“I greet every new employee and operator that starts and I tell them about the 35- or 40-year veterans that are driving with us who would do nothing else, but then I tell them during the course of their eight weeks of training, your trainers, the heads that are coming in here, many of them started out as motorcoach operators and wanted to do something in addition to that, so they got the education, the experience and had the where-with-all to apply and move up the organization. The company’s full of that.”
There are two public-private partnerships that Jackson attributes some of LBT’s stability to. One of those partnerships is for its water taxis.
As Jackson says, “Long beach is a long, long beach.” They’ve got miles and miles of ocean and there is beautiful commercial development downtown. They have the Aquarium of the Pacific, restaurants and a beautiful waterfront. The city wanted to have a form of water transportation that would move people from the Queen Mary to the aquarium.
“What started up about a dozen years ago is Aquabus — a 40-foot-long bus about the same length and carries about 40-some people,” Jackson explains. There is a wheelchair ramp, farebox and it’s partially enclosed for inclement weather.
They later added Aqualink, a 70-passenger catamaran that’s totally enclosed. They recently had the 10th anniversary of the Aqualink service, which is air-conditioned, and offers food and drinks on board.
The contract to operate the water taxis is with Catalina Express, a privately owned and held company that goes to Catalina from Long Beach and LA. “Rather than dealing with Coast Guard and all of those issues, we decided to do a public-private partnership with them from day one,” Jackson says. “They run the service and they do it according to our expectations and guidelines and customer accessibility for persons with disabilities and all of that. All of the drug testing you have to do with FTA, they do all of that stuff.
“We’re quasi-public, so I look at that as one of our public-private partnerships,” he says.
The private company that runs them has a commercial charter rate that they charge and they do it during the off-hours. And, Long Beach Transit gets some of the revenue when they do it.
The other public-private partnership is with Yellow Taxi and Long Beach Yellow Cab, which operates their paratransit.
When ADA was passed, Long Beach Transit had its stand-alone paratransit operations with its dispatchers, the cutaway vehicles and the operators, like nearly every other transit system. Jackson says, “The head of the owner of the Long Beach taxi company also has LA, Orange County and San Diego, and said there’s got to be a better way to do this.
“So rather than having a stand-alone set-up and dispatch and everything, we integrated it to the taxi company. So our vans are painted yellow, look like taxis and when they’re carrying our customers ... we pay them so much a mile to transport our customers.”
It’s all GPS-based, so that when the taxis are going from Point A to Point B, Long Beach Transit pays them a set per-mile rate.
When they’re not transporting LBT passengers, Jackson says, “I don’t have any dispatching or overhead. They’re using just regular taxis.”
LBT made this transition about 10 years ago and they cut their paratransit costs by about 60 percent. Jackson stresses, “Huge, huge savings.
“So, huge savings, our customers love it, they virtually get their own taxi ride, but it’s a ramped taxi. The ramp comes out and they get loaded.” He says, “Everything that has to happen is done through that contract and I think it’s a great model.” And something the industry is starting to seriously look at, he says.
“The costs are so unbelievable for that service,” Jackson says of paratransit. “So back 10 years ago, it was a million-and-a-half dollars. That went down to 8 to 900,000.”
The company has some of LBT’s old vehicles, which have the ramps and are fully accessible. “We own them all; we lease them for a dollar,” Jackson explains. “When they’re operating for our customer as our service, we pay the operating costs. When they’re not, they reimburse us the equivalent value of capital costs of that vehicle.”
If, for example, the vehicle is being used 70 percent of the time to transport LBT customers, LBT pays for that and the other 30 percent, the taxi company pays them.