Passenger Transport - October 25, 2010
Donora, PA, in the days when air pollution was a threat to public health, left, and today, right, when the former American Wire Works Zinc Plant site has been reclaimed as the John P. Murtha Transportation Center.
The Transportation Research Board recently released the following Transit Cooperative Research Program publications:
Report 139: Guidebook for Recruiting, Developing, and Retaining Transit Managers for Fixed-Route Bus and Paratransit Systems. This report explores resources for fixed route bus, general public demand-response, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit systems resources to assist in the recruitment, development, and retention of managers. The guidebook is accompanied by CRP-CD-77, which provides model job descriptions for 32 broad job titles that indicate the structure and content for job descriptions for manager jobs.
Report 142: Vehicle Operator Recruitment, Retention, and Performance in ADA Complementary Paratransit Operations. This report provides guidance for understanding the relationships that influence and enhance operator recruitment, retention, and performance in ADA complementary paratransit services.
Appendixes to TCRP Report 142 previously were published electronically as TCRP Web-Only Document 50: Survey Instrument, Productivity Charts, and Interview Protocol for Case Studies for TCRP Report 142.
Research Results Digest 96: Managing Increasing Ridership Demand. This digest documents a 2009 study mission to Guayaquil, Ecuador; Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Porto Alegre, Brazil, that investigated how transit operators and agencies in these cities accommodated sudden and significant growth in the number of riders and increasing demand for service.
Legal Research Digest 33: Developing and Implementing a Transit Advertising Policy. This digest provides information pertaining to a transit system’s use of various strategies to implement advertising content policies that further the system’s reasonable interests and protect free speech rights.
Synthesis 86: Relationships Between Streetcars and the Built Environment. This report examines selected, built streetcar and trolley systems to trace their evolution, define significant factors, and identify commonalities among levels of success in impacting the built environment.
Copies of these reports are available online.
The Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame inducted Sandy Draggoo, chief executive officer/executive director of the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) in Lansing, MI, since 1985, as a member in ceremonies Oct. 19 in East Lansing. She was one of a class of 10 Michigan women who received the honor for being first, founders, or experts in their fields.
Draggoo joined CATA in 1974 as the executive secretary serving the executive director and rose through the ranks to the top position. She is active in APTA, serving on the Bus and Paratransit CEOs Committee, Small Operations Committee, and Legislative Committee, and is a former APTA vice chair-marketing and communications.
Since its establishment by the Michigan Women’s Studies Association in 1983, the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame has recognized more than 250 high-achieving women from the state.
Photo by Laura Flugga
BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor
“We’re not just in the business of building rail systems.” With that, moderator Richard J. Simonetta, vice president and national director of high speed rail & special projects, URS Corporation, Columbus, OH, began an Annual Meeting session before a very full house.
The concept of how an increasingly integrated approach to planning will affect mobility goals in urban, suburban, and rural communities across America and shape upcoming legislation is, as Simonetta said, “a subject matter that embraces aspects of our transit industry that we don’t think of every day, but is so important.”
Emil Frankel, director of transportation policy for the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC, asked: “How can the power of the purse at the federal level be used to achieve this kind of comprehensive and integrated planning at the state and local levels?” He continued: “Transportation policy must go beyond capacity and mobility; societal goals must now become central to transportation issues, e.g., economic growth and climate change.”
Policy must be more performance-driven, he said, linked to clearly articulated goals, and more accountable for results. He urged that the “what” be articulated at the national level, leaving the “how” for state and local officials to determine. Frankel also said the emphasis should be on programs, not individual projects, with experts examining “how the various programs work together, along with the livability objectives of economic growth and safety.”
This approach requires “good planning—across modes, agencies, and jurisdictions,” Frankel said. “Do we, as a general matter, have this in this country? I would argue that, with the exception of some areas, we do not.”
After briefly discussing an array of federal partnerships (“We’re invigorating the ‘UD’ of HUD”), Kate Mattice, director of policy review and development for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), noted that “the administration is really committed to breaking down silos. Our theme is: when you build it right, you build it right the first time.”
She said, “We recognize that smart investments are the way to leverage local dollars.” She tied federal partnerships in with breaking down policy and statutory barriers: “It’s about coordinating program delivery—and sharing best practices.”
At the federal level, FTA specifically looks at targeted programs for livable communities, she noted, while at the local level, “we’re trying to make it easy for communities to leverage each other’s programs. Are there ways we can make communities think ‘neighborhood to neighborhood’ rather than a housing project here and a transportation project there?”
