Industry Forum

Anaheim, Calif.
Orange County Transportation Authority

For the seventh consecutive year, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is teaming up with a local TV news station and generous community members to bring cheer and good fortune to those in need by stuffing buses to capacity with donated toys.

Held the week before Christmas, the annual Stuff-A-Bus toy drive collects toys that are distributed to children throughout Orange County through the Spark of Love effort.

“The generosity of the public is inspiring, even during this tough economy,” says OCTA CEO Will Kempton. “It is a tradition for many families to come and donate toys and it’s a rewarding experience to engage the community in such a wonderful cause.”

Hours before dawn, donors begin dropping off toys — some with a few and others with truckloads — and local ABC7 news is on-site to greet the public and broadcast live throughout the day.

The event, also sponsored by Honda Center and the Anaheim Ducks, draws hundreds of individuals and groups. There are young children who want to hop on the bus and drop off a single toy, a group of a dozen or more motorcycle riders that roll in with toys, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department equestrian team that parades through Honda Center parking lot with each rider carrying a sack of toys and even a local tribal casino that packed a bus of its own and then unloaded it to fill an OCTA bus.

“Seeing so many people come out to help kids who may otherwise not have a joyful holiday gives a whole new meaning to the season,” says Brian Reichert, a recently retired OCTA coach operator who played Santa Claus during the event. “It is something I looked forward to every year and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to be a part of it to bring so much cheer to those who need it.”

The amount of toys collected continues to grow each year. Last year, two 60-foot, 22-ton OCTA articulated buses and three 40-foot buses were filled with more than 15,000 toys. Hopes are high to beat that in 2010.

The Spark of Love is sponsored by firefighters from throughout Southern California and has been collecting and distributing toys for the past 16 years. Each year, ABC7 partners with local transit agencies to host similar events throughout the holiday season to collect toys for the program.

Schaumburg, Ill.
Motor Coach Industries

Stuffed with snacks, videos, motorcycle magazines and more, holiday gift boxes were mailed to overseas troops by workers at Motor Coach Industries, the nation’s leading builder of intercity coaches, headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill. This was the second MCI Support our Troops drive held during the year. MCI’s August Soldier Adoption Event included a similar effort that collected specific items such as toiletries, sewing kits and boot socks along with other items on soldiers’ wish lists.

“Since our first event went so well, we wanted to do more, especially during the holidays, since troops are so far from home,” says Pamela Lawrence, senior administrative assistant.
As with its initial event, MCI reached out to coworkers to be sure their family members or friends serving overseas would get a holiday care-package sent to them, too. All together, MCI shipped more than a hundred boxes filled to the gills with all sorts of goodies.

“Our troops work hard for us overseas,” says Bonnie Kroll, customer solutions support specialist. “These care packages are a sign of our gratitude and will hopefully brighten their day.”

Thousand Palms, Calif.
SunLine Transit Agency

The holiday season — a time to celebrate successes, spend quality time with family and friends and to reach out to those in the community who are in need.

As a public transit agency, it is SunLine Transit Agency’s mission to provide the community with safe, reliable transportation. When there is an opportunity to go beyond that responsibility to serve the community in other capacities, we jump on it. Four years ago, SunLine initiated its annual holiday “Fill-the-Bus” food drive benefiting charity organizations with non-perishable food and other essential items for families in need. With the effects of the economy hitting many families of the Coachella Valley hard, the food drive has become crucial to charity organizations that have struggled with acquiring donations and have experienced an increase in demand for service. Last year in the eye of the storm, we found that the spirit of giving and compassion is alive and well. With buses stationed at grocery stores throughout the Valley, SunLine staff encourages people to donate what they can. Each year the generosity demonstrated by the community far exceeds expectations. Children standing in line to board the bus to share their donation with those less fortunate; those who appear to be in need themselves, giving that one can of food to those who have less. The pride in “giving” is felt by all who contribute, as well as SunLine employees and the volunteers from recipient organizations.

At SunLine, each employee is viewed as part of a team, an “investor” to the success of the agency. As the end of the year approaches and in the spirit of “Thanksgiving” and reflection, SunLine hosts employee events throughout the holiday season. The Maintenance Department holds a yearly Thanksgiving potluck and dessert contest. The employees bring in family favorite holiday dishes; and the dessert contest is fierce! The bottom line — all employees take time out of their busy schedules to share a festive meal and give thanks for their many blessings!

