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We Asked, They Answered: Q&A with ThinkTransit Speakers

May 15, 2018
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A male speaker on a stage

Gone are the days that we rely on one single channel and learning style to obtain and absorb information.

So what type of learner are you – visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic – and how does this all relate to ThinkTransit?

Well, we asked our session speakers to answer some fun and interesting questions. Here’s the twist – the format of their responses could be a video, handwritten note, voice recording, via email, or other creative formats they could think of.

Who pounced on the opportunity?

  • Ana Hoffman, Manager of Transit Operations and Maintenance, TransHelp
  • Annettia Huff, MTM Eligibility Manager, Maryland Transit Administration - Mobility Services
  • Eldon Mast, Channel Director, Sierra Wireless
  • Evette Ricketts, Paratransit Service Supervisor, Palm Tran Connection
  • Marcela Turner, Customer Information Automation Supervisor, TransLink
  • Marcia S. Shapiro, President, Marine Tiger Technologies
  • Mark Mindorff, Executive Director, Disabled and Aged Regional Transit System (DARTS)

The original intention was to cater to however you learn best and showcase our speakers’ personalities before you get to meet them at ThinkTransit! Let’s jump right in.


What's one of the challenges you've faced at your agency and how'd you resolve it? 

Ana: We just went through an entire restructuring of our management team as it was identified that we were very lean and it was hard to keep up with our growth. We moved from sharing a Director to having our own Director. We also went from one manager to three separate ones – Operations and Maintenance Manager, Client and Administration Manager, and Performance Measurement and Master Plan Implementation Manager. This transition process is still in progress but this is already helping us with more accountability and being more efficient.


Annettia: I’ll be speaking about our challenges and solutions at the “Improving your ADA Eligibility Process Through the use of Technology” session, in the meantime here’s a sneak peek:



Marcela: Within the past few years, the volume of calls for our Customer Information Center were declining while it was increasing for our Customer Relations department – mostly focused on complaints and commendations. As a result, customers calling into Customer Relations had long wait times while customers who were calling into Customer Information barely had to wait. In June 2016, my manager and I decided to combine the two call centers into one. It wasn’t an easy transition, to say the least. The Customer Relations agents worked Monday to Friday shifts and used the COM system while the Customer Information agents worked various shifts and used InfoAgent. 


Our biggest challenge was to get the staff’s buy-in first. Then, we had to convince all of the stakeholders that this was a good idea. We presented the benefits of this amalgamation – better customer experience, added variety of tasks for the work-day, and benefits of skills training, to name a few. We opted to optimize our use of Trapeze COM-Web by having all the Customer Information agents use that instead of COM. Training them on COM-Web was easy. We provided the link to the COM-Web form to all of the Customer Information staff so they could submit feedback on behalf of customers. Using the COM-Web form instead of COM made sense since this was what customers use to submit feedback on their own. 


The next challenge was how to process all of the COM-Web forms that were submitted by the Customer Information staff. With the closure of the Customer Relations department, there was no one to process the web forms in COM. We took the top two Customer Relations agents and added them to our Data Administration group. The Data Administrators became the ones to process the feedback. They are also the people that update the transit data in InfoAgent and support the Customer Information Centre applications.


A challenge which I faced personally as a result of this change was that I became the go-to person for responding to escalated customer feedback. Soon I found myself drowning in overdue feedbacks. After working on weekends to keep up with the volume, I took a step back and made use of the COM form letters by ensuring each subtype (feedback category) had one. This helped a lot. Eventually, a Customer Service Specialist was hired to respond to escalated customer feedback and to keep the form letters up to date! 


Tell us about a peer agency's work that you'd like to highlight to our audience! 

Marcela: We are planning on upgrading our Trapeze suite of applications to Version 17 next year. One agency that we have been watching is Via - San Antonio. They have a Trip Planner with a clickable map which is one of our main reasons for upgrading. We like it because of its ease of use. Even though I’m not familiar with San Antonio, I’ve been able to click around on the map and run trip plans!


What are you most excited about the conference?

Ana: I’m most excited about meeting with peer agencies and learning about their unique challenges and solutions. A lot of times we aren’t looking at the bigger picture so having other agencies’ knowledge as a resource is great.  


