Contracting out transit services is not only a cost-savings solution, but also a way to maximize the efficiency, productivity, and ultimately, the sustainability of transit services through the use of technology and innovative operational practices. We spoke to a few private contractor companies — First Transit, McDonald Transit Associates, MV Transportation, and Veolia Transportation — to discuss recent contracts, high-tech products, trends in services and sustainable initiatives.
Contracts. First Transit was recently awarded a five-year Rutgers University contract totaling $38 million, under which it will buy 50 new buses for the university and equip the entire fleet with NextBus' real-time vehicle tracking technology.
In addition, the company began a five-year contract with Reno, Nevada's Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) to operate its paratransit services. Management of the $30.4 million contract began in July 2010 and will save the RTC $3 million over the life of the contract.
"Partnering with First Transit brings customers cost savings and increased efficiencies. [We] have extensive expertise in safety, planning, routing and vehicle maintenance, and provides customers with the latest technology and systems available," says First Transit Sr. Vice President Deb Devoe. "Customers also benefit from our purchasing power and economies of scale."
Technology. In addition to NextBus technology, the company will integrate Zonar's GPS/AVL polling to transmit data from the Electronic Control module of each bus to provide engine hours, odometer readings, oil pressure, and coolant level and temperature.
First Transit also employs Zonar Ground Traffic Control, which monitors speeds, idle times, in-yard delays and inspection times. Other products being used include DriveCam's behavior-based Fuel Management Solution for improving fleet performance. Integrated into DriveCam Online, the product combines real-time, in-cab feedback with online reporting and coaching to improve fuel efficiency and lower emissions.
The company also has extensive and detailed experience regarding design, installation, operations and management of many types of enterprise-wide computerized scheduling and dispatching systems, including Trapeze, Devoe says.
Growth. In terms of growth in the contractor market, First Transit is focused on expanding its industry leadership position in the college and university markets, Devoe says.
Sustainability. The company's employee training program integrates more efficient operating practices into daily behaviors, such as checking tire pressure daily, reducing idling, gradual acceleration and deceleration at stops, frequent inspections and maintenance adjustments, Devoe says.
"In addition, we are focused on providing a more environmentally friendly service with the implementation of electric and bio-fuel buses," she says.
First Transit's Hazardous Waste Reduction program has eliminated 95 percent of the hazardous waste in its operating facilities. New company procedures have eliminated the use of all chlorinated solvents, which minimizes employee exposure, as well as the potential for cross contamination of other non-hazardous waste streams.
Whenever possible, CNG and biodiesel fuels are being used, as is technology to reduce emissions by up to 12 percent, Devoe says.
[PAGEBREAK]McDonald Transit Associates
Contracts. In the first quarter of 2011 McDonald Transit Associates added more than $7 million in new contract revenue. Among these successes, McDonald was chosen to manage bus service in Colorado Springs, Colo., a system of 40 buses with almost 100 employees that utilizes the latest in customer service information and AVL technology.
"In its new operations, McDonald has brought improved customer service, increased fleet reliability and a more cost effective approach to providing service. Unit operating costs in Colorado Springs are actually less than the costs in the previous contract year," says McDonald Transit's Executive Vice President John Bartosiewicz.
Technology. McDonald Transit offers its clients state-of-the-art management and performance monitoring systems, he says. Utilizing off-the-shelf software, the company provides data and reports to proactively manage service for clients. These technologies include paperless maintenance work order and tracking systems, AVL with video and audio monitoring, 100 percent sampling of on-time performance, and real-time customer information available at bus stops and on the Web.
"We also were a pioneer in the implementation of CNG as a transit vehicle fuel and introduced some of the first hybrid-electric buses into regular route service, particularly at small to medium-sized cities," Bartosiewicz says.
Services. McDonald Transit continues to develop and refine innovative approaches to providing service, including flex routes on low-demand routes, coordinated paratransit service for mobility impaired and general public riders, on-demand route deviation and high-capacity shuttle services. "We are currently working with our sister company, RATPDev USA, to bring European innovations in fare payment technology, customer information and turnkey streetcar system implementation to the U.S.," Bartosiewicz says.
Growth. The company has increased customers served and revenue more than 10 percent in the last year. "With the addition of four new customers and related revenue the growth outlook is positive," Bartosiewicz says.
