,” where transportation professionals walked in partnership and solidarity with friends and colleagues from the disability community.
Many transportation providers have a shared vision with the disability community. Awareness has increased in communities regarding how to ensure that inclusive, independent living principles and the precepts of ADA exist in the operations and practices of transportation providers.
In the current era of community-based services and supports, almost all buses are accessible; communities have coordinated plans to leverage transportation services across policy and program stovepipes; and human services coordinated transportation services exist in many localities. Programs like travel training assist people to learn to use their chosen transportation resource, and mobility managers connect people with the right transportation systems in their community and help to address gaps in service or unmet needs.
We have work to do, however, to create a multimodal national accessible transportation infrastructure navigable across county, state, urban, suburban, and rural lines.
The many new livability projects funded jointly by DOT, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency are addressing this need to make our nation livable. With champions like Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff, we see unprecedented investments in livability.
For the next 20 years of ADA, perhaps we should focus on creating a national infrastructure of navigable accessible transportation resources that enable spontaneous mobility for everyone, anywhere, anytime.
Participants in the “Walk and Roll” at the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in Cleveland included, from left, APTA Chair M.P. Carter; Jesse O. Anderson, a member of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Board of Trustees and the APTA Access Committee and ADA Subcommittee; and APTA President William Millar.
BY J. BARRY BARKER, Executive Director, Transit Authority of River City, Louisville, KY
First and foremost, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is civil rights legislation. Mobility and access provided through public transportation are key factors to fulfilling the promise of this legislation, but we need help in obtaining the funding to do the job right.
Part of what ADA accomplished was the development of a relationship between two groups. One, the disability community, was hostile and demanding, having been rebuffed for years. The other, the public transportation community, was reluctant and worried about funding. Over the last 20 years, most of us have learned to come together and work toward solutions. We have sat down together and crafted solutions providing mobility and access for millions of Americans.
All of our customers have benefited by our necessity to rethink public transportation and focus on our customers as individuals. The journey has not been easy—but it has been worthwhile. The journey is far from over. The work is not finished. We need to instill the spirit of ADA in everything we do.
Together we need to advocate for the passage of an authorization bill sooner rather than later. APTA is pursuing an Authorization level of $123 billion over six years because that is the funding level needed to provide mobility and access for all our customers.
Very few human endeavors exist without the opportunity to move from Point A to Point B. Public Transportation is the glue that holds our social fabric together. Public Transportation provides access for individuals to the myriad economic, medical, social, and other opportunities offered by our communities.
It should be a civil right for all Americans to have mobility and access—for all Americans to have an alternative to the automobile.
A wheelchair rider uses a ramp to exit a TARC bus. The agency operates 199 low floor buses with ramps in its active fleet.
BY DAVID L. TURNEY, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors, DRI Corporation
DRI Corporation, through our Digital Recorders Inc. and TwinVision na Inc. subsidiaries in Durham, NC, develops, manufactures, and services ADA-compliant products and technologies. Our Digital Recorders® Talking Bus® automatic voice annunciation systems and TwinVision® electronic information display systems help people with disabilities achieve more independence and better mobility by providing auditory and visual messages, respectively, that convey next-stop announcements and destination information as they travel on buses and trains.
ADA ensures equal opportunity and access for persons with disabilities. Through this important legislation, DRI Corporation has achieved tremendous growth. We’ve seen our business grow from four U.S. employees and less than $200,000 in sales in Fiscal Year (FY) 1983 to 244 global employees and approximately $82.3 million in sales in FY 2009. We, like others, have faced our challenges over the years; however, the positive feedback we’ve received about our products and technologies has kept us motivated to continue our journey to provide the most robust and leading-edge ADA-compliant public transit communications systems benefiting both transit authorities and riders of mass transportation.
