By: Jon Cawley; DailyPress.com
A smattering of riders on the No. 115 bus from downtown Hampton to Buckroe were joined on a recent morning by a decidedly atypical entourage — the new CEO of Hampton Roads Transit and several agency officials.
The group commuted from Norfolk on the No. 961 bus to get a taste of Peninsula transit operations.
It’s part of an ongoing outreach effort by the new CEO that began with an incognito bus trip Harrell took this spring shortly after taking office. The former Chesapeake city manager says he wants to get a sense of what customers experience on every one of HRT’s 70 routes.
“I’ve lost track of the routes I’ve ridden,” Harrell said, as the bus bounced down the road toward Buckroe. “My goal is to ride every route.”
Harrell noted that all of his bus forays won’t be as obvious as the Hampton trip and he will be back to experience more of the Peninsula operation.
His entourage included a jeans and polo-shirted William E. Harrell; Ray Amoruso, HRT’s chief planning and development officer; Pete Katranides, general supervisor of bus operations; Ben Simms, director of transportation (bus and rail); Kevin Tang, the agency’s planner for Hampton/Newport News; and Gary Dubour Jr., a regular bus rider and representative of the Transit Riders Advisory Committee.
“I do intend to get back out in an anonymous way to ensure I am sharing the same experience as customers,” he said. “When you come on as CEO, everyone is smiling and the service is good. I want to make sure I get the same experience everyone else does.”
Even so, it seemed Harrell and the others got something of an unpolished view.
As the bus approached Pembroke Avenue, Harrell pointed out a bus shelter with several missing windows and asked that it be repaired. He also noted “a cleanliness issue on the bus” that needed to be addressed.
At one point, a woman rider became marginally belligerent when the fare box wouldn’t accept her dollar bill. As she cursed and fumbled with the dollar, Harrell and several others hurriedly delved into their own pockets to help.
“You can see we didn’t script this,” Harrell said, chuckling, after the woman’s plight was rectified.
Once in Buckroe, the HRT officials exited the No. 115 bus and walked a couple of blocks in the late-morning heat to meet the No. 109 at a shopping center. Once there, the group milled about waiting for the second bus to arrive. It eventually did, but not before the No. 115 bus’ driver showed back up to check on the group and an HRT sport utility vehicle parked a couple of dozen yards away as if on sentry duty.
During the ride, Harrell acknowledged work was still to be done to right the transit agency’s reputation in the wake of massive light rail construction cost overruns and mismanagement (by a past administration) and a persistent perception that the transit agency’s focus on the Peninsula takes a backseat to South Hampton Roads.
“My objective as president is to make sure the information we provide is credible and can address customer’s and major stakeholder’s concerns. It’s going to take some time,” Harrell said. “I’m committed to financial integrity and recognize there are questions and will be questions.
“We have to be above reproach as we address the fiscal integrity of the organization,” he said, adding later: “Each city is challenged with funding as much transit as they can, but they are competing with capital improvements and human service demands. As CEO, I want to ensure we are running an efficient organization so people will want transit.”
View a special video message from Mr. Harrell by clicking here.