Foothill Transit has gone through a number of changes since first created in 1988 to provide improved bus service to residents in the San Gabriel and Pomona Valley portions of Los Angeles County. Under the direction of ATC, a private management company, Foothill Transit assumed operation of 14 bus lines formerly run by the struggling Southern California Rapid Transit District. Today the agency operates 21 local and 11 express routes, serving 17-million passengers a year.
From a service standpoint, Foothill Transit is currently in the midst of the biggest overhaul of its system ever taken. Julie Austin, executive director of Foothill Transit and vp of transit management for ATC, says: “We've moved from 647,000 vehicle service hours to over 700,000 and increased the number of buses run from 287 to 299 to support this. We've also increased the frequency of stops on some of our most heavily used routes.”
The most dramatic change ever made in the bus fleet came about earlier this year when the agency began accepting delivery of 66 new Orion high-floor buses that are powered with compressed natural gas (CNG) engines. “This is our first move away from an all diesel-powered fleet,” according to George Karbowski, director of operations and maintenance.
Next year Foothill Transit plans to put 51 more CNG-fueled buses into operation. The goal is to convert the fleet over completely by 2011. To support the alternative-fueled buses, Foothill Transit just built its first CNG fueling station in Pomona. A second station will be put up in 2005 in Irwindale, where the agency has recently constructed a new facility to replace one that was being leased in El Monte.
What's unique about Foothill Transit is that it has no employees. All services, including management, operations and maintenance, are provided under contract. First Transit, a Foothill Transit contractor running local lines, operates out of the Pomona facility, while Coach USA, which offers commuter and local bus service, is based in Irwindale.
Upon taking delivery of the new CNG buses from Orion Bus Industries, Oriskany, NY, the Foothill staff received special training on how to maintain and service them.
“In dealing with CNG, the biggest potential hazard is the high pressure under which the gas is stored. It's critically important for technicians to properly maintain all the fuel system components, including fuel lines and fittings,” Karbowski says.
Safety is a top priority at Foothill Transit. The natural gas buses are equipped with an optical fire sensing and suppressant system. “Not only does the system include heat sensors,” he explains, “but also it uses optical sensors placed in areas of the buses where fires are most likely to occur to visually spot smoke and fire.”
All buses are fully equipped with a lift and ramp assembly to accommodate two wheelchairs. For enhanced customer service, Foothill Transit was also the first in L.A. to outfit its buses with bike racks.
It was also among the first to pioneer the use of LED lighting on buses. “One of the most premium changes in bus equipment in recent years has been the availability of full LED head signs. Extremely visible, especially in broad daylight, these signs are enabling vision-impaired passengers to safely ride our buses. We were the first property in California to use LED head signs, which are now the industry standard in buses.” Karbowski says.
“Public image is also very important to us,” he continues. “Our policy is to keep the buses clean at all times, including maintaining the aluminum wheels so they are spotless. Also, we do not allow graffiti to remain on the buses. Our contractors understand the importance of these practices and work with us to keep up with maintenance on a daily basis.”
Always cost-conscious, Foothill Transit has a very effective strategy for dealing with graffiti etched onto bus windows. The windows are covered on the inside with a clear, thin piece of plastic called a “sacrificial window” that can be easily replaced at a cost of about $10, versus $300 for an actual bus window.