We've mentioned the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) before, but we didn't know then we'd be talking about the best public transportation system in America. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has just named CATA the best transit system of its size ( 4-30 million passenger trips a year) in North America. I went to the APTA website, but couldn't find a list of number ones in larger or smaller categories, so we'll just dwell on CATA for the rest of the post.

The last time CATA took the top honors was in 1991, and is the only Michigan transit system with two such titles. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said in a statement that she considers public transportation "integral."

"CATA is at the leading edge of transit systems here in Michigan, and across the nation, with its environmental initiative, innovative partnerships, and responsive service. CATA is an integral part of the capital area and this award is a great honor for CATA and the entire community," she said.

APTA President William Millar broke out the hyperbole and compared the award to winning an Emmy. He also told CATA employees in a videotaped message that, "You won for many reasons, including your outstanding safety record at CATA, your incredible ridership growth and your record of service to your customers."

I've been seeing billboards in town announcing that last year the system broke the 10 million rides mark, so I trust they're doing well. I've never ridden the bus here (thanks to my trusty bike for most of my in-town errand needs), but when I do, I know I'll be riding the best. If you need more CATA info, the oh-so-self-congratulatory press release is after the jump.

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[Source: The Capital Area Transportation Authority]
CATA Named #1 Transit System in North America

LANSING, Mich., July 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) has been named the best transit system of its size in North America by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

"This is the highest honor in our industry," said Sandy Draggoo, CATA's CEO/Executive Director. "We couldn't be more excited or proud!" Draggoo also won the prestigious General Manager of the Year award from APTA in 2003.

CATA was ranked #1 in the competitive 4-30 million passenger trips category. This category includes 106 transit systems. APTA gives out the Outstanding Transportation System Achievement Award annually to honor transit systems demonstrating exceptional efficiency and effectiveness. Transit systems are judged on services and programs, safety, operations, customer service, financial management, attendance and employee costs, advancement of minorities and women, marketing, policy and administration, and community relations.

"CATA is at the leading edge of transit systems here in Michigan, and across the nation, with its environmental initiative, innovative partnerships, and responsive service," said Governor Jennifer M. Granholm. "CATA is an integral part of the capital area and this award is a great honor for CATA and the entire community."

The award will be presented to CATA at the APTA Annual Meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 9, 2007. This conference brings together more than 2,000 transit industry professionals from across the world. CATA was also voted #1 in 1991. No other Michigan transit system can claim multiple wins as 'America's Best'.

"This award belongs to the dedicated CATA employees who do their work so well," said CATA Board President Patricia Munshaw. "It also belongs to those who use our services and to the citizens in our service area. It recognizes their support through their loyal patronage as customers, as well as their financial support through local funding. Their investment maintains a comprehensive service system; deserving of this recognition."

Draggoo surprised employees with the APTA award announcement at a special employee celebration this morning (July 19) at the CATA administrative facility in south Lansing. "Our employees work hard to provide high quality transportation," said Draggoo. "This award recognizes their hard work, dedication, and most of all, commitment to our customers."

"This is kind of like winning the Emmy. It's the best of the best," APTA President William W. Millar said in a videotaped message to Draggoo and CATA's 300 employees during the celebration. "You won for many reasons, including your outstanding safety record at CATA, your incredible ridership growth and your record of service to your customers."

APTA is a nonprofit international association of 1,500 member organizations, including bus, rapid transit and commuter rail systems. APTA members serve more than 90 percent of people who use public transportation in the United States and Canada.

CATA was the also the first public transit system in Michigan to add full size hybrid buses to its fleet this past year. CATA's 2006 ridership broke its all-time record -- exceeding 10 million rides in 2006.

Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) Receives 2007 APTA Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award

Every day, seniors, students, commuters, individuals with disabilities, and others depend on CATA to go wherever life takes them. At its beginning in 1972, CATA operated 14 bus routes. That year the system provided 750,000 rides. The number of bus routes has more than doubled since then. As the system grew, CATA added additional services to meet customer needs. In 2005, CATA celebrated breaking the 9-million ride mark. In 2006, passengers took a record 10 million rides on CATA. Now CATA has been named the recipient of the 2007 Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award by the American Public Transportation Association.

