Linda Watson, CEO of LYNX, the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, believes a huge part of encouraging people to use public transportation relies on making the experience more appealing to riders. And, LYNX’s ability to consistently break its ridership records year after year, echoes that sentiment.
In addition to providing more than 85,000 passenger trips on its fixed route bus service each weekday, the transit system boasts one of the largest routes in the nation by currently serving a 2,500-square-mile area in Orange, Osceola and Seminole, Fla. Counties.
Since becoming LYNX’s CEO in 2004, Watson has remained committed to transforming the agency’s outdated fleet and service offerings to meet the growing needs of a community that has come to rely heavily on its ever-expanding service areas.
“When I got here, I did not know how bad the service and the fleet were,” she says. “Well over half of the buses in the fleet needed to be replaced.” In response, the agency focused its energy on putting a swift bus replacement schedule into action that would distribute new equipment to all of its service sectors, and quickly. “I called it a bus replacement schedule on steroids,” says Watson.
With the many successes accomplished since 2004, including the construction of a central bus facility, LYNX is positioned to have nearly completely transformed the look and feel of its service.
“We’re going to have a totally new system,” says Watson of the new buses, routes, fuel and bus shelters, all in the final stages of planning on the LYNX “To Do” list for 2009. “It all comes together to give the community a really great system that they’re proud of and will want to use,” she adds.
An overdue overhaul
After much time spent in the central Florida community, Watson discovered that LYNX riders were interested in newer buses that were not only modern looking, but high-tech as well.
“We have a very vibrant, upscale downtown,” she says. “We were looking for buses with a sleek and modern design.” At the time, adds Watson, LYNX began the discussion with California-based bus manufacturer Gillig Corp., who coincidentally was working on a brand new high-tech model — the Low Floor BRT Style bus. “It just worked out that by the time we placed our second order, we were able to go with this new, modern design,” she says.
Over the past four years, LYNX has purchased 170 diesel Gillig buses and is currently waiting on an order of 25 brand new Gilligs, which will be delivered to the community later this summer. LYNX plans to distribute the new buses to all of its service areas for the benefit of all of its customers.
“These new buses will get us very close to replacing the entire fleet,” adds Watson. She expects the new additions to become an incentive for new riders to begin to use public transportation for the first time.
“People get on the bus that haven’t been on the bus in a long time, or ever,” she says, “and they are shocked at how clean and nice they are.”
It has been one of Watson’s goals to change the perception people have about riding the bus itself, but purchasing impressive vehicles is just one small part of that process. Out of the 5,000 bus stops on the LYNX route, only 500 have shelters.
Facing the possibility of declining ridership numbers in 2009 due to unemployment (73 percent of LYNX riders used the bus to get to work) and decreases in tourism numbers, Watson worked diligently with U.S. Congressman Alan Grayson to obtain federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for 120 new shelters, some of which will be smart shelters. The latter will be equipped with displays providing next bus arrival times and the vehicle’s current location.
Watson hopes the new shelters will make taking the bus more comfortable and appealing, thus encouraging people who don’t ever take the bus to utilize the service as a more cost-efficient means of travel. The project is also expected to create jobs in the area by enlisting local contractors to build the shelters.