“Customer service” is often the reason given when someone needs to differentiate between multiple business and retail options. If you want to find an automotive service company, you may choose a company listed on the internet with high customer service ratings. Today there are so many companies available providing the same or similar services, it is useful to compare their attributes. The internet is a useful tool for making those comparisons.
When it comes to public transportation, there aren’t actual choices among providers for most people in most places. Depending on how much one wants to spend, there may be choices of travel mode or hired travel such as a cab or Uber, rather than the public bus. In rural areas though, there may be only one taxi service available. Upon reflection, you may conclude that exercising some control over your choice is a great thing; and greater still if one of the parameters driving the choice is “customer service.”
“Customer service” means different things to each of us. It can range from wait time on a telephone call to whether a solution is offered to remedy a problem. For business or service providers with little or no competition, poor customer service or the perception that it is lacking is often the result.
For rural public or human service transportation providers, good customer service takes different forms. Dispatchers, drivers, managers, assistants, and those who work at rural public transit destinations are all essentially front-line representatives who can each positively and negatively influence perception of the customer service the client receives. Because the communities in which rural public transit works are small, there is often no anonymity. Actual customer service experiences are widely shared—as are perceptions and misperceptions of service. And because clients often have few transportation options, they may feel powerless to complain about bad customer service; conversely, a dissatisfied customer can wreak unwarranted havoc.
By attending town hall and board meetings and visiting institutional entities, rural public transit managers can gain perspective on the services they provide. In rural public transportation areas, everyone benefits when providers go above and beyond to help clients and riders, acting quickly to make necessary changes or offer needed training. The person delivering meals to homebound clients should understand that this interaction may be the only human contact for that individual. Being friendly and watching for problems that a quick phone call might fix is always appreciated, and this is particularly true for isolated individuals.
Dispatchers should also be open to assisting “problem” callers to accommodate travel whenever possible, rather than refusing their ride request. While most dispatchers do this well, not all are so considerate. A helpful response will be considered exceptional customer service, while also providing a safety net to the community. For someone who repeatedly reserves a ride, only to later cancel, or are habitual “no-shows,” the transportation provider might consider discussing the behavior with their social service provider in lieu of refusing service to someone.
In rural public transportation the best customer service manifests when transporting people from point A to point B, while the client remains oblivious to the vast efforts undertaken to provide service. Clients don’t need to know “how the sausage” is made in the office or the shop, even though there truly is a huge amount of red tape, paperwork, learning and stress behind nearly every public transportation operation. Providing that 10 minute ride to the doctor’s office is the easy part, as long as the angst within the organization is blocked from boarding the bus. Happy riders and customers are always a provider’s best PR in the public eye.
President Trump announced a $1.5 trillion 10-year infrastructure improvement plan last month, but this plan is not what you might expect. Historically, federal programs fund at least 50%, but often 80%, of public transportation capital projects. Trump’s plan shifts the primary responsibility of funding infrastructure investments to the locals. In fact, the President’s plan only includes $200 billion in federal funding.
In recent years there has been more of a push for states to rely less on the federal government for infrastructure spending. What Trump’s plan does is accelerate that shift of responsibility, in fact calling for no more than 20% federal funding for capital projects. “What we really want to do is provide opportunities for state and local governments to receive federal funding when they’re doing what’s politically hard, and increasing investment in infrastructure,” DJ Gribbin, Trump’s special assistant for infrastructure, said at last month’s US Conference of Mayors.
Half of the $200 billion would be awarded as incentive based grants to states and local governments. States and local governmental entities that have levied new or have increased taxes or fees for infrastructure would be presumably rewarded through federal grants. $20 billion would be awarded to projects of national significance. $50 billion is set aside for rural block grants, which are primarily split using a formula based on population and miles of rural road. The remaining $30 million would be used to fund other infrastructure related projects.
At a time when states like Illinois have had a difficult time even passing balanced budgets, and when the likelihood of tax increases at the state or local level to fund capital projects seems slim to none, Trump’s plan would be disastrous for transportation infrastructure. In fact, Illinois has no sustainable state source of infrastructure funding for public transportation. Even at current federal funding levels, Illinois is in desperate need for long term capital plan just to get transit systems to a state of good repair, which would require an increase in revenue. A shift of responsibility like what is proposed in the President’s plan would absolutely devastate public transportation in our state.
