O F F I C I A L
BUSRide Field Test:
TransTrack Systems streamlines San Joaquin RTD
RTD’s Donna DeMartino originally met TransTrack Systems’ Mary Sue O’Melia at a trade show.
O F F I C I A L
BUSRide Field Test:
San Joaquin RTD streamlines data with TransTrack Systems Who knew that a chance trade show meeting would completely change an agency’s operational culture? TransTrack Manager turns volumes of transit data into meaningful operational and management information for optimal transit performance.
Donna DeMartino, general manager / CEO of San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD), visited the TransTrack booth with Allan Pollack, now with Salem-Keizer Area Public Transit. Pollack indicated that his agency had been using TransTrack solutions for some time, and that it had done wonders for the agency’s data reporting. Together, they approached Mary Sue O’Melia, president of TransTrack Systems. “Our clients are our best references,” O’Melia says. “If they have a need and they can relate to what we’re talking about in our presentations, they then go check our client references. If they all check out, we’re usually a lock.” RTD provides transit services for San Joaquin County, serving the Stockton Metropolitan Area as well as intercity, interregional and rural transit services countywide. DeMartino oversees all departments, operations and procurements; and has been with the agency for nearly 15 years. With such a large area to cover, it is essential for the agency to manage transit data efficiently and report it accurately. To that end, when DeMartino saw a demonstration from TransTrack Systems at a trade show, she knew it was something her agency needed to have. “A lot of data flows through our agency,” she says. “We have to be absolutely certain that the data is collected appropriately, that it’s calculated properly, and that we’re able to turn it into something that’s useful for business analysis and decision making.” TransTrack Systems provides a business intelligence solution called TransTrack Manager, which turns literally volumes of transit data into meaningful operational and management information for optimal transit performance. TransTrack says its solution uncovers opportunities for operational improvements and greater efficiencies 2
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normally hidden within rich data sources, providing the missing link between operational systems information and management reporting. “We had previously found that information we were providing to external agencies as well as our own board was inconsistent,” she continues. “When we realized the data wasn’t correct, it was alarming. When I saw TransTrack demonstrated at a conference, I realized it was exactly what we needed.” Forming a relationship Until this point, RTD was managing data and National Transit Database (NTD) reporting with Excel spreadsheets. “If they got a new route or general ledger account, they had to change all of their spreadsheets,” O’Melia says. “Every time they wanted to do any kind of reporting, it literally involved copying numbers from one spreadsheet to the other.” The challenge is that spreadsheets are manipulated by people, and the more that happens, the more likely it is that an error will occur in the process. TransTrack not only reduces the margin of error, it saves of staff time, as fewer people are handling the data. DeMartino says that RTD’s challenge wasn’t in collecting data – it was in making sure the collected data was correct. Where there were anomalies, staff would use guesswork to approximate answers. “I really wanted to make certain we were gathering the data we needed and confirming it on a regular basis,” she says. In the initial stages of implementation, O’Melia and her team met with the RTD executive management team. This, she says, “helps us to get a better handle on the agency’s expectations, pain points and issues.” TransTrack Systems then sets up onsite interviews, called busride.com
No ramp-up process is without its challenges, but TransTrack and RTD were able to work through all unforeseen issues as they arrived.
“baselines.” These staff interviews allow TransTrack to define all of the agency’s different business processes and find out where staff members are getting transit data, how they’re manipulating the data and where they’re uploading the data. All of this provides O’Melia and her team with a general gauge of how accurate the data sets are. “Then we do the same with passenger statistics; APC statistics; schedule adherence; AVL statistics; financial statistics; service statistics; hours and miles; complaints; road calls; maintenance billing and more,” O’Melia says. “It depends on how far into the organization they want to go – we can look at pay hours, employee certification and training, and dig even deeper. How do they handle customer complaints, commendations and investigations?” The TransTrack Systems team spent three to five days on site talking to the agency’s different data owners and process managers. From there, they created a profile that shows a proposed “before” and “after” image. This profile showed what RTD was doing currently, how that would change after moving to TransTrack, and TransTrack’s proposed roll-out. This process takes some time, as it’s important for all constituents to remain on sides. “They need to know that we understand what it is they do every day,” O’Melia says. “As long as we can talk to them about their work, we can move forward. We understand them. We’re not just someone trying to shove a new solution down their throat. That doesn’t go very far.” “What I loved about the TransTrack product is that it was designed by transit professionals, people who had actually used data that transit agencies need,” DeMartino says. “They understand where the data is coming from and where it needs to go. Mary Sue understood our need to fill in the blanks for NTD reporting requirements, so she designed TransTrack to extract data from our different areas.” For example, RTD has GFI fare boxes along with a Trapeze Group CAD/AVL system. TransTrack Manager pulls data from all existing systems and uploads it into reports. Those reports are already designed around NTD reporting requirements.
