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In 'Season of Giving,' Public Transit Gives Back; Food Drives, Vehicle Donations, Community Events

Senior Editor

As Thanksgiving approaches, signaling a start to the holiday season, public transportation agencies are ­giving back to their communities by donating retired vehicles to first responders and nonprofit organizations, collecting food and household items for area residents in need and hosting toy drives and community events.

Here are a few examples.

New Life for Old Vehicles
The Greater Dayton (OH) Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) recently donated retired vehicles from their fleets for use in training by first responders and security personnel.

RTA donated 21 retired vehicles, 11 fixed-route buses and 10 paratransit vehicles, to a nonprofit organization called Crash Course Village where fire and rescue teams can undergo hands-on extrication training. Emergency first responders—firefighters, paramedics and EMTs—come from all over the U.S. and other countries to learn stabilization, extrication and rescue techniques by working on the vehicles.

“We hope they never have to use these skills,” said Crash Course Village Administrator Phil ­Sinewe, a retired fire department shift commander and coordinator of the training. “But if our students are ever faced with the critical job of rescue in a heavy equipment or bus ­situation, they will know exactly how to use the equipment to save these people,” he said.

In San Diego, two of MTS’s original light rail vehicles from Siemens were cut in half, hoisted by crane and strapped down to flatbed trucks for the 1,300-mile trip to the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program in San Antonio. The vehicles had traveled 2.5 million miles in their 35 years of service, transporting approximately nine million passengers since 1981.

“These cars were the workhorses of our system since the inception of our light rail system,” said MTS Chief Executive Officer Paul Jablonski. “It is satisfying to see that their life has been extended and will play a role in keeping transit system patrons safe throughout the United States.”

All TSA-trained canine teams attend the 10-week training at Lackland Air Force Base. The dogs are trained to detect explosive devices at public transit facilities and on board all types of vehicles. The MTS cars will provide the dogs a real-life environment in which to train.

Other agencies donate their retired vehicles to community organizations that will continue to operate them.

The Riverside (CA) Transit Agency (RTA) donated a 38-passenger Chevrolet vehicle to the Boys and Girls Club of Menifee Valley, which transports dozens of children to and from educational and cultural events throughout the region. The club has 1,500 members and about 300 children attend its after-school programs.

The vehicle exceeded its recommended service life and was no longer capable of staying in RTA’s active fleet, the agency explained, but it remains in good condition and can accommodate two wheelchairs.

Community Transit, ­Snohomish County, WA, recently presented 12 retired vanpool vans to nonprofit organizations supporting foster children, the homeless, disabled veterans and other specialized populations through its Van GO program, which has awarded 126 vehicles to organizations since 2000. Each vehicle can carry seven passengers; agency officials say each has been driven approximately 100,000 miles on average.

Reaching Out to the Community
Here are a few of the numerous public transit agencies scheduling food collection drives and other activities in conjunction with the holidays.

The Minnesota Valley Transit ­Authority, Burnsville, MN, invites riders, drivers, staff and other community members to participate in its Stuff the Bus campaign, which begins Nov. 28. Donors can bring food and personal items to public transit stations throughout the service area to help local food banks meet the needs of the holiday season.

The San Joaquin Regional ­Transit District, Stockton, CA, held its 18th annual Stuff the Bus food and coat drive the weekend before Thanks­giving, working with the Greater Yosemite Council Boy Scouts and other public transit systems to support food banks and other nonprofit agencies in San ­Joaquin County.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) bus operators and police officers will collect donations of adult socks, blankets, canned food and unwrapped toys at a Dec. 2 event sponsored by a radio station. Two DART employee campaigns, “Santa Cops” and “Comforting of the Souls,” benefit as donors fill a 40-foot bus with donations to area nursing homes and families in need.

Connect Transit in Normal, IL, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 752 will co-host their 14th annual Stuff-the-Bus event beginning Nov. 28 to benefit the Children’s Home + Aid and Crisis Nursery.

Riverside’s RTA has joined with Operation Safe House for their eighth annual Stuff the Bus event, which aims to fill buses to capacity with donated nonperishable food, linens, toiletries and other items for the nonprofit group that helps at-risk and in-crisis youth at emergency shelters and transitional living programs. Donors contributed more than 10,000 items last year, ranging from brooms and brushes to dish soap and shaving cream.

DART First State collected nonperishable food items and household products in time for Thanksgiving through its 19th annual “Stuff the Bus” drive at ­locations throughout Delaware.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid ­Transit Authority (MARTA) is giving back to its community by hosting showings of classic cartoons and live performances of “Charlotte’s Web” at two of the four stations that already host fresh food markets. MARTA is partnering with Serenbe Playhouse and Serenbe Film, local companies that provide immersive artistic performances, to incorporate family-friendly programming into the public transit experience.

Greater Dayton RTA is thanking the Dayton community for its support by providing free rides all day Thanksgiving Day on all services, including paratransit. Buses will provide service to Dayton’s Feast of Giving Dinner, a free event to bring together people who might otherwise be alone on the holiday.

A retired Greater Dayton RTA bus helps firefighters at Crash Course Village learn stabilization, extrication and rescue techniques.

One of San Diego MTS's original light rail vehicles--cut in half--was lifted onto a flatbed truck before being taken to San Antonio for use at a TSA facility to train explosives-detecting dogs.

Members of Young Life Capernaum Snohomish County, a support organization for people ages 15-26 with physical or mental disabilities, settle into their new van awarded by Community Transit through its Van GO program.

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