In addition, the agency hosts a holiday gala to show its appreciation for the contribution of each employee to the agency and to residents and visitors of the Coachella Valley. The event is a time for all employees, as well as SunLine board members, to enjoy great food, celebrate the agency’s accomplishments and to kick off their shoes and dance the night away!

The SunLine family looks to the new year with continued hope to accomplish its goals, which includes providing service in many forms to the Coachella Valley.

San Antonio, Texas
VIA Metropolitan Transit

Workers at VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio have been using their own money to spread holiday tidings across the Alamo City since 1995. That’s the year they first started the Blue Jeans for Needy Families program.

The program is a volunteer effort that encourages employees to wear jeans on Fridays in exchange for a one-dollar donation to the Blue Jeans fund. The proceeds generated by the employees are then used to benefit many charities in the greater metropolitan area through such annual activities as an Easter basket delivery and a back-to-school shopping trip for disadvantaged children. But the first successful venture to develop out of the Blue Jeans program was the delivery of holiday gift bags.

In December 1995, donations to the Blue Jeans fund were used to purchase food gift certificates for 12 families across the city. The United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County provided the family profiles to the VIA liaison, and representatives from all departments at the agency also collected non-perishable foods, clothing, toys and other gifts. Then the VIA employees delivered the bags of goods to the families identified by the United Way.

Since then VIA employees have expanded their outreach during the holiday season, and through the years the Blue Jeans fund has been used to provide gift bags and cards to hundreds of needy children, disabled adults, hospitalized veterans and single parents.

In addition to the gifts passed out around Christmastime, the Blue Jeans fund also pays for the annual Easter Basket project. Each spring, VIA employees donate eggs, candy, stuffed animals and other items appropriate for Easter baskets. The employees then assemble the baskets and pass them out to children in need of assistance.

VIA employees also help children when it is time to go back to school. Each summer, VIA joins with Communities in Schools, an educational empowerment organization, to select local children that need help obtaining school supplies. The chosen children are taken to a local Target store by VIA employees, who then assist them in buying school supplies that are paid for by the program. Through the Blue Jeans for Needy Families program, VIA employees can assist charities in the greater metropolitan area. The workers themselves benefit from improved morale resulting from good deeds, and VIA itself gains a good reputation in the community. All this is had for the price of a one-dollar donation each Friday.

Santa Monica, Calif.
The Big Blue Bus

Every year, Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus employees look forward to putting on their “holiday best,” not only to benefit the community at large, but also to celebrate the contributions made throughout the year by fellow co-workers.

Something everyone eagerly looks forward to right after Thanksgiving is our annual holiday bus wrap, which has signaled the start of the holiday season in the community since the 1950s. Once a year, we bend our own policy and allow a full holiday bus wrap to be done, which we then send out on its merry way along a different route each day, acting as a sort of giant, moving greeting card. Recent themes have included whimsical dancing snowmen, ice-skating penguins and reindeers playing instruments in the windows. Many families tell us they try to get a picture taken every year in front of the holiday bus, or at least try to catch a ride on it, which then becomes part of their own family tradition for the holidays.

The employees of the city of Santa Monica also start gearing up in late November for the annual FOOD FIGHT food drive, which for the past 10 years has become an increasingly fierce competition between city departments, lead by the Big Blue Bus, to see who can donate the most food. I’m happy to report that the Big Blue Bus team has come in first for most of the past decade, collecting, along with other departments, a total of more than 43,000 pounds of food last year alone. This represented the largest donation of food the service agency received from a single source.

December marks our safety awards presentation, which gives our employees an extra reason to be proud for all their hard work during the year. This special event, which recognizes driver and maintenance safety records, honors five outstanding employees with Vision Awards for innovation, leadership, community service, integrity and continuous improvement.

The Vision Awards are an important way to recognize individuals who really live the values and behaviors of the Big Blue Bus. The highlight of the event is the famous maintenance department BBQ, which gives everyone a chance to relax and catch up with co-workers. Judging by the pictures taken every year, the camaraderie shared at this event by employees is enough to put a happy holiday smile on just about anyone’s face, including the Grinch’s!

Duluth, Minn.
Duluth Transit Authority

The holiday season starts early at the Duluth Transit Authority, with the first major employee event being the free community-wide Thanksgiving Day Dinner provided by the College of
St. Scholastica to more than 2,500 area residents. Transportation to the event from senior centers and shelters is organized and provided by DTA employees who volunteer their time.

