Industry Forum

Oakland, Calif.
Rick Fernandez
General Manager
Alameda Contra-Costa Transit (AC Transit)

As the transit agency for more than 230,000 people a day, and the employer of more than 2,100 bus drivers, mechanics and other personnel, AC Transit is a vital component in the San Francisco Bay Area’s transportation network. But with a projected deficit of $57 million by 2010 and more immediately impending service cuts and layoffs, we are now confronted with a huge challenge to maintain routine operations.

The decline in consumer spending brought on by the souring economy has severely reduced sales tax revenues and, consequently, the subsidies that normally flow to transit agencies like ours. In addition, we have been hit with across-the-board cost increases, most notably for employees’ medical insurance and pensions.

But the lion’s share of the blame for the financial stew we’re in can be directly attributed to a catastrophic diversion of transit funds by state officials. This year AC Transit was entitled to receive $26 million in State Transit Assistance funds. Instead we got only $3.4 million and the ominous promise that for the next five years there will be no state transit funding at all.

So, when word came that our region would get about $500 million in federal stimulus funding for public transit, we at AC Transit breathed at least a small sigh of relief. Based on a regional formula used by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (the regional agency that distributes the funds) AC Transit’s share was figured to be nearly $26 million.

Given our dire financial forecast and our immediate needs, we are spending the federal stimulus dollars on preventive maintenance. It was clear that we need to do so to avoid or at least delay deep service cuts and layoffs of critical personnel.

Phoenix, Ariz.
Debbie Cotton
Director
Phoenix Public Transit Department

Like the entire country, the financial climate for Phoenix has been severe recently. With the housing starts and building development boom officially bust for us, the Phoenix Public Transit Department is working to provide service in a time when one of our primary sources of revenue, the citywide voter-approved Transit 2000 sales tax, is being battered by the economy. The sales tax has served us well, bringing more than $884 million in operational and capital revenue into Phoenix’s transit system nine years into the program. Without the support federal stimulus funds will bring, many long-range plans to improve Phoenix and the area could be delayed or halted.

Garnering federal stimulus support has become a priority of the Phoenix city council and our city manager. We will work to expand commuter service into new areas, enhance passenger facilities, and continue investment in new and better bus stops and accessibility infrastructure. Most importantly, we have been striving to be innovative as an institution, looking into the ways that green enterprises like the expansion of clean fuels throughout our fleet can improve service, and advanced security and technology infrastructure can permanently change our operation for the better.

Mayor Phil Gordon has even taken the case for our efforts to the nation’s capitol, using the stimulus program as a starting point of turning Phoenix into “America’s first carbon-neutral city.” Phoenix will employ many methods to “go green” as part of this new plan, including transit-focused programs like an airport automated rail system and solar-powered transit facilities.

Such goals are far-reaching, but attainable. And, since we work in partnership with other area cities to provide a uniform and customer-friendly transit system, collaboration on our approach to federal stimulus is key. As the largest member of Valley Metro, the regional transit system, our actions have implications for more than 60 million passenger boardings a year. We will continue working to maintain transit services that our residents and customers depend on, participate in the recovery of our local economy and plan ahead to what opportunities that restoration will bring.

West Covina, Calif.
Doran Barnes
Executive Director
Foothill Transit

For years, the public transportation industry has trumpeted its role in the reduction of greenhouse gases and in building thriving communities. The new federal stimulus plan’s inclusion of transit funding, and the new administration’s focus on a greener, cleaner nation, validates what we’ve been saying. The funding provided under section 5307 will equal approximately $20M for Foothill Transit from the economic recovery plan.

The agency owns and operates three major facilities properties. Harvesting the sun in Southern California, where our daylight is plentiful and powerful, to offset carbon emissions and tap into a free fuel makes a lot of sense. The investment in solar-powered infrastructure fits in with our drive for sustainability, stimulates a growing industry and lowers long-term operating costs.