The Capital Area Transportation Authority provides fixed-route and demand- response service within Ingham County, Michigan. County residents number 277,000 and the County spans 560 square miles. The 2000 Census shows a density of 500 residents per square mile in the county. CATA serves this area with 30 fixed-routes, operating 7 days a week. CATA operates 24/7 on the MSU campus during fall and spring terms. CATA offers eight Paratransit services, including ADA complementary Paratransit, general demand-response service to the rural communities and same day demand-response service to four suburban communities. CATA assumed MSU campus transportation services in August 1999. Michigan State University represents a significant customer base for CATA with its 46,000 students. CATA is also the regional coordinator for van and carpool matching services. As of Dec. 31, 2006, CATA employed 290 individuals, including 215 ATU motor coach operators and 27 ATU employees in maintenance.

This 2007 Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award highlights CATA's toolbox for success: innovation, collaboration, technology, training and positive relations with employees, the Board and the community. Those tools, applied with a great deal of hard work and dedication, constructed a much more efficient and effective CATA system over the 2004-06 period. Here are some of the achievements: Safety
-- Outstanding safety record
-- Added a new technology-equipped training area - improving the learning environment and increasing the effectiveness of the training and safety program
-- Operations Supervisors/Managers earning National Certification from the World Safety Organization
-- CATA is an active member of all regional emergency response teams; participating in real and simulated emergencies each year
-- CATA developed an Emergency Plan, System Security Plan and System S Safety Emergency Preparedness Plan
-- CATA and MSU work together to assess all bus stops and shelters, resulting in bus stop relocations and other safety improvements
-- MSU earned the "Richard H. Austin Long-Term Traffic Safety Award" in 2006, in part due to bus stop, pedestrian and traffic improvements done in cooperation with CATA
-- Collaboration with the Lansing Police Department and the Lansing School District address youth problems that could lead to serious offenses on CATA vehicles, property and adjacent areas to the CATA Transportation Center
-- CATA researched and implemented a new fall protection system for servicing roof components on new vehicles to improve employee safety during rooftop maintenance
-- Camera surveillance systems were upgraded in 2006 at the CTC and CATA administrative facilities
-- CATA was the first transit system in the State of Michigan to add 40- foot diesel electric hybrid buses to their fleet
-- Increased use of outside auditors to help assess bus operator performance
-- Trapeze software expansion improves efficiencies of all areas of workforce management
-- CATA installed an Automatic Passenger Counting (APC) system on fifteen vehicles
-- Employee "hotlines" were established to provide a direct link for employees to resolve operational concerns
-- Innovative, employee-designed maintenance facility renovations expanded workspace and added two bays
-- Maintenance computerized its fueling system in April 2005, saving approximately 10 labor hours per week
-- ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certification was incorporated into the CATA maintenance department
-- Operation's dispatch office redesigned to improve work process
-- CATA became the Michigan pilot system to test the Engineered Machine Products ("EMP") Fan-Only Mini Hybrid System

Customer Service
-- CATA gave 10 million rides in 2006 and recorded only one complaint for every 33,000 rides
-- The Paratransit phone system upgrade in Nov.'05 improved connections to remote locations-for better reporting/tracking functions
-- Implemented a Red Phone program in 2005, ensuring "hot" issues are dealt with immediately
-- CATA sponsored regular Listening Sessions where customers share their concerns and ideas directly with CATA management
-- Implemented new Service Change Implementation Team to improve both internal and external communications
-- On-line web surveys, employee interviews, information card sort exercises and environmental scans were conducted to gather information for CATA website redesign

Financial Management
-- Restructured the financial components of the original MSU-CATA transit service business plan with a new five-year contract
-- CATA experienced a negligible increase (0.59%) in health care costs in FY06
-- CATA's lease purchase agreement for 34 New Flyer buses was refinanced in FY05, reducing interest rates from 6.23% to 3.82%
-- CATA improved the annual parts inventory process- using custom software to conduct cycle counts -- saving time and money
-- Internet pass sales were up 71% over 2003 levels in 2004, 208% in 2005 and 411% in 2006
-- In 1982, CATA was the first system in Michigan to pass a local millage. Voters have said "Yes" to every Authority request over the years and that support now comprises 44% of CATA's annual budget

Attendance and Employee Costs
-- There were 58 ATU employees (25%) with perfect attendance in 2005, and 70 (30%) in 2006!
-- Employees have increased their use of unpaid "leave of absence" requests every year during decreased service demand times resulting in significant cost savings to CATA