Following closely on the Thanksgiving Day volunteer services, the DTA participates in the annual “Christmas City of the North” parade. In cooperation with the Greater Downtown Council throughout the holiday season, the DTA provides a free downtown trolley shuttle service called the “George Baily Express” as a shopping promotion. The major employee holiday event at the DTA is the “Toys for Tots” fundraiser. The fundraiser is an element of the DTA Driver’s and Mechanics Annual Holiday Party organized and hosted by union and management employees. Through donations and raffles at this event, DTA employees donate toys and cash to the local charities for distribution to the children of needy families.

Cincinnati, Ohio
Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority

What says holiday cheer more than a decorated bus or a Holly Jolly trolley? Cincinnati Metro uses holiday opportunities to promote transit’s value to the community by offering a downtown circulator trolley, participating in charitable events and allowing bus drivers to decorate buses to delight their customers.

The Trolley Tradition
Metro’s Holly Jolly Downtown Trolley showcases the seasonal magic of Cincinnati through the windows of an old-style trolley. The festive weekend circulator has provided free rides, courtesy of downtown business sponsors, for several years.

The trolley route connects many of Cincinnati’s holiday events and attractions including ice skating at Fountain Square, theaters, museums, the historic Duke Energy train display, and shopping on Fourth and Fifth streets — all lit up for the holidays. For many, riding on the Holly Jolly Downtown Trolley has become a downtown holiday tradition in its own right.

Decking the Halls … on a Bus
A carol-rapping dog, a Christmas tree on the farebox, battery-operated lights, candy canes, holiday decals on windows, reindeer ornaments — these are what makes Metro bus operator Orlando King’s bus special during the holidays.

King has worked at Metro since June 1992. Since the mid-1990s, he has added decorations to his bus each morning before starting his routes during the holidays.
“I have decorations that I’ve picked up over the years. I think it can really change people’s attitude. It brightens their day and makes them feel good. Kids get a kick out of it. I see a lot of smiles when I decorate,” King says. “It makes me feel good to make my riders feel good.”

Holiday Help for Those in Need
For most of his 20-year career, Metro Marketing Director Dave Etienne has led food, coats, mitten or even sock drives for the underprivileged in the community, encouraging employees and customers to participate.

In 2010, Metro is partnering with a local radio station to support Cincinnati’s FreestoreFoodbank in collecting non-perishable food items for those in need.

“The holidays are the perfect time of year to do things for others,” says Etienne. “We provide a service to the community every day — but the holidays are when we try to do something special for those who need it most. Our efforts also showcase Metro’s role in the community and are our way of giving back.”

Riverside, Calif.
Complete Coach Works

Having our roots as a small family operated start-up more than 25 years ago means that the holiday season is a very family oriented and special time of year for Complete Coach Works, and even though the little family business now includes more than 200 employees, Dale Carson, founder and president of Complete Coach Works and his family still make sure each and every one of the extended family of 200-plus feel special during the holidays. From personally handing out more than 200 turkeys and shaking everyone’s hand with a heartfelt “Thanks” at Thanksgiving, to hosting a Christmas luncheon for everyone including, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons and yes grandkids, Dale and his family want to make sure the holidays are special for everyone. Every year the luncheon is made extra special for the children with a special visit from Santa, and on their way home after the party everyone gets a personalized gift package, a ham for their holiday meals and another hand shake and a warm “THANKS for your hard work” from Dale.

And to make sure the holiday spirit of giving and sharing are spread throughout the community there are always extra hams and turkeys for the local kitchens serving holiday meals to those less fortunate. The holidays are indeed a special time at Complete Coach Works

Montréal, Québec
Société de transport de Montréal (STM)

The 2010 holiday season for STM employees: contributions and kudos

At the STM, the holiday period is an opportunity for celebrating and becoming involved in the community. This year, employees have a particular reason to celebrate as, thanks to their efforts and support, the STM was awarded the title of Outstanding Public Transport System in North America for 2010 by the American Public Transport Association (APTA).

All employees will be invited to celebrate together on Dec. 9 at a local theatre reserved for the occasion. The occasions to gather people from every corner of this great company under the same roof are few and far between. It is an ideal opportunity to create synergy among the teams who have few occasions to meet with each other during the year.

The holidays also provide an excellent opportunity for management to convey a message to employees. Considering the recently received honors, one can already imagine the tone of pride that will infuse the message published in the STM’s internal newspaper and distributed to all.

The year-end festivities make us pay particular attention to the needs of the members of our communities for the basic necessities. Many families find themselves destitute during this critical period. The STM wants to be involved in the aid provided to these underprivileged fellow citizens. As well, it organizes its own campaign to collect donations from its clientele.

