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TARTA : Laying the Groundwork to Opening Doors of Opportunity for the Community

By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor

In her first year at the helm of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority, CEO Kimberly Dunham has the public transportation system on track to improve service and develop funding streams to maintain a high level of customer satisfaction, said Mark Aesch, CEO of TransPro Consulting. TransPro is working with TARTA on its strategic plan.

“TARTA is focused on the right metrics to promote organizational excellence,” said Aesch during a community forum that TARTA held on Wednesday night, February 10, during Ohio Loves Transit week. The forum gave the transit system an opportunity to explain to the public what it has achieved and the plans it has for the future.

Dunham opened the forum with a brief explanation of what has been accomplished at TARTA during her first year such as, building a new management team, creating a culture of diversity and inclusivity, redesigning services and seeking long-term funding.

A well-run public transit system, she said, “opens doors of opportunity and changes people’s lives.” However, there will always be challenges, she acknowledged, “even a well-funded system faces challenges.”

TARTA’s funding challenges are well-documented. For several years, the system has sought approval from voters to change from local levy funding (based upon taxing homeowners) to a sales tax, which has greater fundraising potential. Such a plan has faced obstacles in the outlying areas that TARTA serves.

As Dunham explained, TARTA has, after “a decade of neglect” spent a year building partnerships in the community and laying the groundwork for making progress, such as working with TMACOG (Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments), which she described as a “progressive partner.”

Aesch, the keynote speaker for last week’s forum, was the CEO of the Rochester, NY, transit system for 10 years and he assumed  that position when the system was in dire straits: a 40 percent operating deficit, preparing to raise fares and slash services, reeling from a high-profile internal theft scandal and a performance rating of 70 percent for its on-time service.

The system set goals under Aesch’s leadership and achieved them to such a success that the system was able to deliver high performance ratings, raise funding and actually lower passenger fares during his tenure.

As the founder and CEO of TransPro, Aesch has enabled transit agencies to realize millions of dollars in cost savings, according to a press release, and has guided organizations to new levels of performance excellence with the 7 Steps to Success performance management model.

During his keynote address Aesch spoke of three key elements to achieving excellence for a transit system: organizational excellence, operational excellence and investment excellence. TARTA he noted, has attained the organization excellence by assembling an executive team of outstanding professional and defining a clarity of purpose while prioritizing a measurement of success.

That newly-added executive team includes: Chief Communications and Customer Experience Officer Laura Koprowski, Human Resources Director Jim Fight, Chief Financial Officer David Robinson, Deputy Finance Officer Samuel Henderson and Director of Paratransit Patricia Talbott. 

A look at customer satisfaction responses demonstrates that TARTA is poised to reach operational excellence. Pre-COVID Net Promoter Score (NPS) showed the system with a score 82 percent higher than the industry standard; On-time Performance of 73 percent and Route Coverage of 80 percent and great satisfaction with bus safety (91 percent) and representatives courteousness (86 percent).

TARTA is “on the right track,” said Aesch.

Now comes the really tricky part – investment excellence. “Yet to be determined,” said Aesch.

Funding has been the chief concern for TARTA over the years. Funding streams include, grants, fares and, most critically, property taxes. During recent years, TARTA, the only Ohio transit system to rely on property taxes,  has appealed to area residents for a change to a sales tax. These overtures have been rebuffed in several suburban areas that TARTA services.

“Are there new revenue streams?” asked Aesch of the effort to shore up TARTA’s finances. Can the system find partners, such as school systems or nursing homes, for example, much as Rochester did during his tenure there? “How can community partners advocate for more funding?” he asked.

Part of the method for soliciting such partnerships, said Aesch, will be start with organizational and operational excellence and telling the story about such successes.

“Let’s talk about what we are doing right.”




Copyright © 2021 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/19/21 14:29:32 -0500.

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