Rail fans Liam and Bill McCann get an up-close view of a Broad Street Line car.
Almost every transit authority has them — the buffs who know every detail about every vehicle and piece of equipment ever used by an organization. For the second consecutive year, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) paid tribute to the passion of its rail fans by inviting them to attend its recent annual Rail Rodeo competition.
Sixty rail fans — winners of a special ticket lottery — were treated to a behind the scenes look at SEPTA’s Fern Rock Maintenance Facility, a place few outside of the Authority are able to venture. Based on the attendees’ reactions, it was an experience few will forget.
Previously only open to SEPTA employees and their families, the annual Rail Rodeo allows Market-Frankford Line and Broad Street Line operators, Regional Rail engineers and conductors and yard motorpersons to participate in various tests of operational and mechanical skill on SEPTA’s trains. The rail fans in attendance were allowed to take part in the competition, riding on the Broad Street Line during the operations test.
A SEPTA employee explains the operation of the Authority's Broad Street Line subway to a young Rail Rodeo attendee.
Rodeo lottery winners were also given the opportunity to ride the newest addition to SEPTA’s rail fleet — the Silverliner V, — “talk shop” with SEPTA maintenance staff, see demonstrations of the equipment that makes the trains run and get up close views of subway cars on lifts.
“Opening up the Rodeo to our rail fans has been a hit,” said SEPTA GM Joseph Casey. “I think our employees have enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk to people who share their enthusiasm for the rails and our lottery winners have appreciated the recognition SEPTA has given them by inviting them to an ‘Authority only’ event. Attending the Rodeo gives them terrific bragging rights in the rail fan community.”
At the Denton County (Texas) Transportation Authority (DCTA), we’re constantly looking for unique ways to engage with passengers, generate brand awareness and increase ridership. This year with Valentine’s Day being on a Saturday, we saw a great opportunity to launch a campaign in which passengers could ride DCTA’s A-train commuter rail and Connect Bus for free on Valentine’s Day all day by saying “Be Mine” to the agency’s rail and bus operators. With low-trending ridership in February, we needed to find a way to increase ridership and brand awareness within Denton County and surrounding cities. Launching the Valentine’s Day promotion definitely would help us achieve this.
Seeing a canine passenger on mass transit is not uncommon, but the reasons why a dog might catch the train or hop a bus are varied (remember Eclipse, the Seattle Lab mix that uses the bus, often on her own, to get to the dog park?). Most public transit pooches are working —as K-9 officers or service animals. In the Philadelphia region, other animals — in approved carriers only—are permitted to ride the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s buses, trains and trolleys. However, a new pilot program underway by SEPTA allows registered therapy dogs volunteering at two Philadelphia hospitals to use two designated bus routes to travel to their sites.
To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.
The Uber website proudly states that, “Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 200 cities today, Uber's rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.” Such hype is common on corporate websites, but when the braggadocio is backed up by an article in the Wall Street Journal that discloses a valuation of $41 billion their ambitious words take on relevance.
As the world changes with the rapid advancement of connected devices and technologies, so must the transportation industry. In a business area where change is sluggish, DOTs across the country must adapt quickly to the evolving technologies that are going to impact their operations and budget. There are at least three technologies that will have immense impact over the next two decades on how we travel and how state transportation departments react to provide mobility — connectedness, big data and automation.