Transit Agency Technical Assistance & Training
RLS & Associates, Inc. (RLS) provides a variety of technical assistance and support to rural, small, medium and large urbanized transit systems and community and human service transportation organizations to enhance, improve, and expand the knowledge of each system’s network of providers and the service they provide. This assistance can include training in one-on-one and one-to-many settings, plan and program development, administration and operations analysis, regulatory compliance reviews, and more.
Transit Boards provide the vision, mission, and goals for local community transit systems; they guide and direct the system, providing input to the Transit Director and provide financial oversight. Some board members may receive a small stipend, but most are volunteers who have full time jobs but serve on the transit board as a duty to their community. All are transit advocates, but often they are appointed to the Transit Board with little knowledge about transit. RLS’ Governing Board training covers a number of areas, including but not limited to, Board Member roles and responsibilities; characteristics of effective board members; governance and structure; relationship with the Transit Director; how to set the vision, mission, and goals for the system, and more.
Because Board Members typically have full time employment, board training is usually held on weekday evenings or weekends, for example, board training was held for the seven transportation boards in the state of Vermont.
Business Continuity and Succession Planning
Being able to continue business operations in light of emergencies, staff absences, resignations and/or dismissals, and retirements is critical to all transit systems in order to maintain its level of service to the community and its citizens. This is business continuity in its broadest sense, while succession planning is the process to identify and develop qualified staff to replace leaders when they leave, retire, or die. Succession planning helps to not only identify the availability, but also increase the number of experienced employees to assume these roles when the time comes. RLS can assist transit systems in these areas in a number of ways from identifying and documenting all policies and procedures, reviewing and updating job descriptions, and establishing a leadership-training program all as part of a Business Continuity/Succession Plan. The Ottawa County, Ohio Transition Plan developed by RLS is just one example of this type of plan.
Emergency Management Planning
Emergency management plans are critical in helping transit systems respond to emergencies of any type and identify the steps and tasks necessary to the emergency response and those individuals within the organization responsible for seeing that they are carried out. Transit systems can also be an essential element of their local community’s emergency management plan to support local emergency response efforts. In the event of natural disasters and other emergency events, transit systems will be key in the event evacuation is necessary. RLS has assisted rural, small and large urban transit systems in the development and implementation of the entire emergency management plan, development of specific policies, and/or response training. Example projects include Wichita Transit and Section 5311 systems in the state of North Carolina.
Policies and Procedures
Transit systems are required to develop and implement a broad range of administrative and operating policies that set forth the system’s manner and methods of providing transit service. Policies cover a range of topics from farebox, passenger guidelines, and emergency procedures to ADA-related policies, Civil Rights, and Drug and Alcohol. RLS has, over its decades of service to the transit industry, developed a library of model policies that it has used for both new and existing transit systems in Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, and New Hampshire.
Operations and Service Analysis
RLS staff includes professional planners and former transit managers who are experienced and knowledgeable in the planning, evaluation, and operation of transit service. RLS staff can perform a comprehensive evaluation of a system’s overall operations and provide not only an analysis of existing service but recommendations for future improvements from staffing to fare policies, routes, and service areas. The goal of this technical assistance area is to ensure a system operates in the most efficient and effective manner, with key focus areas on safety, customer service, and maximizing ridership potential while also ensuring the provision of key life-line services. In addition, RLS staff will determine if the system should consider improved information technology tools and strategies to optimize data management, safety, performance and customer service. RLS staff have recently assisted Concord, NH in enhancing its existing fixed route service.
RLS can perform comprehensive, systematic, and objective organizational assessments for transit systems to evaluate and analyze the transit systems overall performance and any factors, positive and negative, that may affect that performance. Areas to be analyzed include the transit system’s overall policies, procedures, and work processes, work environment, staff turnover rates, and organizational structure. RLS can also review how jobs are defined, departments are organized and problems are handled. The goal is to assist transit managers and boards in developing effective action plans to achieve the transit systems mission and goals. Organizational assessments are part of the Community Service Plans RLS has conducted for the North Carolina DOT.
Transit systems must comply with all federal, state and local laws, ordinances, regulations, and policies regarding procurement and contracting. Circular 4220.1F documents the FTA’s procurement requirements. When procuring property and services under a federal award, transit systems are required to establish and implement procurement policies that meet all required state and federal requirements, which, among other requirements, must document the written standards of conduct governing the performance of the subrecipient’s employees engaged in the award and administration of contracts. RLS can assist transit systems in the development of a new, or the review and update of an existing, policy that ensures procurements will be conducted in compliance with all current FTA procurement regulations and requirements. RLS can also provide procurement training to transit system managers and staff on these policies and procedures. RLS staff are also experienced in the development of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for those systems desiring to contract with one or more private transportation providers, as well as the subsequent interview and selection process. RLS completed this type of work for Wake County and the City of Raleigh, NC.
