By most metrics, 2022 was a tough year for public transit. The bus operator crisis made it difficult for agencies to deliver on long awaited initiatives like bus network redesigns, and canceled buses became the unacceptable norm for riders across the country. Unreliable service and concerns over public safety have hampered ridership recovery at many agencies.
Despite the obstacles, TransitCenter remains inspired by the leaders and projects that have advanced best practices in the field. TransitCenter’s 4th Annual Frequency Awards continues our yearly tradition of recognizing the transit agency and DOT staff, advocates, and elected officials who worked tirelessly to improve transit. This year, we particularly commend our winners for transforming 2022’s formidable challenges into opportunity.
And the winners are:
Nadine Lee, President & CEO of DART, is the recipient of the Frequency Award for Visionary Leader. This award recognizes the candor and transparency with which Nadine has addressed the operator shortfall crisis. DART experienced the operator shortfall firsthand after it launched the DARTzoom bus network redesign, and quickly realized it didn’t have enough operators to drive the new routes. To address the crisis, DART reviewed its compensation package and has since increased starting pay, offered hiring bonuses, and provided relocation stipends. Nadine also recognizes that this crisis is as much about retention as it is with recruitment, and that agencies and their leaders have a responsibility to develop and encourage pathways for career progression.
Nadine has been quoted as saying she encourages all DART staff to think about their jobs through the lens of what they can do to make it easier for bus operators. Nadine’s recognition of the problem and her willingness to test solutions is a model for leadership, and we plan to keep an eye on DART’s progress in implementing short-and-long term solutions to the operator crisis.
Elected Transit Champion
Oakland County (MI) Commissioner David Woodward is the recipient of our Elected Transit Champion award. Transit in the Detroit region has long been hamstrung by low funding levels and a provision that allows individual municipalities to opt-out of receiving service from SMART, the regional transit provider. This has created a patchwork of coverage that is a nightmare for riders to navigate. In 2022, Commissioner Woodward built bi-partisan support to place a millage on the ballot that would increase funding for transit service in Oakland County, and eliminate the opt-out provision. Local advocacy group Transportation Riders United credits Woodward for working with advocates as a “champion behind the scenes,” and commend him for pushing for the millage even when it put him at odds with colleagues. Oakland County voters approved the millage in November, setting the stage for further transit expansion in a region that desperately needs it.
Best Street Upgrade
Jascha Franklin-Hodge (Chief of Streets, City of Boston) and his team at Boston Transportation Department (BTD) are the recipients of this year’s Frequency for Best Street Upgrade. In August-September 2022, the MBTA in Boston shut down the Orange Line. BTD quickly mobilized to reconfigure city streets to keep shuttle buses moving. The department was also responsive to critiques through the process, and made tweaks through the shutdown period.
BTD has also since transformed some of the temporary changes into permanent ones. These include permanent bus lanes around Copley Square that carry more than 10,000 riders a day on the 39, 9, and 10 buses. This award recognizes that the team acted nimbly in the face of those challenges, and displayed the capacity of local government to respond quickly to unforeseen challenges and to make permanent changes when the temporary measures proved their benefits.
Best Agency Flex
The Frequency for Best Agency Flex goes to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). In September, CDOT canceled two highway widening projects in the Denver region, and reallocated that funding to support transit projects instead. Colorado DOT’s decision follows the state’s adoption of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Standard last year, which requires that the climate impacts of transportation projects be factored into the decision-making process for projects.
The reallocated funds from the two canceled highway projects will now fund five Bus Rapid Transit routes on CDOT’s Bustang service in and around Denver. This Frequency Award recognizes CDOT’s decision for providing leadership to other state and local DOTs across the country for how to prioritize sustainability in transportation project decision-making. The award also recognizes CDOT for publicly acknowledging that the canceled highway widening projects would have done little to ease congestion, helping to shift the narrative around solutions.
Advocacy Campaign of the Year
The Frequency Award for Advocacy Campaign of the Year goes to Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT). For years, PPT has led the Fair Fares for a Full Recovery Coalition, which centered on providing fare reform and fare relief for low-income residents. The coalition highlighted the burden of transportation costs for low-income households, and campaigned through op-eds, rider testimony, petitions, and reports. In September 2022, Allegheny County (PA) Department of Human Services announced a pilot program to test free and affordable fares for low-income residents that are SNAP/EBT recipients. This Frequency award recognizes this program as a visionary way to reduce bureaucratic obstacles for accessing transit benefits, one which could become a model for the rest of the country. The award also recognizes PPT’s tireless advocacy in winning the pilot, and ensuring rider awareness of the pilot through a recent education campaign.
TransitCenter’s annual Frequency Awards recognize outstanding work in the transit field. Here are the 2021 honorees...Read More