"I think the most difficult challenge for me is making sure that we keep up with fast-changing technology on a budget where we have to make sure our taxpayer dollars are maximized. Government is known for moving slowly, so it's always a challenge to keep projects moving along, especially when technology is evolving so quickly."
Ahead of SmartTransit LA, we sat down with Robin O'Hara, Executive Officer at Los Angeles Metro, for a quick chat about her job and the Californian operator's latest breakthroughs.
Robin will be a speaker in SmartTransit LA on October 28-30th, where she will talk about the latest developments on Mobility as a Service in a presentation relevant to industry experts and decision makers alike. Join us at LA for the full topic, and read a taste of some of her insights below.
First off, a bit of background: How did you start your current career path, and what excites you the most about your position as Executive Officer of LA Metro?
My path started in the fare media office, as a Communications Officer. I was part of the team that transitioned our agency off paper passes and I have had a hand in TAP since its inception.
I absolutely love the fact that I am working to help facilitate a world-class transportation agency in LA. It's a great feeling to know that my work directly helps alleviate crowded freeways and mitigate bad air quality! I lead an amazing team, and it's so exciting to be a part of the fast-changing world of technology that keeps every day interesting. I love my job!
How has the transportation sector changed since you started working in it?
When I started, Metro was still using paper passes and the Agency was working on an honor system. Our board then decided to lock our Rail Station gates and move people to TAP. It was a transition that revolutionized our fare system by enabling better data collection and unified fare collection across 9 agencies. Over the next few years, we completed the TAP network and now we have 25 agencies on TAP. Pretty cool!
What industry challenges do you identify as the most pressing ones, and how is LA Metro tackling them?
As you know, transit ridership is falling across the nation. Customers have a lot more choices these days with the advent of Uber and Lyft, and on top of that, car prices have never been more affordable. LA Metro is addressing these issues head on.
We are trying new ways of partnering with the ride-sourcing companies, such as a recent promotion we coordinated with Lyft where a customer got $20 in his/her TAP account for taking 5 shared rides in Lyft within one month. This not only removed cars from the road by encouraging shared rides, but we saw an amazing increase in signups and transit use for first-time TAP users.
We are also really looking for partnerships for that challenging first and last mile that prevent a lot of people from taking transit. We have partnered with Bikeshare and are working on additional partnerships with scooters, parking, microtransit and others to make our customers' journeys more convenient with one account for payment across modes.
TAP is an ambitious enterprise aiming to facilitate MaaS in LA – what were the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in the project, and how did you solve them?
We encounter a lot of challenges with the scope of what we are doing. I think that we have solved many of these, such as how to include cash customers, how to provide equity across programs, and how to provide incentives to customers to move them to try new modes.
Our cash customers can now use a service called PayNearMe to load cash directly into their accounts at convenience stores. Our discounts program was built to address equity by offering the ability for our multimodal partners to offer customizable discounts to already-identified groups such as seniors, disabled, students and low-income customers. We built incentives into our system that enable us to quickly change prices or offer promotional codes to entice our customers to use different modes and we designed a rewards system to benefit our customers that will be launched next year.
Are there any plans to collaborate or sell TAP’s findings and techs to other operators in the US or abroad?
That would be up to our CEO. My TAP team is still busy building right now (next up: our mobile app!) and there hasn't yet been any talk of monetizing this idea, which actually was originally brought to us by our long-time TAP consultant, Mark Kroncke from Invoke Technologies. I have had numerous calls from other U.S. cities and even a couple international calls from Australia and Canada to ask about our innovative hybrid system and I have been very open so far about sharing the concept of what we have built.
What's the biggest professional challenge you've ever faced?
I think the most difficult challenge for me is making sure that we keep up with fast-changing technology on a budget where we have to make sure our taxpayer dollars are maximized. Government is known for moving slowly, so it's always a challenge to keep projects moving along, especially when technology is evolving so quickly (that's why I am so proud of my amazing team!)
Are there any past projects in your life you're proud of? Are there any upcoming ones you're excited about?
A past project included taking our entire TAP CRM in-house. We formerly contracted it out and we were legally mandated to take it back in-house, due to a Union grievance that was arbitrated. I led the transition of the Customer Call Center, Reduced Fare Processing, Fare Sales, Back Office Clearing and Settlement, Corporate Fare Program, and the Website to in-house operation at Metro. My team had to hire and train 41 new staff members on the new system, and we did it all in 7 months.
Finally, a question we ask all our interviewees: what's your favourite rail, car, or flight journey in the world, and why?
My favorite journey is the Metro Gold Line, that takes me to work at a job I love every day, in the best city in the world!
To meet Robin and other fantastic industry speakers, decision makers, and sector experts, join us at SmartTransit LA 2019, on October 28-30th!