Enhanced mobility through transit management

In this eye-opening look at third-party transit management, we speak with the following panelists:

Rick Dunning
senior vice president,
transit management
First Transi
Sandy Freeman
vice president, innovation and product delivery
RATP Dev North America




 In what significant ways does your company enhance mobility for cities and municipalities?
In what significant ways does your company enhance mobility for cities and municipalities?

Rick Dunning: The primary way that First Transit can help municipalities, cities, urban areas enhance mobility is by providing options on how they choose to deliver and deploy service in a cost-effective and efficient way. Our company can do that through its scale. We have expertise in virtually all the operating areas, whether it’s fixed-route buses or paratransit vehicles. We have functional expertise in safety and maintenance. By packaging all this expertise together and working with our many employees, including the labor unions we work with, we’re able to offer alternatives in how to deploy service.

An example of how our services are used is if a transit agency has a limited budget and is looking to expand service into new areas of development, or evening hours. It’s possible for them to use a contractor such as First Transit. They can utilize our services to help expand when they may not have the capacity to do so. This would include, for example, First Transit providing real estate to operate from – such as facilities for personnel.

Sandy Freeman: RATP Dev believes that the ecosystem of public transit must purposefully reflect the needs of the consumers, otherwise it will fail in providing people quality mobility options to access jobs, education, healthcare, culture, leisure, food & supplies, etc.  Therefore, we get involved in the conception of networks with greater levels of service where there are greater needs – fewer services

where demand is scarce, and alternative transport modes, such as TOD (transit on demand) – when the classic fixed route bus is not relevant.

Please enlighten us on the many aspects of a transit operation you manage and influence.

Freeman: At RATP Dev we purchase vehicles – sometimes ticket vending machines and validators too – and spare parts on behalf of the agencies, and optimize maintenance through predictive maintenance plans in order to extend their life cycle.

We are involved in hiring front desk and backend staff – operators, human resources, controllers, dispatchers, mechanics, planners and schedulers, and managers. Their involvement in the quality of service that we deliver, and their training is also our duty. We also make plans to develop their skills when appropriate. RATP Dev developed a “Grow Our Own” Program—a leadership development program designed to elevate the potential and responsibility of top performers within the organization.

RATP Dev is involved in the planning and scheduling of networks, from the beginning of concept-making, by taking it back to the roots and identifying the market and conceiving the right offer to address it.  We specialize in scheduling the most optimized and efficient routes, dispatching, and route management in real time. This includes as a consultative service to our agencies through various data analysis-based products which we either partner for or develop in-house.  Most agencies encourage initiatives that can contribute to enhancing mobility in cities, and we make it our mission to find and deliver innovative products to do this.

RATP Dev is excited to get involved in the communities we serve. The RATP Dev Foundation is comprised of three principal areas of focus:  Employment, Education and Culture.  Through charitable actions, RATP can aid community individuals with access to employment opportunities, achieve further education advancements, and enables the community to discover significant cultural experiences.

Dunning: First Transit uses two different approaches. One is a contracted or contract for a service model where we provide the services. We’re contracted by the specific service that is needed. We do so in a full turnkey way, and assume the risk of the operation, in addition to being provided with equipment and, at times, facilities. This includes insuring the vehicles and workers’ compensation. Being a hurdle, we were able to provide the partner with a solution in order to start operations.

The other approach focuses on transit management. We’re the only company that has a dedicated division to this practice. This is when we manage the assets of the transit authority, putting in a team of that are employees of First Transit, and we become the transit managers for that location.

We use our best practices for recruiting and hiring bus operators. We must work hard to make sure that we’re keeping those ranks completely staffed. We then use our training experience from our human resource team to our safety department providing a robust onboarding plan for the staff.

What services / capabilities do you provide that help augment urban mobility?

Dunning: First Transit provides state-of-the-art customer service through technology that allows people to book trips via the web and through apps on their smartphones, which are directly connected to a call center that services our customers.

We have three autonomous vehicle operations right now in the United States that are demonstrating this technology to our industry and to our communities. We have technology that is constantly evolving, including automatic vehicle location technology (AVL), that we use to monitor the safety and performance of our staff. The different technologies we have can be wrapped up into one integrated solution, or they can be provided on an individual basis.

This technology not only benefits front-end operations; we also have state-of-the-art technology for our maintenance management. On the backend, we have what we call the “paperless shop”. We have people who can repair buses using just a tablet, and no paperwork. If parts are needed, they can be ordered from the inventory immediately. We also have ASE-certified technicians. We like to say that we “work smarter,” which simply means that we are efficient and productive, and, financially, those savings can be passed all the way down to our riders.

Freeman: Our consulting and advisory services cover long- and short-range planning, service development, service design, operational/maintenance reviews, performance audits, scheduling and run cutting, and bus-line inspection. Complementary, RATP Dev works on three different but connected levels:

•Analyzing route data that we produce as operators, and through our direct access to the field operations – making our insights and expertise available to agencies

•Emerging innovative mobility products such as autonomous vehicles to diversify towards market shifts reckoned by our data insights

•Safety First culture – RATP Dev’s Safety Management System (SMS), drive2zero, includes policies, technology platforms, safety-based training curriculums, accident investigation best practices, safety committees, strict hiring procedures, and specific responsibilities for all employees.  It is our trademark initiative to reducing and addressing risk in our operations.

How do you scale the knowledge acquired through your company’s global expertise in myriad markets, in order to provide benefits to agencies / municipalities large and small?

Freeman: With our global expertise we’ve learned how to quickly identify which products work and which do not, in what type of neighborhood and when. RATP Dev scales our product based on the market, and customizes mobility services based on what people want, which takes us back to the first question: we get involved in planning mass transit where there are mass transit needs and we diversify our products where mass transit is less relevant.

Dunning: We have a motto that says, “We’re global in scale, but local in approach.” It’s important that each of our local entities and the division that I run, the transit management division, we have smaller transit agencies, such as our operations in Spartanburg, SC. At the same time, we’re managing larger operations such as our three divisions of El Paso Sun Metro system. We also have operations in Canada.

We’ve taken our capabilities and we’ve organized ourselves so that we have shared services corporately. Being a part of a family of companies, called FirstGroup, with First Student, the largest yellow school bus operator in North America, Greyhound, and our more than 300 First Transit locations, we are able to leverage learnings in maintenance, safety, HR, and IT. As we develop best practices and approaches to our business, we’re able to share them throughout all our companies, including First Transit. 

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