From The GM – Page 2 – County Connection

Your Technologically Advanced Bus

Buses today are very different from the buses that were on the road 30 years ago. They have been through many technological advances and improvements. As far back as the late 1980s, buses began to change in ways that particularly increased accessibility for many riders. Recently, buses have seen changes that take advantage of the internet and wireless communication. Now, we are on the cusp of seeing great advances in zero emission buses, as well as driver assisted buses. Finally, we might (sooner rather than later) see the emergence of an autonomous bus! However far off that may be, today’s buses have come a long way since 1986.

A vast majority of buses once had stairs that had to be navigated in order to board. In 1990, buses with boarding stairs were called high floor buses. Today, almost all buses are low floors buses and boarding stairs are gone. This makes getting on and off a bus much easier and allows for people with disabilities and for many seniors to use bus transit. In a related technological development, wheelchair tie downs first appeared on buses beginning in the late 1980s. That is now standard equipment on all buses.

As we entered the new century, technological advances on buses really took off. It is now common:

  • To find buses that are fully Wi-Fi compatible.
  • For bus stop announcements to be automated.
  • To see exactly where buses are located in real time.
  • For customers to use their laptop or smart phone to see exactly when their bus is going to arrive at the bus stop they want to use.

In addition, electronic ticketing has made using multiple transit systems across the Bay Area much easier; and a single fare instrument can be used to make multiple system trips.

At County Connection, our entire fleet of buses are now fully Wi-Fi equipped, and they will accept the Clipper card. This follows up on the completion of our Bus Tracker project in 2013. Bus Tracker allows a passenger to use their laptop, smartphone, etc. to determine when their bus is coming to their stop. This means that a rider can use Bus Tracker to determine when to board a bus, which is low floor with the latest and greatest in vehicle safety features, that will get them to a BART station in time to catch a train, all the while using their Clipper card on both systems. Moreover, they can work or surf the net on their device of choice, as they ride their bus and BART; perhaps into San Francisco.

As to what is coming next, County Connection has begun to move its technology with buses towards the realm of zero emissions in the form of electric buses. This fall, we will deploy the first of our electric buses in Walnut Creek on our downtown trolley. More projects of this type are in the works and will be available in the future.

Perhaps just as exciting is the likelihood of driver assisted buses coming along within the next five years. These buses will assist the driver in pulling in and out of bus stops; alert the driver to blind spot hazards; assist the driver in negotiating tight lanes; and more. Finally, the transit industry is watching the rapid development of autonomous vehicles very closely. As this progresses, the development of an autonomous bus or bus that can be put on “auto pilot” may not be all that far off.

With all these advances, it is clear that today’s bus is not anything like yesterday’s bus. And, tomorrow’s bus promises to be even more evolved than today’s advanced bus. While it is rewarding to be a part of public transit and watch the transformations this industry is striving towards, and it is also very good for the public we serve.

The Indispensable Bus Operator

A Bus Operator Does Far More Than Drive

A bus operator is more than a driver of a bus or paratransit vehicle (paratransit vehicles serve seniors and people with disabilities, often door-to-door). In fact, for many people, the bus operator is the bus system. This is true at County Connection. Our operators are the heroes of our story.

driver & pass

A bus or paratransit vehicle (van) is often a rolling plethora of human activity. People of all types come together to share a ride on a bus or van. Many of our bus or van riders rely on the bus operator to act as customer service representative, peace keeper, and handler of the unexpected, in addition to driving the bus or van during a trip.

Think about it. It is the bus operator that collects the fares, answers questions about when buses come, where they go, makes riders feel safe, handles things like passengers getting sick while riding, sorts through any conflicts that occasionally arise between passengers, secures mobility devices, offers extra assistance to the elderly, and more.

Paratransit operators are often tasked with helping riders get on and off vehicles, getting to and from doors of buildings, helping with packages, managing riders with IV hook ups or who are in a weakened condition from recent kidney dialysis, making sure confused passengers do not get lost, or making sure passengers are not left in what could be dangerous situations upon reaching a destination.

Link Pass.