In 1988, we delivered what we believe to be the transit industry’s first ADA-compliant automatic voice annunciation system: the Digital Recorders® Talking Bus®. Since the product’s introduction, we’ve sold more than 10,000 systems, which have been installed in more than 100 U.S. cities. This product enables visually impaired individuals to hear what they cannot see: the next stop. While starting as an ADA initiative, the product rapidly transformed into an important tool for all riders of buses and trains, as well as an important product for vehicle operators.
Over the next 20 years, we believe ADA-compliant technologies will continue to evolve, and we hope to set the technology bar even higher in our quest to help improve the mobility of individuals—disabled or otherwise—around the world. ADA considerations are important, but even more important is that ADA-specific initiatives have been mainstreamed for the equal and daily use of everyone.
DRI signs at a transit facility in Athens, GA.
BY VICTOR BURKE, Executive Vice President, Operations, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas, TX
On July 26, 1990, ADA was signed into law. On that day, transit agencies nationwide, like Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), had to forever change their perspectives on how they would provide transportation. For people with disabilities, who previously had been excluded from society in many ways, the enactment of this law meant access to a world of opportunity and equality.
The transition was not easy, with bumps on the road along the way before changes were realized.
DART was not initially exemplary in providing paratransit services by any stretch of the imagination. The service was fraught with dissatisfaction and inefficiency. A general lack of understanding about people with disabilities became the greatest challenge to overcome. With the perseverance and hard work of our employees, eventually the agency was able to effectively provide better services, meet the new law’s requirements, and fulfill our customers’ expectations.
Today DART operates a paratransit program that is a model to be emulated throughout the nation. Service improvements include elements such as real-world customer eligibility assessments; computerized scheduling and dispatch functions; and a focus on providing a safe, customer-oriented, and efficient riding experience. Future enhancements will include telephone speech recognition technology and shopper routes to continue fulfilling the spirit behind ADA. Most importantly, the program will continue to enhance the quality of life for thousands of people with disabilities.
The ADA did not only impact DART’s paratransit services program—it also has had an impact on how the agency provides fixed route bus, rail, and commuter rail service. This includes wheelchair lift-equipped buses that make clear announcements, level boarding platforms at train stations, and changing the culture and attitude of staff and contractors to reflect that providing accessible transportation services is everyone’s responsibility.
More work remains to be done, but 20 years after passage of such a pivotal law, DART remains committed to not only following the letter of ADA, but also fulfilling the spirit of its intent.
A DART employee secures a wheelchair on board a van.
BY GARY R. WILLMS, President, MV Sales and Leasing Inc., Fairfield, CA
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a law enacted by the U.S. Congress. Its long title is “An Act to establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.” It was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush, and later amended with changes effective Jan. 1, 2009.
In the world of public transit, the ADA law meant that, in the United States, anywhere public fixed route busing is provided, complementary paratransit service must also be provided. For 20 years the paratransit service for wheelchair-dependent riders has been provided in “converted” vans, converted mini-vans, or “body-on-chassis” vans. None of these options provided a purpose-built vehicle.
The conversion vans and mini-vans were built as ambulatory vans, then converted to accommodate wheelchair-dependent riders. The body-on-chassis vans are built on a generic chassis that can become a box truck, a flat bed, a tanker truck or any other of hundreds of configurations. Each option suffers from reduced quality due to two manufactures instead of one.
The significant investments made by both the public and private sectors in the development of policy, procedures, and infrastructure, in addition to timely deployment of ADA compliant transportation services, has been critical to the progress of ADA. It has also resulted in the development of many new and innovative improvements in other modes of transportation.
In the 20th year of ADA, the first and only original equipment manufacturer-built accessible vehicle, the MV-1, is coming to market. This is the only wheelchair-accessible vehicle built expressly for the purpose of transporting wheelchair riders. For years, transit providers and vehicle suppliers have worked together to improve the design and quality of these vehicles. And although considerable progress had been made in improving the quality and performance of converted vehicles, none were fully compliant with ADA, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and Buy America requirements. The MV-1 is designed by The Vehicle Production Group, manufactured by AM General in the Hummer 2 plant in Mishawaka, IN, and distributed to the transit industry by MV Sales and Leasing.
