Harford Transit “Links” Community and Business
Soon riders on Harford Transit LINK will be able to answer their own most-asked question: “Where’s my bus?” They’ll be able to see its location on their smartphones using the “Route Shout” app. In addition, in the coming year, they will be able to receive text messages about arrival times and when the bus is close to their stop.
According to Harford Transit LINK’s Administrator Robert Andrews, the organization is rolling out a new technology platform that will not only streamline transportation schedules and provide a wealth of information to its riders, it will also help Harford Transit LINK to better organize routing, stops and expansions. “We needed tools to manage the system and help communicate with passengers,” he says. “These technologies will help with stops, route development and more accurate timing. Passengers can use their cell phones for reviewing schedule information, and eventually we’ll have fare-based ticketing capabilities right on the phones.”
The new transit management system uses Route Match, one of the nation’s largest transit management software providers for small transit organizations. An end-to-end solution on a single database platform, it employs Cloud technology to receive data, such as real time GPS tracking and turn-by-turn driver directions. Andrews says that every bus is outfitted with a tablet that communicates with the Cloud. The system is capable of tracking mileage and hours on the vehicles, and will soon be able to report on vehicle condition and alert supervisors of preventative maintenance tasks. For demand/response riders, it offers day-before reminders about scheduled departures and real time arrival notifications.
“This technology will allow us to analyze everything we do, giving us an easy way to study the information,” says Gary Blazinsky, Operations Manager at Harford Transit LINK. “It will be great for funding reports and helping us with rerouting to do things more economically.”
Steven Overbay, Deputy Director of the Harford County Office of Economic Development (OED) says, “The new system is an example of County Executive Glassman’s goals of making government more like your cell phone: smarter and with better customer service.”
Harford Transit LINK originated in the Office on Aging as a single-bus rural transit system and grew to 47 buses making over 320,000 trips per year, to earn the classification of a small urban transit system. It was shifted to OED under the Glassman administration. “It makes sense strategically because of the workforce initiatives we support,” Overbay says. “Companies are locating in Harford County because we have a skilled workforce, and Harford Transit LINK offers a critical connection in what we do. They provide transportation to all the major economic hubs.” Overbay notes that the transportation system is a step toward the county’s vision of a community where residents can shop, eat, work, play and live in one centralized area.
Andrews and Blazinsky said they work with major employers on fixed route service for employees throughout the county, particularly to the distribution centers in Perryman and business parks across the Route 40 corridor, where people are working at stable, well-paying jobs. Harford Community College is also a major hub on the transit route, as are the gates outside of Aberdeen Proving Ground. The growth of routes has closely followed the development envelope e
stablished by the county for land use and expansion. Blazinsky says the fixed route service focuses on where the need is greatest. “We look at the county development and add stops as necessary,” he says. The number of overall passenger trips grew from 350,064 in 2014 to 365,906 in 2015.
Harford Transit LINK dedicates 35 buses to its fixed route service and another 12 vehicles to its original roots as a demand/response service for the senior community and the disabled. Since its inception in 1976, the organization has provided transportation for people over age 60 and the disabled community to medical appointments, grocery shopping or local senior centers. Andrews estimates that 80 percent of disabled people who ride the buses are going to jobs throughout the county. The demand/response service also grew to nearly 27,000 passenger trips in 2015, up from just over 25,000 a year earlier. Andrews said a growing portion of this service is the dialysis community.
Blazinsky, who brings experience from Cecil County Transit, says the need for drivers impacts Harford Transit LINK’s ability to grow. While they would like to expand hours and availability for riders who are shift workers, Blazinsky says, “It’s a matter of resources – both financial and personnel. We have employment opportunities here, especially for retired people who want to get passenger endorsements for their commercial licenses.”
Andrews emphasizes that customer service training is ongoing for the entire Harford Transit LINK team of 50 full- and part-time employees, including drivers and dispatchers. “The pursuit of perfection never stops. Quality interaction is important for good leadership,” he says.
Its constant pursuit of excellence has made Harford Transit LINK a benchmark agency within the region. Andrews estimates that among LOTS (Locally Operated Transit Systems) statewide, his organization ranks in the top third and is in constant friendly competition with other systems. Harford Transit LINK was named Transit System of the Year for 2014 by the Transportation Association of Maryland, and it earned the Human Services Partnership System Award in both 2011 and 2012. Andrews, himself, received the Association’s Unsung Transit Hero of the Year Award in 2014, before being promoted to Administrator in 2015, succeeding James Ports, who was named Deputy Secretary of Transportation for the State of Maryland.
As his team prepares to roll out the latest smartphone technology for its customers, Andrews is looking ahead to the future. His long-term plan includes shelters and signage at key stops, Wi-Fi on buses and video screens on buses to deliver targeted advertising and public service announcements. “We’re thinking 25 years down the road for growth,” he says. I95