Contract Management for Operations
RLS staff include former transit managers experienced in the administration and operation of transit service. These staff can provide a wide range of service to transit system managers and boards from the provision of “circuit rider” services to address a specific problem or issue, to interim manager services during a staff absence or while a new manager is being recruited and hired. RLS can also assist with the hiring process by reviewing and updating job descriptions, distributing job postings, developing interview questions, assisting in the evaluation criteria, and assisting in the selection process. Samples of these types of projects include circuit rider assistance in Chillicothe, Zanesville, Geauga, and Logan County, Ohio, Beaufort, NC, and Beckley, WV.
By definition, project management is the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve a project’s objectives. Transit system managers wear “many hats” and their time is stretched thin. Project management is often left at the bottom of the to-do list, most often by necessity, but sometimes from the lack of knowledge and skill sets. RLS can assist transit systems in project management by identifying appropriate time management tools, developing performance monitoring checklists, and providing training in this area. For large or high profile projects, RLS staff can also provide the actual project management working alongside the transit managers, such as the assistance provided in the cities of Marion and Chillicothe and Muskingum County, Ohio.
Safety and Security/Safety Management System (SMS)
Unmistakably, 9/11 heightened every person’s need to feel safe and secure to an unequaled level. The events of that day changed how this country travels. And, in addition to domestic or international terrorism, are still the concerns of workplace violence, the spillover of domestic violence, and the destruction and devastation from natural disasters. RLS’ experienced and professional staff assist public transit systems in the area of safety and security in a number of ways, including the provision of safety and security plan templates; assisting in the development and/or review of agency safety and security plans; safety and security audits; accident investigation; facilitating a public transit system’s role in community emergency response; and a variety of safety and security training topics, including safety and security train-the-trainer, evacuation, maintenance safety, and operator safety. RLS is well versed in the safety and security requirements, which were first introduced in MAP-21. In fact, RLS staff have provided input into FTA’s safety and security guidelines development process and have completed CTAA Safety and Security Officer program training. While final decisions are made on FTA SMS requirements, RLS continues to assess the unique operating environment and opportunities of several transit systems and communities and develop practical, implementable solutions to address safety and security concerns. RLS also developed the Transit Bus System Safety Course for the Federal Transit Administration, Transportation Safety Institute. This course, which incorporated research from the Transportation Research Board Project A-18, includes best practices in prevention of passenger incidents and vehicle crashes, behavioral safety concepts, safety awareness and management, safety audits and checklists, operator selection and employee training, accident data tracking and trend analysis, hazard analysis and resolution, facility design, routing and scheduling, vehicle maintenance, facility and operations security and vehicle design and technology.
Scheduling and Dispatching
RLS staff provide dispatch and scheduling technical assistance and training to local transit systems in a number of ways. First, RLS has been tasked with assessing and evaluating a transit system’s overall dispatch and scheduling process from call intake to trip assignments to identify and document issues and make recommendations. RLS staff experienced in transit operations quietly observe dispatchers/schedulers on different days and different times of the day, documenting the entire dispatch/scheduling process. RLS then conducts one-on-one interviews with transit system management and all staff that are in some way connected with the dispatch/scheduling function (includes dispatchers/schedulers and their supervisors, drivers, etc.). RLS then documents all findings in a written report, together with recommendations for improvement. Recommendations can include policy/procedure changes, automation, additional training, and/or increased staffing, among others. Sometimes RLS may recommend that staff conduct an on-site observation at another transit system to observe how that system approaches dispatching and scheduling. The second way RLS assists with the area of dispatch/scheduling is in identifying and facilitating training opportunities, which may be a combination of on-line and on-site training. RLS staff evaluate the use of existing technologies employed by a system to determine if upgrades are required that would enhance management and operations. RLS has conducted dispatcher trainer for the Auburn University, Alabama Technology Transfer Center, Engineering Continuing Education; reviewed the dispatch/scheduling process for the ARC of Mercer (NJ) and Chillicothe Transit (OH).
Service Design and Development
Whether transit systems provide demand-response, fixed route, or flex services, they are created based on providing cost efficient and effective transit service, which becomes the transit system’s underlying goal. To achieve this goal, a transit system must not only design its services around clear and defined principles, but also adopt and implement a process to monitor the results achieved on a routine basis and be responsive by making changes in a timely manner to address areas where service must be enhanced.
RLS assists transit systems in this area by presenting standards for service design with specific goals, objectives, and/or policies. Service design has several components:
- A service type or some combination of service types should be based on local community needs—for example, demand response, fixed route, and/or deviated fixed route.