“We are trying,” Mattice said, “to help communities realize their vision.”
Mitch Warren, senior policy advisor to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, spoke about industry trends and issues, such as how members of the Millennial generation have fundamentally shifted where they live (to cities), and how traffic congestion will only get worse.
Echoing Mattice in terms of breaking down silos that prevent any connecting of the dots, he said: “It’s obvious that increased investment in transportation and transit-oriented development are essential to helping us meet these challenges in the future.”
Warren added: “We can ignore [these challenges] and stick our heads in the sand—or we can ensure that the next Congress is looking at energy, transportation, and housing issues. For our nation’s future, integrating these policies is what we need to do.”
Amy Scarton, counsel to the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, presented a series of rapid-fire questions: “What is livability? How can we define it in a way that allows transit providers and planners to better connect with Congress on this concept? If we are seeking to achieve it, what goals do we benchmark on ourselves to see that we reach it? If we put a definition to livability, does that allow us to be flexible?”
Scarton talked about draft authorization legislation from T&I Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-MN), including how the bill would more than double transit investment. “He wants to make it easier to get more money out the door so you can decide your livability agenda,” she said.
She also focused on whether the concept of livability has overcome partisanship. “Has the livability agenda accomplished a post-partisan stance?” she asked. If that stance has not yet been achieved, she said, there must be some “institutional, lasting reforms put in place now when we have an administration and Congress in favor of livability.”
James Corless, director of Transportation for America, Washington, DC, began with a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Livable Communities 101,” and he proceeded to present some basic elements of such communities. They should, he said, be “walkable, convenient, providing more choices, bottom up rather than top down, come in all shapes and sizes, involve the community and local businesses, and be inviting to a diverse demographic.”
Corless advised using 21st-century technology to illustrate plans. “Don’t do two-dimensional zoning maps,” he said. “If people can see it and how it shapes their future, this process can do so much to help shape their community.”
He quoted a survey from Building America’s Future showing that, “by a significant margin (56 percent), Americans say safer streets should be the primary objective of increased infrastructure investment. And 31 percent wanted more transportation options, with 16 percent of those responders making this a first choice.”
But more needs to be done. “Until we energize people much like Eisenhower did in the 1950s, we’re really going to have a hard time growing our federal transportation investment,” he said.
HDR Engineering Inc. sponsored this session.
Participants in the “Connecting the Dots” session include, from left, Emil Frankel, Kate Mattice, Mitch Warren, Amy Scarton, and James Corless.
Ride for Life: Transit is Essential to Livability and Sustainability
Editor’s note: In May 2010, APTA’s Legislative Committee adopted principles developed by the Intergovernmental Issues Subcommittee relating to livability and sustainability. What follows are excerpts from those principles.
Public transportation provides mobility alternatives so that all members of a community may share access to key destinations and enjoy quality of life benefits. In 2009, people took more than 10.2 billion trips on public transportation, about 34 million trips each weekday.
Access and mobility—this is how transit connects the dots. It creates jobs and gets us to work every day. It contributes to the growth of a strong economy, as every $1 billion investment in public transportation supports 36,000 jobs and generates $4 billion in business activity. It carries us back and forth to school, shopping, community services and leisure activities. It connects key destinations and brings them into the larger community. In so doing, transit makes that larger community more livable and environmentally sustainable.
Therefore, our nation must:
* Place greater emphasis on transit in federal place-based policies and funding, especially as it concerns land-use decision-making that should aim to capitalize on existing transit systems;
* Allow existing transit services to be a priority for state of good repair funding; and
* Conserve and enhance existing transit infrastructure and invest, as appropriate, in expanding transit to improve connectivity and mobility among and between diverse communities.
The complete text of the livability and sustainability document is available online.
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
Ottawa, ON, and Chicago are just two of the North American metropolitan areas whose public transit agencies are discovering that partnerships with their suppliers “have helped us break through” to better, more cost-efficient service—in the words of Alain Mercier, general manager-transit services for OC Transpo/City of Ottawa. Representatives of participating transit agencies and businesses relayed their experiences during a session at the APTA Annual Meeting in San Antonio, TX.
Mercier described how his system worked together with New Flyer and Clever Devices to replace one of the oldest bus fleets in Canada with new, reliable vehicles from New Flyer, equipped with software from Clever Devices.