Eldon: There’s much excitement today in North America about the transforming importance of public transportation and technology is facilitating that transformation. I’ve seen ThinkTransit assemble the most extensive group of decision-makers who understand how to apply new systems to streamline people movement. I’m excited to be among those people yet again this year.


Marcela: I’m especially excited to see what other peer agencies are doing in today’s digital world. I’m looking forward to networking with peers and see what the latest products are available for Traveler Info.


Marcia: This is my first ThinkTransit conference, so I’m excited to be attending!


Mark: If you don’t attend conferences to connect with other paratransit professionals, you run the risk of missing opportunities to improve your transit agency’s operations. The ThinkTransit Conference offers the opportunity to ask questions about the latest technology, vehicles, and the capabilities of the latest versions of Trapeze software, and the best way to deploy their products. There’s also the opportunity to learn what others are doing to provide maximum trips at minimum cost. You also find out what doesn’t work. What vehicles and technology to avoid which can save you millions of dollars depending on the size of your operations.


Tell us a little about your session. What can we get excited about?

Ana: My session is about the “Projected Rising Costs of Paratransit Service Policy Changes.” All agencies with paratransit operations are facing challenges of keeping up with the legislation, adapting to the changes that accompany growth, maintaining their self-sufficiency, and being accountable to taxpayers’ money. We’re looking at technology as our best ally while having similar policies will help us face all changes.  


Eldon: The September 11 terrorist attacks brought to the forefront the many communications challenge that first responders face during emergencies and disasters. These issues were captured in the September 11 Commission Report which identified gaps in emergency communications and recommended a nationwide network for law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical personnel communications. The public safety community united to fulfill the September 11 Commission’s recommendation. Public safety organizations and associations advocated before Congress for a dedicated, reliable wireless network for first responders. Their advocacy efforts led to the passage of legislation in 2012 to create the agency to deploy the Network throughout the United States, including rural communities and tribal nations. After waiting for many, many years that network is ready for service and transit agencies will also benefit greatly. Before, during, and after a mass public safety event, transit operators are asked to plan, execute, and commit to providing services during such events. This network will now allow them to interoperate with the public safety communications networks in ways that give them priority and preemption on that network during a time of crisis. Our session will speak to the specifics of how to do that – today – the waiting is over!


Marcela: My session is about “A day in the life of a transit rider and how customer information is vital to the overall experience.” I’ll be showcasing Metro Vancouver’s transit agency, TransLink, and talking about how we centralize information for our riders through our various channels. 


Marcia: My session is about “Getting the Most Value from Your EAM System – Case Studies.” EAM systems do a good job of generating work orders and capturing asset information and work history, but they have the potential of doing so much more! We’ll be looking into case studies from MBTA Rail Fleet and MTA New York City Transit. For the former, we’ll be discussing how the EAM system has contributed to the implementation of Reliability Based Maintenance for the MBTA Blue Line. For the latter, we’ll talk about how the EAM System at MTA New York City Transit allows the Department of Subways and Division of Car Equipment realize the full value of their railcar warranties.


Mark: In my first session, “Right-Sizing Your Paratransit Fleet: What Type of Vehicle Should You Purchase,” we’ll talk about trip costing different vehicles in a multi-model fleet of vans, MVs, Promaster vehicles, and buses. It’ll provide ideas on how to monitor vehicle performance effectively on a daily basis especially if you have multiple vehicle types in your fleet. We’ll also cover how DARTS use PASS data to monitor real-time late rides and excessive on-boards. You can also expect to learn how we organize staff together with in-house service reports to monitor the performance of employees and service provider partners.


In my second session, “Operational Benefits of Employee Feedback Using PASS Data,” we’ll talk about how we use PASS data to provide service performance feedback at regular intervals to drivers and call center staff. We have found that employees appreciate timely feedback on their performance, depending on how one presents performance numbers. They don’t have to wonder how they are doing, which can be stressful, and they can see their performance in the numbers. The reports provide comparisons to pseudonymized fellow employees, are factual/objective, and based on numbers that they can influence based on their performance directly. Benchmarks are set by standardizing positions/shifts and tracking the performance of employees operating in these shifts over an extended period.