The money collected is used to provide foodstuffs for families identified by social organizations that have a link with various teams at the STM. The success of this fundraising, which takes place at strategic locations in the STM’s network, will be determined by volunteer employees who will solicit funds on site from passing transit users.

The food purchased will then be delivered to target clients a few days before Christmas by volunteer employees who will once again be donating a few hours of their personal time. Lacking reindeer, the STM will lend them buses to accomplish a major part of Santa’s work and thus give him a serious helping hand as well!

Seattle, Wash.
Sound Transit

Sound Transit employees are some of the most generous, open-hearted people I know. I’m always delighted to hear about our staff’s year-round volunteer efforts in charitable giving and events including the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. At the holiday season, one special project boosts our employees’ holiday spirits and makes a huge difference close to home.

Sound Transit headquarters are located in historic Union Station in Seattle’s International District. This neighborhood’s residents are among the city’s poorest. People served by the International District Housing Alliance (IDHA), which provides housing and community-building services, have average incomes of $600 per month. Most of those served are low-income senior citizens, many from minority populations, along with some families with children. They live very modestly in this neighborhood of historic buildings constructed a century ago to house immigrants from China, Japan and the Philippines.

Each fall the IDHA asks its residents what they need most. Their responses are very basic; most request a warm winter coat or blanket. Teens in the IDHA youth program then design and build a festive display for Union Station featuring gift tags that include a resident’s age, gender and gift request.

Sound Transit employees select tags, then shop and return to work with unwrapped gifts, tags attached. Staff is always generous, and each year we fulfill every one of the 100 to 150 gift requests. Knitters here make extra hats, scarves and mittens as bonus gifts to bring extra warmth and smiles.

In mid-December, employees are invited to volunteer their lunch hour to help wrap gifts at the nearby IDHA offices, and to come back during lunch to help deliver those gifts. Interpreters accompany the gift-giving team to help relay season’s greetings to recipients who don’t speak English. This project provides a unique opportunity for our employees to visit our neighbors and to give back to the community where we spend our working days.

Grand Rapids, Mich.
The Rapid

Like many agencies, The Rapid has looked at ways to reduce expenses over the past several years. As part of that effort, we eliminated our winter awards banquet, which also served as our employee holiday party, after holding it for many years. We’ve replaced the banquet with more cost-effective, scaled down events that still provide all our employees with a sense of camaraderie and celebration.

We hold an all employee potluck in mid-December. The Rapid provides the main dishes, usually ham and roasted turkey, paper products and utensils and the employees do the rest.

And what a job they do — the potluck brings out tables of fabulous food, including temping desserts from a bus operator who is also a professional baker. Because we are a smaller agency, most employees are able to participate, but we make arrangements for our second and third shift mechanics and others whose work schedules preclude them from participating.

We also select a local charity each year and encourage employees to make a donation. We assist in the collection and delivery of the donations, which in the past have benefited Toys for Tots, a local veterans’ home and the Salvation Army. Providing an easy way for employees to give back to the community and to remember those that are less fortunate reminds us of the true spirit of the holidays.

Finally, we have a year-round wellness initiative to promote healthy eating choices, encourage exercise and help employees quit smoking. During the holidays, we focus on how to provide healthier alternatives for holiday meals and treats, strategies to avoid weight gain during the holidays and ways to cope with the stress that can sometimes be a problem around this time of year.

San Francisco, Calif.
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA)

The SFMTA begins the holiday season with its annual toy drive. Started by the agency’s traffic enforcement division in 1997 to share some of the joy of the season with children from low-income families who are cared for through the San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) Volunteer Center and the SFGH Community Health Centers. Last year the SFMTA mobilized 15 collection locations and donated 630 new, unwrapped toys.

For the past 28 years, the operators and mechanics of San Francisco’s most recognizable icon, the cable car, have celebrated the season with San Francisco’s seniors by hosting a holiday lunch. The Cable Car Holiday Seniors Lunch, prepared and served by SFMTA cable car staff, provides a warm, festive holiday meal for seniors from throughout the city. The Cable Car Division employees organize and prepare the lunch with the help of several generous local businesses.

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Industry Forum goes to the front lines of the transit industry to get feed-back on different topics relevant to passenger transportation — and we want to hear from you! If you have an idea for discussion or would like to voice your opinion, please contact Leah Harnack at 262.391.8770 or via email at