“The cost of business had been increasing while customer value was falling,” he explained. “We were seeing growth in passenger demand, but it had prevented the agency from meeting the city’s greenhouse gas mitigation goals …. We needed a bus partner that was a technology solution provider, not just a bus manufacturer.”
After discussions with New Flyer about “concepts to integrate maintenance, fleet options, and technology,” Mercier said, OC Transpo opened a new facility and took receipt of the first buses in a 306-vehicle order in September.
Paul Smith, executive vice president, sales and marketing, for New Flyer, noted his surprise at being a full partner in the process rather than just helping the agency explore its options. He listed the various savings from the process: reduced fuel costs; lower engine overhaul costs; reduced future midlife overhaul costs; limited future maintenance costs because of the newer fleet; lower inventory costs; savings associated with improved bus availability and improved vandalism protection; and a better environmental footprint.
John P. Walsh, chief research and strategy officer for Clever Devices, said the concept of “multiple partners, both public and private, working together for a single goal” was unprecedented.
“Usually, each participant in the process is an island of information, providing technology solutions for its own purposes without providing maximum benefit to the transit agency,” Walsh explained. “These missed opportunities limit the opportunities to improve system reliability and provide validated performance metrics. Leveraging technology solutions to benefit both the transit agency and their vehicle providers through a collaborative process can deliver these outcomes for both parties.”
As a result, all partners have access to “true business intelligence and decision support systems that have not been available before,” he said, while the transit agency achieves “measurable, real reductions in operating costs … [and] migration from a reactive, non-predictable, inefficient maintenance model to more efficient, less costly condition-based maintenance.”
Speakers from Chicago provided a different perspective, referring specifically to the replacement of antiquated technology in Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) stations and vehicles and how the authority benefits from the expertise of the manufacturers. Peter Ousley, CTA chief of staff, explained the situation briefly: “As much as we pride ourselves on being able to maintain our buses, we wouldn’t try to build our own buses.”
He listed some of CTA’s innovations, such as allowing the use of contactless credit or debit cards to pay fares rather than relying on dedicated fare media; public-private partnerships to upgrade facilities, such as the $4 million in upgrades needed at the North/Clybourn Station; corporate sponsorships of agency assets through a 502(c)3 corporation; and establishment of the Adopt-A-Station program to promote community support of its local station,
Elizabeth Gallagher, program director with Chicago Transit Partners, reported on the partnership over the past two decades between CTA and her organization, which comprises AECOM and Kenny Construction. “We work as an integrated team,” she said. “CTA has budget constraints and doesn’t want to pay for a management team, so we work with our core team.”
Among other efforts, Chicago Transit Partners lowered the amount of slow zones in the CTA rail system from 23 percent in 2007 to 10 percent in 2010, and oversaw the $529 million capacity expansion on the Brown Line. Its future plans include state of good repair upgrades throughout the system and modernization of 100-year-old structures.
“We want to profit from these efforts, but responsibly,” added CTA’s Ousley. “We want a win-win situation. We’re also interested in the impact on communities. We don’t accept the argument that because we’re in financial crisis we shouldn’t look ahead. These relationships keep us whole and poised to ride the crest of the recovery.”
The Principle Partnering Group LLC sponsored the session.
Speakers at the session on transit agency-business partnerships include, from left, Elizabeth Gallagher, Peter Ousley, John P. Walsh, Paul Smith, and Alain Mercier; moderator Paul P. Skoutelas; and Lolalisa King, representing The Principle Partnering Group.
BY LYNNE T. DEAN, Special to Passenger Transport
Public transportation systems addressing their state of good repair (SGR) needs and matching these policy decisions with a financial commitment can reap important benefits, speakers from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), AECOM, and Halcrow told attendees at a session of the APTA Annual Meeting.
Panelists presented strategies, priorities, and alternative approaches to attain and then maintain SGR. Onala (Tony) M. Atala, associate vice president, system safety and security, for AECOM in Newark, NJ, moderated the session.
Atala said only 30 percent of U.S. public transit systems have reached a state of good repair or better, citing a July 2009 FTA roundtable discussion on the topic. That, he explained, represents the initial challenge: “We have an infrastructure problem in the U.S. that requires $80 billion to catch up, and an estimated $16 billion will be needed annually for the next 20 years [2008 dollars] to achieve and maintain SGR.”
