LTD started running Summit Software, started putting in the numbers and refining it so by the time New Starts rolled around, it was ready. It had the numbers. It had what was needed. “They didn’t require as much as we had done,” Pangborn reveals, “but we were prepared so whatever they had asked for, we could have provided.
“The reason we got funded was we were prepared,” he continues. “We knew where we wanted to go; we had taken care of all of the planning steps so the FTA could look at it and say, ‘yeah, these guys are ready.’
“It was really trailblazing for the United States and for the FTA,” he says. “We hadn’t done it before in quite this way. We were combining exclusive right-of-way and signal prioritization.”
Finding the Right Vehicle
One piece missing from the puzzle was the vehicle. “There were no vehicles in the United States we were looking for,” Pangborn declares. “We wanted a new, futuristic-looking vehicle. There was nothing. Bread boxes on wheels. That’s what you had out there.” LTD was looking for an innovative vehicle to run on this innovative corridor. It knew if there was an ordinary-looking bus coming down the road; it would look like the ordinary service.
Working with the FTA and several other properties in the United States, it talked to the bus manufacturers about developing a new type of vehicle. “We said, ‘guys, we need a new bus,’” Pangborn says. “They said, ‘Oh boy, the market’s tough, there’s a lot of R&D, these things are really, we just can’t go there’.” So LTD started looking in Europe.
“Suddenly the Civis started coming in with that slick look and stuff and people started looking and going, ‘Ah, I see what you’re talking about. This is different, I get you’,” Pangborn states. “At that point, the Euro switched. When the Euro came in it was like 80 cents to the dollar and in that period of time, when we were all going through the planning process and urging a kind of redesign in the vehicle, the Euro flipped up to a buck twenty to the dollar so the vehicles became prohibitively expensive.”
It was about this time that Cleveland, Ohio, was looking at going with BRT and it wanted a new vehicle too. With Cleveland needing 21 vehicles and LTD looking at five or six, they decided to approach the American manufacturers together. “We each put a bid out, but it was at the same time,” Pangborn says. “New Flyer stepped forward and said, ‘We’re interested in doing this’.
“The one thing that we wanted, well, we wanted a lot of things, but we wanted this new, slick look, we wanted an articulated vehicle, we wanted one that was as ‘green’ as possible in terms of technology, and we wanted doors on both sides. That was really key,” Pangborn states.
Adjusting to a New Service
This new type of service took a bit of getting used to in the community. Pangborn mentions a story that illustrates the difference of this new service. “We had a father with two young children and he said, ‘Well, I’ll take them on the BRT’.
“Well this guy thought he was still on our old system,” he says. Being used to the old service where you can take your time gathering your items before getting off the bus, this guy learned it was different on EmX. “He takes his two kids, puts them on the platform. Goes back on the bus to get his stroller that he had left there, the doors close, the bus takes off.
“He runs up, people are screaming, yelling,” he explains. “So for four days we were on the front page of the RG [The Register-Guard] about how could we be so stupid. Of course, then, letters to the editor, how could the father be so stupid?
“The good news was we handled it right. Everything was OK; nobody got hurt.” He emphasizes, “It really demonstrated to everybody, this is a different product. It’s not the same old bus system anymore.”
With this unique type of service, management had wanted to do a self-selection interview type of process to find drivers. He says with a laugh, “And the union said nope, that’s not seniority. We do it all by seniority.
“So we said, ‘OK, how can we make this work with seniority’,” Pangborn says. Each EmX driver spent 80 hours on training to learn how to drive this service. With different docking, higher speed and efficiency and signal priority, there were little tricks as to how the system works better. “We don’t want to have to go through every bid having to do that again,” he stresses.