The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) releases six workforce development mini guides for public transportation leaders. Also, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) celebrates the 15th anniversary of FrontRunner; the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) expands its monthly scorecard data to include added workforce metrics; and Amtrak’s Berkshire Flyer seasonal train service between New York City and Pittsfield, Mass., will return this summer.
APTA on April 12 released the first set in a new six-part workforce development series designed to “help develop and implement successful strategies to address critical workforce shortages seen across the public transportation industry.”
Built on APTA’s comprehensive 2021 Transit Workforce Readiness Guide, the six new mini guides will be released throughout April and provide best practices, case studies and insights on the following topics:
- Advancing awareness of transit careers.
- Creating internships and apprenticeships.
- Recruiting and hiring transit workers.
- Serving the underserved in the workforce.
- Onboarding, training and retaining workers.
- Building a transit curriculum.
According to APTA, an October 2022 survey revealed that 96% of transit agencies of all sizes are experiencing workforce challenges, and 84% said these shortages are impacting their ability to provide service.
“APTA recognizes the impact the worker shortage crisis is having on our industry and has been working diligently to provide resources to help transit leaders create effective strategies to attract, retain and develop a skilled workforce,” said APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. “We are excited to publish these new guides and provide new tools, approaches and partnerships to help our members build a new generation of the transit workforce.”
The mini guides were sponsored by APTA’s Business Members Board of Governors Workforce Development Committee and are available to APTA members here.
UTA is celebrating the 15th anniversary of FrontRunner, Utah’s first commuter rail service, which began on April 26, 2008, between Salt Lake City and Ogden. Since then, the agency says it has “revolutionized public transit in the state,” connecting numerous cities along the Wasatch Front, from Ogden to Salt Lake City to Provo.
In honor of this milestone, UTA shared the following 15 facts about FrontRunner:
- UTA’s commuter rail was named “FrontRunner” because its route runs nearly the length of the Wasatch Front.
- FrontRunner is Utah’s only commuter rail service and one of only a few in the western United States.
- FrontRunner has 16 stations that run from Ogden to Provo, covering a distance of 83 miles.
- UTA was able to construct all 83 miles of the system in less than seven years, with Ogden to Salt Lake City opening in 2008 and an extension to Provo in 2012.
- The maximum speed of the FrontRunner is 79 mph.
- FrontRunner has carried more than 48 million passengers since its launch in 2008.
- FrontRunner has an average weekday ridership of approximately 12,100 per weekday *as of the first quarter of 2023.
- FrontRunner uses bi-level passenger cars that can accommodate about 134 passengers each. With three cars, we can carry 402 passengers per train.
- FrontRunner is probably the only implementation of level boarding using Bombardier BiLevel Coaches. In other words, FrontRunner is the only system where the boarding door is level with the station platform, allowing our riders using mobility devices and strollers to easily board. This fact was shared with us from Utah Rail Passengers Association Executive Director Mike Christensen and it was recently pointed out by Reece, of RM Transit.
- FrontRunner trains are equipped with free Wi-Fi, power outlets, restrooms, and tables for passengers to use while traveling.
- In 2018, UTA began upgrading each FrontRunner locomotive from EPA Tier Zero to Tier Two air emission standards. This reduces air pollution by 29%. So far, half of the locomotives have been upgraded.
- The more passengers that ride, the more air pollution is reduced along the Wasatch Front. In 2018, it took the emissions of 55 passenger cars to equal one locomotive at EPA Tier Zero emission standards. Today, 50% of the locomotives have been upgraded to EPA Tier Two emission standards. It takes only 26 passenger cars to equal one locomotive that has been upgraded to Tier Two. In 2022, FrontRunner averaged 71 passengers per locomotive mile, saving 12,000 pounds of air pollutants.
- FrontRunner trains are serviced and maintained at Warm Springs Rail Service Center, which was purchased from Union Pacific in 2003.
- FrontRunner trains face north regardless of the direction of travel — trains going south are actually driving in reverse!
- Tuesdays are the busiest day of the week on FrontRunner, with an average daily ridership of about 13,000 passengers.
CTA announced April 12 that its monthly scorecard will now provide improved transparence into the agency’s working metrics, including monthly hiring and attrition rates for the past 13 months for rail operators, as well as flaggers and bus operators.
According to CTA, through the end of February, the agency had 715 rail operator positions filled, compared to its budgeted headcount of 839 full-time positions. On the bus side, of the budgeted 3,707 full-time bus operator positions, a total of 3,220 full-time positions were filled.