The multi-use MV-1 is based on the principles of “universal design,” which means that it’s easy for everyone to get in and out of the MV-1. Unlike any other vehicle, the MV-1 is the first and only vehicle built from the ground up to meet or exceed the ADA vehicle guidelines. It is not a converted vehicle. It is available with either a conventional gasoline engine or an OEM designed and assembled dedicated compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel system. Since CNG is primarily a domestic fuel, it is good not only for the environment, but for lessening America’s dependence on foreign oil.
The MV-1 is Buy America compliant and a cost-effective solution for paratransit operations.
After 20 years, the manufacturers of the MV-1 believe: “It’s about time.”
BY PARK WOODWORTH, Manager, Paratransit/Rideshare Operations, King County Metro Transit, Seattle, WA
The passage of ADA 20 years ago was both exciting and scary for those of us working on paratransit within a transit agency.
Before ADA, I had been told that paratransit did not belong in a transit agency and I should work elsewhere. I heard a high-level manager say, “Families should just take care of disabled people at home.” But that changed with the enactment of ADA, and I remember being happily surprised when an operator refused to take out a bus with a bad wheelchair lift because one of his customers needed the lift.
Now the combination of other requirements in ADA and the transportation provided by an accessible fixed route system and complementary paratransit service has dramatically improved the ability of persons with disabilities to lead a normal life. It is not perfect, but it is a lot better and can continue to improve.
While we can’t say exactly what transportation resources will be available in 20 years, we can make some educated guesses. Most fixed route buses will have low floors and easy-to-use mobility device securements. Information about when your bus will arrive at your stop will be readily available. Paratransit service technology will improve to the point that we will likely be able to communicate with and track individuals, even when they are off the vehicle, making no-shows rare.
Coordination will exist among local ADA, Medicaid, and social service paratransit operators, making more resources available and reducing vehicle miles traveled and the overall carbon footprint. Carpooling will become more popular and easy to use, even for people with special needs. Progress will continue.
Access Transportation provides paratransit service for King County Metro Transit, using contractors who operate shared ride vans.
BY RICK RAMACIER, General Manager, Central Contra Costa Transit Authority, Concord, CA
When I think about the Americans with Disabilities Act, public transit, and the future, I think about how far we have come since ADA was enacted. In 20 short years, we have gone from a few accessible buses to all buses being accessible. We have gone from many bus stops being inaccessible to persons with disabilities to a majority of accessible stops. We have gone from drivers calling out very few bus stops to calling out all major stops.
These improvements have led to a dramatic increase in the use of fixed route bus service by Americans with disabilities. Making fixed route transit fully accessible was the main and original goal of ADA, and it has been largely fulfilled. And, for those who cannot use fully accessible fixed route bus service or find parts of their system not fully accessible, ADA paratransit services have more than tripled since 1991.
I would like to see the public transit industry build on this success in two ways. First, we should develop a formal process through which the transit providers, regulators, and disability community meet regularly to discuss and examine emerging issues. Any new proposed rules or rule interpretations that involve ADA and public transit would emerge from this formal group.
Second, I want to see true and comprehensive coordination at the federal level among DOT, the Federal Transit Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, etc. I envision a true Coordinating Council that addresses all federal transportation funding and any and all rulemaking that could impact transit either directly or indirectly. The current coordinating council has a good list of members, but the council needs a lot more authority.
As transit providers likely face long-term and significant financial challenges, we must work together and collaboratively to keep the great progress made on making transit fully accessible or risk significant and unacceptable fallback, conflict, and regret.
BY JIM McLAUGHLIN, Senior Project Manager, Wilbur Smith Associates
My most profound recollections of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues and discussions occurred during my years as chair of the APTA Access Committee, when I often represented the industry at meetings and conferences.
During that period, I had the opportunity to meet several times with Justin Dart Jr., who was often cited as the leading force in the passage of ADA. He had a presence and an ability to communicate in simple yet substantive language that conveyed the depth of the commitment of the community to ADA.
