In March, Transdev completed the acquisition of First Transit, making Transdev the leading operator of environmentally-friendly public transportation services in the U.S. and Canada across fixed-route bus systems, paratransit, shuttle services, rail, light rail, and fleet maintenance.
With this transaction, Transdev is enhancing its ability to support public transit agencies in the U.S. and Canada in their energy transition toward decarbonization and the increased deployment of zero-emission vehicle fleets.
To date, Transdev operates or maintains more than 400 zero-emission electric vehicles in North America, with an additional 70 vehicles on order. Transdev is set to operate a global fleet of 3,000 electric vehicles worldwide by year-end 2023.
Transdev U.S. CEO Laura Hendricks Discusses First Transit Acquisition & Future Goals
METRO Magazine Executive Editor Alex Roman got the chance to talk to Laura Hendricks, CEO of Transdev U.S., about the First Transit acquisition, how the onboarding process is going, the short- and long-term impact, and much more.
METRO: Talk about the First Transit acquisition…is this something that had been brewing for some time?
HENDRICKS: We are always looking for opportunities to expand the services we provide, not only here in the North American market but also around the globe. So when this opportunity presented itself, we certainly evaluated it and found we shared a complementary footprint, not only in the services we provide but also in the cultures that had been built over time at both companies. In the end, we believed it could be a good fit.
First Transit had been through another transaction when First Group decided to divest from the North American market. And so after that, we became aware that they wanted to divest the transit side of the business and started to evaluate how we can make the most of this opportunity.
Metro: Can you talk a bit specifically about what First Transit brings to the table?
HENDRICKS: Yes, it brings value first of all, because this acquisition helps us support our overall goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When you look at the difference they bring in, again, it's complementary geographically and it is complementary in some of the services we provide, including fixed route, paratransit, and non-emergency medical emergency transportation.
The one service they bring that is unique is the fleet vehicle service offering and product they offer to other public agencies such as ambulances, fire, and police. We did not have that segment of business. So we're excited about the growth opportunity in that market space and that segment that's available to us, as well as the great talent and people we get to bring into the fold because again the cultures are very similar.
At this point, the integration is going extremely well. We’re going to take the best of both best practices to determine how we integrate in the future, so we're very excited about what they bring from a talent perspective and what they bring from the geographical footprint expansion, which offers us a real chance to make a difference in the public transit space. In addition to that, with the fleet vehicle services segment, they also have a bigger footprint in what we call the B2B, or shuttle services, that we didn't necessarily have — we have some footprint in that area, but not in the scope First Transit had.
METRO: What are the short- and long-term goals after this acquisition?
HENDRICKS: The short-term goal is to make sure that all of our new team members joining Transdev are acclimated to our culture. Again, we have very similar cultures, so it's a good fit for us, right? This made strategic sense to expand here in the U.S. and North America with the Canadian expansion as well, but I think the short term is to ensure that all of our colleagues are adapting well to our culture. I think many know that we are a purpose-driven organization here at Transdev.
We stand behind our core values, our processes, and our purpose, which allows us to deliver a consistent quality of service for our communities. So, in the short term, it was to make sure that our people, clients, and communities were served with no interruption of service and business continuity.
Now, the long term will be the future state of integration. There's no more important time in the public transit industry than today, especially with the infrastructure funding for public transit that allows us to support serving the common good, along with zero emissions opportunities.
In addition to the zero emissions initiatives, we can now help a lot more clients across the U.S. and Canadian transit industries, because it also allows us to continue to expand and create equal access to all — not just the urban, but the more rural areas as well — with all mobility solutions today and into the future, because in the long-term transit won’t be the same as it was pre-COVID.
As we’ve looked at redesigning networks and taking advantage of this unprecedented federal funding for public transit and to create those equal access opportunities for all the communities we serve, the long term is to make sure we bring our global expertise to the North American market and continue to find a way through this acquisition to expand the geographical footprint to make a difference for all of our communities.
METRO: You know, I should back up a bit. What has the process been like in bringing aboard the First Transit team?
HENDRICKS: It’s going well. Again, one of the great things about this opportunity when it presented itself is the very similar company culture and values we both shared prior to the acquisition. With all the great leaders and people that we were able to bring onboard to Transdev, it's important that we become one team with one mission, which is to follow our purpose here at Transdev to provide safe, reliable, and innovative solutions that serve the common good.
While we’ve been onboarding, our focus from day one, whether it be myself, our executive teams, or are leaders, has been to get out into the field at all of our different locations to bring people face-to-face with us and introduce who we are at Transdev.
