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In my last blog, I shared highlights about the history of innovation at County Connection. This second entry continues on the theme of innovation at County Connection with a focus on the past ten years, where we have been innovative in our labor contracts, our equipment, and computer-based passenger amenities.
County Connection has three labor unions that together, represent roughly 80% of our workforce, each requiring its own labor contracts. Public sector labor contracts are often full of annual guaranteed wage increases for all members of a bargaining unit that are covered by the contract. Historically, the related contracts have had guaranteed annual wage increases that are typically between 2-4%.
As the 2008/2009 economic recession began to recede in 2010/2011, there was concern at County Connection about including guaranteed wage increases in multi-year labor contracts going forward. This is because in 2008, 2009, and 2010 – while County Connection lost 25% of its revenues – we were contractually bound to give out annual wage increases we could not afford. Generously, all three of our labor unions voluntarily gave up wage increases in many of those years, allowing us to freeze wages for all employees over a three-year period, and helping us to avoid workforce reductions.
This is where we get to the innovation part. As the economy picked up in 2011, County Connection was to negotiate new labor contracts in 2012 and 2013. The Authority (our governing body) was reticent to commit to annual wage increases in new contracts out of concern of another economic turndown. On the other hand, after three years of wage freezes, the employees and their respective unions wanted three year contracts with annual wage increases included. What to do?
We came up with an innovative concept that to this day is rarely seen in the public sector. We call them the economic triggers. In simple summary, these triggers work like this: Should one of our key funding sources drop from year to year, the following year, any wage increase can be permanently withheld. Likewise, if County Connection has to endure a significant increase in fuel costs or in pension costs from year to year, the following year, any wage increase can also be permanently withheld. This allows County Connection a contract-based authority to not give out wage increases in response to unexpected significant economic blows. Again, this is something you rarely see in public sector labor contracts.
Another area of recent innovation was the introduction of Wi Fi capability on all 121 of County Connection’s fixed-route 30- and 40-foot buses. This has been the case now for over six years. Thus, customers of County Connection can be on the Internet while riding transit in central and south Contra Costa County. Moreover, we will be starting in 2018 to replace all the routers on all of our fixed-route buses to move to the next level of router technology. This will make Internet usage on County Connection buses even faster and more reliable.
Also within the last ten years, we have implemented a feature we call Bus Tracker. Bus Tracker uses software to track every County Connection bus at all times. This lets County Connection management better oversee the system for on-time performance and service quality. Even better, not only do we know where every bus is precisely at a given time, but also our customers can similarly track the whereabouts of any bus at any time by accessing our webpage, or on an app via a desktop, laptop, pad, or smartphone. Thus, customers can reduce their wait time by only arriving at a bus stop a few minutes before the bus comes.
The last highlight I want to share is about our state-of-the-art buses. County Connection introduced its first four battery electric buses in late 2016 and by the end of 2018 we will have four more in operation for a total of eight battery electric buses in our fleet. These are the first battery electric buses manufactured by local (Livermore) bus manufacturer Gillig. And, they are the first to be inductively charged while on route.
Inductive charging in the field allows for a bus to be out in service for much longer periods of time than a traditionally charged battery electric bus. Inductive charging also promises to extend battery life – saving County Connection the expenses related to battery replacement.
With the State of California about to mandate the purchase and usage of zero emission-based buses (battery electric or fuel cell powered), finding innovative ways to extend battery life and range is going to be critical in making compliance to this mandate work. County Connection – with its innovative inductive charging – is already doing just that.
These are just a few of the innovative approaches that County Connection has implemented to enhance rider experience and improve how the agency delivers its service. As 2018 comes to a close, we are proud of how these past innovations are helping us to lay the foundation towards adopting new technologies and meeting mobility demands in the future.
Click the link below to view the technical specifications for Inductive Charging Installation and Relocation.
County Connection was honored with a Leadership in Sustainability Award by Sustainable Contra Costa for the Walnut Creek Downtown Trolley (Route 4). The award is for Sustainable Resource Management, which includes waste and pollution reduction, air quality, energy conservation, efficiency, and generation.
Route 4 circulates through the city’s downtown core, with layovers at BART and Broadway Plaza, and fares are subsidized by the City of Walnut Creek. In 2012, County Connection purchased four all-electric, trolley-replica buses to operate on Route 4, and two wireless electric vehicle charging stations, including an inductive charger installed at the BART station. County Connection became one of the first public transit authorities in the Bay Area to implement electric buses, and one of the first in the nation to implement a fleet of in-route inductively charged electric buses.
As part of accepting this award, County Connection staff were invited to attend an awards gala hosted at the Pleasant Hill Community Center on September 20th. About 200 people attended including representatives from several non-profits, city and county government, and local businesses. County Connection staff accepted the award after an introduction from Cindy Silva, Mayor Pro Tem of Walnut Creek. In addition to this award, County Connection was also recognized by Central Sanitation for its continued water recycling efforts.
What is California Proposition 6?
A measure that will be submitted to California voters as part of the November 2018 election. The ballot measure proposes to repeal the Road Repair and Accountability Act (a fuel and vehicle tax), which is also known as Senate Bill 1 (SB1).
The revenue raised from SB1 is used primarily to repair existing roads, bridges, add bicycle lanes, and increase funding for mass transit projects.