Bus operators get to know their riders and their communities. They become part of the communities they serve in ways that go well beyond just driver. This provides extra benefits in many ways. One way is with the youth of our area. It is well documented that many youth use County Connection to travel to and from school, as well as other activities. This has created a situation where many of our bus operators get to know these students, as well as the various school schedules. Positive mentoring can occur and does. We have bus operators who know that if certain students board their bus at certain times, that they are probably missing school. These operators will call this out to these youths, telling them that they need be to in class. I have witnessed this first-hand during my career.

We have had bus operators or van operators who have picked up passengers who were in clear need of medical or social services. These operators have been the first link to getting people connected to badly needed social or health services. Sometimes when there are 20 or so people of vastly different walks of life on a bus, two or more passengers may develop a conflict. Bus operators most often can diffuse these situations from escalating into something serious, thereby keeping the peace and keeping everyone safe.

Along a more routine theme, bus operators are often providing riders with instant information on how to use the system effectively. They answer many questions in a given day. Most of our passengers never interact with anyone except their bus operators in using our services.

So, I put forward the notion that a bus or van operator is much more than a driver. They are multi-taskers who are the face of County Connection; much like a police officer is the face of a city – doing much more than catching criminals.

Without our bus operators doing so much more than driving the bus, I suspect that the rider experience would not be anywhere near as good as it is today. In short, our bus operators are indispensable! If you think so too, take a minute and thank your driver!

Ridership Is Up At County Connection

Like many public agencies, County Connection operates on a fiscal year that runs from July 1 through June 30, which means we are in the 8th month of our fiscal year 2016. We use the fiscal year to budget and to track things like service productivity and ridership.

To that end, total ridership is up through the first half of this fiscal year (between July and December) over the identical time period last year by 2.5%. This is after we saw an increase in ridership of 8.1% in fiscal year 2015 (July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015) over fiscal year 2014 (July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014).

As we investigate what is behind the gains in ridership, a few things stand out. Fares on routes 5 and 7 in Walnut Creek became free to passengers at one point during fiscal year 2015. Also, both routes were streamlined and overhauled to become more direct. This makes the travel time on the bus, faster.Creekside 4 for facebook

In the case of Route 5, the City of Walnut Creek has elected to cover the fares on behalf of all Route 5 passengers. This Route provides a direct link between the fairly dense Creekside area to both downtown Walnut Creek, as well as the Walnut Creek BART station. With Route 7, we have a different, but just as effective, approach. Route 7 was streamlined to provide a better direct link between the Shadelands business park in Walnut Creek and the Pleasant Hill BART station. The buses used on this service have been identified as the Shadelands shuttle. The property owners within Shadelands are covering the fares of all the passengers that use Route 7.

Last year, County Connection conducted its triennial passenger survey. Nearly 3,000 completed passenger surveys were collected. Among the information this trove of data provides is the recognition that 36% of our passengers are between the ages of 19 and 35. This group is commonly referred to as the Millennial generation. Various marketing studies strongly suggest that Millennials want to drive less and use more public transportation. They also want to live near good public transit. Consistent with this, we are seeing much of our ridership gains among this age group.

Finally, in 2014, we implemented Bus Tracker. This system allows a passenger to “track” their bus. So, one can download an app that will allow you to see when the bus you want to take will arrive at the bus stop you want to use. This takes the guess work out of “waiting” for the bus at a bus stop. You can also do this from your laptop, work station, etc. This is just one of many ways County Connection is and has implemented technology to greatly improve the bus riding experience.

I believe there is a strong correlation between County Connection ridership gains and the full implementation of Bus Tracker at County Connection.

I think those transit systems that embrace and take full advantage of technology will continue to see increases in ridership. This is exciting to consider because transportation-based technology advances are only at their beginning stages and promise to make riding public transit even easier and more efficient. If you aren’t using our Bus Tracker I encourage you to give it a try!

What’s Your Transit Priority?

