In the Eye of the Coronavirus Storm, RTA is Still Getting Greater Clevelanders Where They Need to Go, Safely: India Birdsong

Originally published on Cleveland.com, May 13, 2020

It’s simple, right? “Get me from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B.’”

Every day, tens of thousands of Clevelanders with a simple need turn to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA): Get me to my job, to my doctor, to my grocery store – and back home again. In the shadow of COVID-19, that simple need posed a daunting set of challenges for public transportation systems.

I’ve worked in public transportation at every level in my career, from the floor of the bus garage to my job here. But never have I been so profoundly impacted by the heroic acts I witness every day as RTA employees brave the front lines of COVID-19 to deliver on our mission.

We realized early on that keeping our people and our riders safe would be anything but simple as the spread of the virus accelerated. We have learned to be nimble and innovative in a time of crisis.

Even before the first diagnosed case of the coronavirus in Ohio, RTA rolled out a daily enhancedcleaning protocol for buses, trains, and all our vehicles and buildings. We bought the latest technology that zaps the inside of vehicles and electronic gear with disinfecting ultraviolet rays.

At the same time, our staff rallied together using some of the oldest technology—needle and thread—to make face coverings for operators and other public-facing RTA workers. They assembled personal protection kits with goggles, gloves, sanitizers, and disinfecting wipes. Plexiglass shields now protect customer service and booth attendant staff, and we are installing vinyl protective barriers around operators on all vehicles.

Still, the virus is insidious. Eight of our staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at this writing. I’m sending them all my strength and hope for their quick recovery. I hope you will, too.

We don’t know exactly what the future will look like for RTA when this threat ends. We will return to our normal schedule at a deliberate, analytical pace. For now, we all must keep minding our physical distance when we ride. We will continue urging our passengers and operators to wear face masks. We will continue protecting our operators and staff. We will continue our aggressive cleaning protocols.

Fighting the spread of COVID-19 is not simple. RTA will continue to be there for you, no matter how long this lasts, no matter what it takes. Our ability to emerge stronger only makes me want to fight harder. We will continue to realize our strength together. And on the other side of this, we will be there to take you downtown to celebrate the NFL draft next year or the NBA All-Star Game in 2022. To take you to a concert at Edgewater. To take you to Little Italy for the Feast or to Gordon Square for Dyngus Day.

This experience has made me appreciate this city for its strength, and that’s a lasting impression that will never fade. I’m so proud to be a part of RTA, and we are proud to serve you, through thick and thin.

Rail Car Replacement Project Update

For the past few months, the Rail Car Replacement team has been busy hosting presentations on Heavy and Light Rail options. The team is excited to undertake this project for the good of our riders, our employees, and our communities. The team’s next steps are:

  1. Continue to conduct weekly progress meetings with LTK, the engineering contractor hired to assist in the replacement process
  2. Gather technical information to begin assembling the car builder specification
  3. Identify and coordinate capital projects that will impact rail car procurement
  4. Receive recommendations as LTK presents options for moving forward
  5. Make platform decisions
  6. Continue to apply for grant funding

The project is moving ahead on schedule and we expect to solicit for bids on the project by the end of the year.

Inside Paratransit, Service Enhancements

Have you noticed a few changes to your paratransit Trips? If so, that is because for the past several months, GCRTA’s Paratransit team has been working to enhance our services. We focused on five priorities:

  1. Adjust our booking/scheduling technology
  2. Improving the Customer Service Experience (reducing wait times)
  3. Modernizing Communication Technology of the fleet
  4. Increasing the on-time performance of the fleet
  5. Reducing on-board travel times for the passenger(s)

First, the team made key adjustments to the scheduling technology in order to fully utilize it for booking, planning, and executing trips. These changes allow us to better group and order trips, freeing more room in our daily schedules. Now, the system will re-evaluate and order trips more frequently to provide more efficient trip scheduling.

Once this technology was adjusted, we set out to improve the customers experience during the booking process. We accomplished this by providing additional training to reservationists, expanding our hours, and adding additional staff to support the paratransit services. These changes enabled us to reduce our call wait times for those booking trips by 60%.

Next, we modernized our communications systems to increase our on-time performance and reduce riders’ on-board time. Since September 2019, our trips with travel times exceeding 60 minutes have been reduced from 13% to less than 1%. We did this by installing tablets on each bus, which use Google Maps for navigation. This gives drivers the most up-to-date, fastest route to the next stop.  The tablets communicate with the system as it optimizes on-the-day-of service.  As cancellations come in, trips can be moved between vehicles to increase on-time performance.

We then upgraded our radios to the Statewide Radio System known as MARCS.  Now when our fleet is out, we have improved coverage and no dead zones, so we can communicate with our buses throughout the entire service area.   
We made these changes to improve the Paratransit customer experience—we value our riders, and enhancing our service is always a top priority.

What you need to know:

ADA Office is Reopening

GCRTA’s ADA office will re-open June 1, 2020 to customers by appointment only. To schedule an appointment call 216-566-5124.

Service Changes Coming June 28, 2020

GCRTA is planning to change the service on a number of bus routes to improve peak frequencies and weekday accessibility. Pick up a new timetable for the following routes: HealthLine, MetroHealth Line (51, 51A, 51B/C) #1, #3#7, #10, #15, #34#79/79A, #81, #83.

67R buses will replace trains east of Tower City due to a six-week GCRTA track project between E. 55th and Woodhill. 67R buses will follow a special alignment during this shutdown, operating to/from Green Rd. via Van Aken Blvd. and Warrensville Center Rd.

New timetables will be available on our online trip planner at rideRTA.com, through the RTAnswerline (216) 621-9500, or can be picked up at the Tower City Station.

CARES Act & GCRTA

In March, the Federal Government approved the CARES Act, a bipartisan stimulus bill, to provide emergency relief during the coronavirus pandemic. It included $25 billion for public transit agencies across the country to offset the extraordinary costs associated with COVID-19. GCRTA will receive approximately $111 million of CARES Act funding, which will address lost revenue and increased operating expenses related to COVID-19. 

Interesting fact: 
Tax revenue collections lag by three months. Therefore, GCRTA will not see the full tax revenue impact until summer 2020.

Riding Safely During Coronavirus Outbreak

GCRTA has implemented rigorous health and safety protocols following CDC and Ohio Health Department Guidelines:

  • Cleaning vehicles every 24 hours.
  • Installing barriers between drivers and passengers.
  • Requiring GCRTA employees and contractors to wear masks.

For your health, and the health of others, riders are asked to do the following:

  • Wear a face covering or mask.
  • Wash or sanitize hands frequently.
  • Exit through the rear door of the vehicle if possible 
  • Practice physical distancing, when possible,  of at least six feet when riding or waiting at bus/train stops.

We thank you in advance for taking every precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

#InThisTogetherOhio:

Greater Cleveland RTA employees are working hard each and every day to keep our vehicles moving—so you can keep moving. We’re keeping our employees and riders safe as we provide essential services.

  • We are here. 
  • We are essential. 
  • We are Cleveland Strong.
  • We are in this together.

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