Whether it’s customizing public transit for a university, opening a streetcar line, or operating buses in a world famous tourist destination, transportation contractors are taking on these exciting challenges and bringing efficiencies to the services while doing so.
METRO Magazine spoke with six prominent contractors in the industry and asked them to share some of the highlights of their latest contracts. Contractors shared how they customized service, used partnership models and made operations more sustainable.
First Transit – University branding
A substantial provider of university transit service, First Transit is currently serving 26 universities and colleges. Added to that list are Knoxville, Tenn.’s University of Tennessee (UT) and Auburn, Ala.-based Auburn University; both recently selected the contractor as their transportation partners, Keith Whalen, senior VP, business development and marketing, First Transit, says.
Part of what has defined First Transit’s success in serving the university market well, he adds, is establishing an identity for the transit system that is consistent with the university’s imagery and branding. This creates a high level of buy-in and confidence in the service.
The contractor incorporates the university’s branding into its service by painting the buses in the university’s colors and ensuring its logo is displayed prominently on the vehicles. For example, UT bus service is branded as the T, which is consistent with branding and logo of the university.
UT’s fleet will be composed of 15 new ElDorado buses, to be supplied by the contractor. The vehicles will be completely wrapped in the university’s color scheme and imagery.
“We’re really excited to bring a new fleet to that university, as well as provide the students and faculty with reliable service, and customer service that is second to none,” Whalen says. “We’ll combine our management approach for those products with the new buses and branding.”
First Transit also works to carry out the eco-friendly missions of many universities. Contracts with the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, (SUNY) and Georgia Southern University demonstrate the contractor and universities’ commitment to environmental conservation.
In each contract, Whalen says, First Transit has coordinated with university staff to procure a new fleet of energy-efficient buses that go hand-in-hand with First Transit’s commitment to the environment, its customers’ commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of the fleet and its dedication to service quality.
First Transit is now in the process of procuring CNG-powered, clean fuel, and hybrid buses for SUNY and Georgia Southern, to reduce the fleet’s carbon footprint.
As with branding, First Transit also works with universities to tailor its services specifically to meet the expectations and needs of the students and faculty on the campus, Whalen says.
“We do not approach this or any contract in an operating environment as one-size-fits-all,” he adds.
In some cases, the contractor needs specific information to incorporate into its training program to help new students or visitors get around campus. It also customizes its driver training programs to the needs of the university to make the drivers “good ambassadors to the riding public from an information standpoint as well as doing a great job of driving the buses,” Whalen adds.
Additionally, First Transit is often asked by the university to make its existing services better.
“In those cases, we take a look at the services — the route structure and the times — and we can often find suggestions that will make the services more efficient,” Whalen says. [PAGEBREAK]
Keolis America – Vegas BRT
As of July 7, Keolis America will take on the formidable task of providing transportation to the city of Las Vegas, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. The contractor is partnering with Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) and running 213 vehicles in the resort corridor on the famous Las Vegas Strip.
Keolis will operate along the Strip double-deck Deuce buses, manufactured by Alexander Dennis, which will run in local service mode and make every stop, and 60-foot articulated bus rapid transit (BRT) vehicles, manufactured by The Wright Group, Kevin Adams, executive VP, business development and operations planning, Keolis America, says. The fleet also includes approximately 75 hybrids.
The contractor will also operate residential services in other parts of the city.
Las Vegas’ 24-hour service accommodates very high daily ridership on the strip, at nearly 46,000. When asked about the challenge of taking on transit in Las Vegas, Adams points out the Keolis operates in other intense corridors worldwide with 22,000 buses.
“For example, in Lyon, France, we operate over 1,200 vehicles,” he says. “Keolis [also] is the largest tram operator in the world. But, there’s nothing quite like Las Vegas.”
Keolis is operating one of two contracts for the RTC service. During the procurement process, RTC decided to split the contract and use two operators. MV Transportation is operating the services for RTC in the Northern part of the city.
