• Durham, N.C., location partners in food drive

    by Jay Brock | Aug 18, 2016

    This time of year most of us think of back-to-school supply drives, but employees at First Transit Location in Durham, North Carolina know that their community has need beyond pencils, paper and backpacks. They recently partnered with a local supermarket to solicit donations the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. 

    In four hours, their very successful food drive collected more than 1,400 pounds of food. An amount that will provide more than 1,200 meals! Click here for complete coverage.

    Formerly known as the Durham Area Transit Authority (DATA), GO Durham provides public transportation solutions for “The Triangle” – anchored by North Carolina State University, Duke University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – it contains the cities of Raleigh, Durham, Cary and Chapel Hill.

  • South Florida location holds ribbon cutting, celebrates environment

    by Jay Brock | Aug 01, 2016

    First Transit's Palm Beach County Location recently held a ribbon cutting for the installation of new, environmentally friendly equipment. General Manager Rick Gonzalez joined Executive Director of Palm Tran Clinton Forbes, Palm Beach County Commissioner Steve Abrams, Certified Propane President Angel Fernandez and Certified Propane Operations Manager Ofelio Martinez for the event.“

     Propane fuel helps the environment and provides an good alternative fuel source for fleet vehicles. It also provides greater longevity for First Transit’s vehicles. To see full coverage of the event, click here.
    boyton beach

    From left to right, Ofelio Martinez, Angel Fernandez, Clinton Forbes, Rick Gonzalez and Steve Abrams cut the ribbon for the newly installed propane station in Boynton Beach.

  • Twitter chat spotlights transit training #allcanride

    by Jay Brock | Jul 11, 2016

    In late June, First Transit held its first Twitter Chat in partnership with our location in Seattle, Washington. First Transit’s only location in North America that conducts transit or travel training, Location Manager Tom Irvin and Transit Options Program Manager Jeanette Frazier provided guidance on the answers for the moderated chat session. 

    twitter chat

    Transit training programs work with individuals who typically leverage paratransit and provides training and confidence to ride fixed-route operations. The instructors work to develop a greater sense of independence among program participants. The Twitter chat was focused around the hashtag #allcanride.

    According to Jeanette, the Pathway Review team reviews frequent para-transit trips and find pathways that are barrier-free according to specific limitations issued by the eligibility team. “By offering this pathway they give riders another option to their transportation need and help to save the county money in the process,” she said.  

  • Fort Bend Flood Response

    by Ashley Mcnamara | Jun 29, 2016

    When First Transit General Manager Yevette McNeese learned the details of the large-scale flooding expected and massive rescue efforts needed in Fort Bend, Texas in late May, she knew the assistance needed would be more than her staff alone could provide while keeping up with every day service. She reached out to nearby First Transit and First Student locations in the area and they answered the call without hesitation.


    Employees from First Transit’s Fort Bend location, Houston Fixed Route, First Student in Houston and the Houston RAC came together to provide transportation for residents needing to evacuate their homes. Residents were taken to emergency shelters set up by the Red Cross throughout the community, as well as to social service agencies and other necessary services. More than 300 people, including their pets and most cherished belongings, were evacuated to safe locations. The First Transit and First Student teams provided 24-hour, on-site management at the Fort Bend County Emergency Operations Center for five days and provided drivers on-call 24/7 for ten days.

    The Fort Bend and Sugarland communities were devastated by the flooding. Due to the severity of the conditions, President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for a 12-county area. Fort Bend County authorities estimate that 4,000 residents have seen their homes flooded and the losses in public infrastructure is estimated at $14 million so far.    

    As the waters rose, residents were picked up from their homes by the Army Reserves in high water vehicles and boats, and taken to safer meeting areas in and close to their neighborhoods. They were then picked up by First Transit and First Student drivers and taken to Red Cross shelters.

    The Fort Bend County location, a First Transit customer since 2011, has only 80 employees on staff to operate 46 buses a day and do not normally operate late at night or on weekends.  To ensure the needs of those displaced by the flooding were met, drivers were on call overnight, took buses home, worked over the weekends and gave up their scheduled time off.