Yet I can recall his caution that transit should focus on a “universal” system, which can be used by all, rather than creating a separate parallel network for persons with disabilities that does not connect with the mainstream. Twenty years after passage of the law, many systems still seem to plan and budget their ADA and other paratransit operations separately from fixed route services.
I also had the pleasure of discussing ADA and coordination-related issues many times with Jennifer L. Dorn, then administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), who did her best to improve mobility for those the Government Accountability Office termed as “transportation disadvantaged.”
During those meetings, I noted that ADA services were dissimilar to all other FTA programs because there were no connections between the industry and the FTA based on planning processes. Virtually all modifications in the service system followed court decisions, consent decrees, and interpretations of letters authored by attorneys. Unfortunately, we were not able to break out of that mode of operation.
Perhaps, today with more emphasis on livability and sustainability, we can commingle new ADA riders, such as returning veterans, into a thoroughly planned integrated network of services—not just transportation, but one system for all Americans.
BY RON BROOKS, Business Development Manager, Veolia Transportation Services
When President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, I was working as an intern for an Indiana state disability organization. As a result, I knew about ADA but nothing about transit, other than the routes I rode each day.
I joined the transit industry in 1993 and, since then, I have worked in and around accessible transit and paratransit—first as a planner working on rail system accessibility, then in the bus and paratransit industry. Today, I am a business developer for Veolia Transportation, but whereas I spend my time writing proposals, I devote my passion to the development of accessible transit and paratransit services—after all, I still ride buses every day.
When I began my career, many people in the transit industry felt that ADA would never change a thing, but of course, the act has changed everything. Today, wheelchair lifts and ramps must work; drivers must announce stops; seniors and persons with disabilities must be given priority for the front seats; and web sites must be accessible. Moreover, paratransit must be provided for those who need it.
Best of all, we are using new tools and technologies to make fixed route transit and paratransit services even better so more people with disabilities can enjoy unfettered access to their communities, and that is what ADA is all about.
Despite this progress, a lot remains to do. Personally, I’m an optimist, and I can envision a time when the transit industry sets aside the notions of fixed route, paratransit, and other service models in favor of a single, wholly integrated model that serves all people, regardless of their needs or limitations. The result will be an industry that fully embodies the spirit of ADA—namely, a world without barriers or boundaries.
BY PHIL DAWSON, Chair, SEPTA Youth Advisory Council, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, and Student, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has added another achievement to Philadelphia’s moniker as “The City of Firsts” with its creation and support of the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council (YAC). Founded in September 2009 as the first permanently meeting youth body of its kind in the country, the YAC has given young riders unprecedented input into public transportation issues, and its success as a model program has attracted the attention of other transit agencies.
The YAC grew out of a proactive SEPTA customer service strategy that seeks to identify stakeholder groups among its riders, then invite them to assume an advisory role within the agency. Along these lines, the SEPTA Customer Service Department and the existing Citizens Advisory Committee created the YAC to serve as a primary means of outreach to high school and college-age riders.
Since that time, the council’s 17 youth members have mounted an impressive advocacy campaign focused on outreach, communications, and service evaluation.
YAC members have provided a visible presence at area schools by hosting numerous outreach events; they hand out flyers, raffle off SEPTA Independence Passes, and talk to youth about transit. Whether they’re telling a student on the run how to take the trolley into Center City Philadelphia or explaining upcoming capital improvements, they provide a convenient way for young people to discuss SEPTA issues with their peers.
The council’s negotiations with local university administrations have also secured SEPTA an active role in next year’s new student orientations, ensuring that youth will receive training in how to use public transportation when they arrive in the Philadelphia region.
Another resource that has been especially effective in connecting with young riders is the YAC’s Facebook page. Not only does the site host photos, announcements, and last-minute reminders of YAC events, it also provides a venue to share SEPTA news that most young riders might not seek out on their own. In the future, the YAC plans to use the page’s online discussion boards to solicit readers’ recommendations on current issues that affect them.