Did you ever wonder how County Connection services are made possible? There’s a reason why we can’t just establish a bus line anywhere in our service area; we have to operate within very tight budget constraints, while maximizing service to the best of our abilities. If YOU had the choice, where would you place County Connection bus lines? For a limited time, you actually have the opportunity to be a bus planner for a day and vote for where you would like to see local transit services in Contra Costa. Your suggestions may be included in a long-term Transportation Expenditure Plan (TEP).

Your specific votes for County Connection are especially vital. As a public service, County Connection is funded much like any other governmental service. That is, County Connection is heavily supported by taxes of various kinds. While about 16 to 18 percent of the total annual operating budget at County Connection comes from the fares riders pay, the bulk of the funding comes from federal, state and local funding. Of these, local funding is by far the largest piece. This funding as a whole makes up the operating budget (labor, fuel, insurance, maintenance, marketing, utilities, etc.).

County Connection also has a Capital Improvement Program that is largely funded by federal grants, as well as local match funding. Capital grants can only be used for particular expenses, and are largely used to replace the buses and vans in a timely manner. We are also allowed to use capital funding to maintain the maintenance facility where the buses are stored, fueled, and maintained. Federal grants used for these approved purposes are fairly reliable, as long as we have a federal transportation program. The Senate just passed a new six-year re-authorization that maintains this federal commitment to public transit (as well as the federal commitment to highways). That legislation will be taken up in the House this fall.From WC Platform-Horizontal

Let’s look more closely at the operating budget, and the revenues that support it. Of the taxes that sustain our operations, roughly 3 percent comes from federal sources, about 9 percent comes from state sources, and the rest – about 70-72 percent – is locally sourced. That’s right, approximately 70 percent or more of the County Connection operating revenue must come from local tax sources.

In fact, the trend for suburban transit systems, like County Connection, is to see more of its support come from local sources, as the federal and state governments re-orient their support for public transit towards the larger and more urban systems.

For example, the federal authorization that just expired saw a multi-billion dollar shift away from a funding program that largely benefitted smaller urban and suburban bus systems to a new program that benefits older large heavy rail systems – primarily in places like Chicago, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, the state of California seems to be transitioning their approach to funding public transit to one that is heavily tied to the new Cap and Trade based greenhouse gas reduction programs. Areas like Contra Costa County are not doing well under Cap and Trade-based programs because of our relatively good air quality. In short, lately our share of state transit funding is trending downward.

This means, as we move forward, County Connection and other similar systems are going to become more and more reliant on local funding sources. In recognition of this expectation, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority is currently working on developing its potential plan (TEP) for transportation projects funded by a future Contra Costa County tax measure.

This is where YOU come in. County Connection could greatly benefit by new funding through such a measure to improve transit services where they are needed most. Be a part of Contra Costa Transportation Authority’s public input to help prioritize what projects and programs should be included in the long-term roadmap (TEP) we are developing for future transportation investments.

Vote Today

To make sharing your transit priorities easy, a collection tool is available where you can sign in to access a personal piggybank with 10 virtual coins that you can invest across the projects and programs you care most about. How you divvy them up is your choice – you can use all of your coins in one place, spread them out among 10 different priorities, or anything in between.

You can also participate by attending one of the number of public meetings on the development of the Expenditure Plan that Contra Costa Transportation Authority is planning. You can visit Contra Costa Transportation Authority’s website to learn more.

Finally, if you would like to see the Contra Costa Transportation Authority’s Expenditure Plan include new funding for bus transit, let your locally elected officials know! Tell them how important good bus service is for you and your community.

Remember, the future of bus transit in our area is going to be locally driven and locally funded, so let us know your transit priorities!

New Community Shuttle To Debut In Martinez

Martinez Community Shuttle – Route 3 Begins Monday, August 17th

I’ve said it before here, but it’s worth repeating: I strongly believe good collaborative planning often leads to better results. On Monday, August 17 such a product of good collaborative planning will take hold in Martinez. That is the first day of County Connection’s new Martinez community shuttle – Route 3.

Here’s a re-cap of how the long-awaited Route 3 finally came to be:

The City of Martinez identified the need for some type of shuttle between downtown and the neighborhoods in its 2009 Downtown Martinez Community-Based Transportation Plan. Unfortunately, shortly after that, the recession hit and County Connection was forced to cut service – rather than increase it – due to massive losses of sales tax revenues.

