C-Tran CEO Shawn Donaghy casually greeted people late Tuesday morning and urged them to enjoy the barbecue lunch.
Few, if anyone, noticed the lapel pin on his suit jacket heralding C-Tran as the American Public Transportation Association’s Transit System of the Year for 2019.
It wasn’t until Battle Ground City Councilor Adrian Cortes, chair of the C-Tran Board of Directors, and Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, vice chair of the C-Tran board, unfurled a large “Best in the Nation” banner that everyone understood why they had been invited to lunch on brisket, pulled pork, baked beans, coleslaw and potato salad.
“I did it on purpose to see if anyone noticed,” Donaghy said about the lapel pin after Tuesday’s announcement outside C-Tran’s maintenance facility in central Vancouver.
The American Public Transportation Association, which represents 2,500 public and private transit organizations, selected C-Tran as No. 1 among agencies with total ridership between 4 million and 20 million passenger trips a year. C-Tran had about 6.2 million passenger trips in 2018.
The association evaluated C-Tran and other midsized agencies in 12 areas: operations, maintenance, paratransit, customer service, safety, security, financial management, sustainability, workforce development, attendance and employee costs, marketing and community relations, and women and minority advancement.
“It is the highest honor that a transit system can receive in North America,” Donaghy said. “For a select few agencies, this is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, the Academy Awards.”
“This is big stuff,” agreed David Carol, chief operating officer for the American Public Transportation Association. “As Shawn says, this is the Oscars of our industry.”
Linda Gehrke, regional administrator for the Federal Transit Administration in Seattle, noted a red banner hanging on the side of a C-Tran bus listing the names of the agency’s 400-plus employees.
“You are providing a world-class transportation system,” Gehrke said. “I would like to see you all wallow in this fantastic North American award.”
Donaghy also thanked C-Tran employees, calling them “the best employees in the world.”
“Make no mistake; we still have work to do,” he added. “And that will never stop.”
C-Tran officials say several factors led to their agency winning top honors, including:
• Increasing ridership by 4.6 percent in the past two years, during a period when Uber and Lyft siphoned transit riders.
• Launching The Vine, the area’s only bus rapid transit system, on the Fourth Plain Boulevard corridor.
• Adding more hybrid buses; more than half of C-Tran buses operating on fixed routes are partially powered by electricity.
• Partnering with TriMet and Portland Streetcar to introduce Hop Fastpass, a regional electronic fare system.
• Receiving a “no deficiencies” finding from the Federal Transit Administration, something that only 7 percent of agencies reviewed from 2015 to 2017 achieved.
C-Tran will put stickers recognizing its Transit System of the Year award on all of its buses, vans and other vehicles, Donaghy said after Tuesday’s event.
Donaghy is the third generation in his family to work in the transit industry. His father, Mark Donaghy, is CEO of the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority in Ohio.
Donaghy said his father’s agency also applied in the midsized category, which could make for some interesting family holidays.
“It’s going to be rough, but that’s OK,” he said. “I’m going to take him one of these (lapel) pins, and hopefully it will all be better.”