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Looking to join a growing industry with rapid changes in technology? Consider public transit. The American Public Transit Association (APTA) reports that "public ridership increased 31 percent between 1995 and 2010, a growth rate higher than the 17 percent increase in U.S. population and higher than the 24 percent growth in the use of the nation's highways over the same period." In fact, APTA notes that thirty-five million times each weekday someone will board public transportation in the U.S.
When most people think of public transit, city buses and commuter rail and subway systems come to mind. But the public transit sector encompasses many more modes of transportation, from street cars, trolleys and van pools to ferries and water taxis. The industry, which is represented by more than 7,200 organizations, directly employs more than 400,000 workers, according to APTA's most recent fact book.
Joseph Comerford, executive director for the Estuary Transit District in Centerbrook, Conn., says that public transit offers a range of operations and management jobs, in addition to jobs as drivers, dispatchers and mechanics. "Because many transit systems are districts, they operate as a separate government entity and have to provide all the support functions just like a business. There are a number of administrative jobs like finance, human resources and accounting, and large districts even require IT staff."
Comerford began working in the public transit industry while in college at the University of Connecticut. He says, "The industry has really changed and there are a lot exciting things going on in public transit. It is so much more than just running a big bus." One of the biggest changes is the advanced technology involved in transit operations today. "We have GPS and computers in every bus within our district. You really need to be more technologically savvy."
Comerford noted that as the director of a small district, he wears many hats. "Right now, I'm in the process of setting up new Android tablets that are going on the buses for their manifests," he added. "There are wonderful new tools available and the industry is working to attract more people interested in technology."
Of course, one thing that hasn't changed is the focus on safety. Comerford notes, "Safety is paramount to everyone on our staff, and customer service is another important priority. A large transit bus can carry 30 or more people. That means our drivers can interact with hundreds of customers every day. That customer interaction is what makes public transit unique to other transportation jobs."
Comerford says there are many positive aspects of his role in public transit. "One of the wonderful things is the positive environmental impact we make and the reduction in traffic." But what is most rewarding to him is the service they provide to area residents. "We enable people to have a better quality of life," concludes Comerford. "Without public transportation, many people wouldn't be able to do regular life activities like go to work, shop for groceries or go to the doctor."
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