“We operate in a really wide variety of places: urban, rural, all over the country,” Thomas says. “I think that if you’re a good, solid organization, I think if you’re committed to your employees that they will find you and they will stay with you.” He adds, “People come to work for us because they share a passion for the business, but they stay because we’re a good organization that treats its people well.”
Tom Irvin, a director of operations in the Transportation Management division of First Transit echoes what Thomas says. “I’ve been in the industry for 30 years, with various competitors and with First Transit the last two years. It’s a dynamic, growing, well-lead organization with a loyalty to its employees.” He emphasizes, “That goes both ways; they take care of us and we take care of the company.”
The People of First Transit
“We are a diverse organization with a lot of different people with a large knowledge base,” says Thomas. “We’re able to draw from that and so we are able to be responsive to our clients and their need, no matter what they are looking for.”
That opportunity to get involved in a host of different types of transportation outside of the traditional fixed-route and paratransit offers many resources. Drawing on that experience allows them to share that with their other customers and opens up opportunities and the freedom to do anything.
“A key pillar of First Transit’s business model is what we call “the power of a network,” explains Dave Lee, general manager of CTTransit and an area vice president for First Transit.
“While no individual manager has all the answers, the collective expertise of First Transit personnel throughout the country can offer answers to most questions and solutions to most problems.”
This close connection to others in the country is one thing many First Transit employees mention. Norman Schenck, director of paratransit with Sun Metro LIFT shares his experience. “I’ve done it both ways, worked at two properties where I worked for great cities and organizations, but when it came time to finding creative solutions to challenges, I may have had some resources, like TCRP reports, but I didn’t have a person I could contact and get more information, someone I knew because I spent time with them at our annual meetings or at other corporate training events like First Transit University.”
He continues, “We have a bulletin board called First Family and that is what working for this company is like. We celebrate and learn together like a big family, drawing on expertise of our more experienced members.”
Sioux Area Metro General Manager Karen Walton explains it well, “There is no such thing as reinventing perfectly working wheels with this company. Somewhere, someone has already faced that issue and everyone is always willing to share.”
Lee explains First Transit’s resources further. “All First Transit managers can access an Intranet site where we upload copies of bid specifications, policies and procedures, training materials and operational plans. All managers are also linked in an email network that allows rapid response for information sharing and problem-solving.
“First Transit managers understand they are expected to use the network — as a value-added service for their customers, as a tool to support their own operations and to share experience with their colleagues.”
Walton talks further about the benefit of the network. “Being part of First Transit is invaluable if you have questions or problems. You email your issue to First Request and within 48 hours, First Transit-run agencies from all over the U.S. are giving you words of advice or are supplying you with copies of their policies or specifications.”
Director of Operations in the Transportation Management Division, Tom Irvin also explains how the large, national network helps. “There are more than 230 different transit locations; I’m getting ideas, samples, policies and I can choose what will work best for me.”
Dennis Jensen, general manager at Duluth Transit Authority and an area vice president of First Transit shares how this network improves their performance. “When you have a large, related group of transit operations, all using the same key performance indicators and monitoring a national bulletin board, there is a certain degree of competitiveness that develops.” He continues, “This competition definitely works to improve our performance in all areas of the operation and we like to be recognized as a high-performing system among our peers.”