- Service availability—service coverage (hours/days of week), service or route layout and design, and bus stop location, if applicable—relates directly to a service area’s characteristics.
- Areas served – although maximizing ridership is a primary focus of any transit system, the local community may also desire services with minimal ridership that provide adequate coverage for those in the community reliant on critical mobility needs to medical appointments, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.
- Travel time and load capacity must be considered, addressing the frequency, directness, span of service, and passenger loading.
- Service delivery standards address on‐time performance, passenger shelters, transit amenities, customer service, and safety issues.
- Vehicle standards must also be considered, addressing the size and type of vehicle, based on vehicle assignment, utilization and efficiency, reliability, and condition.
- All transit service must be designed to comply fully with the Americans With Disabilities Act, which includes providing fully equivalent demand response service for all passengers or for fixed route service, developing a plan for and providing separate complementary paratransit service or flex (deviated) route service.
- And finally, transit systems must address service equity, which is the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA’s) Title VI requirements for standards.
Once, transit service is planned, designed, and initiated, the work is not over. RLS can assist transit systems with establishing a regular schedule of performance monitoring that includes assessing the results, and a plan for implementing changes. RLS has assisted the City of Rock Hill, SC in the design and development of its first ever fixed route transit service, to include but not limited to, route alignments, transfer hub location, and service days and hours. In addition, RLS has assisted in the planning for flex route transit services in Asheboro, NC for the Regional Coordinated Area Transportation System (RCATS).
A strategic plan is a written document that provides direction forward into the future. It presents an entity’s goals and explains why they’re important. Strategic planning can also help a transit system uncover ways to improve performance, discover insights about how to restructure in order to meet a system’s full potential, help plan for expanded service, reach new market segments. It can also be a problem solving tool, organizationally and operationally. RLS can provided strategic planning assistance, ranging from one to two-day facilitated brainstorming sessions to establish goals and objectives, to more extensive plans resulting in a detailed action plan. RLS staff worked with Wake County, NC to re-design or establish a new strategy on how it contracts for transit services by streamlining contract management using one vendor instead of four. On-time performance has improved dramatically since this approach was implemented.
SWOT Analysis/Threat and Vulnerability Assessment (TVA)
RLS has developed strategic plans for its clients by conducting thorough analyses and assessments. These analyses and assessments are often conducted as part of clients’ Transit Demand Management (TDM) planning, as was the case for the Capitol Area Transportation Authority in Lansing, Michigan and the Hampton Roads Virginia Transit Vision Plan. RLS conducted S.W.O.T. analyses for these clients as a way of identifying the TDM goals and objectives. The S.W.O.T. analysis included identification of the following:
- Strengths – The successful TDM activities were documented along with the primary reasons for their success.
- Weaknesses – The areas needing improvement in current TDM activities were described. This included an identification of areas where new TDM activities were warranted.
- Opportunities – The unique situations present in the client’s region that, if taken advantage of, could result in improved TDM activities.
- Threats – The local, regional, national, and global environment issues that could include potential problems for TDM projects.
RLS then used the analyses to establish the basis for the clients’ TDM priorities. The resulting prioritized lists of these strategies drove the Strategic Plans.
RLS has also employed Threat and Vulnerability Assessments for projects regarding safety and security planning, such as for the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB). RLS reviewed the FNSB Transportation Department’s current methods of threat and vulnerability resolution and established procedures to eliminate, mitigate, transfer, and/or accept specific risks acceptable to FNSB. RLS first focused on developing a FNSB Transportation Department Security Plan to reflect all components of the FTA National Safety Program. RLS employed a systematic approach that ensured the security and emergency preparedness were addressed during all phases of system operations, including the hiring and training of agency personnel; procurement and maintenance of agency equipment, development of agency policies, rules and procedures; and seamless coordination with local public safety and community planning agencies, which included identifying, evaluating, and resolving threats and vulnerabilities.
Transit Asset Management (TAM)
In 2012 with the passage of the Highway Trust Fund Re-Authorization Act, MAP-21, the Secretary of Transportation was required to establish and implement a National Transit Asset Management (TAM) System, which defines State of Good Repair (SGR). The program purpose is to determine the condition of Federal assets used for providing public transit. By creating a standard or SGR to assess these assets, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), is able to gain a better understanding of the need to replace assets that are not safe or reliable being used in the provision of service. The latest FTA re-authorization, the FAST Act, and subsequent rule making, 49 CFR 625, provides guidance to transit providers, Metropolitan Planning Organizations and State Departments of Transportation on how to develop and implement TAM systems and defining SGR. The purpose of the rule making was to be flexible and allow each entity to develop its own SGR definitions, benchmarks, condition assessments and targets based on the way they operate.