Sean G. Libberton, associate administrator of FTA’s Office of Program Management, listed key issues under review and study through the State of Good Repair Initiative as the form and function of asset management systems; a definition of SGR; financial assistance; and technical assistance. FTA recently funded 152 projects totaling $776 million through its SGR Bus Discretionary Program Awards, he noted, and is working on a Senate-funded report on national and international Transit Asset Management (TAM) best practices slated for presentation to Congress by June 16, 2011.
The current FTA Working Group definition of SGR states: “A transit asset is in a State of Good Repair if its weighted rating score based on four attributes is greater than or equal to 2.5, where the lowest score equals 1 and the highest equals 5.” Attributes include age of the asset relative to its design/useful life, asset condition as determined through field inspections or otherwise (e.g., visible defects, component deterioration), asset performance (e.g., service reliability, customer comforts, safety, meets current industry standards), and backlog of maintenance/deferred maintenance.
Atala stressed that transit agencies must have effective TAM systems in place. Such systems address quality asset data on conditions, needs, progress, and risks; required service and performance levels; critical assets to sustained performance; and decision support tools such as “what if?” analysis. These systems, he explained, also monitor and forecast backlog; provide the best long-term investment mix for customers; and offer an optimal mix of preservation, expansion, and safety investment strategies through cost-benefit analysis.
Yoav Arkin, senior program director, system safety and assurance, with AECOM in Baltimore, noted the integration of Reliability, Availability, Maintainability and Safety (RAMS) as one approach to enhancing SGR.
The benefits of reliability, according to Arkin, include longer equipment operating (“up”) time between failures; improved on-time performance, system availability, and dependability; reduced corrective (unscheduled) maintenance; reduced preventive (scheduled) maintenance; and reduced life cycle operation and maintenance costs.
Using formulas and algorithms, he outlined the impact of availability, maintainability, and safety factors on SGR and concluded by recommending that RAMS requirements be prioritized in contract specifications related to assets.
William Mooney, vice president, high-speed rail, for Halcrow, based in Chicago, reported on training available from the National Transit Institute (NTI). The objectives of NTI’s transit asset management course include defining transit asset management and presenting basic principles; identifying the benefits of transit asset management; and describing FTA policies for asset protection. The course also outlines a process for establishing key performance indicators and introduces strategies to proactively develop and implement an asset management program.
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
Jolene Molitoris, director of Ohio DOT, coined the word “transconomy” to describe how transportation and the economy can only benefit as an inseparable unit when she addressed the General Forum, “Transit and the State DOT Commissioner: The Future is Multimodal,” at the APTA Annual Meeting.
“Transportation contributes to the economy in a way that nothing else does,” she said. “A thriving economy needs good transportation. Transportation and economic competitiveness are intertwined. Our chance for change is here—and we need all of our multimodal partners to seize it.”
Molitoris noted that doing things in new ways can be difficult. “Members of a large organization know what they do well, they have culture and tradition, so for them to evolve is not easy,” she said. “As leaders of the industry, it is our challenge, our opportunity—and, for me, a thrill—to work with the department’s employees and all our partners—planning agencies, local transit agencies, railroads, ports, airports—as partners to create the transportation system that will make this nation second to none.”
She described how Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland convened the 60-member 21st Century Transportation Task Force to help the state determine the future of its transportation operations. “Within a month, the task force members realized something revolutionary: their job isn’t about transportation but about what transportation can produce: revitalization, population growth, development.”
The next step, she said, was to put the task force’s efforts into effect by creating the Ohio Transportation Futures Plan, a statewide, multimodal investment strategy to attract and retain business and grow Ohio’s population. “Every transportation investment we make,” she said, “must show a positive return on investment. Economic and job development are at the top of the list.”
Martin Tuttle, deputy director-planning and modal programs for Caltrans, echoed Molitoris’ emphasis on integrating all modes of transportation across a state. “The future is multimodal; it’s the law in California,” he said. “People realize that, in California, transit is the big game in town.”
Tuttle referred to a state law, which became effective Jan. 1, that requires Caltrans to identify the components of a statewide integrated multimodal transportation system as part of an effort to achieve the maximum feasible greenhouse gas reductions. Transportation professionals across the state, he said, are building on their existing regional transportation and land use plans to create the California Interregional Blueprint, the first statewide effort to integrate modal plans into a single document.
“It’s an exciting time for all of us in the transportation business,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re really working well together. The idea of being multimodal has been talked about way too long; it’s up to the state DOTs to take it forward.”
