C-TRAN honored as nation’s best Public Transit system

The honor is the first for the agency in the mid-sized transit agency category

VANCOUVER — Thanksgiving is going to be a little awkward at the Donaghy house this year.

“It’s going to be rough,” says C-TRAN CEO Shawn Donaghy, smiling broadly, “but that’s OK. I’m going to take him one of these pins and hopefully that’ll make everything better.”

Donaghy is talking about the pin on his left lapel, which he wore throughout an afternoon event on Tuesday to reveal C-TRAN’s award as the nation’s top mid-sized transit system by the American Public Transportation Association (ATAP).

C-TRAN honored as nation’s best Public Transit system
C-TRAN CEO Shawn Donaghy wears a lapel pin to commemorate his agency’s award as the American Public Transit Association 2019 top transit system. Photo by Chris Brown

No one, he says, noticed the dead giveaway on his lapel before the big unveiling of a massive banner on the side of their maintenance and operations center on NE 65th Avenue Tuesday afternoon.

“This is the annual big award they give out every year,” says Donaghy, calling it the Oscars of the transit industry, “so we’re pretty excited to go pick this one up.”

They’ll get to go do that officially at APTA’s annual banquet in New York City next October.

Donaghy is third generation public transit, though he says he initially expected to spend his career in aviation. His dad is head of the Greater Dayton (Ohio) Regional Transit System, and they were fellow finalists for the Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award this year.

C-TRAN honored as nation’s best Public Transit system
C-TRAN CEO Shawn Donaghy and Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle pose under a banner to celebrate C-TRAN’s award as the best transit system in America by the American Public Transit Association. Photo by Chris Brown

C-TRAN won in the mid-sized category, meaning systems with between 4 and 12 million rides per year. It’s the largest category, meaning the most competition.

The award is based on ratings in 12 areas, from safety, operations, and maintenance to advancement for minorities and women, sustainability, and financial management.

“C-TRAN employees believe that we are more than just a transit agency,” said Adrian Cortes, Battle Ground City Council member and chair of C-TRAN’s Board of Directors. “We are community stewards tasked with making Clark County a better place to live and work.”

Cortes noted that, with 62 hybrid vehicles in their fixed route fleet, C-TRAN has a larger hybrid fleet than most large transit organizations. In terms of equality and minority advancement, almost 70 percent of the agency’s leadership team are women, compared to just over 50 percent of the population of Clark County. Overall, he notes, the minority workforce population at C-TRAN outpaces the county as a whole.

C-TRAN honored as nation’s best Public Transit system
C-TRAN maintenance workers watch on as a banner is unfurled honoring the agency as the nation’s best transit system by the American Public Transit Association. Photo by Chris Brown

“Every employee who wears a C-TRAN logo commits to a purpose,” Donaghy said during his speech, “which is why we have the best employees in the world.”

Donaghy joined C-TRAN in 2017, coming from Fort Worth, Texas, and says it was the best decision of his career.

“There are jobs, and there are opportunities,” Donaghy told the crowd of elected officials and C-TRAN employees, “this was clearly the latter.”

David Carol, chief operating officer for APTA, said C-TRAN was one of the few mid-sized transit agencies in the U.S. with ridership numbers that continue to trend upwards, increasing 4.6 percent between 2016 and 2018 to 6.2 million trips per year.

“And that is unusual,” noted Carol. “We are in a period of time across the U.S. where transit ridership is either stagnant or is going down because of the different ways that people are traveling.”

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle noted in her comments that ridership on the Fourth Plain Vine, the city’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor, has increased approximately 27 percent since it opened in 2017.

C-TRAN honored as nation’s best Public Transit system
C-TRAN buses have a new decal, recognizing the agency’s award as the nation’s best transit system by the American Public Transit Association. Photo by Chris Brown

“Social media followers have increased 224 percent,” said McEnerny-Ogle, noting C-TRAN’s aggressive marketing efforts. “We have videos that are produced internally. We have a concert, Vine Tunes … that features live music on our BRT buses.”

C-TRAN was also recognized for receiving a perfect rating from the Federal Transit Authority during its triennial review. Only seven percent of public agencies received a rating of “no deficiencies” during the 2015-2017 review period.

Donaghy tells ClarkCountyToday.com the APTA award certainly won’t hurt as the agency works to secure federal and state grant funding for the Mill Plain BRT route, and the eventual north-south Vine along Highway 99 through Hazel Dell.

“It doesn’t hurt to check the box with being recognized like this,” Donaghy says. “I think one of the things that makes us successful is our community is behind us. I think now that they’ve seen how the BRT works, especially on Fourth Plain, I think they see the value from a business development perspective. It’s a lot bigger than transit. It’s about the educational access, it’s about access to the jobs, it’s about really creation of that economic value through multi-family housing, you name it.”

C-TRAN honored as nation’s best Public Transit system
A C-TRAN bus outside the agency’s maintenance and operations center honors all the people responsible for their award as best transit system in America for 2019 by the American Public Transit Association. Photo by Chris Brown

C-TRAN buses will be emblazoned with a new logo showing off their big award, at least for a while.

“I think we would leave it on there as long as we can,” Donaghy says, smiling. “After about five years or so we’ve got to get back to the grindstone and probably not put that on the buses anymore. But we’re definitely going to celebrate it for the next few years.”

Donaghy says, to his knowledge, no transit system has ever won the award twice. Not to say they won’t be trying to make history in 2020.

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