Aurora (A.J.) Jackson became Lane Transit District’s (LTD) sixth GM in 2015, where she oversees the agency’s fixed-route, bus rapid transit (BRT), and RideSource paratransit services, as well as its Point2Point program. Jackson began her career at Calif.’s Montebello Bus Lines as a bus operator working to pay her way through college. Over the course of her career, Jackson was promoted to multiple positions in senior management, including serving as assistant transportation manager for two divisions of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, before returning to Montebello in 2008 to serve as its GM.
METRO Magazine Managing Editor Alex Roman spoke to Jackson about the success of LTD’s BRT system, its leadership role in providing services to the ADA community, and the changing face of the public transit industry as it increasingly looks to a “complete trips” mobility model.
What challenge(s) are geographically unique to LTD and what you are doing to overcome them?
Our transit network is primarily concentrated where we have employment and housing here in our metro area between the cities of Eugene and Springfield. The unique challenge for us comes when we are trying to connect our rural areas with each other and with employment, education, and all of the core services located primarily in the metro areas. Those communities are less populated, but figuring out how we move people throughout the multiple areas sometimes becomes a challenge. We also have two wonderful rivers that run right across our service area and the crossings across those rivers do create choke points. So, we at LTD also have to try to figure out how we can connect people across those rivers.
Our service currently is a hub-and-spoke system, and throughout our history, it has worked really well in connecting people. But, as our community continues to grow, we are really looking at how we can possibly do a more modified grid system. We are also looking at mobility on demand and bike-share as opportunities to connect people across multiple areas in a more efficient way.
Tell me more about the mobility options you are working on.
We look at all options. Mobility on demand, appears to be one of the more recent strategies transit systems are looking at, and we have just partnered with TransLoc, who conducted a study through a small grant program that we were selected for. As part of the study, they looked at what mobility on demand would look like in various areas, and provided some recommendations that we are currently analyzing to see if those options could produce improved mobility for people in less dense areas to be connected to our fixed-route and BRT systems. Through that work, we are looking at instituting programs both in our rural and metro areas where we see potential.
Additionally, from a complete trip model, we just supported a partnership with the City of Eugene for a bike-share program that launched last month. That program is concentrated in downtown Eugene, as well as along the University of Oregon, and allows people to use bike-share to connect with fixed-route buses, or directly with employment and education.
You have had quite a lot of success with your BRT lines.
Yes. Early in the 2000s, LTD, as part of a community conversation about the city’s growth, adopted the ‘Frequent Transit Network’ and identified corridors in which high volumes of people were traveling, or could continue to travel as the area continued to grow. Those areas ended up being the corridors that LTD identified as having the potential for a bus rapid transit system.
The first BRT project LTD engaged in is what we know as the Franklin Corridor, which connects downtown Eugene with downtown Springfield and travels along the university. Our daily average ridership there is 127 passengers per hour, just in that corridor. With that level of success, we invested in another corridor, which is our Gateway Corridor in the city of Springfield. That line connects downtown Springfield with the northern portion of the city, where a lot of housing and development occurred just before 2009.
Most recently, we completed the addition of a third BRT line, which is approximately 4.5 miles, one way, and connects downtown Eugene with the western part of the city. That line just opened in September 2017, but in that relatively short span of time, we have seen ridership increases along the route of up to six percent over the fixed-route system that originally supported the area. Part of that significant increase is occurring on weekends, which was surprising to us because we expected a majority of the ridership to occur during the weekdays. Also, toward the end of construction of the project up until today, we have seen local businesses and new developments pop up along the corridor.
Are you exploring building more BRT lines? Yes, we are currently studying five corridors in Eugene and one in Springfield. All of those corridors are designed around the Frequent Transit Network and focus on where housing and employment are concentrated. At this point, we are taking the concepts of those five corridors to both our community and local officials to identify what level of investments they would like us to do along those corridors. Our goal would be to get support from our community to do some incremental improvements that make economic sense and will allow us to operate more efficiently. We want to increase growth in employment and support the dense housing development that has been occurring throughout Oregon, but especially here in our metro area. We anticipate a decision by our local officials and our board of directors on some of that possible development later this year.
Discuss how important providing ADA options is for LTD, as well as some recent programs you’ve implemented?
We have been providing Dial-A-Ride services since the 1980s and were one of the first agencies in the country to do so. The way we currently manage our ADA program is that we have one call center where we utilize our RideSource ADA paratransit vehicles and our dial-a-taxi program. We also broker our Medicaid program, as well as some educational programs for communities centered on ADA Through that centralized brokerage, residents can call directly into one call center, and based on what they qualify for, can be connected with the appropriate transportation for that particular ride. Through the program, we are able to provide over half a million rides, annually, to a community of about 300,000 residents. So, it really is a substantial amount of rides we provide.
Most recently, we piloted a program that allows individuals, who use a service animal, to be able to board our buses without having to answer the two key questions that we are allowed to ask, which are: Is that a service animal? And, what service does that animal provide? The feedback we received from our customers and employees was that asking those questions sometimes caused friction and also led to some operational challenges when boarding; essentially slowing down the boarding process. What we did is launch a voluntary program that allows individuals that use service animals to be asked those questions privately during an in-office meeting. Once they’ve answered the questions, those individuals receive a decal that alerts our drivers that their service animal is allowed to board our buses. This ensures that the interaction between the driver and that passenger is seamless. I do want to emphasize that it is a voluntary program. It is not required, but people may want to choose to use it as a way to preserve their privacy, and we want to be able to provide that option to them.
As we talk about the idea of mobility, do you feel that transit agencies are more nimble to adapt to change than they have been in the past? Are you excited for that change?
I am excited that we are now looking at mobility as a complete trip and really connecting all the pieces. I think the main change that I am seeing is that providing the user the ability to make decisions for themselves appears to be the priority. Whether they go with public transit, a mobility-on-demand provider, bike-share, walk, or use some level of ADA or paratransit services, there is a system being put in place that is designed to allow the user to choose the option that meets their needs on that particular day. I think that this is really the first time that we as an industry are looking at transportation in a non-traditional way. It is exciting for me to see that this is happening, not just in my community, where LTD has been a leader in looking at complete trip models, but also because complete trips are really being embraced nationally, which then provides the synergy for us all to grow.