    “Anybody that we asked was very willing to help and jumped to it,” McNeese said.

    The assistance didn’t stop with the transportation and evacuation services. Our employees continued to supply donations of their time and resources in different ways.  For example, employees brought in suitcases filled with supplies for needy evacuees. They spent countless hours at the shelters and emergency center.

    “Our staff got to know people at the shelter and did whatever they what they could to respond…whatever they needed”, McNeese said. “It was awesome to see.”

    McNeese and driver Kathy Williams, who lives in the Fort Bend area, spent three full days and nights at the Emergency Management Shelter.  They were on call 24-hours a day. McNeese and Williams helped families at the shelter, carrying for children and being available for any assistance needed.

    Dispatch Manager Samantha Hoelscher also spent the night at the emergency center, coordinating emergency transportation efforts.

    The Fort Bend County First Transit location also partnered with a local Mexican restaurant, Gringos, to supply a meal for the volunteers.

    For one First Transit employee at the Fort Bend location, the devastation was personal. Driver Elsa Ramon lost everything when her residence was hit hard by the flooding. McNeese and co-workers were quick to assist, taking a trip to Wal-Mart to fill immediate needs for the family and supplying donations of clothes and furniture.

    “I appreciate my staff and all of the other staffs for coming together and helping the community,” McNeese said. “Everybody gave up their time so willingly.”

    Our client and county officials were also extremely thankful for FirstGroup’s assistance during the emergency event, and sent all of those who helped with the response efforts tickets for the Sugar Land Skeeters baseball game.

    “I would like to thank you for the time you spent helping the citizens of Fort Bend County during the recent flood event,” Fort Bend County Judge Robert Herbert said in a recent thank you letter. “Your assistance was much needed and greatly appreciated.”

    First Transit’s Fort Bend location is still operating two special emergency routes to meet the demands of the individuals displaced by the flooding, which is expected to continue until July.

  • Rutgers University 2016 Commencement with the POTUS

    by Jay Brock | May 27, 2016

    On Sunday, May 15, First Transit employees from six university locations came together to provide transportation for the Rutgers University 2016 Commencement. This year’s event was unique due to the high profile commencement speaker, President Barack Obama. In addition to moving record crowds of graduates and their families First Transit faced congested traffic in the area and road closures due to security needs. First Transit deployed 75 vehicles, 130 operators, technicians, supervisors and managers to provide this important event.

    rutgers and potus commencement
  • Fresh Express Mobile Produce Market

    by Jay Brock | May 04, 2016
  • Public Transportation Works

    by Jay Brock | Apr 20, 2016
    Some great facts on why public transportation works from APTA:

  • First Transit Partners with Valley Metro for Bus Roadeo 2016

    by Jay Brock | Apr 07, 2016

    Cheers erupted, hugs were shared and high-fives were exchanged when the winners of the 2016 Valley Metro Bus Roadeo were announced on Sunday, April 3, in Mesa, AZ. Participating in the test of skills of local service provider First Transit Phoenix. First Transit Mesa Operator Jason Allison and Total Transit Maintenance Technicians Brent Cantelon and Alan Kulchecki earned the top spots in the rigorous competitions that included driving skills, knowledge of safety regulations and maintenance of bus equipment.

    Take a look at the pics here:

  • #BlossomBus Has Spring Spirit in DC

    by Jay Brock | Mar 22, 2016
    Blossom bus

    Did you know the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The gift and annual celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued close relationship between the two countries.

    It took the coordination of many to ensure the arrival of the cherry trees. The first 2,000 trees arrived diseased in 1910, but did not deter the parties. In a simple ceremony on March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft of Cincinnati and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.

    The National Cherry Blossom Festival has grown from modest beginnings to the nation’s greatest springtime celebration. School children reenacted the initial planting and other activities, holding the first “festival” in 1927.