Surveying Young Riders
Perhaps most importantly, the YAC has initiated an ongoing dialogue about how SEPTA can better serve its younger riders. Through a public forum and a Youth Rider Survey that will have reached nearly 800 college and high school students by its completion this summer, the YAC is providing SEPTA with unprecedented insight into the needs of this growing customer demographic. Survey questions considered young people’s use of public transportation (and barriers to it), their knowledge of SEPTA, and their recommendations for improving service.
One 19-year old college student responded: “If I could just get a pass for a discount, I would always use SEPTA.” Another commented on a proposal to increase transit education at new student orientations: “I LOVE the idea about ‘SEPTA 101’—I think so many more students would use SEPTA if they weren’t apprehensive as freshmen.”
Through outreach and service evaluation efforts, the YAC has made contact with young people who have varying levels of public transit usage and familiarity. Their common characteristic, however, has been their questions about the system, their interest in learning more about it, and their willingness to offer suggestions for improvement.
This feedback—calling for more discounted passes, subway service until later hours, improved access to information, and other youth-related concerns—will allow the YAC to recommend specific actions to SEPTA for serving this rider demographic. The council is on schedule to present the SEPTA board with a detailed report on these findings before September.
Serving on the YAC has also proven to be a rewarding experience for its youth members. A recent internal survey found that 92 percent of members feel that the YAC is making a real difference among local youth, and members especially enjoy “learning more about SEPTA” while “meeting and networking with other transit-interested youth.”
Outside the Philadelphia region, SEPTA has provided information to transit agencies from Toronto to Denver on how they might imitate this ambitious advocacy effort.
Ultimately, the most exciting aspect of the Youth Advisory Council is that its achievements have been pioneered exclusively by young riders. Merely assembling 17 students in a room with a general mandate and a promise of support has led to development of a comprehensive advocacy strategy that has attracted the attention of not only other youth, but also of transit authorities across the nation. It’s a powerful testament to the idea that the best way to engage young riders and understand their needs is by having youth do it themselves.
It’s encouraging evidence of a new generation of riders that is passionate about having great public transit in our cities. And it’s another first from Philadelphia that deserves to be replicated.
YAC Outreach and Communications Director Ellen Hwang collects SEPTA Independence Pass raffle tickets
APTA recently released its 2010 Public Transportation Vehicle Database report. This comprehensive, annual report examines revenue vehicles by such fleet characteristics as data of manufacture, manufacturer, model, length, and equipment, representing about 250 U.S. transit agencies and 15 agencies in Canada.
The report—available in Adobe PDF, Microsoft Access, and Microsoft Excel formats—includes summary tables that group vehicles by mode and list by manufacturer, size, year built, and equipment, as well as a special section on the new vehicle market with orders, planned orders, prior year deliveries, and vehicle costs.
Three more updated APTA reports will be published later this year: the 2010 Public Transportation Fare Database in August and the 2010 Public Transportation Infrastructure Database and Wage Rate report, both in December. In the meantime, earlier versions of these reports are still available.
* The 2009 Public Transportation Fare Database report lists major elements of fare structures by mode for 250 or more U.S. transit agencies and 15 Canadian transit agencies, covering fixed route adult base fares, surcharges, common fare payment options, special categorized passenger fares, and demand response (or paratransit) passenger fares.
* The 2008 Public Transportation Infrastructure Database report includes extensive information on major transit infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada, including rail line, station, stop, and parking data for all modes of transportation. It also lists project status, mileage, and opening dates of future rail projects.
* The 2009 Public Transportation Wage Rate report includes hourly wage rates for public transportation bus and rail operators and mechanics for transit agencies in the U.S. and Canada. The report includes details on the range of wage rates by position, shift differentials, as well as information on agency characteristics.
Publications are available through the APTA web site. For more information on the 2010 Public Transportation Vehicle Database and other APTA statistical publications, contact Christie Dawson.