According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Americans took 10.3 billion trips on public transportation — the highest ridership level in 50 years, and public transportation ridership is up 32 percent since 1995. But transit authorities continue to face increasing challenges like accelerated cost escalation (due in part to increased material costs), environmental sensitivity and the involvement of more and more stakeholders.
In addition, there is more competition for funding and less money available. Transit authorities have met these challenges by considering the use of alternative procurement methods, like public-private partnerships, to accelerate delivery. But obstacles remain, like obtaining public support for a PPP, avoiding claims during construction and otherwise keeping the project on budget and schedule.
Although much of the risk and responsibility lies in the private sector, there are some concrete steps that transit authorities can take before and during a project to increase its chance of success, specifically when working with private partners.
Partnering can and should start before the project is awarded. In recent years, resources have become stretched. Increased demand has resulted in a less experienced labor force, all while projects become more and more complex.
“Owners, contractors, engineers and other stakeholders must form a true partnership to overcome these challenges. Partnering means each player must pool his or her resources and approach the project as a team — everyone must give, take and work toward common goals. If we understand what is important to you and why, it becomes one of our goals, too,” says Matt Girard, Flatiron’s vice president of business development.
“When challenges exist we have to solve them as a team. All players must learn to set aside personal agendas and balance their responsibilities and goals with that of other players, a unique challenge. Our goal is to leave a project with everyone thinking that this was an excellent example of partnering.”
When contractors and owners partner, they should begin by identifying each party’s specific goals and agree to help each other achieve these goals. This is no easy task, but it truly increases the chances of project success.
Flatiron has worked with an extensive list of transit agencies, including those in Denver, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
Norm Avery, Flatiron’s Utah district manager, says the lessons learned are tremendous, but probably the most important is that positive relationships are the biggest contributor to a project’s success.
“If a team environment doesn’t exist, the smallest of hurdles will present huge and overly time-consuming challenges, making project success much more elusive,” he says.
An excellent example of proactive partnering is currently happening with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). UDOT is one of the leaders in partnering and contract procurement innovation.
“The greatest lesson I have learned by working with them is that we can accomplish much more and with greater satisfaction by working together. When work is enjoyable, this joy carries on to home, family and life in general. When all is said and done that is where the real value is,” says Avery, who is an active member of UDOT’s executive committee on partnering.
UDOT has teamed with the Associated General Contractors (AGC) to develop a comprehensive partnering program. This program establishes an executive committee of representatives from the public and private sectors who are responsible for developing partnering guidelines. In fact, UDOT and the AGC have written a field guide to partnering on UDOT projects. According to this document, partnering doesn’t result in each party “splitting the difference,” but instead focuses on achieving a win-win situation.