Oct 07, 2019
As governments, institutions, and the world’s citizens become more attuned to the changes in the Earth’s climate, a push to become more sustainable and efficient is palpable throughout many economic sectors. These efforts are magnified in higher education and public safety, and specifically transportation, where students and employees are supporting causes and those who lead them, intended to create a better environment for future generations.
Greg Rivas, Assistant Director of Transportation Services at IACLEA member institution New York University, is charged with creating and implementing plans to improve NYU’s efficiency and sustainability both for public safety vehicles and throughout the transportation options that NYU provides to its community.
Tell us about your position and how you operate within the university.
I am the Assistant Director of Transportation Services within Campus Services and Safety at New York University. I oversee the university’s transportation offerings, which include seven fixed routes operating throughout the academic year, Safe Ride overnight service, airport shuttle service, charter services, and fleet management. Through our fixed route and Safe Ride services, we link our various residence halls and academic facilities in Brooklyn and Manhattan, connecting a non-traditional campus that spans various neighborhoods in two city boroughs.
What is your biggest challenge in operating NYU's Transportation Services?
Our biggest challenge is being able to provide services to the greatest number of community members possible. We serve more than 54,000 students and 35,000 full-time employees, including NYU Langone Medical Center, and have only so many buses. We are creative in how we assign buses to routes, modifying those routes depending on the time of day. For example, in the morning period, all of the buses assigned to one of our northern routes perform “half trips,” where they arrive empty to one of the largest residence halls and begin their journey from there. This allows us to squeeze in a few more trips each morning.
What types of technology do you use to create efficiencies?
We use several different technologies across our service offerings. All of our shuttle buses are equipped with a real-time passenger information system. This allows us to collect data on ridership and route performance and utilize this information to adjust our schedules and offerings to both meet the needs of the community and increase reliability. Additionally, the system provides users with route tracking capabilities and access to service notifications, such as delays and changes.
Our Safe Ride service - structured much like consumer rideshare services and offering point-to-point rides after regular shuttle bus hours between campus facilities - uses software that automatically manages ride requests. This software captures several data points, such as vehicles on the road, vehicle loads, and rider destinations, to assign ride requests in the most efficient manner possible. On the passenger side, users receive estimated wait times and notifications when they are to be picked up.
Our Public Safety fleet is equipped with GPS tracking systems that provide our dispatchers with real-time locations of all vehicles. The tracking system transmits vehicle health information to the Transportation Services Unit, such as fuel levels and engine status.
On the backend, our unit uses fleet management software to track vehicle expenditures and performance, allowing us to understand the cost per mile of our vehicles, and service reminders.
Can you tell us about recent successes with the services?
Utilizing the technologies I mentioned earlier, we have seen a continuous increase in ridership on our campus shuttles.
During the 2018–19 academic year, we transported more than 520,000 passengers. With our Safe Ride program, we have seen a 50-percent increase in passengers since the adoption of on-demand software.
On the fleet side, we recently introduced the University’s first hybrid 15-passenger van and have been able to reduce our out-of-service days through a robust preventative maintenance schedule.
What steps have you taken to engage the community to improve service?
This year we launched a Transportation Advisory Committee, whose charge is to identify service gaps and discuss possible enhancements to transportation services provided to the NYU community. The committee is comprised of a diverse set of University community members from all areas of NYU, including Washington Square, Brooklyn, and the medical corridor on Manhattan’s east side. This committee meets two to three times each semester, and the members not only identify service issues, but partner with our department on possible solutions. The committee also provides the department an avenue to create transportation ambassadors: members of the NYU community who can represent our unit within their peer groups and answer common questions they may have. Additionally, we partner with our Community Response Unit to participate in engagement events throughout the academic year, increasing the community’s awareness of transportation services as well as receiving feedback firsthand from users. Finally, for services such as our airport shuttle, we send out customer satisfaction surveys and use the data to improve the offerings.
What efforts are currently underway to become more sustainable?
New York University has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2025 and to be carbon neutral by 2040. This year, we participated in a University-wide sustainability working group to research the feasibility of an all-electric bus fleet. In the spring semester, we partnered with Proterra to do a study of our routes to configure the proper electric bus. This summer, we are looking into the infrastructure needs for electric vehicles. For the University fleet, we have partnered with colleagues in Procurement to improve our sustainability in vehicle acquisitions by looking at greener options for departments that need to replace or purchase new vehicles.
This past year, we were the first department to introduce a hybrid passenger van that reduces CO2 emissions by 20 percent and increases MPG (miles per gallon) by 25 percent.
This same model has been adopted by two other departments on campus that will be rolling out several hybrid cargo and passenger vans over the coming year.
What do you see as a realistic expectation for what can be achieved? Do you have a timeline?
The most time-consuming piece of an electric vehicle fleet is the infrastructure. A thoughtful, expandable network must be in place in order to support electric vehicles in our community. Electric vehicles have begun to saturate the personal vehicle market, and I anticipate we will see this same saturation in the next five years across the mid- and heavy-duty vehicle segments, and the transit arena. We expect to have a better sense of our timeline by the end of this summer, and anticipate a transitioned effort, replacing vehicles over time and not all at once.
You're pursuing a master's degree in Urban Planning, how does that help you in your everyday job?
I recently completed a master’s degree in Transportation Planning and Engineering at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, refining my technical transportation skills, and I thought Urban Planning would pair nicely as it provides a unique blend of planning, management, finance, and policy that prepares you to address financial constraints, resource limitations, and market realities, along with political hurdles. The degree will enhance my ability to develop environmentally-conscious services and engage interest for long-term, community-supported impact. This will be very helpful in today's sustainability-focused environment.
Ideally, what would you want Transportation Services at NYU to look like in 10 years?
I would like to see our services be more sustainable, and I am excited about the work we are doing in that area. I look forward to seeing electric vehicles, with more attention paid to micro-transit services as the industry continues to shift from a one-way, agent-to-user communication model, to more of a two-way communication, where the user informs the agency of specific needs. Additionally, higher education provides a unique opportunity to be a test lab for new technologies and with our Engineering School, we are in a great position to take advantage of this.
On the fleet side, connected vehicles will be much more established, and I would like to see our vehicles being able to communicate with the environment to address the needs of our community. Additionally, through all the data we capture, we can become more efficient and sustainable with our vehicles by adopting replacement schedules and having detailed life cycle timelines for all the vehicles at the university so we can replace them at the appropriate time.
To connect with Greg, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos courtesy of Matthew Shelosky, New York University