Sustainability. With regard to green initiatives, Bartosiewicz says that many of the company's systems utilize proactive recycling programs and clean energy, with several in the process of constructing LEED-certified facilities.
Contracts. MV Transportation has been awarded many contracts during the past year; two to note are the transportation service for California-based Anaheim Transportation Network (ATN) - Anaheim Resort Transit (ART) — and the County Area Transit System (CATS) service for Ontario County, N.Y.
In 2010, MV worked with ATN to install its proprietary TimePoint software system, which is a fixed-route vehicle tracking and reporting system. It provides passengers with real-time information about the ART service complete with expected arrival times and on-screen dispatch mapping.
"MV worked closely with ATN to make the ART service reliable, easy to use, and focused on the residents, visitors and employees that use it," says W.C. Pihl, senior vice president, business development.
MV tailored its operator training program to include instruction on local landmarks, shopping and entertainment venues, and other unique area characteristics. Due to its success with the ATN contract, MV's received an additional contract award to provide transportation services to connect outlying parking facilities within the Anaheim Resort District.
For the CATS system, MV evaluated the existing service and implemented various measures to improve service and safety, which included deployment of the DriveCam video surveillance system on the entire fleet to encourage safe vehicle operation.
"We also enhanced customer service training and implementation of new professional and consistent uniforms, making operators easily recognizable to all passengers," Pihl says.
As a large contractor, MV was able to offer its national purchasing program to the County for all of its services. This included the move to a paperless application process, which was in line with the County's green efforts.
Technology. "MV is unique in the fact that we are able to easily implement the unique proprietary software and applications of our subsidiary, MV Technologies Inc.," Pihl says.
These innovations include MV's paperless DVI product, "eDVI," which can be implemented on any type of vehicle and allows operators to electronically submit information and automate the communication between operators and maintenance technicians. The system automatically sends any defects to fleet maintenance by creating a work order and subsequently updating the DVI status when the vehicle is ready to be put back into service.
Additionally, another part of the aforementioned TimePoint software suite is the ability to provide up-to-date information to kiosks, arrival boards and ruggedized displays.
Growth. MV has seen consistent growth via the competitive procurement process, according to Pihl.
"Because of this type of growth the company holds no debt and is able to put a great deal of profits back to its employees and the communities we serve."
Sustainability. Through the implementation of MV's TimePoint Software products, the company is able to partner with clients' green initiatives in many ways, says Pihl. Common examples include reducing dwell times, number of trips through more efficient service and reducing the use of paper, saving on cost.
Contracts. For Savannah, Ga.-based Chatham Area Transit (CAT), Veolia started its second Public Private Operating Partnership (PPOP) project in which Veolia performs all tasks and staffs all positions below the board of directors. The contract, with an approximate budget of $13 million dollars annually, delivers transit, paratransit and ferry services. Veolia is responsible for operations and maintenance, as well as grants administration, planning, marketing, customer service, purchasing and community outreach.
"Veolia has re-energized the CAT system putting the development of its multi-modal transit center back on track," says Veolia President Dick Alexander. "As part of this effort, we are conducting a comprehensive route and schedule review which will result in the introduction of new express services and a redesign of the fixed-route system."
Technology. For this contract, Veolia will be implementing its Veolia Vision suite of products which will include real-time arrival information, AVL route monitoring and personalized cell phone transit apps. The company is also introducing a new website designed to provide up-to-the-minute information of CAT services.
As part of its major redesign of the CAT system, Veolia will be introducing new express services while redesigning the fixed-route structure to create greater service productivity and better connectivity throughout Chatham County.
The company partners with clients to maximize federal and state revenue sources, increase ridership and the associated revenue it brings into to a system, and offer new services, he says. "We use innovation and technology as tools to improve service and lower costs."
Growth. There has been tremendous growth as more and more systems move to the partnership model, according to Alexander. Phoenix, New Orleans, Savannah, Ga., Nassau County, N.Y., Reno, Nev., and North County, Calif., are all examples of this movement, he says.
Sustainability. Veolia has teamed up with SmartDrive to provide a powerful technological tool to assist drivers in eco-driving techniques resulting in a reduction in fuel consumption of up to 5 percent. Veolia also introduced Proterra's all-electric Ecoliner bus to California-based Foothill Transit's fleet.