How private-sector vendors can successfully navigate transit agencies

Posted on March 13, 2019 by Paul Comfort - Also by this author

Private-sector vendors should understand the needs of a transit agency and not always try to sell “canned” products/solutions. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Nationaal Archief
Private-sector vendors should understand the needs of a transit agency and not always try to sell “canned” products/solutions. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Nationaal Archief

I have spent over 30 years around the public transportation industry — about half the time each in the public and private sector. Most recently I served as CEO of the Maryland Transit Administration in Baltimore.  

What I found in my public sector roles was that often private sector vendors did not understand how we operated nor how to interface effectively with us as the public agency. Here are some key things I wish they knew:

   1.    Most Transit CEOs have to serve almost as politicians because they operate in a very political world. Keep this in mind when you work with us.

   2.    We are VERY busy and have little time for office meetings with vendors.  

   3.    Most of us don’t control procurement.  

   4.    We can’t give you an edge because you are our buddy.

   5.    Bite-size info about industry trends are helpful.

   6.    Your messaging/engagement should differ based on the audience at our   agency.

   7.    Understand and follow procurement rules.

How well do you know your customer the transit agency? Here are some key facts you should find out about your customer to better understand them:

   1.    Are they a State agency vs. Independent Authority.

   2.    Do they have a Board of Directors and are they Elected vs. Appointed.

   3.    Key stakeholders – Who are they and what do they want.

   4.    How are they funded – Taxes, farebox, fees – who subsidizes.

   5.    What is their budget – Capital and Operating.

   6.    What are their service plans – Public Info.

   7.    What are their service problems – Follow on Google News alerts.

To understand the direction of public transit agencies find out what the CEO is saying are his/her “North Stars.” What direction are they taking the agency? What are they focused on — what are their pain points? Are you reading the Board of Director minutes — they give you a good idea of what they and the top agency leadership are thinking and what services or improvements are coming down the pike.

Finally — here are some takeaways to be a better partner with your transit agency partners:

  

Be a resource to your customers.
Photo: Public Domain
Be a resource to your customers.
Photo: Public Domain
1.    Be a partner and not a “vendor” — Understand the agency needs and don’t always try to sell “canned” products/solutions.

   2.    Get to know your clients, their organizations, and projects.

   3.    Be a resource to your customers.

   4.    Follow up if they reach out.

   5.    Be timely with responses to RFPs and requests for information.

   6.    Work with the correct staff on projects — understand the roles.

   7.    Publish content – be a thought leader in your industry.

Understanding transit agencies better will help you provide more value to them and become more successful as a partner to improve service for our customers.

Paul Comfort is VP Business Development with the Trapeze Group.

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