In January, the White House also released its proposed budget, which included a 19% cut to the Department of Transportation, including cutting grant programs for transit and other competitive projects proposed by local governments. We simply cannot afford to settle for this. It is as important as ever to get the word out to our elected officials about the importance of a robust public transportation system in Illinois communities. Investments in transit infrastructure are necessary to continue providing the level of service on which the members of our communities have come to rely.
IPTA will have a contingency in Washington this month meeting with the Illinois Congressional Delegation. Our plan is to communicate our opposition to the President’s proposal, share local transit stories, and to urge them to consider revenue enhancements that maintain the federal commitment to infrastructure. It’s vital that our Senators and members of Congress hear from all of the transit systems in their districts about how critical it is to continue that investment at the federal level.
16th Annual Illinois Roadeo
The Roadeo is comin’ to town April 21!
Life Restraint Belts
At a recent Human Service Transportation Plan (HSTP) meeting a provider recommended lift restraint belts from Access-Arize. These belts can be installed on older wheelchair lifts that did not come with a lift safety strap. Although there is no requirement for older buses to be retrofitted with a lift safety strap these belts will help prevent wheelchair lift accidents.
Spotlight on Jean Jumper, executive director, West Central Mass Transit District (WCMTD)
How did you get started in rural transportation?
My start in public transportation came more by accident than plan. I was invited to join the Board of Trustees of WCMTD around the time the agency was getting started. The hard work: seven years of planning and lobbying for the development of a transportation system had been successful resulting in a Mass Transit District serving Morgan and Scott Counties. However; there were some internal issues that came to the Board’s attention resulting in the need to find a new director. I was hired in November of 2006 to become the second managing director of West Central Mass Transit District.
If you didn’t have a transit background, how did you learn the ropes?
When asked about my education I tell people that I am a graduate of “SHK” (School of Hard Knocks) I had no background in transportation at all! My background was in organizational re-development. As a member of the Board of Trustees, Board President Phyllis Lape, and I tackled the tasks of submitting the first three FY2006 quarterly reports to IDOT for a program neither of us had been intimately involved with and then proceeded to write and submit the FY2007 DOAP/5311 Grant. Mrs. Lape and I spent many hours reviewing the numbers, sorting through invoices and driver manifests, reading through the rules and regulations and talking to John Marrella and Karen Strell at IDOT. With the IDOT staff’s help, we were able to submit the necessary paperwork to requisition our funding and continue as an MTD. What a learning experience that was! However, and I wish to emphasize this point, the staff at IDOT were amazingly patient with us and it was their help that made all the difference! Going forward, my education was not much different than any other new agency director in rural Illinois. Meetings with IDOT grant managers (I’ve had seven grant managers in 11 years), review of circulars, listening and questioning at HSTP, IPTA, RTAC and other transportation related gatherings, taking courses from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee to become a Certified Passenger Assistance Trainer, Dispatching and Transit 101, and in my first year as managing director I went to three, yes THREE, different FTA sponsored training programs on the Drug and Alcohol program. As anyone who is reading this already knows, each year brings with it new regulations, new forms, new processes and new challenges. The learning process does not end.
Did you have a mentor in transit?
Don’t know if ‘mentor’ is what I’d necessarily call my relationship with John Marrella and Karen Strell, but I will tell you that I have great regard for both of them and they have been amazingly patient and helpful through the years. Jeff Waxman was also provided support and education in the 5310 application process and the FTA Drug and Alcohol program maze. Two other individuals that I have great regard for and owe a debt of gratitude to for their assistance are Laura Calderon (IPTA) and Ed Heflin (RTAC). They contributed significantly to my education and continue to be trusted sources for information and advice.
Toughest day-to-day operational problem
Finding ways to solve the ever increasing need for transportation for overly heavy passengers and oversized mobility devices.
What’s a typical day like?
