By: Rick Dunning
Twenty-two new buses recently rolled into service for Sun Metro, the El Paso public transit system. The 2014 New Flyer Xcelsior models replaced the 1991 models that had logged more than a million miles each. We welcomed their improved fuel economy and more aerodynamic design, but just as importantly, we welcomed what the buses represented for both Sun Metro and First Transit – Progress!
For its many ongoing efforts to improve public transportation in El Paso, Sun Metro has been named the 2014 Outstanding Metropolitan Transit System of the Year by the Texas Transit Association (TTA). This award, along with the others that have been presented, comes from the accumulation of years of hard work to create a better, more future-focused system.
In 2004, Sun Metro customers felt the system did not fully meet their needs. The system had been pieced together over time, with no real strategic plan for how to make long-lasting improvements. El Paso leaders recognized that to make Sun Metro a lasting and viable transit system, much improved service and customer focus would be necessary.
With city leaders fully committed, First Transit came on board in 2007, offering its extensive industry expertise. Working with members of the city and the Sun Metro team, we focused on creating a system that was designed to meet the needs of the community, a system in which passengers and employees could take pride. First Transit and Sun Metro both set about creating the necessary culture change. Recognizing the importance, Sun Metro staff and First Transit team members were all behind this vision.
With Sun Metro staff, city leaders and First Transit working together with shared vision, culture changes began to happen. Customers too were soon seeing the improvements. And in 2008, the Texas Transit Association recognized Sun Metro as the Outstanding Metropolitan System of the year. In 2011, the system was again recognized, being named the best mid-sized transit system in the country by the American Public Transportation System (APTA).
As Sun Metro continues to grow leadership from both First Transit and the city of El Paso, the team continues to work together, ensuring the system remains focused on serving the community and anticipating their ever-growing needs.
Since 2011, Sun Metro has completed four new transfer centers; begun renovating two older terminals into state-of-the-art centers; built a new headquarters for the system; developed various public-private partnerships to improve passenger experience; installed more than 370 new shelters; begun designing an ambitious Transit-Oriented Development for Northeast El Paso with support from a $10.3 million TIGER grant; and, broken ground and begun construction on the $145 million Sun Metro Brio—El Paso’s future Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT). The BRT, along with the development of seven acres in the northeast section of El Paso, will create vast opportunities for an improved economy.
The changes in attitude are paying off big for Sun Metro and the El Paso community. From 2009 to 2012, ridership increased 21 percent on Sun Metro, increasing ridership to more than 17 million. Growth is expected to continue.
Success stories such as Sun Metro demonstrate First Transit’s commitment to our customers. The people and the planning we offer involve far more than putting the bus in drive. First Transit is about the communities we serve; the safety of the people we transport; those with whom we share the roads; and, the services we offer at the heart of what we do. We are truly about providing solutions for an increasingly congested world, keeping people moving and communities prospering.
Continual upgrades to the fleet and the system as a whole are sure to keep Sun Metro shining brightly well into the future.