Michael A. Sanders, transit administrator, transit and ridesharing, for Connecticut DOT, reported on his state’s role in transportation issues. The state operates Connecticut Transit branded services and oversees bus rapid transit between New Britain and Hartford; commuter rail and higher-speed rail serving New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield; and possible infrastructure upgrades for high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor. It has a role in project-specific initiatives.
“Connecticut’s transit districts receive most of their money from us, but we don’t have direct control over policy decisions. We can set general statewide policies and metrics for the local agencies to meet,” he explained. “It dates back to the time when private transit providers were going bankrupt and local governments took over. If local governments didn’t do it, the states did.”
In answer to a question about commuters shifting away from private automobiles and toward public transit, Sanders said: “It may take time for the institutional culture to change, but we can work at the edges to affect the outcome.”
Participants in the session on transit and state DOTs were, from left, Jolene Molitoris, Michael Sanders, and Martin Tuttle.
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
These are tumultuous times for public transportation and the road ahead is uncertain. Representatives from public transit agencies, Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and Congress, as well as vendors, provided varying outlooks on the future during a session titled “State of the Industry—Where Do We Go from Here?” at APTA’s Annual Meeting.
Paul Smith, executive vice president, sales and marketing, for New Flyer, noted that the number of bus bids—and the number of vehicles produced—reached a peak in 2008. “We’re in for tougher times ahead,” he said, adding that the slow economy has meant reduced operating budgets for many public transit systems, which responded by cutting service.
Stanley J. Rosenblum, division vice president for Jacobs, laid out what he considers positive and negative trends affecting public transit. The good news includes market stability resulting from pre-2009 contracts and orders; the availability of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to “keep the pipeline flowing”; and federal policies and programs, such as positive train control and sustainability initiatives, that help drive opportunities in the private sector.
However, Rosenblum continued, there’s a bad side to many of these good efforts. ARRA grants support construction, not planning or design; constrained public budgets may mean delays in contract awards; and resources are becoming scarcer, meaning that less will be left after existing large commitments.
He noted that the industry must become more “agile,” consolidating or realigning its assets as needed to stay active. “We will be stronger and smarter when the upturn comes,” he said.
Phillip A. Washington, general manager of Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD), gave a brief overview of the agency’s comprehensive FasTracks program. This “very aggressive” multimodal effort, funded through a sales tax increase approved by voters in 2004, includes light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, park-and-rides, and renovations to Denver Union Station.
“The problem we’re seeing is a decline in the sales tax in the economic downturn,” Washington said, adding that RTD had hoped to complete FasTracks by 2017. “Right now, there’s a $2 million deficit if we are to complete the program. Our questions are: should we build to the level our revenues can support, or ask for additional money?”
He also noted that RTD is one of three U.S. public transit systems participating in the federal Public-Private Partnership Pilot Program through one component of FasTracks: the commuter rail Eagle P3 project.
“The private sector provides up-front cash and gets paid back later. We could not do this project without the help of the private sector,” Washington said.
Matthew Welbes, FTA executive director, reviewed recent federal efforts including $776 million in State of Good Repair discretionary grants; $50 billion in front-loaded infrastructure funding proposed by President Obama; and the possible establishment of transportation finance pools to offer funding for large projects ($50 million and up), such as Denver Union Station and the San Francisco Transbay Terminal.
An ongoing concern Welbes cited was the proliferation of funding programs: FTA had nine of these programs in 1982 and 33 in 2005. He said FTA is looking for ways to streamline and simplify the grant process.
Joyce Rose, Republican staff director to the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, stressed that this is a “particularly difficult period” for Congress to craft a six-year transportation authorization bill. “The usual payment source is the gas tax,” she explained, “but people are driving less, so we’re taking in less—receipts are going down.” She said she would like to see a more innovative funding structure, noting that private-sector support can provide substantial power behind public funds.
Rose emphasized that T&I Ranking Member John Mica (R-FL) “believes in investing in transit” and is committed to working with Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-MN) to craft, then pass, the authorization bill.
Sharon Greene, president/CEO of Sharon Greene and Associates, Laguna Beach, CA, moderated the session.
Panelists, from left, include Paul Smith, Stanley J. Rosenblum, Phillip A. Washington, Matthew Welbes, and Joyce Rose.