NO VOTE on this measure:
would maintain current revenues under SB1.
- County Connection would retain approximately $3 million annually for operations and capital projects.
- Provides $54 billion over the next decade to fix roads, freeways and bridges in communities across California and puts more dollars toward transit and safety.
- More than $700 million annually for public transportation projects across the state.
YES VOTE on this measure:
would eliminate revenues provided for highway and road maintenance and repairs, as well as transit programs, under SB1.
- County Connection would lose approximately $3 million annually, which would translate to service cuts.
- All funding generated by the fuel/vehicle taxes would not be available to fix roads, freeways and bridges across California.
What is Senate Bill 1 (SB1)?
The Road Repair and Accountability Act is a Job Builder. It is a landmark transportation investment to rebuild California by fixing neighborhood streets, freeways and bridges in communities across California and targeting funds toward transit and congested trade and commute corridor improvements.
What does it mean for County Connection?
County Connection receives the following funds through SB1 on an annual basis:
State Transit Assistance Program (STA): $2.8 Million
This money helps support the operation of existing routes. This money is distributed via current funding formulas based on agency revenue and population.
State of Good Repair Program (SGR): $119K
This program funds projects to maintain or repair existing transit fleets and facilities. These funds support County Connection’s IT maintenance costs.
What does SB1 cost to motorists?
The California Department of Finance calculated that the average cost to motorists is roughly $10/month.
Here’s how that number was derived:
- Registration: SB1 imposed a new vehicle registration fee that increases with the value of a registered vehicle. Nearly 50% of all registered vehicles in California are valued at less than $5,000. Forty percent are valued at less than $25,000. Thus, the average annual amount for vehicle registration is approximately $48.
- Fuel: SB1 increased the sales tax on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon. California’s 26 million licensed drivers consume 15.5 billion gallons per year. That is 577 gallons per driver, multiplied by 12 cents per gallon is $69.24 each. The annual average cost per driver is: Vehicle Registration: $47.85 Fuel: $69.24 Total $117.09 per year OR $9.76 per month.
Click on link below for more information.
County Connection has been providing public transit service to the central and south regions of Contra Costa County for nearly 40 years. During those years, County Connection has constantly been innovative, forward-looking, and at times the first-to-implement new technologies, all of which allows us to continuously provide better service to the public and/or promote greater efficiencies in our operations.
In this and in a few future blogs, I will review some of County Connection’s past progressive efforts. The final blog in this series will look at where we expect the next opportunities for public transportation innovation to be found.
I’ll start with two things we did in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Making Transit More Accessible
Did you know that County Connection became the first public transit system in America to deploy a fully accessible fleet of buses on its fixed-route services?
In the 1980s, County Connection set out to install wheelchair (we now say mobility device) lifts on every bus. It should be noted that through the 1990s, most transit buses had high floors that required the use of stairs to board and alight the bus. At the same time, a lot of transit providers did not offer mechanical lifts to allow people with wheelchairs to get in and out of standard transit buses, which made it impossible, in many cases, for them to use public transit.
With the high floor and stairs barriers, County Connection saw the need to serve those folks who used mobility devices with its fixed-route service network, so it set out to install lifts on every bus. By early 1989, County Connection completed its installation of lifts and became the first public transit system to do so. This forward-thinking approach to make transit services more accessible to all riders turned out to foreshadow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in September of 1990, which among many other things, mandated that public transit outfit all of its buses with lifts by the end 1996. County Connection was way ahead of the curve.
By about 2000, most of the new buses in North America were designed with a low floor eliminating the need for a wheelchair lift.
In late 1989, County Connection became the first transit system in America to procure and install the Trapeze fixed-route scheduling system, a first-of-its-kind highly computerized scheduling software exclusively made for scheduling fixed-route transit buses.
One of the innovations that Trapeze allowed us to take advantage of early on is how it facilities – through computerized scheduling – the practice of interlining routes and buses. This is because Trapeze scheduling software was the first such software to rely on complex algorithms to create a system schedule based on inputs and parameters set by the scheduler. Interlining is the practice of using one bus for multiple routes as opposed to having one bus run just along one route. This creates operating efficiencies such that with interlining you can provide the same level of service in terms of hours of service with fewer buses and lower operational costs.
After we installed Trapeze in early 1990, we began to increase our interlining of buses over time. This led to significant operational efficiency gains at County Connection. Without the computerization, complex interlining becomes extremely time-consuming, as well as challenging for people without advanced math degrees.
Today, Trapeze fixed-route scheduling software is used by at least half of all public transit systems in America. Once again, County Connection was ahead of the curve.
These are just a few examples of what we have done at County Connection that reflect our innovative spirit. Did both of these innovations meet the test of: Does the innovation either make the service better for the customer or create cost savings in our day-to-day operations? In the case of installing wheelchair lifts and implementing a highly computerized software package, the answer is yes. Innovation paid off very well.
Effective: August 12, 2018
Route 3 – Eliminated
Route 28 – New Map – serving Wal-Mart along Old Orchard Rd.
Route 99X – New Commuter Route – Amtrak to North Concord/Martinez BART
Route 316 – New trips added
Click here for PDF map: Proposed Service Map