Efficiency and Fine Tuning
As I re-acclimate to rural Illinois and the transit operations therein, I happily note that many operations have reached some level of maturity. Maturity in operations is evident through the efforts made by management to streamline operations in any way possible. Efficiencies are achieved in many ways and through many opportunities including those found in human resource offices, and in the nuts-and-bolts operations of a fleet of vehicles.
The more maturely-developed the transit system, the more likely it is that management is striving to find efficiencies in every nook and cranny. Sometimes operating more efficiently feels like “doing more with less”– that overused cliché that usually accompanies the bad news of budget or funding cuts. It appears though, that increasing efficiency in Illinois’ rural public transit program allows for growth to occur through increased ridership, more exposure to the public, increased DOAP funding accessibility, increased participation in Medicaid-funded transportation, and more. Some efficiencies are achieved through investment and won’t be noticed for months or years down the road. For instance, hiring an expert to manage the finances and bookkeeping who can also keep an eye on compliance with federal and state regulations, and Medicaid processing, will be beneficial in the future.
Operations managers who are imbued with software and training to maximize route planning can reduce miles from trips and possibly reveal how to better accommodate passengers sharing trips. Contracts with fuel providers or onsite fuel storage can help lower overall operating costs. VOIP phone systems can be a good deal as compared to the old-fashioned telephone company, while providing extra tools and/or options at no additional cost. Utility companies frequently offer discounts on LED lighting and might also provide energy reviews for facilities, thus saving future energy costs.
There are many ways to streamline and increase efficiency within any operation. Although there probably won’t be any immediate home runs, there are certainly singles and doubles if management will scrutinize their systems to find them. Incremental improvements add-up over time and may offset unavoidable cost increases that affect every system. There are also efficiency experts and business consultants who can assist, as well as utility operation representatives who also may contribute to the effort.
What is Mobility Management?
Mobility Management is a customer focused and driven approach to community transportation services. It means helping individuals and communities manage their transportation or mobility options. According to the National Center for Mobility Management, “Mobility management is an approach to designing and delivering transportation services that starts and ends with the customer. It begins with a community vision in which the entire transportation network—public transit, private operators, cycling and walking, volunteer drivers, and others—works together with customers, planners, and stakeholders to deliver the transportation options that best meet the community’s needs.”
For more than a decade now, there has been a movement in public transportation to increase individual mobility by using a more personalized strategic approach to service coordination. Mobility management includes focusing on the identification of customer travel needs and the coordination of multiple service providers to meet those needs. It’s important to do this in a manner that is effective for the customer and is an efficient use of public funding. It’s also important that these efforts include a focus on improving the performance of public transportation and coordinating community-wide transportation resources including infrastructure development and land use policies.
Several years ago, American Public Transportation Association (APTA) incorporated this concept into its TransitVision 2050, recognizing that to better serve the needs of individual travelers and to more efficiently meet national and regional goals, the public transportation industry needed to adopt the mobility management concept. APTA worked collaboratively with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to advance mobility management programs. There are many components of an effective mobility management program. APTA has detailed a comprehensive package of mobility management activities:
- A planning approach that can be described as customer-based and market oriented because it focuses on the needs of individuals, specific consumer groups, employers, human service agencies, and neighborhoods.
- Development and implementation of “One-Stop” travel information and trip planning systems that focus on the trip needs of individual customers.
- Travel training for individuals, case workers, employers, and potential users of all available transportation services.
- Coordination of public transportation, human services transportation, and privately provided transportation services.
- Establishment and implementation of transportation brokerage systems coordinating transportation service providers to efficiently meet the needs of consumers in a harmonized service network.
- Working with employers to develop and implement demand-management strategies, employer pass programs, and transportation management organizations (TMAs).
- Promotion of ITS and other technology applications to improve system management.
- Promotion of traffic management strategies that improve the performance of public transportation service.
- Improving the delivery of public transportation services by changing regulations or overcoming institutional restrictions on service delivery.
- Promoting land use policies which are compatible with the effective and efficient delivery of public transportation service.
- Working to ensure that infrastructure improvements (highway and other major infrastructure improvements) accommodate the needs of a variety of public transportation services and their customers.
The Transportation Research Board (TRB) developed a detailed guide to Successful Mobility Management Practices for Improving Transportation Services in Small Urban and Rural Areas. This guide serves as an excellent tool for public transportation organizations.
The concept of mobility management is here to stay, and there continues to be an increased push from the FTA for agencies to include this concept in their strategic plans. To best serve their customers, public transportation agencies and the communities they serve should commit to planning with a focus on mobility management.
The Spotlight is on Fulton County Rural Transit
Shelly Entrekin, operations director, and Tim Bishop transportation coordinator
How did you get started in rural transportation
Tim: Our former CEO was a part of the initial group of individuals that pushed for public transportation in Fulton County. Since I was already the Transportation Coordinator for a private agency I was asked to work for Fulton County Rural Transit.