Flash-forward four years, as the area emerged from the recession, County Connection completed its Adaptive Service Plan (ASP) in 2013. This plan was the result of a joint planning effort involving County Connection, the City of Concord, the City of Clayton, the City of Martinez, the City of Pleasant Hill, and the City of Walnut Creek. The five cities participated through TRANSPAC, one of the four Regional Transportation Planning Committees (RTPC) of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. The purpose of the plan was to identify projects to extend transit services to areas that were either underserved or could benefit from a non-traditional approach to transit service.

The ASP made recommendations for service improvements in Martinez and Walnut Creek. The two service improvements in Walnut Creek were implemented in 2014. This involved making service improvements to Route 5, which connects the high-density area of Creekside in Walnut Creek directly to downtown Walnut Creek, including the BART station. The City of Walnut in turn, chose to subsidize the fares of riders on Route 5 making it “free” to the passenger. This has led to a nearly four-fold increase in average daily ridership on this service!

Another service improvement in Walnut Creek from the ASP was a streamlining of Route 7, which connects the Pleasant Hill BART station with the Shadelands business park. The improvements make it much more attractive to shuttle back and forth between these two locations. This in turn has led the Shadelands property owners to underwrite the fares on Route 7, making this route also “free” to the public. Similar to Route 5, ridership on Route 7 has increased by approximately 50 percent since these improvements were made. And, as of this summer, the Route 7 buses have a special wrap that clearly identifies the bus as a Shadelands BART Shuttle.

Both of these ASP recommendations were made possible by restructuring Route 2 (with a ridership of less than 50 people a day), which was another ASP recommendation. Thus, these improvements were cost neutral. The area Route 2 serves has been identified for future innovative technology-based transportation options (i.e. Uber style services).

The remaining ASP recommendation from 2013 was to implement a community shuttle in Martinez. While the ASP provided a cost neutral recommendation to pay for a new community shuttle, public meetings and outreach indicated that restructuring services in Martinez was not the preferred course of action. Instead, it was determined to wait until new funding for the new community shuttle could be secured.

This is where the final piece of the puzzle comes into play. In 2014, the State of California enacted a spending plan for the revenue raised through a state cap-and-trade greenhouse gas reduction program <>, as a response to climate change. This program started in January 2012. Within this spending plan, the state allocates transit funding to various parts of the state to make transit improvements that will both reduce greenhouse gases, as well as provide new transit options to “disadvantaged communities (DAC)”. The state defines these DACs largely using indicators of the considered ill effects of air pollution.Bus on Alhambra

Looping back to the City of Martinez, the zone identified for the desired Martinez community shuttle provides direct services to an area of Martinez that the state has designated as a DAC. Therefore, it qualifies for newly available funding from the cap-and-trade program. In the Bay Area, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is the entity that disburses cap-and-trade transit funding to Bay Area transit operators. County Connection applied for cap-and-trade funding to MTC to fund the new Martinez community shuttle and MTC agreed to fund it!

As a result of this multi-partner collaborative planning process, we begin service on our new County Connection Route 3 on Monday, August 17. It is exciting to enable people living in Martinez to be minutes away from their downtown by transit, where they work, play and enjoy all the wonderful new and old things to do in downtown Martinez, including the Martinez marina.

This is a prime example of how good planning and good transit can enrich the community experience.

America’s Transportation Infrastructure Lags Behind Global Transit Standards

Earlier this month, County Connection proudly participated in a national event called “Stand Up For Transportation” (SU4T). This national event , held on April 9, was organized and sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) with the goal to highlight and emphasize just how important transportation infrastructure is to the United States.

County Connection, along with over 20 other Bay Area organizations, participated in a joint event at the temporary Transbay Terminal in San Francisco to lend our voices to the day-long, national outcry to congress demanding long-term investment in our nation’s transportation infrastructure to keep America moving forward.

