So how does performance-based spec design benefit an agency? In a word — accountability.
“I think it provides, for the agency, more of an accountability from the supplier or the manufacturer or whether it’s a vehicle or a component of a vehicle. It sort of puts the onus on them to deliver something that is going to work for the agency and ultimately for the public,” says Murphy.
“That’s the biggest thing. In simpler terms you just get together, you shake hands, you say does this really do this, that’s great we have it in writing. Now if there are any problems, we can go back and say, you said it was going to cool the bus, you said it was going to go 100,000 miles. And then the onus is more on them as to try to explain what they’re going to do to make it do that. As opposed to pointing toward some line on the specification that says, well you know we did everything that you wanted or everything that you stated on your specification.
“I think the benefit it has given us is a more reliable vehicle or a more reliable component because it forces the manufacturer of that component — or it allows is another way to look at it — it allows the manufacturer of that component to design it to the best of their performance ability as opposed to just meeting the designs we’ve stated.”
Capital Metro’s move away from a design-based speccing process toward a performance-based one could almost be seen as the opposite end of the spectrum. According to Brian Iacono, Denver RTD’s senior manager of materials management, his agency has stuck to what could only be called the Industry Standard.
Iacono says that while he deems their spec process a combination of design and performance base, it is largely written to the specifications laid out in the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) “White Book,” or its Standard Bus Procurement Guidelines, which it designed in partnership with the Federal Transit Administration. These guidelines present a “standard, complete bus procurement package” that can be used both for RFPs (Request for Proposals) and IFBs (Invitation for Bids). Iacono says that RTD’s specs also have to take into account Denver’s environmental conditions, such as high-altitudes and weather-related concerns.
“It’s pretty detailed,” says Iacono, “but it speaks to the White Book quite often. And it also speaks to a lot of industry standard requirements whether they be, for seats for instance, the Federal Motor Code vehicle requirements for flame retardant, that type of materials.
“So there are a lot of references to industry standards in [our specs]. And, of course, several references to the White Book specs in here as well.”
So how has RTD benefited from this process? According to Iacono, it has allowed them to reference things like SAE standards and consider them industry requirements, while at the same time giving them a flexibility to input into the spec based on their experience.
“We really start out with trying to adhere to the White Book spec and that’s primarily what we do,” says Iacono. “But there are, based on our experiences, and not only just dealing with the local environment, but there have been some experiences where we want to stick to a certain design on something.”
While other agencies see the spec process as a chance for them to tell suppliers what they are looking for in new equipment or what they want the new equipment to do, Bob Baulsir, Nashville MTA’s chief operating officer says for his agency it’s all about the negotiation process.
Baulsir says that MTA uses the RFP process and that leans them toward performance instead of design as far as specs go, but it really comes down to meeting with the vendor.
“Although in the RFP process we might say, hey we’re looking for this and looking for that, then there’s that negotiation that follows. And what happens in that process, at least with the RFP process, we may meet with the vendor and they’ll say we can’t do this and this is why. And then we’re sitting across the table from each other and we’ll say specifically do we need that, no, here’s our goal, here’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” Baulsir says.