Paul J. Wiedefeld
Maryland Transit Administration
MTA serves metropolitan Baltimore with bus, light rail and heavy rail services, and connects to Washington, D.C., with commuter rail and commuter bus. Our roots lie in our bus service, but since the 1980s we have gradually added other systems.
Planning, building and operating a multi-modal system creates extra management challenges, and by working to address these challenges, the end product is our improved ability to provide better service to our customers and create additional growth opportunities for our employees.
Labor management is largely influenced by our interaction with ATU Local 1300, the single union that represents all transportation and maintenance workers except those working on our commuter rail, which is a contracted service that provides its own labor. Local 1300 encourages members in all modes to seek out growth and promotional opportunities, but at the same time can often restrict our ability to recruit for specific skills.
Budget priorities are also a delicate balancing act, as funding tends to flow toward systems such as Metro that have a lot of capital assets, rather than to bus. Bus, which actually serves more than 75 percent of our ridership, has to work hard to be sure its needs are met.
Operations planning presents another distinctive challenge. Since rail had nearly a hundred year start on bus, there are natural geographic barriers to providing the kind of seamless travel that riders expect. Each mode has its own peculiar constraints and cost drivers, and we must find a compromise somewhere in the middle between wanting to see the system as seamless and integrated, and the reality of a system that is a combination of separate modes.
Since we are a service-oriented agency, the challenge of providing consistent, reliable and timely information to our customers also demands that we work very closely with our Operations and Communications departments and reach out to our customers in as many ways as possible. This information is disseminated on our Web site, through our call center customer service agents, with daily live transit updates on radio and television, in newsletters, through car cards on vehicles and through customer notices in our bus shelters and stations.
Each mode of transportation that we operate also has its own unique environment and personality, and presents unique challenges to us as to how we can meet the needs of those customers. To help us know who our riders are and why they ride, our Marketing department takes annual customer surveys.
The challenge of Homeland Security as it relates to transit presents a wide range of concerns. Since rail lines are almost impossible to secure, and the cost to fence in an entire rail system is impossible, the MTA has to rely on smart system technology. For buses, which are constantly moving, we must rely on communication between the operator, bus communications and police communications. With our “Transit Watch” program, we attempt to get a “buy in” from riders to be another set of eyes and ears for the MTA.
Another big challenge in a multi-modal system is the need to deal effectively with many different agencies. For light rail, it could be working with the FRA to obtain waivers, or with the city to better synchronize light rail scheduling with the red light patterns on busy downtown streets. For modes such as our commuter train MARC, where MTA does not own the rail infrastructure, we must work closely with CSX and Amtrak to accomplish construction of improvements and maintain a consistently smooth scheduling operation.
The next big challenge will be the introduction of “smart” cards. Simplifying fare-collecting procedures will make transit connections between different modes easier, allowing riders to hop between modes with the single tap or wave of a card. This smart card technology will offer commuters this convenience by uniting all modes and neighboring transportation systems.