BY LYNNE T. DEAN, Special to Passenger Transport
Cooperation, collaboration, and public involvement top the list of recommended strategies for public transit agencies and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) when both seek to improve livability and sustainability in their regions, according to panelists representing five diverse U.S. regions at a session during the APTA Annual Meeting in San Antonio, TX.
More than 100 people participated in the round-table discussion, led by panelists representing public transportation systems and MPOs from San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Houston, Seattle, and Albany, NY. Four presenters from a variety of backgrounds also contributed to the peer-to-peer exchange.
Working with the development community emerged as a key topic of discussion. In addition to emphasizing the importance of the relationship between the agency-MPO partnerships and developers, panelists acknowledged that one challenge in implementing regional long-range plans is the lack of control over land use and development. The process itself was also mentioned as a significant challenge.
“Getting developers to understand that there is a process that must be followed when you use federal dollars—and that it takes a little longer—is important,” said Kimberly Slaughter, associate vice president, planning, with Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County.
In the host region of San Antonio, the most productive strategies for addressing the challenges of a growing region—increasing ridership and funding—align with those of other panelists and focus primarily on emphasizing public involvement and attracting stakeholder participation. The city also benefits greatly by having a mayor who firmly supports livability and sustainability issues, said Christine Vina, project manager-urban design for VIA Metropolitan Transit.
In Albany, a developer forum is under consideration to bring developers together to talk about issues and ways they can collaborate, according to Sandy Misiewicz, AICP, senior transportation planner with the Capital District Transportation Authority.
And the Seattle region is encouraging developers to have transportation management plans as part of its development planning, said Charlie Howard, transportation planning director of the Puget Sound Regional Council.
In Utah, projects happen because of institutional relationships, according to Andrew S. Gruber, executive director, Wasatch Front Regional Council, Salt Lake City. Transit oriented development is part of the implementation of the regional long-range plan, Envision Utah, and public transit systems have participated in Salt Lake City’s master plan as well as state planning initiatives. “At the end of the day, it’s about partnerships and people,” he explained.
Over the past 10 years, Gruber said, partnerships in Utah have reaped benefits such as seeing ridership reach record levels and continue to grow. He added that partners are also jointly exploring high-speed rail.
Kevin Desmond, general manager of King County Metro Transit Division/DOT in Seattle, noted that successful partnerships include leading and following components. He suggested that MPOs and transit agencies work together to develop guidelines and standards that provide opportunities for investments that lead development and follow ridership growth.
Participants in the session generally concurred that change is the one consistent element in the future of livable and sustainable communities and that regions with energetic, thoughtful people participating in the process will most readily and successfully adapt to that change.
Andrew D. Gruber, center, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council in Salt Lake City, UT, and Michael A. Allegra, general manager of the Utah Transit Authority, speak at the session on transit agency-MPO partnerships. At left is Diana C. Mendes, session moderator and senior vice president with AECOM.
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
Social media—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube—are becoming facts of life that public transportation agencies must now harness, or they run the risk of being left behind. Agency representatives reported on how they use these technologies for outreach and communication purposes as part of a session during the APTA Annual Meeting.
Paulette Tonilas, FasTracks public information manager for the Regional Transportation District (RTD) in Denver, described how she brought together traditional media and new media for the purpose of adding value. FasTracks is the comprehensive RTD program that ultimately will provide 122 miles of new light rail and commuter rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, 31 new park-and-rides, enhanced bus network and transit hubs, and renovations to Denver Union Station.
Because FasTracks is such a vast and many-sided program, Tonilas said, RTD needs to keep the public informed through numerous media. Beginning in 2007, the agency began posting videos about the project on YouTube; created a Facebook page in early 2009; and followed that up with the launch of Facebook and Twitter accounts this year.
“We had to ask ourselves a lot of questions before going live,” she said. “Was our purpose to provide information or encourage interactive communication? What was appropriate for a public agency to post? How should we create guidelines for deleting posted comments or content? What staff resources would be required and what level of commitment? How can we archive posted information?”
RTD established a few basic rules for its social media accounts before going live internally on Feb. 1 and to the general public on March 1. The agency posts something fresh on the Facebook site each day and includes a policy disclaimer regarding the removal of inaccurate or inappropriate information. At the same time, Tonilas acknowledged the support of more than 1,100 Facebook fans—many of whom post “some really amazing shots” of RTD stations—and about 550 Twitter followers.
She laid out the following guidelines:
* Set goals early in the process. Know what you’re doing and why.
