The exposure to the larger industry and staff development has been an integral part of the success of SWRTA. Winning the Best Public Transit Provider Award in the state for 2002 and 2007 and August winning the state award this year for Best Transit Director, it takes a strong commitment of the team.
August affirms, “The staff realizes that just because we’re a small agency, it doesn’t mean that we’re out of the loop.
“We went from an agency with almost a million-dollar deficit, to building an Intermodal Transportation Center,” she says proudly. As the staff has grown, the agency has grown.
Like all the agency directors I’ve talked to, August stresses, “You can’t run a transit agency independently.” She adds with a laugh, “I tell them they make me look good.”
Staff training is provided in coordination with the COGs and with other agencies in the region. Organizations rotate where the training is held. “It almost becomes a wash because we provide training for them and they provide training for us, so there’s not much cost involved,” she says. “It’s going to cost us the same amount to provide training for 10 people as it would be for 15.”
Getting the Kinks Out
When August first came to SWRTA, staff did the scheduling by hand and all the information was in people’s heads. “They knew who did what routes, they knew the people that were traveling, they knew where they lived and they knew the phone numbers,” she explains. “But if something happens to that person or that person doesn’t come to work that day; that information is with them.”
Technology was part of the answer to getting a more efficient system. Adding technology has its benefits and challenges and SWRTA staff has adjusted along the way.
”When you have a liaison that works between our company and the company that’s going to be implementing the technology, one of the things we found was that information was not being relayed accurately,” August says.
“We decided that we needed to take a step back and regroup anytime that we’re going to deal with technology. We’re going to bring in an individual that understands what the makeup of our company is and have the company implementing the technology come in and do an assessment versus hiring a consultant to relay information.
“Going through our implementation phase of the technology, we realized that you don’t necessarily cut costs right then, nor do you eliminate people in the process,” she explains.
She adds, “If anything, you end up adding more people until you can get rid of the kinks in the process.”
In the end, the scheduling software at SWRTA has greatly improved efficiency. August says it has also allowed for more time for employees to have the time to learn additional skills and to implement other new technology.
SWRTA is currently working on a renovation restoration, turning an 1899 building, formerly a telephone and magneto manufacturing plant, into an Intermodal Transportation Center, due to be complete in the spring of 2008. The building will house the operations and administrative personnel and it will also house the Southeastern Stages Company, a company providing Greyhound Bus services.
“SWRTA has to work very closely with the Archives in History at Columbia to ensure that we are abiding by the guidelines,” August explains.
She gave one example of this. “We had to put wood windows back in the building. We wanted to do metal with a wood look. They told us we could not do that; we had to put wood windows back in the facility.
“When doing a restoration, it is a lot different than building new,” August states. “We ended up having to do a lot of mold mediation, soil borings and steel framing to make sure the building was stable.”
When talking about the Intermodal Transportation Center, August mentions the agency received a $5-million congressional earmark in 2003 for the center. When I asked her about dealing with funding shortfalls, she laughed.