The most important thing again is making sure that our new team members feel excited about this opportunity as much as we are. In addition, we’ve worked to ensure that our clients that may be new to Transdev and may not be familiar with our brand understand the way we operate.
So, we have put a lot of emphasis on ensuring both our new employees and clients that there will be no change in the way we deliver our services, and when there is, it will only be for the better because we are relying on our global expertise to enhance the passenger and client services in all of the communities we serve.
METRO: So what do those larger mobility issues look like now? Are you seeing a lot of your properties moving to more on-demand programs and other options?
HENDRICKS: On-Demand is increasing. I wouldn’t say a lot, but agencies are looking at how to create on-demand programs to sort of fill in those gaps because they want the passenger’s experience to be the best it can be to bring back ridership in the long run. In total, we have to make sure service is safe, reliable, and convenient so that people are attracted to it, so on-demand certainly has a higher interest today than there was pre-COVID.
The whole network planning and design needs the right resources and the right assets at the right point to ensure we increase access to people where it traditionally may have been more in metropolitan areas but now is even more vital in rural communities and areas where public transit was maybe not as predominant as in the past. In addition to that, as we look through to the future, we also have to look differently and can do that through our global expertise.
We operate over 2,500 zero-emission vehicles around the globe and are one of the leaders in bringing that expertise to our clients to support their carbon footprint reduction that so many agencies care about so much today. With that, before the acquisition, we were able to recruit some top-tier talent, as well, when we were able to add Lauren Skiver as our new COO.
Lauren has over 25 years of public transit experience in multiple cities as a CEO, but she also brings great strength in the area of zero emissions, where she’s also been responsible for maintenance and safety. She will lead our rail and non-emergency medical transportation divisions, and her skillset as one of the leading innovators when it comes to alternative fuels is really going to add value and a greater footprint through this acquisition, so we’re excited to have her on board.
The timing is perfect, too, because we can influence and support our clients and communities to help them in the transformation to alternative fuel sources with the expertise she brings.
METRO: How is the mobility picture here in North America similar or dissimilar to what is going on in the rest of the world?
HENDRICKS: It is actually very similar. I tell all of my colleagues around the world, while the countries we operate in may be different, what we do is the same — provide safe, reliable, and innovative mobility solutions that serve the common good, right?
And when you think about Transdev, our purpose is more alike than different around the globe because we have a lot of expertise in rail operations, metros, and trams. When you think about that, as it relates to what we can do as far as the contracting side, I do see that ridership is coming back on a much larger scale around the globe.
When we look at all the expertise and best practices in mobility solutions, whether it be zero emissions, on-demand transportation, and mobility as a service, Transdev can bring a lot with our global expertise, continuing to enhance our offerings and what we can do across the North American footprint to allow us to provide those mobility solutions to all of the communities throughout.
We're excited about that opportunity and what the First Transit acquisition brought to us at Transdev. And again, more importantly, the great talent that we were able to acquire as a result of this acquisition.
METRO: What are Transdev’s future goals post-acquisition?
HENDRICKS: If you look at the future, we certainly want to continue leading efforts from our global expertise on zero emissions, or alternative fuel sources, really.
Whether it be electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, or biogas, we want to continue helping to bring that expertise to the industry, because if you look at the different cities around the U.S. and North America, just like around the globe, there won't be one solution for all the communities we serve. It will depend on factors like the necessary miles that need to be covered and will therefore, be a combination of alternative fuel sources, with maybe some CNG playing a part as well.
The key is we have the expertise. We have a lot of good technologies, like Take Charge, where we understand how to maximize battery usage in electric buses. We developed our own internal software our control centers and dispatch teams can monitor because maximizing the usage of electric buses has so much to do with how the operators drive those buses as well.
And that leads us to the longer-term future goals, which is making sure that we are developing our workforce with everything we do. Here in the U.S., we recently were able to get our apprenticeship program for our maintenance technicians certified by the Department of Labor, with our first market being in Virginia.
We are very proud to partner with our Fairfax Connector client to get an apprenticeship program with the local high schools that will allow them to come aboard after graduation.
In addition to that program, we are also complementing it by giving our existing technicians continuing education at the local university to keep their skillsets up on any new vehicle innovations. We also continue to partner with our manufacturers to make sure we are focusing on providing ongoing training to our technicians to help them stay prepared and ready for this zero-emissions transformation that's going to occur rapidly here in the U.S.