Transit Contractors Leveraging Tech to Help Fleets Work 'Smarter'

Originally published in METRO Magazine
By Kelsey Nolan

METRO Magazine spoke with transit contractors to find out what is new in their industry, how technology is helping to shape the game, and talk about the innovations they are employing with their latest contracts. 


Headquartered in Cincinnati, First Transit operates in 242 locations, carrying more than 300 million passengers annually throughout 40 states within the U.S., plus Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and four Canadian provinces. Verticals provided are fixed-route; bus rapid transit (BRT); paratransit, ADA call center services; and brokerage services for human service transportation, university transportation systems, airport shuttle systems and fleet maintenance.

According to Brad Thomas, president, as First Transit continues to expand and focus on client needs, it is seeing consistent growth across three of its existing services: fixed-route, paratransit, and shuttle. While public transit is a growing $24 billion industry, only a portion of that is currently outsourced and First Transit is interested in providing that service to any agencies that may need it.

The company launched three new BRT operations in Austin and El Paso, Texas and San Juan, P.R., and added the mode into its list of services provided. It also is working to leverage its rail expertise for bids on several streetcar and rail contracts throughout the U.S.

One of First Transit’s contracts saw firsthand the success that the company can provide. First Transit’s partnership with the City of El Paso goes beyond the basics of managing operations and maintenance for their Sun Metro fleet.

According to Thomas, since 2007, First Transit has managed the city-owned transit system serving El Paso, portions of El Paso County and Sunland Park, N.M. The transit system operates 57 local and express routes, offering fixed route, paratransit, park-and-ride, circulators and job express transportation. Prior to First Transit’s partnership with Sun Metro, the system had no long-term transit plan and the system was not meeting the customer’s needs.

Within six years, El Paso made changes around how it served the community, centered on positive employee morale, preventive maintenance and community buy-in. In 2011, it was recognized by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) as the best mid-sized transit system in the country.

While First Transit began implementing changes at Sun Metro, city leaders adopted a pro-public transit attitude that made the change possible. With the city officials leading a change in attitude, El Paso saw on-time performance for Sun Metro rise to 97% to 98%. From 2009 to 2012, ridership increased 21% on Sun Metro, raising ridership to more than 17 million. This increase in demand has spurred the transit agency 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.