It was by accident that Carlos Tobar, transit system manager for the City of Elk Grove Transit (e-tran), ended up in public transportation. Starting in the private sector, he moved to the public transit sector in 1993. After finishing school at the University of California-Davis, he started working at the Dalla Transportation District. "I was surprised by how varied the job duties were," Tobar says. "I was intrigued by all the different things I was doing. I was dealing with politicians, boards, planning and grant applications and operations." He adds, "I was very excited that I could do a lot of different things and those were all very interesting tasks and that's still the case today, I get to do a little bit of everything."
When the city of Elk Grove posted the job opening, Tobar jumped at the chance to work in his old hometown. From 1971 to 2000, the Elk Grove area was a participating member in the Sacramento Regional Transit District. From 2001 to 2005, the city contracted with the Sacramento Regional Transit District for fixed-route service and paratransit. In January of 2005, the city assumed operations of fixed-route and paratransit services as e-tran. It was in February that Tobar came on board as transit manager.
Much of e-tran's staff is contracted by MV Transportation and Tobar is happy with who they have working. "MV has done such an outstanding job of hiring and training drivers." He explains, "If you look at the passenger survey that was done last year, the drivers received rave reviews from our passengers." He explains the hiring philosophy as getting people with great personality and teaching them how to be a transit bus driver. "I think it's a lot harder to teach somebody how to be nice than to teach them how to drive a bus."
Tobar summarizes working with MV Transportation, "Contracting service has allowed us to offer more services to our public because they provide a cost-effective service." As an example, he points to the diverse fl eet that the mechanics have had to keep pace with. "It's been very challenging for their mechanics," he says. "They've done an excellent job on keeping on top of this diverse fleet."
Keeping up with Demand
With a burst of population growth in the community, it has been difficult meeting the growing demand of public transit. Tobar stresses, "Our greatest challenge is going to be handling the growth, getting the buses in here to handle this growth and managing our funds prudently to afford to put out more service." Working with the Sacramento Regional Transit District to open more corridors for Elk Grove is also something they are working on.
He explains how being in the alternative fuel path in the region has created the challenge of acquiring alternatively fueled buses. "The Riverside Transit Agency, it has leased us three of its CNG buses," he says. "South Coast Area Transit in Oxnard, Calif., it also came to our aid by getting us a couple of its older buses." He adds, "We are utilizing the fleet the best we can." He also mentions e-tran recently received a grant to get CNG commuter buses from Orion that will be arriving in 2007.
E-tran also has some gas electric hybrids. Tobar says, "We had 21 buses manufactured by Complete Coachworks, they're mostly used for local service now and they perform very well in town." As one of the first agencies in the country to use a gas-electric hybrid system for service it has gone through the expected shakeout period of issues but as Tobar says, "nothing that hasn't been taken care of, a couple of things they're looking to improve. The 21 hybrids have already accumulated well over 1 million miles of service."