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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis May 18, 2012
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Closing Session: Innovation Helps Agencies Survive in Tough Economic Times
BY JOHN CRANDALL, For Passenger Transport

During the May 9 closing session of the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference, five public transit professionals shared the innovative ideas that have helped their organizations survive, and even thrive, in the current recession.

Angela Iannuzziello, first vice chair, APTA Business Member Board of Governors, and vice chair, APTA Mobility Management Committee, moderated the session, “New Business Models for the Transit Industry,” which capped the conference at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center.

“Today you’re going to hear from our panelists about what is going on in the industry that is truly out of the box thinking and doing,” Iannuzziello said.

For Stanley G. Feinsod, chair, APTA High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Legislative Subcommittee; co-chair, APTA Commuter & Intercity Rail Subcommittee; senior business development advisor, RAPT Dev America; and principal, Stan Feinsod-Passenger Rail Consultant, the new business model that could change the public transportation world is already happening in the United Kingdom.

According to Feinsod, when it comes to operating buses in the U.K., Transport for London (TfL)—the local governing body that provides public transportation for much of the nation’s capital—has a “completely disaggregated model” under which private companies own the buses. With this system, TfL allows the private sector to bid for individual bus routes, and companies can make more or less money depending on their performance.

“The goal is to serve the public in the most cost-effective, high-quality way, using competition to drive for quality and cost management,” he explained.

Joyce C. Gallagher, vice president and general manager, bus operations, New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit), cited the “Scorecard Initiative”—a quarterly report card that provides the public and agency officials with a system of metrics, allowing them to gauge the organization’s performance—as the innovation that has helped NJ Transit increase its efficiency. As Gallagher said, an efficient business is a healthy business.

“We believe at New Jersey Transit that, to provide good public transit, we have to provide a healthy business,” Gallagher said. “A quarterly report card sets corporate-wide standards of accountability and transparency for the public.”

Matthew O. Tucker, chair, APTA Safety Coordinating Committee, and executive director, North County Transit District (NCTD), Oceanside, CA, described how—despite facing an $80 million budget shortfall over a five-year period—the NCTD found a solution: privatization.

“We were able to enter into an agreement with First Transit that has allowed us to achieve significant financial stability,” Tucker said. ”Annually, we will save $10 million as a result of privatization.”

For Carter Pate, chief executive officer, MV Transportation, Fairfield, CA, having the latest technology for “computer telephonic integration” is one of the ways his firm has been able to thrive. “The big idea,” he said, “is: ‘How can we improve customer service and bring it down to a cost that is attractive to everyone?’”

Pate reported that MV’s new computer system has reduced call time at call centers—where riders request bus information—to a low of 2 minutes and 17 seconds. He added that this effort isn’t finished: he hopes to get the call time down to 1 minute and 30 seconds.

“The savings are dramatic,” Pate said.

Another benefit of the new system, according to Pate, is that it can even match the accent of the caller to a phone support technician who has a similar accent.

For the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County in Reno, NV, the process is all about creating performance partnerships and shared services arrangements, said Chief Executive Officer Lee Gibson, co-chair, APTA Metropolitan Planning Subcommittee.

“The bottom line of this has been [that] we have helped the local government—again, who are our partners—save money,” Gibson said. “We’ve created enhanced planning tools and planning framework. Nothing builds financial stability better than customer service.”

After the presentation, panelists answered questions from the audience.

“The final session was fascinating to me,” said attendee Christopher E. Wallgren, vice president, Transportation Resource Association. “It gives me a lot of hope that transit is moving in the right direction. I think the folks who were up there presented some great ideas.”


Panelists at the Closing General Session were, from left, Stanley G. Feinsod, Lee Gibson, Joyce C. Gallagher, Carter Pate, Matthew O. Tucker, and Angela Iannuzziello, moderator.


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