In addition to the BRT, Sun Metro has completed design work on a planned five-mile streetcar line in El Paso. The project still needs money and Banasiak said it’s “on the back burner” right now, but it’s ready to go if funding comes through.
Michael O. Herrera, assistant director for planning, safety, security and training, said new system leaders inherited an out-dated transit system comprised of several former bus operators who were merged into one entity by the city and there was little thought given to the way routes were designed or to growth of the city.
Now Sun Metro is involved in city planning and development process.
“One thing we worked on was making sure we had a place in the development process and to do any development — large or small scale — we need to sign off on it because now there’s a transit element,” he said.
Aiming for the next level of success
Sun Metro is an enterprise fund with its local funding coming from a one-half cent sales tax. Farebox recovery is at about 23 percent, with the goal of getting to 25 percent in coming years.
In order to keep things in top running order, Sun Metro has turned to public-private partnerships to fund projects, such as adding benches at bus stops. Banasiak said the agency works with three bench franchisers, which gives Sun Metro a little bit of income and there are now benches at more than 1,500 of the 2,800 stops in the system.
Sun Metro also works with local colleges, such as the University of Texas El Paso, which, Banasiak said leases the agency parking spaces near a transit station. Sun Metro is working with El Paso Community College to create a pass system for students and with the move into the new operations center, Texas Tech will move its school of architecture into the depot.
Banasiak said the school is partially leasing the building right now, but will move completely into the facility once Sun Metro vacates it.
Herrera said Sun Metro recently hired a TOD manager and the agency looks at land developments not only in the city and county, but in a scope of how it connects interstate.
“We’re striving for a truly multi-modal system with all different means of transportation,” Herrera said. “We just recently were approved for a pilot ride-sharing program that has been in the works for two or three years and was finally given funding.”
Rail also figures into Sun Metro’s and El Paso’s transit future.
“Eventually we want to evolve our RTS system into light rail,” he said. “That’s what the future holds for us.”
Recently the agency has begun switching to predictive maintenance, Bunce said, by using data to predict when a part may fail, then replace it before it does so without replacing it while there’s still lots of life left on the part. The change allows technicians to rebuilt parts at a less expensive repair cost.
Bunce said service crews emphasize cleanliness on Sun Metro buses and the only time there’s a complaint about a dirty bus from a driver it’s not because someone did a bad job, it’s because someone missed it.
“Even though we’ve got this really old bus, our response is that we can have a really old clean bus,” he said.
The change in attitude is paying off and the future is bright in El Paso.
“Our ridership has increased by almost 3 million annually, so it’s clear to me that those are choice riders who don’t have to use the system,” Wilson said about the changes.
From 2009 to 2012, ridership increased 21 percent on Sun Metro, raising ridership to more than 17 million. And given the pace the system is growing and the accolades it’s getting, Banasiak said El Paso is setting up its own expectations for Sun Metro in coming years especially given its win as the 2011 APTA’s midsized system of the year and how close it is to moving to the next category of competition, which requires 20 million riders.
“Our goal is to win the large system APTA award,” Banasiak said about the future. “Our goal is 20 million riders and we should hit 20 million with the BRT system.”