One unique aspect of the contract is the approximately 411 drivers Keolis will hire will be able to choose the division they work in after they become a permanent employee, according to Adams.
The project has been a cooperative effort between MV Transportation, Keolis and the RTC, he adds.
“RTC is really a progressive transit authority. They’re one of the most efficient operations, when measured in their operating costs per hour and passengers carried per hour,” Adams says. They’re one of the tops in the country.”
McDonald Transit Associates – Maintenance, sustainability
Taking on a quickly growing fleet, Fort Worth, Texas’ McDonald Transit Associates currently operates a fixed-route service for the City of Colorado Springs (Colo.) and was also recently awarded a maintenance contract from the city, Ken Fischer, sr. VP, business development, McDonald Transit Associates, says. The new contract goes into effect July 1.
For this contract, McDonald is only operating the fixed-route buses but doing the maintenance for all the vehicles. This is the first time McDonald entered into a contract with a government organization to handle only maintenance. Typically, McDonald takes on the fixed-route and paratransit operations and maintenance.
Under the fixed-route operations contract, McDonald was responsible for maintaining 57 vehicles. After winning an additional contract from the City, McDonald will take on maintenance for 155 vehicles, including those in the paratransit and vanpool fleets, almost tripling the number of vehicles to be maintained.
Before McDonald was operating the fixed-route vehicles, the city staff itself was doing the maintenance on the paratransit vanpool and City service vehicles. McDonald was able to offer them a better price and more efficiency.
Turning attention to its own operation’s efficiencies, the contractor completed a sustainability management pilot project at its operation in Daytona Beach, Fla., inventorying all its maintenance, operations and administrative departments to ensure its operating practices promote sustainability.
McDonald paid particular attention to what it was throwing away, tracked how much water it was using and went through its maintenance practices to ensure it was doing all the necessary recycling.
“We’re trying to encourage that in all our operations: to look at the operating, maintenance and administrative departments, to practice sustainability in those functional areas,” Fischer says. [PAGEBREAK]
MV Transportation – Paratransit innovations
One innovation MV Transportation is bringing to the table for Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is integrating taxi service just as it has done for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, saving wait time on buses without additional stops for riders that don’t require a large bus and hydraulic lift.
MV just finished work on OCTA paratransit, which went into effect on July 1, and Van Nuys, Calif.-based Access Services Northern Region paratransit, serving all of Los Angeles County, Carter Pate, CEO, MV Transportation, says.
Meanwhile, Access Services oversees a curb-to-curb ADA paratransit service, with 43 Los Angeles County fixed-route member agencies. MV has been the provider since 1999. Access re-upped with the contractor for five years with five one-year renewal options. Under the terms of the contract, MV will continue to manage operations, vehicle maintenance, customer service, scheduling and dispatch, and expects to provide approximately 575,000 trips per year.
The paratransit service will be provided with a fleet of approximately 180 Access and MV-supplied vehicles, as well as a smaller fleet of taxicabs during peak hours furnished and operated by MV’s taxi partner. MV will employ approximately 400 operators and staff to run the paratransit service.
The Access contract is a good example of teamwork, and probably, one of MV’s most “cutting-edge new services,” due to the taxi service and technological and facility upgrades, according to Pate.
MV has already begun implementing Access’ new dispatch system, StrataGen, and plans to make more improvements to the existing phone system, radio devices and facility.
“We got a lot of compliments from StrataGen for the implementation,” Pate says. “We upgraded the system radios [and] facilities; [and] made a large investment in employees, morale, community involvement, food drives and passenger outreach.”
The contractor was also able to reduce accident frequency and the number of complaints the service received.
National Express Transit Corp. – Commuter services
National Express Transit Corp. is helping transit systems ease the commute for riders with two contracts that began operating on July 1.
The contractor is in the middle of start-ups for transit operations at Solano County, Calif.’s, Solano County Transit (SolTrans) and Greensboro, N.C.’s Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART), Brian Sullivan, chief marketing officer, National Express, says.
