Last month I posted a piece on the various ways transit agencies are partnering with other public agencies that result in increased ridership, revenue and service. Public partners have included universities, local schools, social service agencies, downtown development authorities, and cities and counties among others. Transit agencies have also been active in entering partnerships with private entities with similar results as noted below:
- Fourteen different entities have partnered with the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority to provide $3.6 million over three years for an expanded downtown rubber tired trolley service.
- SamTrans in the San Francisco Bay area has a Shuttles Program that provides the “last mile” to link rail stations with business parks, hospitals, schools and other major employers. Typically, employers pay 50% of the costs, various government grants pay 25% and SamTrans pays 25%.
- In Portland, Ore., businesses have taxed themselves via a local improvement district and donated land for light rail system amenities provided by TriMet.
- The Centre Area Transportation Authority, not being able to initiate a U-Pass program at Penn State, has developed a similar program through off-campus student housing complexes. CATA currently contracts with 15 apartment complexes, each of which includes pre-paid transit passes as one of the amenities they offer their tenants.
- The North County Transit District has partnered with a local hospital to increase frequency on route 353 to serve as a shuttle between two hospital facilities. The hospital pays NCTD approximately $90,000 per year for increased service on the route.
Rochester-Genessee Regional Transportation Authority
There are three transit agencies that have taken additional steps to work with private partners to expand service or help cover the cost of existing service. The Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority
(RGRTA) in New York dedicates two full-time positions to “Business Development” which involves finding new partners to help fund transit services that would not ordinarily be provided in certain areas. Many public and private organizations build new facilities in areas outside of the more dense urban core in order to save development costs, but in so doing, they deprive employees and customers of the ability to reach them by public transportation. RGRTA is a fiscally constrained agency that cannot serve every street and every destination in the greater Rochester area.
To serve new markets at no or low additional cost to the transit agency, RGRTA’s two business development sales professionals invest time in meeting with institutions, such as customer calling centers, nursing homes, apartment complexes, supermarkets, health care facilities, technical schools, bingo halls and others that have located in places not currently served by transit. They discuss the possibilities of extending service to their locations, if those entities are willing to pay the costs associated with those new services. To date, that staff is finding that 20% of the organizations they meet with agree to pay for the additional transit service that would be required to serve their institution. The transit agency is earning as much through such agreements as they are through the fare box. In the meantime, the business development staff continues to meet with the Chamber of Commerce, the Kiwanis Club, the local Rotary Club and many other organizations in order to stay in the front of the minds of all the business interests in their community.
Chicago Transit Authority
Similarly, the Chicago Transit Authority
has partnered with Soldier Field, United Parcel Service (UPS), the Wrigley Co., and other attractions, hospitals and downtown business interests to allow these entities to provide subsidized service. CTA has begun renegotiating these contracts to decrease and/or eliminate the operating and overhead costs it incurs for such service. In addition, the CTA has established an official "Corporate Partnership Program” to promote corporate investment in its transit system. Benefits to the "Corporate Partner" include being promoted in CTA press releases, having the right to advertise on the CTA system, and having their name or logo incorporated into a CTA station name and signage.
Soldier Field. (C) City of Chicago.
In 2012, CTA launched an official program to sell the business naming and sponsorship rights to 11 of its stations. Current corporate partners include the Chicago Sun-Times
and Miller Coors, which sponsor penny rides on the first day of school for Chicago Public School children and on New Year’s Eve for all riders on CTA, respectively. CTA’s agreement with Sun-Times Media
Productions LLC is for three years plus a three-year option totaling $900,000 for the first three-year agreement and an additional $900,000 if an additional three-year agreement is entered. The agreement would cover out-of-pocket costs incurred by the CTA as a result of providing free rides to students.
CTA’s three-year (plus three-year option) sponsorship agreement with Miller Coors to provide free rides on New Year's Eve allows the company to advertise in stations and on fare cards sold in predetermined stations. The total contract value including option years is $1.4 million. CTA estimates a total of $154,000 in lost revenues on New Year's Eve every year, but this sponsorship agreement will result in an estimated $1.1 million in revenue for the CTA over six years.
On a smaller scale, the Fredericksburg Regional Transit Authority (FRED) in Virginia has also established a partnership program that invites public and private partners who make annual contributions or grants of $25,000 or more in cash or in kind to receive the following benefits:
- Acknowledgment of their support on all FRED promotional materials.
- Acknowledgment of their support at all FRED-sponsored public events.
- VIP invitations to all FRED-sponsored events (e.g., ground breakings, ribbon cuttings, new service launches).
- Invitations to all Public Transit Advisory Board meetings, where your voice can be heard.
- Free system-wide ridership for all of their employees (upon presentation of a valid ID).
In some of the three cases noted above, new service, revenue and ridership result from the partnerships. In other cases, stronger bonds are formed with the public and private partners that serve the transit agency well in terms of their own relevance in their communities.
In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "Reports Can Only Help Public Transit's Case."
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.