Why was SU4T necessary? Because investment in all transportation is at record lows, when accounting for inflation, going back to before the 1950s. Yet, our economy and our daily lives have never depended more on our various transportation systems than they do now. Meanwhile, other countries, like China, are building new transportation systems at a breakneck pace.

Beyond building awareness, SU4T events specifically called out federal leaders with the demand that they address the unacceptable lack of investment in transportation by passing an overdue reauthorization of a federal transportation bill with adequate funding before the current federal transportation funding bill, Moving Ahead for Progress crowdin the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), expires on May 31.

Imagine if the nation had not invested in the interstate freeway system in the 1950s and 1960s. Imagine if we had not invested in BART in the 1960s and 1970s. Those things were not built to last forever. All of these transportation systems are in dire need of full replacement. The sad truth is we don’t have to imagine anything. The daily drive down our local streets and roads is already an exercise in dodging potholes, avoiding traffic backups, and the need for meditation tapes! After all, being late for work puts you at risk economically, as does paying for costly repairs to your car when you have to drive down streets of disrepair.

This is to say nothing of our struggles to keep up with demand for additional transportation options and opportunities. We are essentially relying on the same levels of transportation services as we did in 1990. Yet, population and job growth have been extensive. We need to find ways of increasing transportation services and facilities.

How did we get to this state of disrepair and stagnation with respect to transportation? Well, like anything of this magnitude, there is no one single reason. However, our financial investment has dwindled significantly. This is a main part of the problem, as we can’t build or maintain any transportation facilities or services for free. They all cost a lot of money.

Federal investment in transportation peaked in 1993 and has been steadily eroding ever since. This is because the funding source of the federal investment is the federal gas tax (or excise tax). This tax has been at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993 and in today’s dollars, buys much less than it did then. Therefore, the net result is less investment in transportation.

If you believe that our nation’s highways, streets and roads, public transit, and airports, etc. need to be improved and better maintained, then you too can join County Connection and scores of others that “Stand Up For Transportation”!  Write, call, or email your Congressperson, and let them know that adequate federal investment in transportation is vital to your quality life and your economic well-being.

Rider Numbers Rising On County Connection

The number of people using County Connection services is increasing and the trend looks to continue into 2015. As the economy began its turnaround a few years ago, we have seen our overall ridership grow by over 5 percent. This is not unexpected. A better performing economy means that people have more places to go and can afford to travel more. And, when we look at a few select examples, we can reasonably conclude that many new riders are using County Connection to travel to and from job sites.

For example, when we look at this past October and compare it to October 2013, we find a number of interesting things. Take average weekday ridership. In October of 2014, County Connection had an average weekday ridership of 14,112 passengers, while in October 2013 the figure was 12,752 passengers. This represents an increase in average weekday ridership of 13 percent. We see something similar when looking at a standard measure of productivity: passengers per revenue hour (pax/rvh) of service. In October 2014, County Connection had a pax/rvh of 17.4 compared to 15.7 in October of 2013. This is represents an increase of 10.8 percent.

We also see a good increase with weekend ridership. Again using October as our snapshot, we see that in October 2014, total weekend ridership is at 23,248 passengers compared to 22,651 passengers in October 2013. This increase of 2.6 percent becomes more meaningful when considering that October 2013 had nine weekend days to the eight weekend days of October 2014.

If we study routes, certain ones have experienced significantly greater increases in ridership than others.  For example, Route 95X – an express service between the Walnut Creek BART Station and the Bishop Ranch Business Park – has seen a 16 percent increase from October 2013 to October 2014. This reflects the growing employment numbers at the businesses in the location. Another route example that really jumps out is the huge increase on Route 5, which connects the Creekside neighborhood in Walnut Creek with downtown Walnut Creek and eventually the BART Station. This route has an increase of 277 percent from October 2013 to October 2014! This is most certainly due to the free fares now offered on Route 5 through a City of Walnut Creek fare subsidization of all riders using this route. This means that in October 2013, riders paid a fare to board the bus, while in October 2014, the City of Walnut Creek covered each rider’s fare.

