Manager's Forum

Baltimore, Md.
Paul J. Wiedefeld
Maryland Transit Administration

Staying at the forefront of the latest technology and utilizing it for more efficient operations and improved customer service is a high priority for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA). Like transit agencies across the nation, we operate in an economic environment that limits our ability to fully implement our technological strategic planning efforts. Yet, we are proud to share that some of our most significant projects were completed.

Everyone in this industry understands that transit was already “green” before the phenomenon became popular. The MTA continues to identify more ways to be “green.”

Our local bus operation currently has 10 New Flyer diesel-electric vehicles in revenue service, with 30 additional articulated hybrids scheduled for delivery by spring.

Comparative studies conducted have indicated a 23 percent decrease in fuel usage, and we plan to replace all 700 local buses with hybrids over the next 10 years.

Our 219 New Flyer buses in service have an idle shut down feature and are equipped with particulate traps on the exhaust system that catch up to 90 percent of all soot and harmful particles. MTA is also transitioning to 5 percent biodiesel in its bus operation.

Our efforts also extend to our Metro subway system and MARC commuter trains. Our operations staff began the installation of high-efficiency lighting in our subway stations that use 40 percent less energy. MARC operations recently purchased 26 diesel locomotives that meet stringent new EPA requirements for all types of pollutants.

The new locomotives are more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, reducing emissions of nitrous oxide by 42 percent, carbon monoxide by 70 percent and particulates (like soot) by 67 percent.

Using technology to improve customer service is also evident in our new fare collection equipment. In addition to new fareboxes on all local buses, we’ve installed new ticket vending machines at all light rail stops and Metro subway stations. The subway stations also feature state-of-the-art fare gates.

In our Transit Information Center, which was voted “Best Hot Line” by the Baltimore city paper last year, our staff received additional training on upgrades to the interactive voice response (IVR) system that allows more programming of information to customers and offers improved menu navigation.

The MTA completed the conversion of its scheduling software to the software product Trapeze. The Transit Information Center recently installed Info Agent, a Trapeze module that gives information agents quicker access to travel information for customers. Trapeze enables all of the different administrative and operational functions in the agency to communicate more efficiently with each other, providing more information and better control.

New technology helps customer service agents to alert riders better about train and bus delays, cancellations, and schedule and policy changes. The MTA implemented a new e-mail notification system that allows subscribers to receive service information via e-mail on any device with e-mail capabilities, including all personal computers and the vast majority of mobile phones, pagers, PDAs or other hand-held devices. The MTA can target messages to specific groups at times of their choosing with messages that are applicable to their commuting situation.

MTA’s police force is utilizing more fuel-efficient vehicles to patrol our stations and facilities. They put three T3 Motion electric scooters into service last summer, and also use a Honda Civic hybrid, a bicycle, and have two Chevy Impalas and six Dodge Durango SUVs that can run on flex fuel. MTA police added several communications upgrades, including a new police command vehicle, mobile data computers in police vehicles, closed-circuit television cameras to monitor facilities and equipment, and a radio trunking system allowing officers to communicate simultaneously on multiple radio channels while providing clearer radio coverage. A computer-aided dispatch/records management system assists in improving data collection, and a new 700 MHZ system provides statewide interoperability while enhancing ongoing homeland security efforts.

Our homeland security efforts are also aided by modern technology with our Metro Portal Security System. The “intelligent video” security system, built entirely on federal Homeland Security Grants, operates 24 hours a day at the entrance to the tunnel where the Metro subway goes underground. The automated cameras feed data to computers via fiber-optic cables and computers then process the video signal and look for anomalies such as intruders and objects.

As Maryland’s transit system continues to identify ways that increase our operational efficiencies, we are confident that these investments are making a positive impact. We are optimistic about anticipated investments in infrastructure that appear on the horizon that will potentially boost our ability to add new technology and offer even more improvements in the future.