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Smaller Agencies Share Challenges, Successes

Chief executives of smaller public transit agencies discussed the unique challenges they face—such as increasing efficiency on a limited budget, reaching out to stakeholders in their communities, and meeting the disparate needs of specific areas—at an Annual Meeting session titled “Leading the Way: Small Operations Best Practices and Innovative Solutions.”

“You can never build enough political capital,” Andrew J. Johnson, general manager of Connect Transit in Normal, IL, said about his agency’s recent complete route redesign. Implementation of the new route system followed an 18-month planning process and more than 100 public meetings.

Johnson, also a member of the APTA Board of Directors and chair of the Small Operations Committee, said the purpose of the route overhaul was to improve the efficiency of the system by making the routes more direct. The new routes provide 97 percent of previous coverage while operating every 10-15 minutes at peak hours.

He also recommended that public transit agencies develop positive relationships with local media and reach out to make front-line employees part of the process.

David Cangany, general manager and chief executive officer, South Bend Public Transportation Corporation (Transpo), South Bend, IN, reported on how his agency leveraged strategic partnerships to yield more than $8 million in capital improvements. Transpo converted its fleet to CNG, received a grant toward the cost of a fueling center and then worked with its MPO to receive the remaining funds.

Paul E. Davis, general manager and chief executive officer, Tri-State Transit Authority (TTA), Huntington, WV, described the challenges of operating a public transit system in a district that covers counties in three states (West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio), three FTA regions and two MPOs. He explained that Huntington did not expect to be federally designated as a Transportation Management Area, but it was. 

Davis said each MPO, state and county has its own requirements, and TTA has to work closely with each one and build cooperation among them to achieve its goals.

Kimberly A. Dunham, executive director, Greater New Haven Transit ­District, Hamden, CT, spoke about her agency’s implementation of strategic change. The transit district provides paratransit services to Connecticut Transit.

She listed ways she needed to stream­line operations: the internal and external communications staffs were in separate silos and didn’t talk to each other, not every department could access all the information it needed and the system was not meeting its core service applications.

The agency has turned around, she said, by emphasizing customer service and finding ways to save money (such as investing in minivans that can operate in places regular paratransit vehicles cannot). Dunham’s efforts include forging a team from internal and external stakeholders, implementing software innovations and building camaraderie.

Louwana S. Oliva, general manager, Centre Area Transportation Authority, State College, PA, and vice chair, Human Resources Committee, moderated the session. 

Panelists at the “Leading the Way” session, from left: Andrew Johnson, Connect Transit; David Cangany, South Bend Public Transportation Corporation; Paul Davis, Tri-State Transit Authority; and Kimberly Dunham, Greater New Haven Transit District.

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