The COMET is the public transportation and mobility manager for the Central Midlands region of South Carolina. We operate buses, demand response, vanpool and bike share services in Richland and Lexington Counties. We are a fast, fun, friendly organization with high energy and striving to be the best in moving people in our region.
What are you and your organization seeking to achieve?
The COMET is striving to tackle mobility challenges and be the best in moving people efficiently. For instance, we have a perception in our community that public transportation is for low income residents. I am trying very hard to change that perception. This even includes developing a “Reimagine The COMET” plan to study the 127 year old fixed route network
that still follows old streetcar routes from the Broad Street Power Company.
How did you get to where you are today?
When I was 5 years old, I went on a field trip to the Santa Clara County Transportation Agency (today known as VTA) in San Jose, CA, and was fascinated by its operation. This was the year they introduced light rail. I met a service development specialist named Kermit Cuff who stayed in contact with me, taught me the fundamentals of public transit throughout my childhood and supported me in my career growth. While in high school, I learned the fundamentals of public transit services such as route planning, scheduling, participating in policy board meetings and shadowing transit planners and transit managers. When I was 16-17, I helped at the City of Emeryville, CA, transitioned the Emery Go-Round shuttle from a city operation to a non-profit Transportation Management Association. My mentor, Carlos Tobar, with whom I had the opportunity to work in Lodi, Stockton and Elk Grove, invested in me more than 10 years to help me become a successful public transit executive director.
How have you seen the TDM industry change?
It has evolved to where there is more than just the traditional fixed route, shuttle and demand response operations. There is a need to reduce congestion and be more creative with how to do that. With HOV, carpools, vanpools, casual carpooling, micro mobility options, carsharing, bike sharing, incentives, alternative work schedules and teleworking, these items have helped change people’s perception on how to get to and from work. The new generation does not want the typical 8 to 5 job and want more flexibility. TDM will meet the needs of the new generation and also help reduce our carbon footprint. For those who know me, I am not a traditional 8 to 5 guy and enjoy the flexibility of being creative to get the job done.
Where do you see the industry going in the next 10 years?
Transit agencies need to be mobility agencies. This means becoming nontraditional and coming up with more creative ways to move people the most efficient way possible. This means more partnership with employers, transportation management associations and government agencies that can influence how people can get to and from work, thus improving the environment and managing transportation demand.
What keeps you motivated?
Being highly passionate in my work, I enjoy riding bus routes daily, to and from the office or when running errands on weekends, talking with customers and learning about how riding our system makes a difference in their lives.
What has been the most fulfilling moment in your career?
While I was working for the city of Elk Grove, CA, the system received APTA’s Outstanding Public Transit System Award for agencies providing fewer than four million annual trips and we were only two years old! I also have been at the forefront of rejuvenating transit systems that were declining in ridership and suffering, consolidating transit agencies for better efficiency and rebranding transit services and programs to traditional mix of fixed route and paratransit.
What is a great piece of advice you have received? Have you put it to use?
Collaboration is key. Bringing people together, regardless, if you agree or not is the best way to build consensus on a decision. Collaboration allows you to understand the full situation from those in support and those not in support, thus allowing the best decision to be made that all can understand and enjoy. I have placed this piece of advice recently in the implementation of transit service changes in our service area by engaging people through our community listening session.
Any additional thoughts to share?
Public transportation is fun and I encourage all that is working in this industry to think differently, continue to innovate and help make the future better for the new generation!