Minority and Women Advancement
-- Women and minorities occupy top leadership roles, including:
-- CATA Board Chair
-- CEO/Executive Director and Assistant Executive Director
-- Females compose thirty-nine percent of the CATA workforce
-- Twenty-eight percent of the workforce at CATA are minorities
-- Increased employment of women and minorities in non-traditional positions in FY06
-- In March of 2006, CATA provided diversity training to all 300 CATA employees

Marketing
-- Marketing sets goal to increase ridership in September of FY04
-- Ridership increases 3% in FY04
-- Ridership increases 7.67% in FY05
-- Ridership increases 7.3% in FY06, with ridership increases in every month of that year
-- Direct mail campaign using a free 4-ride bus pass earns high redemption rate of 14,049; (16.5 %) of the 85,214 cards mailed
-- September 2004 monthly ridership of 1,021,000 rides broke all CATA monthly records
-- In April 2004-new personalized trip planning kits were promoted in the Community Report as well as in direct mail campaigns and print, web and radio advertising to improve non-rider comfort and confidence in using CATA
-- A major holiday mailing was sent to residents within a 3-block radius of downtown routes with the following impacts:
-- Ridership on the Silver Bells in the City route in 2005 increased 88 percent over 2004
-- Ridership on the remaining eight targeted routes increased by 13 percent on the day of the event
-- CATA marketing to residents of Delhi, Mason, Williamston and Rural Ingham County, focusing on trip planning assistance, helped increase overall ridership in these areas by 13% in 2006

Policy and Administration
-- CATA is proud to have an Executive Director/CEO who is recognized for her accomplishments and impact on public transportation. Not only was she selected as the GM of the Year by APTA in 2003, but in 2006, the National Transportation Research Board (TRB) named her as recipient of the Sharon D. Banks Award for Innovative Leadership in Transportation
-- Revamped budget process:
-- New budget assumption process at Board retreat improved staff time investment in budget development
-- Created a series of new budget reports to better track spending activities
-- Innovative ideas, including major restructuring, implemented to contain costs
-- Taken the lead in regional cooperation and coordination issues between Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties
-- Renovation and expansion of the CATA administrative facility was completed on time and on budget in December of 2006:
-- Expanded office space and centralized personnel
-- Improved dispatch area
-- Added a high-tech training facility
-- Began development of a resource library
-- Increased the number of meeting rooms
-- Opened a new employee fitness room
-- Reviewed and updated all 46 Board policies
-- Implemented an ITS Disaster Recovery Plan in 2005

Community Relations
-- CATA and the local Area Agency on Aging co-sponsored CATA Senior Health Fair
-- Co-sponsored the Tri-County Office on Aging's March for Meals walk-a- thon.
-- CATA sponsors a volunteer delivery route for Meals-On-Wheels in south Lansing- employees deliver over lunch hour
-- Vulnerable citizens are transported to cooling centers during prolonged periods of high temperatures
-- Operates emergency services to transport homeless individuals to warming facilities during periods of extreme cold
-- CATA's Clean Commute Options program launched in February 2006
-- Community Report is mailed to all residents within the CATA funding area

The community's reliance on CATA services has never been stronger. CATA is helping move its community forward. The CATA Board is proud to announce that the Capital Area Transportation Authority has received APTA's 2006 Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award.

Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) honors one public transportation system in North America each year who has demonstrated outstanding achievement in efficiency and effectiveness. Systems are judged on their performance over a 3-year period. One system is chosen from each of four categories; based on passenger trip totals. CATA was ranked first for 2007 in the 4 - 30 million ride category which includes 106 systems.

The judging panel of transit professionals from across North America, looks at a system's quantitative measures such as ridership per passenger mile, number of customer complaints, safety indicators, etc. which compose up to 2/3 of the total score. Qualitative measures count for 1/3 of the total score. These include specific programmatic improvements and achievements in:

-- Safety -- Enhanced safety measures

-- Operations -- Efficiencies in operating procedures

-- Customer Service -- Methods of providing additional value and service to riders

-- Financial Management -- Effective financial controls

-- Attendance and Employee Costs -- Containing costs and improving absentee rates

-- Minority and Women Advancement -- Encouraging and promoting diversity

-- Marketing -- Developing effective marketing tools to retain and attract riders

-- Policy and Administration -- Implementing effective and productive administrative techniques

-- Community Relations -- Promoting positive relations and contributing to a more "livable" community

CATA will receive the formal award at the APTA Annual Meeting award luncheon on October 9, 2007 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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