Shelly: I got started in rural transportation when Barb Long, the chief executive officer moved from operations director to CEO and offered me the operations director position in 2014.
If you didn’t have a transit background how did you learn the ropes
Tim: Fortunately, I did already have a transportation background.
Shelly: I learned the ropes from Barb Long and many people in transit such as Jeff Waxman, Marcus Cox, Bob Bugger, Mable Kreps, and IDOT project managers, who are all a wealth of information.
Did you have a mentor in transit
Tim: I would have to say that Barb Long, our chief executive officer has helped me along the way, especially when it comes to scheduling and anything to do with computers.
Shelly: I think that everyone I have come in contact with from rural transit has helped me in one way or another along the way.
Toughest day-to-day operational problem
Tim: Since we have been open since 2011, I now have more breakdown issues as the vehicles have more miles on them and are naturally going to have unforeseen issues from time to time. When you have to take one out of operation it is challenging to get rides moved around so as to not have to cancel any rides. It is not a day-to-day issue, but does happen more often than it did in the past.
Shelly: I think the toughest day-to-day operational problem is wanting to provide rides to everyone that calls, but not being able to accommodate all the requests. When the manifest is full, it is full. We are usually able to schedule them on a different day, but it is just hard when you have to initially turn down a rider.
What’s a typical day like
Tim: I get to work at 6:00am. The first thing I do is listen to the answering machine for cancellations. Since I am the first one here I start getting everything opened up and ready for the day. From there, the hectic day begins when the drivers arrive and start their pre-checks. Depending on the day, I usually make calls for repairs or scheduled maintenance on the vehicles. I also do a lot of troubleshooting throughout the day.
Shelly: A typical day is filled with phone calls, trouble shooting, questions, and scheduling.
What’s your proudest achievement
Tim: Since I have been here from the beginning, I would say my proudest achievement for the agency as a whole is just watching it grow from one or two rides to what it is today.
Shelly: Each time I am able to get a service contract signed I am proud to be working in transit. Also, I started three years after Fulton County Rural Transit was up and running so I have got to watch this agency continue to grow and become more well-known in the community.
What motivates you
Tim: I am motivated by the assurance that we, as an agency, are able to provide rides to citizens of Fulton County, who otherwise would not be able to access their community.
Shelly: I am motivated about getting the word out about Fulton County Rural Transit. Even though the agency has been operational since 2011 I find there are still many people in Fulton County that do not know about FCRT public transportation.
What do you do to motivate your staff
Tim: I try to always point out achievements, positive things they have done on the job.
Shelly: I think it is good practice to compliment employees on a job well done. If I do have to talk to an employee I like to first praise their efforts because you want to motivate them to be better on the job, not just point out the negatives You want to build them up, not tear them down. We have great staff. Recently one of our drivers noticed smoke coming from an apartment building when he went to pick up a vehicle that was in for repairs. He alerted all the residents in the building and called the fire department. Now that’s amazing!
What innovations have occurred since you began in transit
Tim: With each new vehicle we have gotten since 2011, the trouble areas we saw have been remedied with new styles of vehicles and improvements in the lifts.
Shelly: I haven’t been in transit that long to really comment on changes in the vehicles or other technologies, but I think the way we do things has gotten smoother over the years. Trial and error and learning from your mistakes has brought positive changes to the agency.
How has your system grown, and why
Tim: Our system has gone from non-existent to existing. We went from one vehicle to eight vehicles in just three years. Our public ride numbers continue to increase. It has been amazing to watch it grow from nothing to what it is today.
Shelly: Fulton County Rural Transit has grown over the last seven years because we are getting out in the community and promoting it. I never turn down an opportunity to go speak about FCRT. With a fairly new agency, it has been important to continue to spread the word about public transportation, especially in rural areas such as Fulton County.
Transit Movers recognizes people in Illinois transit who have been promoted, changed responsibilities, moved to a different transit agency, etc. If there are people within your agency who fall into these categories, contact the RTAC at 309.298.3319, firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax 309.298.2162. Please include pictures!
The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission received funding from United We Ride to develop a “transit toolkit” in 2011. The toolkit, called MY TRIP (Mobility Yes! Transit Riders Information Project), includes a mobility management library, a set of tools and templates to help rural transit systems develop infrastructure for mobility management and ensure outreach to customers; and a framework for conducting rural travel trainings. During MY TRIP’s second phase in 2012, IDOT requested proposals from the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission for completing three travel trainings. The CCRPC decided to create travel training videos so more people could access the transit information. Staff developed an English and Spanish script in-house and also appeared in the videos. One travel training video explains how to ride the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District System, and another video shows the processes for Champaign County’s rural public transit system (C-CARTS). The third video encompasses East Central Illinois (Region 8) and showcases multiple providers such as C-CARTS, SHOWBUS, Dial-A-Ride, and Piattran. IDOT funded the travel training video project.
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