* Manage resources effectively. RTD devotes eight hours per week to social media and coordinates efforts every two weeks.
* Reassess activities monthly.
* Learn from those who have come before you .
* Know how to measure your success—for example, count the number of Facebook fans or retweets by Twitter followers.
Chad Saley, public relations specialist with the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) in Salt Lake City, noted that the agency had to overcome its fears before entering the world of social media. He asked: “Are people going to use these tools against us? What’s worth spending our time on?” UTA began feeling more comfortable when it launched a Flickr account to post photos and discovered “a huge society of transit fans already posting UTA photos.”
After UTA introduced its Twitter feed, Saley said, “we were lurkers on the site, watching what people were saying about us.” After receiving a post with questions challenging UTA, “we decided to start responding. Soon we were having conversations about UTA salaries, service, what people saw as the general inconvenience of transit.”
The result? Surprisingly positive, according to Saley. “People started out just angry and mad at us, but we saw a change in their tone. Instead of just criticizing UTA, they began conceding points,” he noted. “A lot of them—who had been regular detractors of us—just stopped posting once they realized there’s a human face behind the agency. One actually said: ‘Thank you UTA for posting back to us.’”
Ultimately, he said, UTA realized that social media—now including Facebook and three blogs—provide many benefits for a transit agency. It’s an opportunity to monitor the conversation, gain customer feedback and opinion, address critics and respond to negative press, disseminate information to the public and traditional media, and provide emergency updates.
Carolyn Young, executive director, communications and technology, for Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet), reported on an incident related to a post by a TriMet bus operator on his blog, “TriMet Confidential.” The poster referenced in graphic terms a bicyclist he said had acted unsafely around his bus.
Other blogs immediately picked up the driver’s post, Young said, and within two hours the operator had been removed from his bus and placed on administrative leave.
The driver subsequently posted an apology, saying: “Let me tell you what I would do if I met this guy right now …. I would tell him… ‘I would never willingly harm you but brother it’s so unfair for you to use me to harm you. If I had been one moment slower on the breaks [sic], I would have never been able to drive a bus again.’” He shut down the blog and did return to work at TriMet, which disciplined him for the incident.
Young stated that “TriMet believes in employees’ right to freedom of expression, online and elsewhere. At the same time, employees should exercise that freedom in a manner consistent with TriMet’s philosophy of transparency, integrity, and mutual respect.”
“You’re on the forefront of a new world,” said Richard L. Ruddell, president/executive director of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority in Fort Worth, TX, who moderated the session. “We all need to learn more about these media.”
Editor's Note: The National Journal's "Expert Blog on Transportation" recently solicited responses from experts heavily involved in public transportation on such issues as funding new passenger rail systems and ensuring that the competing needs of passenger and freight rail are both balanced and met. What follows are excerpts of some of the views presented.
PORTLAND, OR—The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) has promoted Dan Blocher to executive director of capital projects. He will direct and manage all aspects of planning, development, design, and construction of TriMet’s capital projects.
Blocher has been with TriMet for 13 years over two periods of employment and takes over this position from Neil McFarlane, who was promoted to general manager of TriMet.
He joined TriMet in 1995, leading the project control, cost analysis, and contract management functions of capital projects; he became senior director of capital projects in 2002. He left the agency for two years in 2000 to be the program change control manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff in London.
John Murphy, Neil Lucey, Eugene J. Kim, Will Willson
NEW YORK, NY—Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) announced the following hirings:
John Murphy, the new chief financial officer, comes to PB after serving as vice president of Irving Transportation Services in Canada.
Murphy has more than 25 years of financial and senior management experience, including 14 years working with major engineering contractors and their domestic and international operations.
Neil Lucey has been named a senior vice president in the firm’s New York City office. He will serve as area manager for that office, responsible for client management and project performance of all New York operations.
Lucey has nearly 40 years of experience in planning, design and construction for infrastructure projects and programs. Prior to joining PB, he served as a senior vice president for a consulting engineering company.
Eugene J. Kim has been named vice president in the Los Angeles office of PB, managing the company’s Los Angeles transportation planning practice. Kim has more than 15 years of experience in strategic planning, program implementation, and transportation system design.
Will Willson has been named a risk manager with PB’s Geotechnical and Tunneling Technical Excellence Center in Princeton, NJ.
He is an industry leader in risk assessment, risk analysis, and risk management, serving recently as an associate principal with Davis Langdon and a senior vice president with Faithful & Gould.