I recently marked my first anniversary as head of the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Maryland Transit Administration (MTA). Over that time, my management team and I have worked tirelessly to improve MTA service in Baltimore and across the state. And, we’ve made dramatic progress.
When I arrived at MTA in May 2015, I immediately began to change the culture of our managers to provide safe, efficient and reliable transit across Maryland with world-class customer service.
My main priority always has been the safety of our passengers and our more than 3,000 MTA employees. Within my first 90 days, MTA addressed an urgent safety issue of repairing 30,000 feet of deficient track on our Metro system. From 2014 to 2015, MTA Police reduced the most serious crimes on MTA’s system by 11%, making it the safest public transit system out of the 12 largest systems in America. In fact, we won the 2016 American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Safety & Security Gold Excellence Awards as one of North America’s top public transit systems for both our rail and bus operations.
To provide efficient service, MTA must use resources wisely to deliver maximum benefits to our riders. That’s why I implemented a daily statistical reporting system to alert top managers whether service is running on time. I also started daily manpower and fleet reports to inform managers how to get the most service on the street. We also reduced employee absences by improving the work environment and celebrating when a rider compliments our front-line employees for outstanding service. Finally, I put new managers and processes in place to ensure contractors are delivering products and services on time and on budget.
Reliability is fundamental to good transit service. Over the last year, the on-time performance of all MTA services has improved dramatically: Light Rail and Metro Subway run 95% on time and bus on-time performance is up from 73% to 85% compared to a year ago. To boost reliability, MTA purchased 172 new clean-diesel buses and are overhauling our entire Light Rail fleet.
MTA Mobility, our paratransit service for people with disabilities, also increased on-time performance to 95%. And, we purchased 147 new sedans for Mobility so our 10,000 daily customers can enjoy a smoother and more comfortable ride.
In addition, we’ve provided new customer service training to 1,000 front-line employees and managers to date. A shining example of great customer service is MTA Bus Operator Bennie Williams, a veteran employee who recently won the national Customer Service Challenge Award from APTA. Williams competed with bus drivers across the country in a skills-based test and took top honors.
Another major achievement for MTA was the March 17 launch of our radio station. WTTZ-93.5 FM, known as “The Maryland Transportation Channel,” is the first new radio station to debut in Baltimore since 1988 providing smooth jazz all day every day. This first-in-the-marketplace format has uniquely positioned the MTA to provide a complete picture of traffic and news on the rails, roads and in the air.
The highlight of my first year was when I joined Governor Larry Hogan and Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn to launch BaltimoreLink to transform Baltimore’s transit system into an integrated network. This system includes a color-coded bus network of 12 high-frequency buses called CityLink that will run between Metro SubwayLink, Light RailLink, MARC Train, Commuter Bus, Amtrak and other services.
This first year certainly went faster than I could’ve imagined. While a lot was accomplished, there’s still much to do. Public transit can drive economic development and connect people to life’s opportunities.
Paul Comfort is the Maryland Transit Administration Administrator and CEO