“We know it’s economically more efficient because the market has told us what the answer is,” Wright said. CH2M Hill’s Cynthia Pollen led a team and staff at each operation to bring everyone together to weigh in and come together with a product that everyone could feel comfortable with.
When it comes to agency integration, Banta stated that the first lesson is you have to message the integration the right way. “It’s not that the region has been doing it wrong for a long time but there are other ways in which to deliver a little bit better service, maybe more efficiently and less administrative cost,” he said.
Hot Valley Service
While I was visiting Valley Metro back in early May, the weatherman on the morning news announced it was “only going to get up to 100°” for the day. Operating in the desert has its share of challenges for a transit agency.
In the last five years Valley Metro has purchased more than 200 New Flyer buses for the Mesa and Tempe properties. Valley Metro Operations Director Jim Wright talked about some of the things that have been done to increase comfort for the passenger in their extreme environment.
While the standard for vehicle comfort was that manufacturers would look for a 20° temperature differential between ambient and inside the coach, in the desert that would bring the temperature down to 90 when it’s 100 out.
“Last summer we were with both New Flyer and Thermo King to come up with an additional condenser unit to give the air conditioning a little more capacity because we needed a little more surface area. The standard one just doesn’t quite work for this area,” Wright said.
A strain on the engine will start to shut things off and the first thing it shuts off — because it’s the biggest load — is the air conditioning system. He said two years ago they sent a vehicle up to Minneapolis to Thermo King for testing and brought it back here last July for final testing.
Thermo King’s Steve Johnson, product manager, transit and coach bus HVAC, said a high-capacity HVAC system needs to be capable of reducing interior temperatures from 100F to 72F in 30 minutes while the vehicle is idling. “Achieving this goal demands system components large enough to handle this load, specifically the compressor and the condense coil. The system also will need a high performance refrigerant with a robust compressor design.”
When looking over some of their newer vehicles, he also pointed out two other sustainable features. The interiors are now all LED lighting because they’re cooler and last the life of the vehicle. The other feature is that the seats are made from recycled water bottles. LaFrance Industries Sales Executive Joseph Brinkmeyer explained there are 150 water bottles recycled for use in one yard of fabric and approximately ¾ yard of fabric is used in each Valley Metro seat.
Valley Metro has looked at various contract opportunities and Banta said with his previous experiences, all that he ever contracted out was paratransit service. “Coming here and looking at the different business model of contracted service makes you think differently about how you engage with that operator or maintenance group.” He said, “You cannot blur the lines of the contract requirements, but you’re engaging in providing that ownership piece that you really want in delivering that service. We’re still working on that to be quite honest.”
What they’ve done with the paratransit services — the East Valley dial-a-ride service — is the business model of brokering out the service. Banta said he was initially skeptical because it was seen as a last resort to contract with a local cab company. “I always struggled in the previous authorities to ensure that the driver showed up and the operator that showed up had the customer services sensitivities needed for that type of client.”
Wright explained that they were looking at $35 a boarding with their paratransit service, relying on the typical cutaway bus dispatched out of the Mesa facility. Providing about 220,000 passenger trips, he says they were looking at about $10 million a year.
The contract was awarded to a local cab company, Total Transit and that company also has a fixed-route contract for Valley Metro on the West side for some express service. The paratransit service was implemented last July and now the cost per boarding is about $23.