Each transit system is required to develop a TAM Plan. RLS provides assistance in helping to develop a plan that addresses:
- Assessing the current condition of its capital assets;
- Determining what the condition and performance of its assets should be (if they are not already in a state of good repair);
- Identifying the unacceptable risks, including safety risks, in continuing to use an asset that if not in a state of good repair; and
- Deciding how to best balance and prioritize reasonably anticipated funds (revenues from all sources) towards improving asset condition and achieving a sufficient level of performance within those means.
RLS has provided TAM assistance across the country including but not limited to transit systems in Indiana, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Nathan Bubash Technical Analyst Mr. Bubash works out of the Dayton office as RLS’ Technical Analyst. He specializes in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and his recent projects include the MVRPC Coordination and the West Virginia Coordination Plan. He has a B.S. in...
Robbie L. Sarles President Ms. Robbie Sarles, President, and founder of RLS & Associates, Inc., has worked over 37 years in the transit industry in progressively responsible positions, in both public and private sectors. Since founding RLS in 1987 in Dayton, Ohio, she...
Pam Bentley Accounts Receivable Coordinator Ms. Pam Bentley is RLS' Accounts Receivable Coordinator for all client invoices. She is responsible for assembling all documentation to support client invoices generated by RLS' accounting system, coordinating as necessary...
Mr. Ray Boylston Senior Associate Mr. Ray Boylston works out of the RLS Raleigh, North Carolina office. He has over 30 years of experience in transit planning, management, operations, and finance at the state, county, and municipal levels, in both the public and...
Laura Brown Senior Associate Ms. Laura Brown works in Sumter, South Carolina and is the Senior Associate for RLS’ coordination and planning projects. Ms. Brown has a diverse background of transit planning and financial management and analysis experience as well as a...
Charles Glover Senior Associate Mr. Charles Glover works out of the RLS Raleigh, North Carolina office and has over 39 years of public transportation experience, with extensive expertise in the planning and development of coordinated transportation services and...
Sean Oswald Senior Associate Mr. Sean Oswald is located in the Dayton Headquarters. He joined RLS in 2011, bringing over five years of GIS analysis, management, and training experience. Building on that experience, Mr. Oswald is now Project Manager for all RLS drug...
Julie Schafer Senior Associate Ms. Julie Schafer is located in the Dayton Headquarters. A former Section 5311 transit manager of a seven-county public transit system in rural Indiana, she has over 18 years of experience, 15 years of that in transit system operations...
Kelly Shawn Senior Associate Mr. Kelly Shawn is located in the RLS Alexandria, Virginia office. With over 31 years in the transit industry, Mr. Shawn is an experienced trainer, facilitator, and project manager with extensive expertise in small urban, rural, and tribal...
Linda De Herrera Senior Consultant Ms. Linda De Herrera has over 38 years of experience in the transit industry and is located in the RLS Colorado office. She is the Lead Senior Consultant for RLS’ Precision Compliance Inc. (PCI) subsidiary. Ms. De Herrera assists...
Christy Campoll Associate Ms. Christy Campoll is located in the RLS Indianapolis, Indiana office. As a former transit manager and transportation vice president, Ms. Campoll managed a successful rural, demand response transit system in central Indiana. This $1.5...
Alexander (Alex) Ewers Associate Mr. Alex Ewers is an RLS Associate assigned as an on-site Grants Management Technician for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) at the ODOT Headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Ewers is a strong communicator and collaborator...
Lucy Sherman Associate Ms. Lucy Sherman is located in the Dayton Headquarters. She provides support for RLS’ survey and data collection projects and is a Lead Drug and Alcohol Reviewer. She is also a certified instructor for Passenger Assistance Techniques, Defensive...
Sara Trafton Associate Ms. Sara Trafton is located in the Dayton Headquarters. She is an experienced transit and project manager with over 15 years of public transportation experience, and a background in strategic planning, executive management, grant development and...
Victoria (Vicky) Warner Associate/RTAP Manager Ms. Vicky Warner is located in the RLS Columbus, Indiana Office where she is responsible for office administration and daily operations. She is an experienced transit manager and trainer, with over 24 years of transit...
Megan Gatterdam Associate/RTAP Coordinator Ms. Megan Gatterdam has over 10 years of experience in the transit industry and is the Indiana RTAP Coordinator in the RLS Columbus, IN office. She is a Lead Trainer and coordinates the annual RTAP Roadeo driver competition....
Rosamary Amiet Quality Assurance Editor Ms. Rosamary Amiet is a remote employee located near Columbus, Ohio who provides editing and quality assurance for RLS’ products and proposals. She retired in 2004 from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) with over 31...
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