People Keeping Buses Running - Buses Keeping Transit Running

Indianapolis, Ind., is the place to be at this week for the American Public Transportation Association’s Bus & Paratransit Conference and International Bus Roadeo. There are more than 1,700 attendees, will be 25 vehicles on display today and there will be 93 exhibitors at the Product Showcase tomorrow.

The weather may not be as sunny as it was in Long Beach last year but the Roadeo started over the weekend and everyone was having a great time at the event hosted by IndyGo and Allison Transmission.

Talking about the maintenance portion of the roadeo, APTA International Bus Roadeo Chair/Proterra Director of Regional Sales Mike Hennessy said, "This is the piece the industry doesn’t get to see. This is what keeps the nation’s buses running.”

The maintenance roadeo began on Saturday with a written test and the teams of three competed in the hands-on test on Sunday. There were seven different events held in 14 tents to accommodate the number of teams; each of the skills test was being held in two tents.

Mark Catenacci, vice chair of the International Bus Roadeo committee and senior project designer, vehicle technology with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, talked about the pride the teams have of making it to this level and how one team, from VIA in San Antonio had bake sales and raised funds to uniforms specially for this roadeo.

While talking to one team that came here from a large agency from the Northeast, they said how their local paper had large headlines after last year’s event something to the effect of taxpayers’ dollars being used to play games. And while some apparently may think that, SEPTA Technical Instructor Norman Gartner, “The roadeo keeps our technicians current. It’s an event that motivates them to learn.”

At SEPTA, he explained they had 14 teams that competed in their agency’s roadeo, which they hold every September. The teams compete and the winning team gets the opportunity to compete at the national level which, Gartner says, gives them the opportunity to learn about the latest products.

We’ll have more coverage of the roadeo in our next MTtv, highlighting what some of the events are, what it took to get the grounds ready at the Allison Transmission’s test track and give you a behind-the-scenes look at some of the competition.

Sunday's Opening: Safety, Security & Sandy

The opening session on Sunday started with APTA Chair Flora Castillo presenting APTA’s Safety and Security awards. Congratulation to Merit of Certificate and Gold Level Winners Southwest Transit of Eden Prairie, Minn.; Capital District Transportation Authority of Albany, N.Y.; TriMet of Portland, Ore.; MTA New York City Transit of New York, N.Y.; National Express Group of Warrenville, Ill.; Societe de transport de Montreal of Montreal, Quebec; and Metro Transit in Minneapolis, Minn.

The opening general session was Hurricane Sandy: Managing the Disaster – Managing Resilience where SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey, MTA Bus Company President Darryl Irick, NJ Transit Corp. Executive Director James Weinstein and FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff talked about the various security plans, how the states and industry communicated and collaborated and some lessons learned for going forward.

Rogoff began by reminding attendees it was the largest disaster on public transit ever. For disasters like this, communication and leadership is critical. He also said how the response from the industry – the community goodwill and efforts – was remarkable.

To make up for lost rail lines in the Northeast, buses were being used and the response to volunteer buses was overwhelming. Not only vehicles were needed, but to get rail service back up and running in areas as quickly as possible, there was scrambling to get the specific components needed for repairs. And, on legacy systems, finding those parts sometimes proved challenging. There was one component that was needed found at the Chicago Transit Authority and they sent that out with a van and three technicians and that was necessary to help in getting PATH up and running.

Rogoff explained that when developing MAP-21, they didn’t want to make transit dependent on FEMA for getting systems back up and running and didn’t want systems to be put back in the condition they were in, they wanted funding for repair and resilience. He cited an example of New Orleans having 8-year-old buses and being required to go out and get 8-year-old buses.
For MAP-21 they thought $25 million in a year’s time would be expected and they turned out needing $10 billion after Sandy. “That was the largest scorekeeping error in the federal budget since Medicare Plan B.”

Casey told attendees about the preparations that were put in place pre-story at SEPTA and while they were also preparing for the worse, they only had 4.2” of rain and heavy winds, so they were very fortunate compared to New York and New Jersey.

One thing he pointed out was that it was important to provide symbolic service following the storm for a psychological boost to the community. Seven hours following the storm they had their buses back out in service even though the community wasn’t ready to fully use the service.

Weinstein said the damage caused by the storm was primarily on the rail system and because of the stand down they did prior to the storm, the bus system help up very well. The 2,500 buses and 5,300 employees carried NJ Transit for close to 30 days. For the extra bus service they needed to fill in for the missing rail service, agencies from around the country provided vehicles. And when it comes to funding preparations for the future, Weinstein said, “It is much stronger speaking as a group with one voice when speaking to Congress.”

Rogoff stressed there is more difficult work coming up. Our industry’s DNA is about getting service back and up and running. However, some of those repairs that were done to get the service running, weren’t the best long-term solutions and one example was that some of the tunnels will have to be closed so the longer-repair terms can be done.

Regional discussions will need to go on, he said. If all the tunnels had not flooded, all of that water would have been in the basements of lower Manhatten. “Water has to go somewhere.”
If you’re protecting a rail yard or a tunnel, it could worsen the situation elsewhere. What are the best investments as a region for all of transit, not just one system.

The employees behind the accomplishments were talked about by the panelists and audience members. Panelists talked about the dedication of the employees in working so hard at getting things going following the storm but Rogoff warned that some had been working three days straight and as he explained, having someone on a catenary pole who hasn’t slept for too long of a period, isn’t the best option.

A question asked was about how management could show appreciation to the many staff members that were so important to prepare for the storm and to get the systems back up and running. Casey stressed that those employees have such a sense of pride in them about what they do. “Getting it back and running was gratification for them.”

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