September 2009

GM Survey: Recession Impacting Operations, Capital Programs

by Janna Starcic, Executive Editor

IN THIS YEAR’S GENERAL MANAGER SURVEY, THE FOURTH conducted by METRO Magazine, we asked executives if state and local budgets were impacting their operations and capital programs, as well as how they plan on spending their stimulus funds, and what “green” practices and customer improvements they’ve implemented. Overall, 40 executives responded to this year’s survey. Their titles ranged from general manager to executive director to CEO to transit director. Of the respondents, one managed a Canadian system, while the rest manage systems in the U.S.

EXECUTIVE SALARIES

Most of the transit executives in our survey have carved out long-term careers in the industry, with an average of 25 years in public transportation. The longest tenure was 45 years; the shortest was just under a year. The average annual salary for transit executives in this year’s survey totaled $156,605. The lowest reported salary was $63,000; the highest was $266,000. The median was $157,000. Assessing salary against the size of the operational budget (see Figure 2, click on link below) showed a strong correlation. There was also a strong correlation between the amount of experience respondents had with their salaries (Figure 4, click on link below). Ties between fl eet size and salary were pretty predictable with a couple of exceptions (Figure 5, click on link below).

STIMULUS SPENDING

We asked transit executives how they would be spending their stimulus funding (Figure 6, click on link below). Nearly one-third (32 percent) of respondents plan on using the funding to pay for new vehicle purchases, while one out of four respondents are using the money for operations. A majority (43 percent) have tabbed the funding to pay for “other” items, which included: railcar rehabilitation, rail station upgrades, installation of security fencing and video surveillance, improving accessibility at bus stops and purchasing bus shelters. Nearly three out of four survey respondents believe that their local newspaper gives them fair coverage, while only a minimal number (6 percent) felt that media coverage was unfair. When asked about workforce diversity, a majority of transit executives (79 percent) said it wasn’t an issue at their operation.

FUNDING AND OTHER CHALLENGES

Four out of fi ve respondents said state and local budgets were impacting their service operation and capital programs (Figure 7, click on link below). Many listed fare hikes and service cuts as the unfortunate result of the budget cuts. Others cited delays in capital projects due to the shortfalls. “The use of stimulus funds has allowed us to not make signifi cant cuts in service for the next two years. After that, we will be in trouble,” said one respondent. While funding registered as the main issue plaguing transit systems throughout the survey, we asked executives what other challenges came to mind (Figure 9, click on link below). Important issues cited include: responding to the need for more service; hiring and retaining qualifi ed maintenance technicians; costs of labor and benefi ts; and implementing new fare collection systems.

GOING GREEN, HIGH TECH

We addressed the issue of sustainability and asked respondents how they were going green (Figure 10, click on link below). Making fl eets cleaner by switching to alternative fuels, such as CNG or hybrid- electric, was listed by several executives. Many respondents reported on their extensive recycling programs. We also asked about customer service improvements that agencies undertook in the last year. Revamping Websites and offering

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