Foothill Transit is planning on launching a fully electric bus program using brand new recharging technology that fits cleanly into how we operate. Up until recently, a fully electric vehicle that could handle the current demands of the typical bus route in Southern California wasn’t entirely practical. Shorter charging times, light-weight composite body construction and a simplified service delivery program make this not only a feasible project — it may now be the preferred way to provide service in the future. This demonstration project will put those technological advances to the test and will help us see what accommodations will be needed in order to bring this level of sustainability to our fleet.

Achieving LEED certification is the best way to demonstrate that our capital projects are truly “green.” We are pursuing LEED certification for our facilities. We’ve set a clear and definable sustainability goal which, thanks to economic recovery funding, will be achievable through the installation of both water- and energy-saving devices. In Southern California where we face perpetual droughts, water-saving bus washers’ impact will be noteworthy. In addition, new energy-efficient windows will prevent our temperature-controlled air from leaking wastefully out of old seams and seals, cutting operating costs and reducing our fuel use.

Houston, Texas
Bruce Smith
President/CEO
Safety Vision

As a mobile surveillance supplier to the mass transit industry, we are certainly seeing an uptick in stimulus-prompted business. Among the many eligible capital projects being funded are those focused on crime prevention and security enhancement. And that’s where we come in: We are already on board, deterring crime and improving security with our surveillance cameras and mobile digital video recorders (MDVRs).

Of late, we’ve been delighted that our transit clientele has seen such an upsurge in ridership — the highest it’s been in more than 50 years — but we see that that has put them in a challenging position. They’ve got to optimize operations and improve services to remain profitable and satisfy increased demand — and now they’ve got more money to do it. The catch: agencies face fast-approaching deadlines to apply for a portion of the billions of dollars in stimulus aid the Federal Transit Administration has set aside for transit projects.

We’ve seen transit agencies in similar “use it or lose it” scenarios before — just not on such a large scale. Our role here is to help our clients react nimbly and strategize farsightedly, to identify which projects they can fund quickly but that also will have the most impact to their operations and benefit to their ridership. While crime prevention and enhanced security are competing with many other categories of transit projects, we can’t think of an area more deserving of stimulus funds than public safety efforts.

In our role as technology supplier to the transit industry, we also serve as consultant and expediter. Transit authorities across the country are turning to us for advice on the best engineered solutions and the most effective use of the new monies. We are in a good position to help both existing and new customers identify the road ahead: e.g., which mobile security system upgrades might be appropriate to their particular requirements, what changes and improvements do we foresee around the bend, and how can agencies best merge existing and emerging technologies.

As our clients decide how and where to apply the federal stimulus funds, we’re helping them answer forward-looking questions:

Are they ready to retrofit their vehicles with more up-to-date systems like our flagship RoadRecorder 6000 PRO MDVR, to outperform aging systems?

Are they interested in upgrading to the newer, more robust firmware and video viewer?

How about the latest wireless functionalities, which enable remote look-in and system health status checks as well as the automated download of data?

Could they benefit from additional cameras? Our systems accommodate up to 10 interior and exterior cameras, for a comprehensive panorama of the mobile environment.

And there are other ways we’re helping to spur on the funding process. For example, we can schedule on-site visits to quickly and efficiently identify the most appropriate mobile surveillance solution to suit an agency’s needs. After assessing their fleet, any previously installed equipment, and the operating environment, we are well equipped to advise agencies large and small on products, technologies and solutions they may be unfamiliar with — especially those that are on the horizon.

In our consultations, we are encouraging all customers to “look beyond the black box” (i.e., the MDVR) to envision and implement a comprehensive, turnkey solution — from the secure and reliable capture, automated wireless download, and simplified backend management of video, audio and other evidentiary data. We can clarify that vision and provide that solution.

We also are ready to provide agencies with prepared architecture and engineering specifications tailored to our state-of-the-art systems and solutions. This expedites and facilitates the entire RFP process for them, as they’re building best-in-class specs and a total solution into their project bids from the outset.

By helping our transit clients “get moving” with stimulus funding, we’re also helping our economy get moving. We are proud to support a cause that will drive our country’s road to recovery.

Wayne, Penn.
John Hines
President
AssetWorks

The economic stimulus package provides an exclamation point to the long-held truism — the way we invest today will determine our success in the future. Fleet managers and decision makers that view the economic stimulus funding as merely short-term funding relief or as an opportunity to perpetuate the status quo probably won’t survive in the long run.

