City of El Paso and First Transit:  Building a World Class Transit System

First Transit’s partnership with the City of El Paso goes beyond the basics of managing operations and maintenance for their Sun Metro fleet. Since 2007 First Transit has managed the city-owned transit system serving the City of El Paso, portions of El Paso County and the city of Sunland Park, New Mexico. The transit system operates 57 local and express routes, offering Fixed Route, Paratransit, Park and Ride, Circulators and Job Express transportation. But Sun Metro didn’t always run so smoothly.

Prior to First Transit’s partnership with Sun Metro, the system was facing a crisis. With no long-term transit plan, the system was not meeting the customer’s needs.  With the possibility of a system shut down in their midst, leaders took action; hiring an agency that focused on the customer and improved service delivery.

First Transit helped El Paso begin a dramatic change in how Sun Metro was run and how it served the community. Within six years these changes, centered on positive employee morale, preventive maintenance, and community buy-in, led to the City’s recognition by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) as the best midsized transit system in the country.

The revision of the transit system began with the simple but far-reaching goal: to be one of the best transit systems around. While First Transit began implementing changes at Sun Metro, it was the pro-public transit attitude adopted by city leaders made the changes possible. Combined with First Transit’s customer-focused approach, and exceptional preventive maintenance program, on-time performance for Sun Metro has risen to 97-98 percent.

Additional community buy-in came from teaming up with an El Paso community organization Creative Kids, which put different Hispanic artwork displays in areas that had been popular targets for graffitists.

From 2009 to 2012, ridership increased 21 percent on Sun Metro, raising ridership to more than 17 million. The increase demand has spurred Sun Metro to develop new transit centers and ridership amenities. In the past several years the agency has spent $8 million on new shelters along with $31 million building four new transit centers. Each of the centers has Wi-Fi and real-time displays so riders know exactly when their bus will arrive.

“When the crisis hit, it became really apparent that we had to really do something dramatic or we were not going to have a transit system.  First Transit came in and helped transform our system, creating a world-class, reliable public transit system for this community.”

    - Joyce Wilson, Former City Manager, El Paso