    Today, the Festival spans four weekends and welcomes more than 1.5 million people to enjoy diverse programming and the millions of pink blossoms on the trees. First Transit is in the cherry blossom spirit! #BlossomBus is wrapped in blooms to celebrate spring. Transit’s DC Circulator provides public transportation to the District’s main attractions and most lively neighborhoods for business, culture and entertainment at a cost of only $1.

    The system consists of six distinct routes across Washington, DC, and even into Rosslyn, VA, and provides close to five million trips a year. With a fleet of 67 buses and a staff of more than 225, the Circulator services each of its 136 stops every 10 minutes, providing simple, fast and affordable transit to residents, commuters and visitors to more than 25 museums, monuments and memorials along the National Mall.

    Information courtesy of nationalcherryblossomfestival.org
  • First Transit Driver Recognized by University Alum

    by Jay Brock | Mar 11, 2016
    A special salute to First Transit employee Barbara Baldwin who has provided excellent customer service at Princeton University Tiger Transit for two years. Barbara replaced a beloved driver Helen Joynes. Helen, who passed away, was the only driver to be made an honorary member of the Princeton University graduating class of 2012.

     Barbara has fit perfectly in her place and has become another valued member of the campus community. She was recently recognized by a Princeton alum for her exemplary service and attitude that she brings to work every day.

     To quote the letter from the alum, “Barbara is a cheerful, friendly, prompt, attentive, courteous, considerate and safe driver. She is a fit ambassador to the prospective students and parents who park in the visitor's lot.”

     At Princeton University, First Transit, is not just another vendor, we are a partner with the University and part of everyday life on campus. “Barbara is a valued member of the campus community, and has been with us for two years,” said Steven Stoker, general manager for the Princeton Tiger Transit operation.

    princeton pic

  • Nice story from our partner at Rutgers University

    by Jay Brock | Feb 16, 2016
  • First Transit Moves to the Cloud with Infor

    by Jay Brock | Jan 25, 2016
  • Bonita Is Customer Service At First Transit

    by Jay Brock | Jan 20, 2016

    Before the holidays, we surprised Yale Shuttle Driver Bonita with an #outofthebluethanks.  Bonita works first shift driving the Yale Red Line Shuttle.  A note of appreciation was sent on her behalf from Katherine I. in Yale Library Services. It stated, “I frequently ride the Red Line and Bonita is such a considerate shuttle driver.  I really appreciate how she balances good driving skills and kindness to her passengers.”  Bonita works for First Transit, the subcontractor who manages all the driving and maintenance of Yale’s shuttle fleet. 

    We coordinated with First Transit to jump on the Red Line one morning in the late fall to surprise Bonita with a gift and thank you card. Her husband was also tipped off to the mini-roadside ceremony.  She was quite stunned by our visit and started to cry as the letter was read to her out loud. Afterward, the bus passengers clapped and cheered.  She posed for a quick photo with her gifts and the flowers her husband brought.  And then it was back to business for the wonderful Bonita!


  • We Are Getting Ready for Panama

    by Jay Brock | Jan 14, 2016

    First Transit is preparing to take the helm of the bus system in Panama. Preparations are well underway for this expansion — the first for the company in Central America.

     Recently, several representatives from First Transit toured the Panamanian agency that trains and licenses drivers in the country. The National Institute of Professional Training for the Human Development (INADEH) works in close collaboration with companies operating in Panama to create and develop continuing education programs and opportunities for Panamanians.

     In addition to touring INADEH’s facility, members of the First Transit Human Resources and Safety teams working in Panama were provided with an overview of the driver training program. The program includes traditional classroom based courses as well as driver simulation training.