The visionary that sees this as an opportunity to upgrade infrastructure and make improvements that provide continuous economic returns will be positioned to compete in the marketplace of the future. In recent years, transit fleets have faced the growing challenge of meeting ever-increasing service level requirements for vehicle availability and fewer disruptions in service from unscheduled repairs, all while providing enhanced public safety; improved accountability and transparency for consumable and operational expenses; and the reduction of fuel costs and environmental wastes. Proposed funding from the stimulus package can help offset those financial burdens, but the true winners will be the transits that successfully invest stimulus funds into long-term projects offering overall improvements to their organizations, and most importantly, to the ridership served.

The end result of the economic stimulus package will be more than a jump start to the economy; it can be an opportunity for skilled organizations to improve the products and services they provide. The best possible outcome will set new standards for the entire industry in terms of service and cost efficiency while also addressing environmental concerns.

Investing in the right fleet enterprise asset maintenance management solution is instrumental in improving a transit operation’s performance through increased equipment/asset availability, decreased maintenance and repair (M&R) costs, and increased utilization. Maintenance management software solutions provide access to the facts required to make informed decisions that will have positive long-term benefits for the organization.

Fundamentally our goal at AssetWorks has always been to equip our customers with the right tools to make prudent business decisions through accurate information and to provide accountability to control expenditures. Our fleet maintenance management solution FleetFocus can help transits maximize their return on the stimulus money by: increasing equipment availability, reducing fleet costs, extending the useful life of vehicles, increasing warranty recovery, optimizing inventory levels, improving labor productivity, enhancing customer satisfaction ,and ensuring regulatory compliance for vehicle management, maintenance and parts inventory management.

Cincinnati, Ohio
Mike Murray
President & CEO
FirstGroup America

The future of 21st century transportation is a system that makes connections between all modes of transportation — airlines, transit buses, subways, commuter rail, high-speed rail, airport shuttles, regional bus lines and intercity bus service, to name a few — a system that offers travelers more options and easier physical connections.

There are a number of provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that support our vision to transform transportation. Not only are there opportunities to build flexibility into our current systems, but there are new efficiencies and environmental advantages to be realized.

As a leader in the industry with significant rail experience in other parts of the world, we are naturally interested in the funding for expanded access to high-speed rail. And, as the largest provider of transit and intercity bus operations in the United States, we are also closely following funding for bus transit.

Transformational projects in intercity bus travel are already underway. For example, Greyhound has been actively involved in the ongoing planning and design for an intermodal transportation center in Miami, Fla., for a number of years. With funding just made available by the ARRA, the Miami Intermodal Center will soon become a reality and improve the travel experience for hundreds of thousands of passengers annually.

We continue working with federal agencies to build partnerships that will ensure the stimulus package creates jobs, benefits the traveling public and transforms public transportation.

Winnipeg, Manitoba
Paul Soubry
President & CEO
New Flyer Industries

On March 19, New Flyer was honored to host Vice President Biden’s second town hall meeting of the Middle Class Task Force at our St. Cloud, Minn., plant. The primary topic was the impact of the stimulus funding. Vice President Biden recognized the urgent need for transit agencies to purchase new buses to meet the ridership and environmental demands and that these purchases wouldn’t be possible without the stimulus funding. We also had the opportunity to meet with Transportation Secretary LaHood, who was keenly interested in understanding the process of converting stimulus appropriations into tangible orders and, therefore, job retention and creation.

New Flyer is a great company, with a great history, great technology and know-how, and most importantly great people. We have experienced tremendous growth since 2002, and transit agencies throughout North American have had similar recent experiences with the surge in ridership. I am confident that, together, we can create world-class transit solutions in this period of unprecedented growth.

There is so much positive momentum in the industry and I look forward to working closely with our people, the transit agencies and our suppliers to ensure that New Flyer continues to produce market leading vehicles with continued product and performance innovations.

Manager’s Forum goes to the front lines of the transit industry to get feedback 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 (920) 563-6388 or via email at leah.harnack@cygnusb2b.com.

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