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.
As we utilize the latest technology, the ongoing challenge will always remain our ability to provide old-fashioned customer service in a fast-paced 21st century environment.
Fort Worth, Texas
Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T)
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) primarily operated one mode — bus — until December 2001. That was when it completed the Tarrant County extension of the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) to downtown Fort Worth, making The T an official multi-modal system. The first
commuter rail in the Southwest, the TRE is jointly owned and operated by The T and Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) along a 35-mile east-west corridor between Dallas and Fort Worth.
The T had the foresight to eliminate potential problems of merging bus and rail by creating an Intermodal Transportation Center (ITC) in downtown Fort Worth to coincide with the TRE’s arrival. The ITC also has grown into a major downtown focal point the past few years as The T added other modes — Amtrak, Greyhound, taxicabs and Enterprise rental car.
Based on the TRE’s success, The T made additional rail a pivotal part of its long-range strategic plan in 2005, consistent with the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ recommendation for a network of 10 more commuter rail lines — four of them to be in Tarrant County.
The problem we faced was how to finance it on our own. All the cities in Tarrant and surrounding counties, except one, were at the state-mandated sales tax cap, so they couldn’t levy a tax for a new rail. Even with the groundswell of our entire region’s support, it did not look likely that the state legislature would change this law soon.
One of the rail corridors identified by NCTCOG was along 40 miles of existing track running from Southwest Fort Worth northeast across Tarrant County to Grapevine, and into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. A commuter rail along this corridor could also serve riders beyond Tarrant County by connecting with TRE service in downtown Fort Worth, to a future DART light rail line at the airport, and to potential rail networks further west identified in NCTCOG’s long-range plan.
The T is well underway with its new rail line. The alternative analysis was completed in the fall of 2006, and we began our environmental impact study in June 2007.
The new commuter rail line is scheduled for completion in 2012. And if this area’s residents have their wish, it will be only the first of a new regional rail network yet to come.