From the Board: Topeka Metro Accomplishments/Where We Stand

TOPEKA, Kansas (Monday, March 27, 2017) —

For the past five years, our Board has challenged Topeka Metro’s management to look at opportunities to achieve two goals:

• How can Topeka Metro provide better service?
• How can Topeka Metro do so at a lower cost?

We challenged management to move into a new era of transportation solutions befitting the capital city of Kansas. We believe the record supports management having done as we asked.

  1. Management significantly reduced scheduled overtime. The savings achieved in reducing overtime came from relieving operators in the field and not just at Quincy Street Station. By spending a few dollars driving operators to switch shifts mid-route, we are saving thousands of dollars in scheduled overtime.
  2. Management operates the fixed route system with fewer buses. This was accomplished by improved scheduling of both operators and equipment. This reduces both operating and capital costs.
  3. Management responds to customer requests. Our surveys showed customers’ top requests were more service later in the day and more service on weekends. The decrease in scheduled overtime and reduced operating costs allowed management to expand weekday and Saturday service (Oakland route) with no increase in tax dollars. The Board will continue to ask management to survey customers for their input and make changes that support customer needs.
  4. Management is improving bus stops, benches and shelters throughout the Topeka Metro system. Management has converted the entire fixed-route system to designated stops, which should result in fewer buses running late and will open the door to new technology, like a “Where’s my bus?” app for smart phones. Significant improvements have been made to the bus stops themselves, both improving customer experience and beautifying Topeka’s streets. Multiple new shelters have been erected. New, park-like benches have been placed at several stops, with more to come. Most importantly, concrete pads are being laid at designated stops throughout the city. Previously, benches and shelters were often located in places that made it impossible for persons using wheelchairs to use Topeka Metro’s fixed route buses. Even persons without disabilities often found our bus bench and shelter locations challenging. Topeka Metro’s new, fully-accessible concrete pads, bus benches and shelters have expanded access and convenience for all customers on our fixed routes.
  5. Management reduced cost of paratransit (Lift) service. By providing free fixed-route service to eligible paratransit customers through the FREEdom Pass incentive, management has enhanced the rider experience for those customers while reducing costs. A customer need not pre-plan a fixed-route trip a day in advance, as with a paratransit trip. Since every paratransit trip costs over nine times the cost of a ride on the fixed route system, moving some paratransit customers to the fixed route allowed management to save operating costs and reduce the number of our Lift buses from fifteen to ten.
  6. Management utilized innovative partnerships and grants to help fund bikeshare. Management expanded our customer’s transportation options by establishing the FIRST bike share in Kansas. A substantial amount of the cost of Topeka Metro Bikes (TMB) has come from new partnerships and grants. In its first year, TMB had more riders than Kansas City’s bike-share system. This bike program expands the service area by providing customer flexibility to share a bike and journey beyond our bus stops and complete the first or last mile of a trip. Civic leaders have hailed TMB as an important “Quality of Life” improvement in Topeka.
  7. Management works to fairly compensate all employees. The Board directed management to conduct market comparisons on the salaries for all employees, both those represented by the Union and those not represented. Based on that comparison and some salary adjustments, we believe compensation levels accurately reflect the employment market and skill set for each position—represented or non-represented.

Topeka Metro has achieved these advances through a broad vision for transportation in our community and effective fiscal management of the agency. The Board has not asked for, nor received, a mill-levy increase in seven years.

We achieved these milestones while still offering all employees company-paid health care and other benefits, including a $500 reimbursement for sleep apnea treatment.  While other employers have raised the employee contribution for health insurance, the Topeka Metro Board has not.  Wages and health insurance are Topeka Metro’s largest investment each year. The Board hopes to maintain these generous benefits, although it may be difficult.

The Board further challenges the idea that the only way to run the Topeka Metro is as a publicly operated entity. To this end, the Board voted unanimously to begin the process of inviting private companies to tell us if they can operate our system more efficiently, less expensively and with better service than we now provide. We expect many responses to our recent Request for Information (RFI).

It is an ongoing process realizing our vision. The accomplishments outlined here did not happen overnight and they did not happen without the hard work and dedication of all Topeka Metro employees. These accomplishments were only possible by constantly seeking ways to improve service, create efficiencies and reduce operating costs.

We live in a dramatically changing transportation landscape. Our answer to providing transportation solutions for Topeka means we must operate differently from how we did 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.

In this challenging environment, management repeatedly reached out to Union leadership seeking to work together to improve scheduling, customer service and to find ways to reduce inefficiencies. These efforts have been met with rejection time and time again. Just one example is management’s offer of a work week for some operators of four ten-hour days, to improve employee satisfaction while creating sustainable operating efficiencies. The Union grieved this effort despite its obvious benefits to operators and Topeka Metro.

The Board hopes the recent letter from Union leadership indicates a new willingness to work with management to make changes necessary to deliver better service to our community, provide great working conditions for employees, and achieve on-going operating and cost efficiencies.

Topeka Metropolitan Transit Authority

Elsie Eisenbarth, Chair, Board of Directors