Thursday, August 26, 2010

Donald J. Mahoney

Public transportation - and most specifically, the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA) - lost a staunch supporter, a wise counsel and very dear friend, this week: Donald J. Mahoney. His obituary ( lists his business interests, highlights his career, hobbies and his loving family ... we knew him best of course, for his long association with LANTA as a member of the Board of Directors.

Don was first appointed to the Board in 1978 by County Executive David Bausch for a five-year term and re-appointed for several terms after that. Don's strong suit, according to Mr. Bausch, was his many years of experience in the heavy duty vehicle sales and leasing industry. But, as we came to discover, Don's expertise was a good deal more broad.

Don's judgment, experience, ability to weigh all sides of an issue before offering an opinion were invaluable to the success that the Authority achieved over the past three decades. Of course, his ready smile and witty Irish sense of humor resulted in his being a pleasure to work with.

Over the 31 years of public service Don dedicated as a LANTA Board member, he served as Chairman of the Authority and also, at various times, as Chair of all the Authorities standing committees. He was Chair of the LANTA Operations/Metro Committee for many years. During Don's tenure, he assisted the decision-making process on a wide range of operating and capital improvements both in terms of vehicles and physical plant expansion. While Don was on the Board, LANTA purchased, more than 200 heavy-duty Metro city transit buses, and 500 minibuses for its Metro Plus paratransit divisions! A monumental achievement!

The community has been fortunate in the quality of leadership available for appointment to the various of boards and Authorities throughout Lehigh and Northampton Counties. Don Mahoney stands out as one of the truly sage and generous leaders who was there when the community needed him, and who moved on gracefully when his tenure came to an end.

Our thoughts are with his family who suffer his loss most dearly. We, to whom he was such a great and loyal friend for so many years, deeply mourn his passing. His contributions live on however, and the riding public in the Lehigh Valley enjoys the benefits of his stable leadership each and every time they board a modern, well-maintained bus.

We've missed him since he left our Board room a little over a year ago but at least on occasion, we could meet and break bread with him. Now, we don't even have that to look forward to and we miss him all the more.

Rest in peace, Don.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Focused Group

Last week a group of LANTA Metro passengers sat down together over donuts and coffee and talked about how much they liked riding the bus. And they also spoke about how the system could be improved so that they and others like them might find it more useful.

The coffee klatch which took place in the later afternoon at the Allentown Transportation Center, lasted 2 hours and was facilitated by representatives of Brecon Hill and Thiel Design, two consulting firms out of Wisconsin that are helping LANTA redefine and upgrade its passenger information system.

Among the many recommendations that came out of the Moving LANTA Forward planning effort last year was one that said Metro bus information was difficult to understand. LANTA hired Brecon Hill/Thiel to help evaluate the information base further and to come up with an improved package for customers.

The bus rider meeting was very important in the process. Obviously, what riders say will weigh heavily on the outcome. The participants were selected over a two day period on a random basis. LANTA staff wearing shirts with the corporate logo and armed with a clipboard, approach customers at the Allentown Transportation Center inviting them to be involved. Twenty were invited: 18 showed up at the appointed time.

Out of what was a ‘study session,’ not a focus group, came a plethora of information and impressions:

. The LANTA Metro rider group was very positive about the transit system. While some depended upon Metro for all their transportation needs, others chose to use it because it saved money and was a convenience. Some also said it felt good to ride because it ‘helped the environment.’

. The riders knew one another because they rode the bus. They met on board and enjoyed seeing one another as their paths crossed riding the system. Half said that they only knew each other because of the bus and felt a sense of community because of the shared experience.

. No one complained about transit fares and, despite the fact that more than half of those present had to make bus transfers, no one complained about service access. Some of the things that were said:

“Metro is my lifeblood.”

“I use the bus 4 times a day – for work and for daycare. I could never get to my job if it were not for Metro.”

“Most drivers are helpful when I have a question.”

“I’m glad someone at the Metro Office speaks Spanish because that really helps when my Mom calls them.”

“I like Sunday service, I just wish there was more of it.”

Not all comments were positive: the group had their favorite drivers and those that they avoided. And they bemoaned the fact that service was limited at times and that buses did not run more frequently.

But this is all valuable input as the Authority looks to expand the system.

Over and over LANTA hears that the public wants more service. The major challenge continues to be how to pay for it.