We also have seen a large increase in usage within the Dougherty Valley area of San Ramon. This area is primarily served by Route 35, which connects the heart of Dougherty Valley with the Dublin BART Station largely via Bollinger Canyon Road and Dougherty Road. In October 2014, this route had an average weekday ridership of 540 passengers compared to 448 average weekday passengers in 2013. This represents an increase of nearly 21 percent.

Finally, County Connection saw an increase of 23 percent from October 2013 to October 2014 on Route 6. This route serves Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda connecting them to the Lafayette and Orinda BART Stations via Moraga Road and Moraga Way.

Regardless of the reasons for the ridership gains, from subsidies to the growing economy, all of us at County Connection are very encouraged and buoyed by these – in some cases very substantial – increases. Together with our riders, we are contributing to more cars off the road, lessening congestion and improving the environment in our community.

Season of Giving: County Connection Participates in Food Drive

Every year, County Connection participates in the drive to collect donations for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano; the collection typically runs for a two-week period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year, it ran throughout the County between November 30th and December 13th. County Connection offered an easy way for the community to participate in the program by having a crate available ready to accept donations as riders boarded their bus. We also had a donation drop off onsite at our administrative office located at 2477 Arnold Industrial Way in Concord. Not only did we collect donations from our passengers, we also encouraged donations from County Connection employees. Historically, our employees have been very generous when it comes to donating food to the food bank. Our goal this year was to raise over 1,000 pounds of food from our County Connection collection points. We nearly reached it with a total of 900 pounds, which represents a 10 percent increase from last year. In past years, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has formally recognized us for our food raising efforts. Everyone at County Connection is very proud of that. One of the fastest ways to get into the holiday spirit of giving is by donating food to those that find themselves in need, however, I personally urge everyone who reads this blog to donate food to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, not just during the holidays, but also throughout the year. If you are not familiar with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, the group:

  • Provides food to nearly 188,000 people EVERY month, of which 28% receiving emergency food are children
  • Distributes food directly back into the community through school and church programs
  • Distributes food to recognized non-profit organizations such as Monument Crisis Center, La Clinica de la Raza, and WIC
  • Accepts cash donations to provide fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishable foods that cannot be stored for long periods at its warehouses — 96 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to food programs
  • Has hundreds of regular volunteers that help keep food moving through its warehouses into the community, as well as assisting with education and outreach
  • Offers harvesting assistance to people wishing to donate excess amounts of fruit on trees

I want to thank everyone who donated food to the Contra Costa Food Bank this holiday season. And, I thank County Connection employees who donate and work our piece of this important campaign. More people than ever rely on food banks for basic nutritional needs making every donation very meaningful. All of us at County Connection wish you and yours a happy holiday.

New Buses. New County Connection Look.

Earlier this year, County Connection took delivery of seven new buses. These buses, which are manufactured locally in Hayward, are now fully integrated into the fleet and have been in revenue service since earlier this summer. These buses also represent the first ones purchased that emphasize our County Connection brand and the extensive work towards modernizing the look of our buses in a cost efficient manner.

If you take a closer look at these new buses on the street, you might notice a few things. For one, they are brighter than previous buses. The beige background has evolved to crisp white, and the reddish-brown color has subtly become a clearer red. This alone creates a much brighter and more modern look. So far, passengers and the public are giving us the thumbs up on our efforts.

In addition, on the side of the new buses we have moved our “County Connection” branding up towards the top of the bus, instead of the bottom. This ensures that our brand remains visible to the public even if there is an advertisement on the side of the bus. This is in keeping with one of the tenants of the recently adopted policy on County Connection branding. We plan to continue to work on modernizing and highlighting the County Connection brand, in an inexpensive way, while letting transit users know who we are and what we do. By timing the rework on bus paint colors as we purchase new buses, rather than to change all the buses in our fleet will be of neutral cost instead of incremental.

