This year, I am very honored to have the Women’s Transportation Seminar of Orange County select me as one of 23 students to participate in its second annual WTS-OC Transportation Academy.
For the second year in a row, the organization is hosting an academy for male and female college students as well as graduates to help us enhance our knowledge of the transportation sector, complete with hands-on experience, site visits and learning from the best and brightest professionals in southern California. Despite not having an opportunity to participate in this program last year, I had the chance this year to join in.
This four-day, two-week course began on Tuesday with a visit to OCTA’s Garden Grove bus yard.
OCTA officials took turns going over the different elements of a transportation agency.
Deputy CEO Darrell Johnson gave us an overview of OCTA, going over the agency’s history, structure and the services it provides. Most people in Orange County commonly associate OCTA with bus service when it also manages and provides other transportation services. These services include Metrolink commuter rail, 91 Express Lanes, ACCESS paratransit services, capital projects including all freeway projects among others.
Afterwards, OCTA CEO Will Kempton gave a very insightful presentation on how transportation funding works. He also is known as Professor Kempton as he teaches a course about transportation funding for a master’s degree program with San Jose State (the same program I plan on going into hopefully next year). For something that can best be described as complex, he broke it down and explained how the funding process works in a way we can understand.
Three other OCTA officials shared some of the other basic components of the agency. General Manager of Transit Beth McCormick provided an overview of bus operations, Executive Director of Capital Programs Jim Beil shared details about the freeway and rail projects in Orange County and Executive Director of External Affairs Ellen Burton went over the communications and outreach projects OCTA regularly works on.
We then moved on to a tour of the bus yard itself. First, we hopped inside a bus where McCormick and Base Manager Oscar Moreno talked about the routine maintenance and operations of buses. They both discussed the basic elements of transit operations including the time buses start rolling out for its regular service runs each day as well as when it returns at night, the rigorous inspections process the buses undergo and other operational procedures.
During the bus ride, a base worker demonstrated how the money from fareboxes are collected. The money is taken out of the fareboxes on buses through a vacuum and collected in a secure box stationed in one of the garages outside, thus effectively preventing any human hands touching the cash and deterring possible theft. The bus then proceeded through another garage that washed the bus while we were inside, resembling that of a typical car wash.
For our next tour, we went into a coach operator simulator room to test our driver safety skills. Complete with a steering wheel, accelerator and brake, each station allowed students to watch a video at the front as if we were driving an actual bus. When such scenarios as drivers cutting us off or making a sudden stop occurs, we had to apply the
brakes and maneuver around it. A computer also measure who braked the quickest for each and every scenario. It was nerve-racking at times but it was really fun.
The second half of our day brought us to the Transportation Corridor Agencies offices in Irvine. The TCA is an agency that manages Orange County’s 67-mile toll road system. Following a few staff presentations about the agency and the funding structure, we took a charter bus to tour some of its toll roads as well as the wildlife habitat areas surrounding the toll roads that have been restored thanks to the project.
We visited a toll collection center in a remote part of the county along the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor (SR-73). A TCA official went over the toll collection process, which utilizes a large overhead sensor across the toll lanes that deducts monetary value from vehicles with the FasTrak transponders. There also are manned booths for commuters without transponders wishing to pay the toll. He also discussed how cameras stationed throughout each of the toll booths in the toll road network can catch potential toll evaders as well as assist law enforcement agencies with potential crimes related to and unrelated to toll violations.
That wraps up day one of the academy. Day two will consist of a tour of Metro headquarters in Los Angeles as well as some interesting presentations from the Orange County Public Works Department and California High-Speed Rail. Check back for what will be the second post in a four-part series later this week.