Reinventing Transit

Amidst a myriad of past transit troubles, Sun Metro is resurging with new opportunities and exciting plans destined to provide Sun City residents with nothing less than a first-rate transit system. On October 29th, 2006, the City of El Paso contracted First Transit to manage the city-owned Mass Transit Department, located in El Paso, Texas. New management has refocused Sun Metro’s priorities by ensuring core services are in place and by making safety and excellence in customer service a visible component and an integral part of daily operations.

In less than a year’s time, Sun Metro has achieved major performance improvements including: a 12% increase in on-time performance; a 4% decrease in missed service; and a 7% projected reduction in road calls. To further improve efficiency, Sun Metro maintains detailed performance and customer service reports which help determine routes in need of adjustments as well as identifying other factors influencing schedule adherence.

Sun Metro is well on its way to replacing the aging fleet with Earth-friendly buses. In addition to the thirty five NABI’s that hit the streets in March of this year, twenty more 40-foot low-floor (CNG) natural gas powered buses are slated for delivery by November 2007. Sun Metro is currently in the process of placing an order for 15 Trolley Illusions and 15 Neighborhood Circulators with an expected delivery date for Fall 2008. New equipment coupled with a quality preventative maintenance program will result in fewer road calls and an increase in on-time performance.

Sun Metro’s long term operations plan includes the construction of a $40 million Operations and Maintenance Facility, which will house a state-of-the-art maintenance center and a natural gas liquefaction station. Local liquefaction will enable Sun Metro to minimize system disruptions, as a result of interruptions to scheduled fuel deliveries due to natural disasters or production outages. The large scale project will bring with it inherent benefits including: securing the source of supply, cost reduction, long- term price stability, ensuring energy independence and enhancing the local economy.

“Sun Metro has come a long way after last year’s troubles,” said Director, Tim Omick. Despite the many challenges that lie ahead he says, “I am confident that if we continue to be mindful of the resources we have and work cooperatively, it will only be a matter of time before we become the first-rate transit system that this community expects and deserves.”

Fueling Facility Upgrade
Over a decade ago, the City of El Paso made a commitment to provide a transit system powered by clean burning fuels. As the number of natural gas powered buses hitting the road continues to increase, the current fueling station is being used at its capacity, causing the fueling process to become inefficient and creating the need for mid-day refueling. The Mass Transit Board recently strengthened their commitment to public transportation by approving the $2.4 million construction of an upgraded fueling facility. The 8-month construction project began in July and will support Sun Metro in its effort to reduce late pull-outs and increase on-time performance. The fueling station upgrade is expected to be completed in March 2008.

New Collection Technology
Sun Metro is currently expediting the purchase and delivery of new “smart” fare boxes with the capability of issuing bus passes, resulting in efficient passenger boarding times and improved schedule adherence, with better tracking of ridership numbers. “Smart” fare box: maintains accurate ridership counts; issues redesigned fare pass; smart card technology. The current fare boxes frequently get jammed and lack the capability to identify counterfeit day passes, leading to a significant burden on drivers to validate passes and clear fare box jams, while inconveniencing passengers with delayed boarding. Transit Route Supervisors have been trained to clear jammed fare boxes, which has minimized service delays and unnecessary requests for a maintenance technician.

LIFT Declares No Denials
The LIFT management team is well on its way toward achieving its goal of zero denials of customer requested trips. LIFT staff has undergone specialized training in Trapeze and passenger scheduling software, and has begun enforcing existing no-show policies. After the first full week of implementing the new program: the number of missed trips has decreased by 28%; customer denials dropped from an average 24 per day to 4 or 5 denials per day; on-time performance increased to 94.3%; and the increased efficiency in scheduling frequent users has led to a 50% decrease in average caller wait times. Service is expected to continue improve further with the delivery of new paratransit units. On April 2, 2007, the Mass Transit Board approved $1.4 million dollars for the purchase of 25 paratransit buses scheduled for delivery in November 2007.

Excellence in Customer Service
Sun Metro is implementing new management strategies, all of which focus on providing excellence in customer service. Sun Metro updated its mission statement: “To provide a safe, reliable, clean bus driven by a professional coach operator that practices excellent customer service.” The new mission statement more accurately reflects Sun Metro’s goal of returning back to the basics of transit. Senior Management Staff has set up an open door policy and is actively seeking that both employees and the community become engaged and assist in providing the input necessary for effective implementation of service improvements. Sun Metro is also placing safety into every facet of daily operations with a highly visible safety program that encourages the daily execution of best safety practices.