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Operational Excellence: How Keolis Pivots to Meet Community Needs

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For some, riding the bus, hopping on the train, or using paratransit is an everyday experience, and transit agencies often focus their operations on serving these frequent users. But, when special events, community celebrations, or humanitarian efforts create the need for out-of-the-ordinary service, transit agencies often pivot to accommodate these special occasions with additional services.

In times like these, when demand for transit services is higher than usual, it is critical for transit providers to think like the customer and find innovative ways to move large numbers of passengers efficiently and effectively. The key is to engage and educate riders as if they are first-time users, and, by thinking like the customer, strategically planning and deploying rolling stock, wayfinding, customer service agents, and even digital resources like website and social media.

In recent years, Boston, Massachusetts, has experienced this higher demand firsthand. Between numerous Super Bowl Championships won by the New England Patriots, the World Series claimed by the Boston Red Sox, and the Stanley Cup hefted by the Boston Bruins, parades, gatherings, and games have placed extraordinary demands on the city’s transit system.

During the 2017 Super Bowl parade, Keolis Commuter Services, operator of Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Commuter Rail, experienced its busiest day in the history of the system when over 215,000 passengers used the trains. Keolis deployed additional operators and staff to run 24 additional trains and seven coaches to get riders to the parade. Another 12 trains were added to support the demand at the parade’s conclusion.

Behind the scenes, Keolis staff worked to make sure that passengers had an outstanding experience. Customer service agents answered questions at call centers, marketing staff activated social media channels to educate and inform riders, and over 100 Keolis staff were on hand at stations to assist passengers with directions and schedule information. Additional maintenance personnel made sure that slick walkways and boarding platforms were clear of ice and snow – and, despite the increased ridership, no injuries were reported.

How does a transit operator, a city, and an entire community prepare for a 60% increase in single-day ridership? Partnering with Massachusetts Emergency Management, State police, local elected officials, the public works department, and emergency responders was a critical step to ensuring that Keolis and MBTA had the resources available to manage the massive influx of riders. Each agency played their integral part, and the results were record-breaking.

Across the U.S., in Pasadena, California, Keolis Foothill supported LA Metro’s service to the December 2022 Rose Bowl Game, the Parade, and other events related to the Tournament of Roses to transport the large crowds while reducing vehicle travel. Metro Rail and Bus, as well as Metrolink Commuter Rail, transported passengers from throughout the Los Angeles Metropolitan area to the game and parade – which both took place on January 2. Metro also provided service updates via social media.

Transit agencies often provide additional service as a result of a large event, but sometimes it’s part of lifesaving or humanitarian efforts.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, whose bus service is operated by Keolis, provides free service on New Year’s Eve as a means of combating drunk and impaired driving. This free service ran throughout the Las Vegas Valley and provided direct links to and from the famous Las Vegas Strip – one of the top New Year’s Eve destinations in the U.S.

“The Las Vegas Strip is closed to vehicles and becomes a pedestrian mall on New Year’s Eve,” said Cecil Fielder, director of training, safety, and security for Keolis in Las Vegas. “So, although we can’t run buses here during that period, we still need to provide service to those employees of the casinos, hotels, theaters, and other destinations along the strip and throughout the Valley.”

This is done, said Fielder, through working with the Regional Transportation Commission, area law enforcement, municipalities, and the tourism industry to help Keolis provide service in a way that promotes a safe and secure environment.

“Making this happen speaks to our dedication to upholding the core values of Keolis – who we are and what we believe in,” Fielder added. “It’s not only about providing safe and reliable service to the general public, but it’s also about respecting our community partnerships and continuing our investment into the communities we serve.”

Loudoun County Transit, which operates in an area of northern Virginia adjacent to Washington, DC, was called upon by the U.S. State Department to assist in the global humanitarian effort of bringing refugees and American citizens fleeing Afghanistan into the U.S. Loudoun Transit transported workers from the State Department, American Red Cross, Department of Defense, and other federal agencies back and forth from Dulles Airport to adjacent hotels where the workers were staying. As a result, Loudoun County Transit, maintained by Keolis, was able to transport 52,000 riders during the month-long period of providing this special service.

As these agencies pivoted to accommodate increased ridership demand and special situations, they displayed impressive operational excellence. Although these are not everyday scenarios – and are often outside the scope of operating agreements and contracts – any agency, big or small, may be required to answer the same call, enhancing operations, adding staff, and engaging additional local partners. When this happens, transit providers and their partner agencies have an opportunity to roll out the red carpet, slip on the white gloves, and show non-traditional, infrequent, or one-time riders the benefits of riding transit – not only on special days, but every day.