The SolTrans contract, for a commuter shuttle primarily carrying choice riders, is particularly exciting because it is the contractor’s first public transit contract in California, Sullivan says. Additionally, SolTrans is a fairly new agency, having consolidated the services of two cities — Vallejo and Benicia — a couple years ago, under one county-run transit authority.
National Express is working with SolTrans to increase ridership and interest in the system.
“We hope to be right there alongside them as their partner, providing quality, safe service and making it as easy and convenient for passengers to take Soltrans,” Sullivan says. “We hope to continue to support their direction growing ridership and enhancing their image.”
The contract includes local and express fixed-route commuter shuttles, paratransit service with 64 vehicles, customer service and pass sales, vehicle maintenance, facility maintenance at two transit centers, a park-and-ride lot, and approximately 450 bus stops. National Express will also administer an employee bonus fund to provide performance-based rewards and incentives and an employee wellness fund, to develop health and fitness programs.
March 2013 marked the first year that the Transit Services Corp. division of National Express has operated in the U.S.
For PART, National Express leveraged the locations of two facilities, as opposed to using a more standard, single facility, to minimize deadhead. The contractor has been operating the service since December 2012.
The situation is unique, Sullivan says, because of the Piedmont cities triad and the demand to commute between them instead of between a city center and its suburbs. [PAGEBREAK]
Veolia Transportation – Rail extension
As if getting a streetcar extension up and running weren’t a feat in and of itself, Veolia Transportation managed to have the line completed and operating in New Orleans one week before the city hosted the 2013 Super Bowl.
The use of what Veolia refers to as the partnership model is responsible for that success, Dick Alexander, sr. VP, business development, Veolia Transportation, says.
The model, or delegated management contract, defines the contractor as not just the operator, but a full partner in the process. As a full partner, Veolia implements the policy set by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) board of directors.
The project is a good example of the model, which more cities in the U.S. are looking into, Alexander says.
“I think it’s going to be a growing trend, private sector contractors having a much deeper role in the technical aspects and the long-range planning of services, not just the operation of the here and now,” he says.
The board of directors requested a plan to expand the streetcar system. Veolia presented a three-part plan. The Loyola Corridor was the first of three build-outs. The contractor secured funding, developed the specifications, hired the engineering and construction firms, and oversaw of the process with subcontracted firms doing the procurements according to Federal Transit Administration requirements.
The extension operates approximately 1.6 miles along Loyola Avenue between the Canal Street and the Union Passenger Terminal downtown, serving most of the business district and connecting Amtrak and a bus transit center at the terminus of the line. Since the streetcar opened, it generated more than $2.7 billion in development around the line.
Developments in the works for future expansion as part of the larger 10-year plan for public transit mobility in New Orleans include another streetcar line along Rampart St., traveling across the North side of the French Quarter into mainly residential areas.
Challenges with the project were typical, Alexander says: raising enough money and a tight deadline.
“You just work your way through problem by problem,” he adds. “We were able to get a very good bond rating for the RTA. That meant we were able to raise more money. One thing builds on another to get the project going.”
Additionally, at the order of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the project had to be done before the Super Bowl.
“Downtown New Orleans was just one big construction site because we couldn’t do things as one often does by taking one block and working on it and moving to the next,” Alexander recalls. “We had to rapidly do this, so there was a lot of construction. The residents of New Orleans had to put up with a lot while this got built.”
Now, he adds, the streetcar looks like it was made to be there, blending into the landscape. The Hyatt Regency New Orleans even conducted a major renovation of its facility, moving its front door to Loyola Avenue to be closer to the streetcar.
“There aren’t a lot of systems that can go from concept to implementation as fast as that project did,” Alexander says. “It shows the value of having partners with different expertise. For us to go to the mayor and the city and look for money together is a real testament to the power of that approach.”