“He says, ‘I’m not going to sign the letter because I don’t deserve to. I didn’t help, I was in the way, I was an obstacle, but this coming year I will help, I will do the right things, I will advance the organization and next year I’ll be able to sign the letter.’”
Success With Partners
With this change in mindset mirrored throughout the organization, there have been a lot of accomplishments at RGRTA and it has allowed the agency to grow in a variety of ways. With the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) nearby, the partnership they have in testing, implementing and utilizing technology has continued to grow.
One of the areas they’re working together on is with the vehicle diagnostic testing pre-breakdown so when testing equipment, it will send an automatic signal back to radio control before the bus breaks down, telling them the bus is thinking about breaking down.
“It’s really pretty neat because they’ve done some things where they have major relationships with the United States military to do similar work,” says Aesch.
“They will test on our fleet of buses, technology that they’re waiting to deploy on Marine Corps tanks in the desert.” He emphasizes, “They’re testing it on our equipment.”
And when he talks about technology advancements, Aesch stresses that it’s all about achieving a strategy. Another that they’re in the process of is rolling out signage at stops to let riders know when buses are coming.
“We’re not putting them up because they’re cool,” he says. “About 70 percent of our customers who call our call center are looking for information on timeliness of when the next bus will be. Seventy percent.
“We’re doing this investment to help reduce the number of incoming calls to the call center so that we will be able to address that from an efficiency perspective.” He stresses, “It’s a very specific investment that we’re making.”
He says of the partnership, for years it was the school subsidizing a route that they provided for their students and faculty and now that relationship has increased exponentially. “The relationship really works both ways now,” he explains. “They’re buying from us, our ability to provide transportation and now we buy from them, their intellectual strength to test, train and implement multimillion-dollar technology investments we’re making.”
He stresses, “It’s been fantastic. It really has become a two-way street of success.”
Talking about their partnership with RIT leads to a discussion of how RIT subsidizes the route and that it’s not the typical “paying for passes” that many educational institutions have with transit properties.
“Businesses would typically say, ‘Well I pay taxes, so run a bus, bring me customers, bring me employees.’ Our reaction to that is, you also pay taxes to have water lines put in but you don’t expect to just get your water for free, you’re clearly going to get a water bill at the end of the month for the water that your company consumes. So if we’re going to extend a bus line to bring you customers to shop at your mall or employees to work at your nursing home or students to go to your college, we will enter in to a business relationship to deliver that to you.”
Aesch says they share in the risk based on how many people the business and RGRTA believes will ride, but RGRTA doesn’t shoulder 100 percent of the risk. With this type of relationship, they have 52 business relationships throughout the region where the revenue exceeds what they take in through the farebox.
When providing service to the community, RGRTA questioned whether the responsibility of the agency is to provide a bus to provide service to people who ride it or if it’s to take as little money from the taxpayers to support it.
“After chewing on that for a couple months, we decided the answer was, ‘Yes,’” Aesch says. “What we did is we took and built a measurement system which takes the service side: how many people are on board a bus, and we give it a score. Then we take the cost recovery side: how much does the taxpayer have to put in, and then we give the bus a score.
“Then we add those two together and that tells us the answer to how are we doing and rather than ‘cutting service,’ as so many folks are apt to do, we’re able to go in with a microscope and then a scalpel.”