The staff's professional development has been one factor to its success. One story Morandini shares is of BCTA's transportation manager, Rose Sutter. Sutter started out as a driver under a county transportation program around 1980. Today, she fills the third highest-level position in the organization. Sutter took advantage of the BCTA employee development program, went back to college, earned a bachelor's degree in human resources and went on to obtain a master's degree in organizational leadership. "She's come a very long way and has become a top-notch manager and performs at a very high level in our organization," stresses Morandini.
One staffing challenge they have experienced is retaining drivers. With a comprehensive driver's safety program, many have used BCTA as a training ground before moving on to higher-paid driving positions with commercial businesses. Morandini says, "That's been a challenge of the organization and one that I think we are overcoming. "This is a new organization so we did hire a lot of new drivers when we became a self-operating agency." She continues, "We do have a lot of drivers on the lower end of the pay scale unlike other organizations that have been around a long time."
Morandini expresses the team effort at BCTA as another factor to its success. The development of the new Web site illustrates how they pooled their resources together to create something that has worked out so well for the organization. "We charted a cross-functional Web site improvement team comprised of employees from planning, customer service, operations and IT," she explains. "They evaluated a comprehensive array of small, midsize and large transit agency sites to identify best practices." She stresses, "They also surveyed our customers to determine what they liked and didn't like about what was on the current Web site."
With a diverse group working on the Web site, they had a variety of perspectives as to what it should be. Morandini says, "Pooling those resources together, that diversity together, I think they did launch what is an award-winning Web site." The first phase of the site recently went up and she is happy to report they have gotten a lot of positive feedback on it.
Most directors or managers may say their agency is the best but BCTA has APTA's Best Small Agency award from 1998 and 2005 to back it up. Contributing to the success of the agency has been the Continuing Quality Improvement (CQI) initiative started back in the early 1990s. "We're never really satisfied with where we are today," Morandini explains. "We really attempt to establish standards in every area as a business. We benchmark ourselves internally and against other organizations and are always looking for improvements.
"We're always looking to change things, to reinvent ourselves as an organization so that we can continue to maintain a strong focus on customers and provide a very high-quality level of service." She clarifies, "The customer not only includes the rider, it includes the employees in the organization." She sums it up that data-driven decisions and a team-based environment define the CQI at BCTA.
Funding the Future
Looking ahead, funding is going to be the big concern for BCTA. "Pennsylvania is a very progressive state in terms of funding transportation," Morandini says. "Virtually every county in Pennsylvania, more than 60 counties, has some form of public transportation." She adds, "Relatively speaking, Pennsylvania contributes substantially to public transportation.
"State aid has been relatively flat since the mid 1990s and many parts of the state have lost federal funding because of losses in population and so funding has been a major issue for many of the transit systems in the state.
"The governor decided about a year and a half ago to form the Pennsylvania transportation funding and reform commission to evaluate transit across the state and make recommendations to improve our public transportation systems." That set of recommendations will identify how to fund the needs of public transportation in the state.
The initial findings illustrated, to improve mobility statewide, agencies in Pennsylvania need about $800 million of additional funding. The commission will release the final report in November. What BCTA is hoping for is a source of predictable, dedicated funding for public transportation. "Without a dedicated source of funding, it's extremely diffi cult to run a business because you're just basically planning from year to year and you don't really have the ability to think longterm," Morandini says. "The work of the commission is not only very important to BCTA but to the rest of the state as well."