Having one set of vendors in any agency role for a long period of time does allow the professional staff to establish a certain amount of stability. However, the advantage to the agency is flexibility. If a contractors’ performance doesn’t meet agency standards, then steps can be taken to ‘change the guard’ as it were. The challenge here is to minimize the short-term impact of the changeover in favor of long-term agency health — and being able to distinguish when such a switch is to the agency’s advantage.
Changes do occur as a result of highly competitive bidding and as new demands for technological capability, employee retention and safety increase. It is important to keep close tabs on the temperature of the vendor and their employees during those transitions. Change can create uncertain ground resulting in low morale on both sides of the relationship, as well as having a possible customer impact as the new management grows into their role in the agency.
As the management staff of the agency are actually employees of the respective contractors, personnel issues and communications are always handled through the vendors. There isn’t, in our case, a direct line of communication between the administration and the individual coach operators putting service on the street. For example, when a change occurs in our fares or in service, our administrative staff communicates that information to the operations contractor management who are then responsible for providing the necessary training to the coach operators. The agency then has less control over the communication of that information which can sometimes have a direct impact on the service provided on the street.
Combining Public and Private
In Phoenix the transit system — like everything else — is growing. It might come as a surprise to learn a desert city is blossoming in such a profound way. But when it comes to Phoenix Public Transit, the municipal department in charge of bus service here, growth is the rule. The fleet is bigger than ever, with 535 buses traveling more than 21 million miles annually. The system sees an average of 114,000 boardings daily.
In part, these increases came about because Phoenix is steadily drawing in new residents. Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the country, in the fastest growing county in the United States. It is a big, hot place, mostly built when air conditioning made living in the desert reasonable instead of unbearable. Because of this and the difficulty of digging underground, Phoenix is a car city. It spreads out across 516 square miles. The vast distances and continued strong growth are some of the greatest challenges Phoenix Public Transit faces as a government institution.
The number of passengers and snarled traffic complicate the management of bus transit. Add to that a governmentally diverse transit landscape: Phoenix is bordered by nine other municipalities and a federally recognized American Indian reservation. The city is also a voting member of the Regional Public Transportation Authority (RPTA), a state-created entity overseeing cooperative transit development. To meet the needs of these many neighbors and partners, Phoenix Public Transit employs a combination of contracted service and staff-led administration. Many jobs within the department, from professional services such as auditing and public relations to on-bus advertising sales are done partially or completely by contracted workers. The largest contracts, by far, are agreements outlining bus service.
Most fixed-route service is provided through two companies, Veolia Transportation and Laidlaw Transit Services Inc., with a third company, MV Transportation, in charge of ADA paratransit service. Another company, First Transit, will take over Laidlaw’s routes in December 2007. Together, these companies provide full-service contracts that include vehicle maintenance and bus operator personnel management.
Phoenix Public Transit, in turn, employs more than a hundred staff members who manage purchasing and capital investment for the transit system. It also oversees technology and revenue development functions. Staff ensures cost-effective fulfillment of these agreements by working with other city entities like the Phoenix City Council and the council-appointed Citizens Transit Commission. Phoenix Public Transit also works with other municipalities to provide some services that cross city boundaries. Phoenix frequently sells a portion of its contracts to other cities, thus becoming the provider of transit service to thousands of people in neighboring communities.