     Tom Harris, Vice President of Human Resources and Safety, shared, “We are honored to have been selected by the government of Panama to be their partner in providing safe and efficient transportation for its citizens. Our depth of transportation management expertise along with our unwavering commitment to safety will bring our vision of keeping people moving and communities prospering to a thriving Panama.”

    pic panama #1

  • First Transit Team in Augusta, GA, Celebrates 3,000 Days of Safety

    by Jay Brock | Jan 07, 2016

    The First Transit team in Augusta, Georgia, recently celebrated achieving 3,000 days without a lost time incident. “Commitment to keeping safety top of mind in every action, each and every day, is something that our team puts into action collectively and individually,” shared General Manager Matthew Bean.

     Matthew treated his team to a luncheon celebration worthy of the team’s tremendous achievement. 

    augusta ga pic
  • ECAT Takes Top Honors in Pensacola, Florida

    by Jay Brock | Dec 18, 2015

    At First Transit, we take great pride in seeing our partners being recognized by their peers. 

    The team from Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT) in Pensacola, Florida recently took home six awards at the 2015 Florida Public Transportation Association (FPTA) Marketing Awards Competition, including the coveted “Best of the Best” award. ECAT is operated and managed by First Transit.  

    Competing against all other transit systems in the state of Florida, marketing entries were judged by experienced panelists and scored on innovation, production quality and overall effectiveness.

    The “Best of the Best” award is chosen from all first-place award entries in each category, and serves as the top award of the competition.

    ECAT received the award for the transit system’s year-long community outreach initiative, ECAT Harmony -- “Fall in Love with ECAT.”

    ECAT Harmony was an interactive year-long campaign launched in 2014 to raise awareness about the system, encourage people to hop on board, and foster communication between current riders and ECAT. Throughout the campaign, ECAT saw almost 13,000 visits to the ECAT Harmony website.

    The ECAT Harmony campaign also took home the statewide “Judges Favorite” award, given to the project that most effectively caught the attention of panelists.

    Representatives from First Transit and ECAT with their six awards.

  • Establishing and Reinforcing Safe Behavior

    by Jay Brock | Dec 10, 2015

    Thomas J. Harris, Vice President, Safety & Human Resources for First Transit

     Reprinted from Mass Transit Magazine

    Safety is a core value of First Transit. It is at the center of everything we do. We start every employee meeting with a safety message. So, how do we instill and reinforce safety so that it permeates throughout an entire organization?

    First Transit believes that safety is not only found in a set of policies and procedures.

    We believe that safety is a living, breathing attribute that begins the minute a potential employee applies for a job within our organization.

    Our safety program starts with each employee going through a rigorous review during the hiring process, including:

    • Pre-employment drug and alcohol testing
    • Stringent background and record checks
    • Physical performance evaluations
    • Comprehensive customer service training 

    Throughout employment, safety is reinforced through training proper thought processes and behaviors, preparing for specific scenarios, and knowing how to respond in ways that improve passenger and operator safety.

    This is done through: 

    • The Smith System Defensive Driver Training program, which is completed as part of new driver training, as well as refreshers conducted throughout the year
    • Extensive ongoing driver training, including in-classroom and behind-the-wheel training

    Supporting each other and being accountable for our performance are also core values of First Transit, and are reflected in our safety program. We encourage all employees to identify and help change any behaviors or thought processes they observe that could in any way compromise safety. 

    We strive to build a culture that is focused on rewarding improvements in both individual and team performance, which is why we have employee-focused programs, including:

    • Rewarding improvements in both individual and team performance
    • Encouraging group safety awareness activities
    • Recognizing and rewarding personal safety longevity

    Our First to Zero Initiative, which means we strive to achieve zero collisions, is yet another example of our ongoing focus on safety. These company-wide safety and injury prevention programs are designed to encourage employees to keep safety front of mind and bring attention to anything that could challenge our safety standards.

    As we work to achieve our vision of keeping people moving and communities prospering, we do so fully dedicated to safety. It is among the many areas in which we hold ourselves accountable for setting the highest standards.  

