Can mass transit customers be connected to buses like friends on the popular social Web site Facebook? Can bus runs become more efficient with computerized real-time route management? What if a public transit organization is managed like a private enterprise, having to balance customer-derived revenues, advertising cash flow and service efficiencies? These unconventional notions led Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA) executives in 2006 to pioneer a bold $22 million technology-driven initiative aimed at a deliberate introduction of operational change to elevate customer service.
Since its conceptual inauguration in third quarter 2006, Technology Initiatives for Driving Excellence (TIDE), has been credited with simplifying public transportation, improving route efficiencies and increasing ridership for this midsized authority. The change also made way for measurably heightened customer loyalty. Even more notable, TIDE was so successful in across-the-board enhancements, just ahead of its half-way point in 2008, the authority was able to institute an unprecedented fare reduction.
Staffing, funding and execution of timing, as well as actual software and hardware choices, could make a program of this magnitude seem insurmountable. RGRTA executives and TIDE team members will tell you the outcome of a project like TIDE is well worth the equity ? financial and sweat. Besides, strategies developed by RGRTA to define, fund and staff TIDE are all detailed here, along with insights about how unique partnerships were leveraged ? most notably with ACS Transportation Management Solutions Group (formerly Orbital TMS) and the Rochester Institute of Technology ? to boost the program?s impact. If your organization is looking for operational change, this article will help.
In the Beginning: Chaos to Clarity
In the summer of 2006, transit executives in Rochester for the first time explored numerous capital project requests, all technology improvements targeted to better serve customers in its largest subsidiary, Regional Transit Service (RTS). The authority, which owns and operates a fleet of more than 400 vehicles, has 800 employees, serves 50,000 customers daily and maintains a $70 million operating budget, also had a unique set of strategic pillars oriented around customer satisfaction and ?driving excellence.?
Computer-aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location (fixed-route and paratransit), radio system expansion, automatic passenger counters, headsigns, advanced traveler information system wayside signs, Web, notification via text message and e-mail, fare collection, smart card programs, paperless vehicle inspection reports, single sign-on for bus authorization, operations management software, demographics software and a variety of interfaces between these and other systems were technologies initiatives integrated by TIDE.
Though technologically complex, this program?s overarching goal focused sharply on improving customer satisfaction through two simple principles ? better customer service and increased operational efficiency.
Building Momentum ... Team, Budget and RFP Building
By autumn of 2006, the authority had created stakeholder teams, appointed team leaders, developed a series of high-level requirements and documented intended ?end results? for these technologies. A formalized request for proposal was crafted by the winter. This document was unique in that it did not come with the usual list of concrete technical requirements, but rather an outline of desired results. It also maintained a stipulation that respondents provide a detailed solution to the business use case posed by the RFP; this allowed vendors to propose creative alternatives that may have not been considered by the authority, rather than off-the-shelf products.