The biggest cost involved with CNG is maintaining the fueling station. Ida again attributes a good vendor relationship. “Luckily we have a very good vendor on board that we work closely with — NGS.” He stresses, “It’s those relationships that help you get through those tough times.
“We have a very good relationship with the AQD. We constantly go after any kind of grant money that we can and fund a lot of the vehicles that way.
“It’s been a blessing for us,” he adds. “I think that every transit property would tell you that when the gas prices just went through the roof, many of them had to cut service. We lucked out. We really were able to maintain status quo, of course, because the CNG did not go up as gas prices did.”
Five years ago the agency was in the process of procuring and implementing an AVL system with ACS, or at the time, Orbital. Ida says when they started the project others were questioning why they would undertake such an endeavor.
He says, “Everybody was saying, ‘God you’re too small, you’re not going to be able to do it, I mean why would you, you’re not going to be able to do this.’” He states, “For me, it’s like let’s remove the barriers and say how can we get this on board.” After setting down a plan and moving forward, they got it going.
“Today it’s up and running and it’s running really well,” Ida confirms. “We’re utilizing it — not fully yet — but we are definitely seeing the benefits from it.
“One of the biggest areas is getting the security cameras up; there’s no more disputing what’s happening out on the street — positive or negative,” he says. “The other part of it is it’s giving us a sense of the counts on our stops.
“We’re seeing the stops that are not so productive and we’re hoping to eventually, to start using that data to start revamping some of our services that have been there for a long time.” He admits with a laugh, “This company started in 1928 and I can tell you, there are probably some of the routes that are out there today that were out there in 1928.”
Ida affirms that with the data they have now, they can look at the routes and make adjustments to fit the changing needs of the community. “Culver City itself is kind of renovating the downtown area to make it more a restaurant row and bringing a lot of people in. Maybe it’s time for me to rethink how we’re doing things.”
In LA County, there’s a regulation in the funding rules and it’s based on a formula and for years, the formula basically punished agencies for raising fares, Ida explains. If you raised your fare, you got a little more fare revenue but you would get knocked on the grant revenue.
“About a year and a half ago, the municipal operators within LA County got together with Metro and changed that rule so you don’t get harmed if you raise your fares,” Ida says. “That’s a big thing for us because we’re finally being able to at least come up to a certain fare level to offset our costs.” He adds, “We haven’t raised our fares since 2001 but I still anticipate a line of people not very happy with me.”
And working in an area with 15 other agencies, there’s a lot of communication to work together. “You work very closely with each other and you have to,” he says. “If we put a service out there that doesn’t connect to Santa Monica, which is our neighbor, then we don’t do our customers justice.”
One of the things they’ve started in the last few years to make connections easier for their riders is joining the EZ Pass program. Metro started the program for riders to purchase one pass that works over 13 different transit agencies.
“They’re coming up with this other project called a universal fare system and that’s the tap card,” he explains. “It’s a proximity card.
“Culver City was one of the first ones out of the municipal operators to come on board.” He adds, “We’re waiting for our other partners, the other cities to come on board.
“We’re looking forward to that, where somebody can add value on the card, doesn’t have to worry about change.” He explains, “They can use that tap card anywhere between Metro and Santa Monica and all the other properties.” He adds, “I see things getting better and improving and that’s going to be key in order to move people, to make it more convenient and seeing that it is easy for people.”