  • Employee Engagement is Crucial to Transit Safety

    by User Not Found | Aug 07, 2015

    Thomas J. Harris
    Vice President of Safety and Human Resources

    Safety is crucial in transportation, which makes it a top priority for transit businesses. “Motor vehicle crashes cost employers $60 billion annually in medical care, legal expenses, property damage and lost productivity,” OSHA stated. “When a worker has an on-the-job crash that results in an injury, the cost to their employer is $74,000 and costs can exceed $500,000 when a fatality is involved.”

    First Transit focuses on adapting its safety programs according to the needs of its employees, passengers and drivers’ needs. The program’s focus on engaging employees in safe driving practices to keep safety in front of mind, always:

     1. Employee Safety Incentive Programs
    Engaging employees through incentive programs keeps an emphasis on safe practices while rewarding valuable employees. First Transit offers both short-term and long-term incentives to employees for engaging in safety activates, such as monthly safety meetings, and maintaining safe driving records.brad tim willie

    First Transit also engages employees in the implementation of such programs. When First Transit kicked off their 2016 World Class Safety Olympics incentive program, Willie Carter, a First Transit driver for Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT) in Pensacola, Florida, was recognized for driving for over 40 years without incident. In recognition for his dedication to safety, Willie was selected to deliver the ceremonial Olympic Torch to First Transit President Brad Thomas and Safety Vice President Tom Harris at a special ceremony at the company headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio.

     2. One-on-One Training
    All of First Transit’s drivers benefit from one-on-one behind the wheel training from our TSI-certified instructors. This standard provides individualized training for each driver, encouraging safe practices. First Transit’s TSI-certified instructors are registered with the Department of Transportation (DOT), which provides unmatched training regulation and compliance.

    3. Transit Technology
    Transit technology is constantly changing and can easily become outdated. Staying ahead improves operation’s efficiencies and reduces costs. Technology such as DriveCam engages drivers through alerting them when unsafe driving habits occur and allows opportunities for retraining.

    For 60 years, First Transit, Inc. has provided all-around expertise to both public and private transportation systems including every facet of transportation operations, maintenance, and administration including cost effective solutions. As the nation’s leading provider of public transportation contracting and services, we know transit. 

  • Essential Jobs in Extreme Heat

    by User Not Found | Jul 10, 2015

    For this blog, First Transit is proud to welcome a guest post from Valley Metro, our client in Phoenix, AZ. Valley Metro recently shared an article on their website about Essential Jobs in Extreme Heat. We thought our readers would find this especially helpful. Here’s the post:

    Re-Printed with Permission of First Transit Client Valley Metro
    Originally Published in Valley Metro's Inside the Ride by Ann Glaser

    From the comfort of my air conditioned office, I’m reflecting on some of the most essential and demanding roles at Valley Metro: the men and women who work outdoors to help keep buses and light rail trains running smoothly, even in the midst of record-setting heat.

    Of course, I decided I wanted to learn about these crucial team members during a string of brutally hot days when temperatures hit 115 degrees and the Valley was under excessive heat warnings.

    What I learned is their work isn’t for the faint of heart.  It likely goes unappreciated by many who don’t see them executing their behind-the-scenes jobs, day in and day out. I spent an hour each with a light rail maintenance team and a bus fleet care team. After seeing what they do to keep our transit system moving, I left sweaty, drained from the oven-like heat and full of respect.

    Track Maintainers

    It was an intensely hot Friday when I met a pair of light rail track maintainers and a team of bus re-fuelers to learn about their daily responsibilities, which are completed entirely outdoors. No retreating to an air-conditioned office like me.

    Each team of track maintainers actually walks an average of four miles a day along the light rail line, inspecting the track for any safety issues that must be addressed. Following the inspection, they conduct the necessary maintenance to make sure the tracks are in proper working order for the trains to travel across the 20 mile system.

    “We play a critical role, doing all sorts of maintenance to keep the tracks clear for trains and to keep riders safe,” said Brian Wisner, who has experienced several summers of triple digit temperatures on the light rail maintenance team.