Gloria Salazar, assistant general manager / CFO of RTD, says that the TransTrack team was essential in helping the agency document its flow of information, identifying the flaws associated with the validity and reliability of the data, and documenting the definitions of each piece of information. “We needed to know the definition of each element within revenues, expenses, and other key indicators,” Salazar says. “For example, what does on-time performance really mean? Those definitions are critical to us because the entire agency needs to know what they mean before we can really analyze the validity of the data we get.” After that, TransTrack and RTD began developing definitions and appointing staff members to be in charge of each source data. “Then we had to determine the metrics – what do we want to measure?” Salazar says. “We needed people to own those key performance indicators and be able to explain the story behind the numbers. We needed staff to report on time but also interpret the meaning of data relationships. We’ve improved a lot since beginning the process, but that’s still an evolving process.” Ramping up No ramp-up process is without its challenges, but TransTrack and RTD were able to work through all unforeseen issues as they arrived. For one, it’s difficult to predict staff changes. As employees leave and new staff members come onboard, data management training becomes even more essential. “When staff changes, we have to really be on top of things,” O’Melia says. “We need to make sure management understands who needs training, and who is the new person responsible for a data stream. Most of the team leads have changed at RTD since implementation, so over the last few years we’ve returned to the agency to educate an entirely new set of data managers.” RTD wanted TransTrack representatives to come onsite and work with their data managers. As such, TransTrack conducted monthly meetings for a while before RTD staff was ready to take over. busride.com | BUSRIDE
From left: RTD Senior Accountant Priya Ram-Lal, Assistant General Manager / CFO Gloria Salazar and Planning Senior Specialist Damaris Galvan.
“Initially, I worked with the managers, followed by Gloria and Donna,” O’Melia says. “Eventually they were off doing their reports for their board.” “It’s all about education, with respect to changing the mindset of people, changing the way they look at numbers and encouraging them to translate those numbers into something they can explain and something that creates a story,” Salazar explains. “That’s part of the culture change. We encourage staff to dig deeper and keep asking ‘why?’” A culture change Converting from Excel spreadsheets to TransTrack Manager was less of a software switch and more of a change in agency culture. Those changes don’t happen overnight. They require significant education, many meetings, and a high degree of staff accountability. Salazar says they wanted to make data management a crucial part of the lives of each member of the staff. “I think it really works when we can show data to agencies in a dashboard format — and show them that data pulled from disparate systems is easily manipulated,” O’Melia says. “We press a button and out pops their NTD report in its exact format. Visuals like that are always an ‘A-Ha!’ moment for agencies.” “We have good employees who have been trained to do a good job,” Salazar says. “We are all very busy, as we’re a lean organization with many required day-to-day functions — but I never saw any resistance. It took some time on the part of TransTrack and our employees to really work at it, but everyone embraced the process.” “We call them our data managers now,” DeMartino adds. “In different areas of the organization, employees are now data managers who meet and report on a regular basis. They’re learning about how to manage data and coordinate reports, but they’re also challenging one another. It’s entirely different from simple data input.” With the data management training complete, the relationship between RTD and TransTrack Systems became more about analyzing data and finding trends. “That’s the exciting part,” O’Melia says. “All of the other stuff is just work you have to do in order to get to the real challenge. Think of the AVL systems and millions of dollars spent to get to the data – the value really comes when that data can be used to improve 4
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scheduling and operations. How can you make your agency more cost-effective, more safe and efficient?” Benefits over time Now, RTD spends much less time looking for numbers they need for essential reporting. Furthermore, their numbers are far more accurate. This has been a big help as RTD works with the American Benchmarking Group (ABBG). Good, consistent data allows agencies to facilitate in-depth peer discussions and reviews within the ABBG. “Over the long term, we’re getting much better information,” DeMartino says. “We’re much better armed to make solid business decisions. Our employees are better equipped to take care of their operating environments, whether in safety, maintenance or operations. It’s one thing to operate day to day, but it’s so much more effective to be able to see patterns, trends and opportunities for improvement. If you’re not measuring, you’re not managing.” For example, if RTD wants to reallocate funds between routes, the agency can now determine the cost distribution by type of service and thus determine the effectiveness of that service by measuring figures such as passenger per revenue hour, fare recovery and operating costs per hour. This helps RTD determine whether the allocation is fair, based on the actual performance of the route, rather than relying on guesswork. “We are able to make a decision about what kind of offering is working,” Salazar says. “We can support our decisions with data. For example, if more funding is available in the future, we can make more informed investments.”
Looking ahead RTD is now able to tie business analytics into service design. “When we budget annually, we are able to identify the budget drivers and make essential decisions with data to back them up,” DeMartino says. “We can identify fixed, variable, direct and fully allocated costs — with that accurate information, we can make much better business decisions.” “They’re much better managers of their entire operations, rather than the separate facets,” O’Melia says. “That’s the real benefit they’ve derived from this partnership.” busride.com