Why do you recommend others attend ThinkTransit?

Ana: All Trapeze users should be represented – from schedulers, supervisors, to managers – we can learn from each other’s challenges and solutions. Also, we can recommend changes to the software by creating wish lists that range from “must have” to “nice to have.”


Eldon: The transit industry is taking significant steps forward to transform, modernize, and increase ridership capacities. Tens of billions of dollars have been invested in the United States alone over the past five years. Job creation continues, and technology solutions enable operator workforces to multiply their efficiencies with their workforces as well as their asset investment. Trapeze assembles the most influential minds that are in the midst of these transformations and coherence. The sharing of the latest and greatest processes and ideas is energizing.


Evette: The conference will provide a unique convergence of learning, mix and mingle, and networking opportunities to form new professional relationships as well as to strengthen existing ones. You may find yourself sitting next to your future employer at one of the breakout sessions or during lunch. 


There are so many new tools to learn about, and while this can be found on the Trapeze website or in the manuals, it’s great to get hands-on demonstrations and classes or be able to ask questions that are specific to your situation. You will learn new tips and tactics that’ll curate new ideas to help improve your approach. There’s nothing like being in a room with like-minded people who are willing to take the time away from the office to learn about the software, what it has to offer, and how it can benefit your transit agency.


The conference will force you to grow in knowledge and challenge you to think outside of the box. One of the things I look forward to the most is the closing reception where everyone gets to relax and unwind after gaining all that knowledge at ThinkTransit.


Marcela: This is the one place where you have access to Trapeze experts! Also, it’ll give you an opportunity to network with peer agencies that may have innovative ideas on how to overcome specific challenges. If you can attend, do so!


Mark: Trapeze has a very popular paratransit ride management system. For this reason, the ThinkTransit conference attracts a wide variety of paratransit provider staff – from system support, reservationists, schedulers, and management staff whom all use Trapeze’s ride management system. The conference also has a great selection of Trapeze support staff who know the products’ functionalities. With their help, you walk away with ideas on how to continuously improve your operation. You won’t find such focus on paratransit ride management at any other user conferences.


Have you been to ThinkTransit before? What did you love about it?

Ana: A couple of years ago, I attended the conference in San Antonio, and it was a great learning experience. We are now batching twice and sending our contract vendors runs twice per day. These things contributed to our improved efficiency as we’ve increased the number of trips per hour.


Eldon: Yes, I have. I loved the mobile app, and the skills challenge that created interactions with users on the app during the show. I’d highly recommend more challenges related to the conference, speakers, and sessions to drive even more fun interactions and engagement between the attendees.


Marcela: I’ve been to Trapeze conferences in the past. What I have loved about them is having my questions answered by Trapeze experts. I’ve also enjoyed meeting peers, learning about new technologies, understanding how to leverage existing technologies, and more. But one of my favorite things at the conference is the yummy breakfasts – it’s my favorite meal of the day! 



Any last thing you want to say to those who are coming to ThinkTransit or are considering to register?

Eldon: If you have any interest in advancing the cause of public transit, you’ll absolutely love ThinkTransit.


Marcela: Please come and learn about TransLink – we’ve been with Trapeze since switching from paper schedules to computers and have come a long way. We’d like to connect and share our learnings with you!


Next Stop: ThinkTransit Conference in Nashville

Isn’t it nice to get the chance to hear from people who you’ll connect with at ThinkTransit ahead of time?

A big thank you to all of the speakers who contributed to this blog and special thanks to Annettia for submitting a video response – personally can’t wait to meet all of you.

That’s it for our pre-conference blog series – if you missed the interview with our opening keynote speaker, check it out here.

If you need some productivity hacks to ensure you can attend the conference AND check out the autonomous vehicle (yes – you will get a chance to try it out!), click here to get our insider tips.

We’ll also have a conference recap blog series in June so don’t miss out and subscribe to our blog below – see y’all at Music City!

Michelle Hsu is the Marketing Engagement Coordinator at Trapeze Group where she focuses on content, social media, and marketing operations. She's worked for B2B and B2C startups in various sectors - FinTech, EdTech, and CSR. She recently graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from the Rotman Commerce program at the University of Toronto.
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