The public transit industry begins the new year with a mix of challenges and opportunities. Since experiencing a transformation brought on by the pandemic in 2020, the industry has embraced the requirement to be flexible.
Here are the five topics the Mass Transit editorial team will be watching closely in 2023; some are familiar, some have increased in prominence in the past year, but all have the potential to either threaten or enhance the industry’s hard-fought adaptability.
Pursuing lower emission goals
This topic has remained on our list as it continues to generate stories from various angles throughout the year. There is a significant federal funding opportunity to pursue low- and zero-emission fleets and, despite the collective move of the industry toward a lower-emission future, there remains a fair amount of confusion and frustration surrounding how to pursue these goals.
Lowering emissions is a shared federal priority of both Canada and the U.S., with leaders from both countries signing the Global Memorandum of Understanding on Zero-Emission Medium-and Heavy-Duty Vehicles at COP27 in November 2022. The international agreement supports a path to 100 percent new zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales by 2040, with a targeted floor of 30 percent new zero-emission sales in these sectors by 2030.
In the U.S., the recently signed Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 legislation included $90 million for the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Buses and Bus Facilities Grants and $50 million for FTA’s Low or No Emission Grants. In addition, approximately 20 percent of the funding designated under community project funding/congressionally directed spending through the Transit Infrastructure Grants account will go toward projects that involve low- or zero-emission vehicles and/or supporting infrastructure of these vehicles.
Continued inflationary and supply chain pressure
There is a collective want – not only in the industry, but everywhere – to see quickly rising prices and shortages of raw materials, parts another supply chain issues fade in the rear view.
Last month, NFI Group President and CEO Paul Soubry spoke at an event and noted the extreme challenges faced. He explained things had eased somewhat, but at the peak of the crisis, NFI had nearly 500 vehicles that were built but offline, which represented US$250 million in cash.
Gary A. Smith, CPIM-F, CSCP-F, CLTD-F, told Mass Transit for its December/January cover story that in the long term, supply chains need to evolve.
Smith offered the formula he believes will help the industry: “Adaptability equals agility plus resilience, where resilience, is the ability to absorb a change quickly, and agility is the ability to pivot and come up with a new way of doing something.”
The term “recession” is cropping up more in conversations, and the Mass Transit editorial team will be watching to see and report on how the industry powers through yet another year of challenges.
The frustration and innovation of modern recruiting
Another ongoing challenge to impact the industry has been how to retain and recruit new employees, specifically, operators and maintenance personnel.
Indeed and Glassdoor’s Hiring and Workplace Trends Report 2023 notes five long-term trends that will be particularly relevant to 2023 including:
- The job market will continue to be tight.
- Remote work will continue; not great news for those in the industry banking on the return of peak services, but the silver lining there may be a silver lining in the third trend.
- Workers seek higher pay and benefits are helping employers stand out; the survey found there has been an increase in commuter benefits (including transit reimbursement), and the increase in access is within markets such as arts and entertainment, food service and retail.
- Happiness and well-being matter.
- Diversity, equity and inclusion is being thrust to the forefront with the changing workforce.
The transit industry continues to face fierce competition for talent and is developing new approaches toward recruitment and retention that include increasing starting salaries, enhanced training opportunities, new benefits, a re-examination of current hiring practices and new educational and private sector partners to meet the hiring needs of the industry.
Bridging the gap between perception and reality in rider experience
Without customers, there would be no transit systems. Regular surveys of riders and non-riders help gage what and where gaps could be regarding service, frequency and other important elements, such as safety.
Agencies have embraced new technologies to make trip planning more seamless, implemented streamlined fare policies and upgraded facilities to ensure riders of all abilities have full access. On the safety front, there have been efforts to increase transit representative presence either in the form of police officers, transit security personnel or ambassador program representatives.
As detailed in an article from September 2022, increasing ridership and improving morale will take diverse strategies in customer experience programs.
Microtransit will continue to grow
Municipalities such as Sedona and Chandler, Ariz., Birmingham, Ala., and St. Lucie County, Fla., and transit agencies, including Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation, Wave Transit, C-TRAN, Via Metropolitan Transit, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority and Community Transit are among the transit providers to have launched or expanded on-demand microtransit options in 2022.
In a report published in October 2022, the Mineta Transportation Institute outlined microtransit’s advantages including flexibility, improved customer experience and its ability to bridge a service gap as key factors in its continued popularity. The report argues public transit agencies can better adapt to post-pandemic transit needs with some of the flexibility previously offered by ride-hailing.
The challenge with the continued interest in microtransit will be developing funding models to sustain successful pilot projects.
How did we do? What topics do you think will capture the industry’s attention in 2023?
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