I doubt that my ‘typical’ day is much different than any other transit agency director’s! A day starts with checking in with staff to see if there are any issues that need my attention followed by a quick check of emails to see what IDOT needs that day! Each day is filled with opportunities to expand the ridership, solve client issues, and assist employees in a variety of ways. My door is always open and seldom does a day pass that one member of the staff or more drop by to discuss either business or personal issues. Many times as we talk things through they are able to find their own answers, but sometimes it results in friendly advice, advocacy, or on occasion: directives. Review of the previous day’s business, checking on the progress of special projects undertaken by staff and a check on the financial standing of the agency is common. Report generation for grantors and board members, IPTA, RTAC Advisory Committee, HSTP Region IV and Region VII, Area Agency on Aging grantee meetings, county board meetings, and of course our own Board of Trustee meetings are scattered throughout the month as are interagency council meetings, client meetings, vendor conferences, educational webinars, a review of transit related news
JACKSONVILLE, ILLINOIS….Three members of the West Central Mass Transit District staff will take on additional managerial responsibilities effective December 1, 2017.
Mr. Kevin Tavender has been hired to fill the position of Safety and Security Manager, a new position with the District. Mr. Tavender’s responsibilities will include the development of training programs for drivers, dispatchers, and managers within the six county service area which includes Morgan, Scott, Brown, Pike, Cass, and Schuyler Counties.
Mr. Tavender has been with the District since 2009 starting as a part time driver and most recently served as the Cass Schuyler Counties System Director. As a driver, Mr. Tavender completed all required trainings and attended supervisory Drug and Alcohol Reasonable Suspicion Training in Peoria. He attended the “Train the Trainer” Customer Service course at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee to become a certified trainer.
The position of Safety and Security Manager will provide WCMTD’s staff with access to additional training opportunities over and above those currently required in the area of customer service, safety and satisfaction; defensive driving; emergency procedures; accident prevention; and recognition of and defense against harassment and bullying. He will be interacting with Emergency Management Directors in all six counties to ensure that if transportation is required in the face of disaster that all necessary resources are available to first responders and that WCMTD staff are fully trained to respond to disasters if necessary.
Ms. Missy Bramblett has been promoted to Morgan Scott System Manager. Ms. Bramblett has been with the District since the fall of 2007 starting her career as a part time dispatcher. In 2016 she was promoted to Head Dispatcher/Scheduler and has worked with management for two years in the areas of special schedules, dispatch training, and driver scheduling. Ms. Bramblett has attended the supervisory Drug and Alcohol Reasonable Suspicion Training in Peoria, and represented WCMTD at Senior Fairs and other special community events. Ms. Bramblett will use her experience and expertise in customer relations, scheduling, and training to increase the services available in the Morgan and Scott county areas.
Mr. Ed Parker, Brown County System Manager will assume the responsibilities of the Cass and Schuyler County system beginning January 1, 2018. Mr. Parker will be responsible for Brown, Cass, and Schuyler County transportation and will be responsible for the growth of the transit system in the three counties.
Mr. Parker has been with the District since the spring of 2008 starting as a part time driver in Brown County. He became system manager in Brown County in 2012 and has been successful in building the transportation business there over the past 5 years. He has attended the Reasonable Suspicion Training in Peoria.
According to R. Jean Jumper, WCMTD Executive Director, the promotion of these valued staff members is a tribute to their work and commitment to the WCMTD organization. “These three young leaders have shown unwavering commitment to excellence through the years. They have worked their way through a myriad of changes and challenges, learning along the way. Each of them has started as part time employees, working all hours, and learning all aspects of the business. Their experience and insight in customer service, scheduling, training, and safety will prove to be a valuable asset to the West Central Mass Transit District management team. I look forward to working with them to improve and increase the services that the District provides in the coming years.”
The Illinois Roadeo Guide was adapted from The Community Transportation Association of America’s (CTAA) Roadeo Guide. It contains information and instruction on the four areas of testing: written test, driving course, wheelchair securement, and pre-trip inspection.
In the News: Voluntary Action Center
DeKALB – For months, the DeKalb Sycamore Area Transportation Study has been working on creating an integrated transit plan for the city’s TransVAC services and Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Line.
ural Transit Assistance Center (RTAC) Staff