Environmentally Better Too

How our buses look is significant, but not as important as how they affect the environment. Our seven new buses are powered by engines fueled by clean diesel. These diesel buses are not like your father’s diesel bus; they are much cleaner in terms of emissions. For example, these new buses are at least 50% cleaner in terms of mono-nitrogen oxides NO and NO2 (nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide) than the seven buses we retired. More impressively, these clean diesel buses emit over 90% less particulate matter (PM) than their predecessors prior to 2002.  On top of that these new buses achieve fuel efficiencies in terms of miles per gallon (MPG) that represent an increase in MPG of at least 18%.  So, the new buses are much better for the environment than the seven buses they replaced whether it’s related to reducing greenhouse gases or reducing overall air pollution. Plus, the greater MPG will save County Connection on its fuel costs.

As is our standard practice, the new buses were purchased via competitive bid. The winning bidder was the Gillig Corporation located down the road in Hayward. Gillig not only had the best proposal, they also had the best pricing. Gillig employs over 700 skilled workers, of which many live and shop in central Contra Costa County.

So, you can see why we are proud of our new buses and we are pleased that in the recent months following the introduction into our fleet that passengers and others are giving them good reviews too.

Safety Starts with Training

County Connection bus operators are among the best and most thoroughly trained in public transit. One of the key outcomes of this extensive training is that they are also among the safest operators too. Our safety performance has exceeded our safety standards for many years. The primary metric we rely on is the number of preventable accidents per 100,000 miles of service. Our standard is 1 preventable accident/100,000 miles of service. We have met that standard every year going back to 1999. Furthermore, 16 of our current bus operators have had 20 or more years of safe driving!

In addition to producing some of the safest operators in public transit, our operator training program produces highly professional bus operators when it comes to customer relations, emergency response, assisting passengers with disabilities, recognizing and responding correctly to dangerous or unexpected situations, and comprehensive knowledge of our service area, among other things.

Developing these highly trained bus operators is much more involved than you might think.

Every County Connection bus operator receives an intense and comprehensive seven week training course before they ever drive a bus in service. This extensive New Hire Training is where County Connection bus operators are initiated into our organizational culture that values and rewards safety first.

Each new class entails over 200 hours of classroom instruction in areas such as buses and bus components, radio use and protocols, how to check a bus for safe operations, wheel chair tie-downs, substance abuse, defensive driving, dealing with passengers who may not be sober, or may have blood borne pathogen related issues, customer relations, working with seniors and persons with disabilities, managing emergencies and difficult situations, handling accidents and reporting, and our Safe Place Program (we are a designated safe place for troubled teens) among other topics. Each operator also goes through up to 40 hours of behind-the-wheel driving instruction.

Finally, after passing these extensive hours of training, a bus operator can then drive revenue passenger service, but only with a trainer on-board. Once an operator successfully completes all County Connection training, they must complete and pass a vehicle pre-trip test, a brake test, and a driving test all administered by a County Connection certified DMV trainer. They must also pass a fitness for duty test administered by a DMV approved doctor. The DMV will then provide the successful operator with a Class B license with the appropriate and necessary public transit bus operator endorsements.

Once all training is complete and with Class B license is in hand, a new bus operator is ready to be a County Connection driver.

Continuing Education

Driver education doesn’t stop there, however, operators continue to receive training throughout their career. Each year, every operator receives eight hours of Verification of Transit Training (VTT). Completing this training is mandatory for keeping a Class B license with the necessary endorsements. This training focuses on a wide range of topics that may include: safe driving, customer service, American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, and handling challenging customers. Also, many operators will receive additional retraining of various kinds, on an as needed basis.

The County Connection training program is done in house with our expert staff. This includes two professional trainers, as well as up to eight federal Department of Transportation (DOT) certified operator trainers. These are County Connection bus operators who are certified to train fellow bus operators. Our two professional trainers both are federally certified by the DOT, as well as fully certified by the DMV and the State Department of Education.

Our training program – originally developed over 25 years ago – is constantly improving under the long time direction of our Manager of Safety and Training. Working closely with her for many of these years is our Assistant Manager of Training. Without the leadership of these two great employees, our training program would not be nearly as successful as it has been.

I take great pride in our bus operators, our trainers, the bus operator training program, and our safety record at County Connection. Together they are an important part of our great record of providing outstanding service to the residents of central and south county.