The scorecard also tracks the monthly progress the agency is making to improve overall services, allowing customers to see detailed service results for their rail line or bus route.
Among the results of the March scorecard:
CTA says its efforts to reduce long gaps between trains continues to show improvement. Instances of customers experiencing long wait times for trains—intervals that are double and triple the scheduled headways—fell for the sixth straight month:
- Triple headways down to an average of 12 instances each weekday, compared to 29 pre-optimization.
- Double headways down to an average of 84 instances each weekday, compared to 158 pre-optimization.
For CTA bus riders, the results are even better with an ongoing reduction in big gaps in service since the new schedules went into effect in January. Big gaps in bus service—intervals that are double or triple their scheduled times—have already dropped by more than half, from 12.3% in December to 5.6% in March.
March 2023 saw improvements in service delivered compared to the previous month:
- Rail Service Delivered: 84.8% in March 2023, compared to 82.6% in February.
- Bus Service Delivered: 94.9% in March 2023, compared to 94.1% in February.
While service reliability and delivery continue to improve, CTA says there are still significant headwinds that impact the agency’s service, including the nationwide shortage of transit-industry frontline workers. Additionally, when last-minute call-offs occur—and backup workers are not available—CTA can’t put out all scheduled train trips customers deserve.
CTA says it continues to “undertake aggressive recruitment, hiring and retention efforts to address the shortage of transit workers that continues to impact the industry,” citing APTA’s fall 2022 study, which found that 96% of agencies surveyed are having workforce challenges, and 84% of agencies reported that staffing shortages are impacting service.
According to CTA, the agency, which has a current deficit of about 100 rail operators, offers regular training classes for current rail employees to become rail operators, and recent classes have had full enrollment. New operators will be assigned to rail lines after completing extensive and rigorous training. The next graduating rail operator class is anticipated to enter service in April.
As it relates to bus operations, the CTA has already hired nearly one-third (or 225 full-time hires) of its 2023 goal of 700 bus operators, which will help fill the shortage of about 600 bus operators, this includes having added personnel available to meet workforce needs. In 2022, the agency hired 452 people as bus operators. CTA hosted a very-well attended job fair in January and the next one is scheduled this Friday at CTA Headquarters to attract new candidates for bus operator and mechanic positions.
Unveiled in August 2022, the “Meeting the Moment: Transforming CTA’s Post-Pandemic Future” Action Plan is a multifaceted investment plan to “strengthen the rider experience—more consistent and reliable service, safe rides, clean facilities, modern amenities, dynamic customer engagement tools, and a strong CTA workforce.”
Amtrak’s Berkshire Flyer seasonal train service between Pittsfield, Mass., and New York City will resume May through September following a successful pilot program last summer, according to a MassLive.com report.
According to the report, the rail service, which is run in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), runs on the weekends with the train leaving from New York City’s Penn Station on a Friday afternoon, where it transits through Albany-Rensselaer, before arriving in Pittsfield, MassDOT stated in a news release.
According to the MassLive.com report, a return trip occurs on Sunday afternoon allowing connectivity back and forth for weekend getaways and other travel between the metropolis, the Berkshires and other stops in between.
For long weekends, such as Memorial Day and Labor Day, the return trip train from Pittsfield to New York City occurs on the Monday holiday, MassDOT said.
MassDOT said the train route is “building on its successful season from last year when most of the Pittsfield-bound trains sold out days before their departure.”
Train service, according to the MassLive.com report, starts on Memorial Day weekend on Friday, May 26 and will extend through the summer and into early fall until Columbus Day weekend, MassDOT added.
Trains leave from Penn Station in New York City at 3:16 p.m. on Fridays and arrive at the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center at 1 Columbus Ave. in Pittsfield at 7:12 p.m., according to MassDOT.
Other stops along the route include Yonkers, Croton-Harmon, Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff and Hudson in New York state before reaching Albany—all stops on the typical Amtrak Empire Service train on Fridays, according to MassDOT.
According to the MassLive.com report, the effort to evaluate passenger rail service between the Berkshires and New York have been ongoing since 2018, MassDOT said.
“Many Berkshire County groups, municipal officials, and elected leaders worked to spearhead the pilot service, while Amtrak, MassDOT, and NYSDOT collaborated with CSX Transportation to prepare for pilot service last year,” MassDOT said, according to the MassLive.com report.
The groups, according to the report, will continue to evaluate the train’s service this year and “further understand the feasibility and demand of the service before continuing service in future seasons,” MassDOT noted.