    When I met with Wisner and fellow track maintainer Herman De La Torre at 10 a.m., it was already 101 degrees outside. We decided to test the actual rail track, which can get smoking hot in the searing sun. A temperature gun showed the surface temperature at 117 degrees at that time. I don’t want to imagine how hot the rail gets during the peak of the afternoon, surrounded by concrete and asphalt.

    For both Wisner and De La Torre, covering up is key. Light rail maintenance teams who work outdoors dress head to toe with hats and light-weight clothing, such as long-sleeve shirts and pants, to protect their skin from the sun’s burning rays. In addition, sunscreen is provided along with thermos containers filled with plenty of water and Gatorade. Crews are also instructed to listen to their bodies and take breaks when needed.

    “When it gets humid, and is still sunny and hot, that’s when it gets terrible,” admitted Wisner. “Staying safe is our top priority. The biggest challenge is staying hydrated.”

    It’s challenging to say the least when the Valley has experienced the first string of blistering days before we’ve even had a chance to fully adapt to the increasing summer temperatures.
    Refueling Valley Metro’s bus fleet is another critical job that’s even more challenging in the summertime.  Service technicians spend their eight hour shift outdoors fueling and cleaning hundreds of buses each evening.

    “You can feel the heat. When you start moving around and feel the heat of the engines, it gets really hot,” said Ronne McLarrin. “In the summer, I just can’t get enough water.”

    Large coolers of water and Gatorade are stationed at the fuel island for convenient access to liquids.

    “If you don’t stay hydrated, you feel it quickly. Safety first. Everybody watches everybody. It’s like a family,” said McLarrin. “It’s a necessary job to serve the public. Despite the heat, we have to make sure certain tasks are completed so that the buses are fueled and ready for riders the next day.” 

    While the Valley endures another long, hot summer, crews like these will continue to keep their cool behind-the-scenes to help get riders to their destinations safely and efficiently.
    To learn more about Valley Metro please visit their website: ValleyMetro.org

  • Bringing Global Rail Expertise to North America

    by User Not Found | May 08, 2015

    Keith Whalen
    Senior Vice President
    Business Development

    First Transit is excited to be in partnership with our parent company, FirstGroup plc, to bring our world-class expertise in rail operations to North America.

    As a leader and innovator in North American transit services for more than 50 years, our First Transit division of FirstGroup is proud to state that we have been – and remain – at the forefront of exciting new developments in public transportation. And we look forward to bringing yet another area of expertise to bear on North American public transit.

    First Transit’s extensive experience has provided us with a unique and broad range of capabilities to directly support our customer’s service needs. Not only are we able to provide best-in-class service and operational excellence, but we are also able to leverage our global expertise to benefit local needs.

    And when it comes to rail, we have plenty of global expertise to leverage.

    Already one of the largest rail operators in the UK – and the only one to run every sort of railway, including long distance, regional, commuter and sleeper operations– FirstGroup carried 330 million passengers across the UK in 2013/14.

    As one of the most experienced operators in the UK, FirstGroup is uniquely positioned to work with us at First Transit and our North American partners to add value and improve services. To illustrate our capacity for system operations and continuous improvement, our UK franchises have received more than 250 awards since 2005.

    Across the UK, FirstGroup has proposed and delivered more than $1.3 in capital investment into our franchises since 2006. Since FirstGroup began running rail operations, we have introduced more than 740 additional vehicles across our various franchises, leading to the creation of new depot facilities, job opportunities and economic growth.

    Across all of our rail operations, FirstGroup is working in tandem with industry partners and local stakeholders to provide better rail services, keep people moving and communities prospering.

    Key facts

    • Transported 330 million passengers in 2013/14.
    • Operate 1,900 rolling stock vehicles.
    • 585 stations operated by FirstGroup.
    • 27,000 services a week run by the train companies FirstGroup operates.

    We have a great track record in rail that has proven successful through different generations of rail franchising and across a range of passenger rail operations. We remain committed to retaining a leading position in the thriving UK rail market and leveraging our experience and expertise throughout North America.