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New Jaunt CEO wants to learn from agency's past missteps

Area transit provider Jaunt’s new CEO Ted Rieck wants to learn from the agency’s past missteps and work on innovative transit service options.

Rieck, who started Dec. 6, comes to an organization working to respond to a state inquiry. The scrutiny began after its board demanded the resignation of its former CEO because, it said, he “violated internal control policies of the corporation.”

“I was aware of the controversy … but even as I learned more about it, I don’t think it’s anything that can’t be corrected,” Rieck said.

Former Jaunt CEO Brad Sheffield was asked to resign a year ago, when the Board of Directors said he “purchased numerous expenses for goods, services and travel which violated internal control policies of the corporation.” Later, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit revealed that Sheffield spent more than $7,000 on multiple conference trips.

A review by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation found that Jaunt had overstated ridership, revenue miles and revenue hours, which resulted in over-allocation of state and federal operating assistance funding. Jaunt owes nearly $1 million to the state and will receive less money for operations this year.

“I don’t want to dismiss what has happened, but sooner or later, we all make bad decisions or not so great decisions,” Rieck said. “I’m telling the staff here to learn from what the mistakes were. Let’s not do it again, and move on and improve. But let’s stop beating ourselves up over it. We made mistakes, what were they, fix them and move on, and start looking for the future. That’s what I want to do is focus on the future — there’s a lot of cool things that can be happening here.”

Jaunt operates the area’s paratransit service for Charlottesville Area Transit under a contract with the city, runs commuter routes and has contracts with human services agencies. The service is owned jointly by and provides service to Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa, Nelson and Buckingham counties and the city of Charlottesville. Last year, Jaunt took over Greene County Transit.

People utilize Jaunt to commute to and from work, for shopping trips, to get to appointments and as an accessible transport service for passengers unable to use traditional fixed-route bus service.

Most recently, Rieck worked as the general manager of the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority, where he oversaw implementation of a Bus Rapid Transit service, changes to bus routes and the creation of a mobile phone app, according to Tulsa World.

He said the Central Virginia area is a “transit fertile region,” and that there’s room for innovation, both internal to Jaunt, but also externally in services it provides to the community.

“I really want to look at microtransit,” Rieck said. “That really is in Jaunt’s wheelhouse because there’s a paratransit or on-demand element. I would say 90% of Jaunt’s services are on-demand, so responding to people is in our DNA.”

The American Public Transportation Association says microtransit is when service providers operate small-scale, on-demand public transit services which can offer fixed routes and schedules, as well as flexible routes and on-demand scheduling.

Rieck said he’d also like to see more partnership with CAT, which provides fixed-route bus service in the city and the Albemarle’s urban ring area around Charlottesville, and he has met with CAT’s Director of Transit Garland Williams.

“Perhaps, vis-à-underperforming routes, we can do a microtransit solution, and that will free his resources to put on his regular service and improve frequencies,” Rieck said.

Two transit planning efforts are ongoing in the area — the Charlottesville Area Regional Transit Vision Plan and the Albemarle County Transit Expansion Feasibility Study and Implementation Plan. So far, the consultants working on the Albemarle expansion plan have recommended possible microtransit pilot projects to better provide service to the Pantops area, Monticello and along north U.S. 29.

He’s also interested in exploring more with autonomous vehicles and electric buses. He noted that the technology can be much more difficult than a smaller bus, whereas on a bigger bus, there is more room for batteries.

“I’ve seen some products where a smaller bus can work, but I’m not there yet,” he said. “But electric vehicles, I think, are the future and I think we need to learn how to use it. and we’ll certainly look at that. We also want to look at autonomous vehicles. The technology still isn’t where it needs to be for AVs, you still need to have an attendant on the vehicle in case things don’t work.”

Jaunt began using an electric passenger van in early 2020, and with Albemarle and Perrone Robotics, a Crozet-headquartered developer of autonomous vehicle software, it worked on a pilot autonomous shuttle program in 2019.

He said another longer-term goal of his is to become a Regional Transit Authority. That has also been discussed as a possible future recommendation as part of the vision plan process.

“We see ourselves as a public entity, but if we were to become an RTA we will definitely be that way,” Rieck said. “We’re in a great position to be an RTA because of our multi-county presence. So that’ll be my goal. but we certainly need to follow the lead of the local community and consensus building process which might dictate a different path.”

The DRPT review also requires Jaunt to develop a new Transit Development Plan, which is required for any public transit operator receiving state funding and serves as a guide for transit agencies around ongoing and future operations of the agency.

“We’re very eager to pursue that,” Rieck said. “I’m hopeful we can make it a very inclusive process, get out in the public, and maybe have some public meetings, or virtual meetings, whatever is allowed.”

In the short-term, his main priority is to work on getting to know the organization better, he said.

“How do we do what we do, and where is there room for improvement?” he said.

Karen Davis, who served as Jaunt’s interim CEO for the last year, was recently promoted to deputy CEO. Davis has worked for Jaunt for more than a decade and served as COO before moving into the interim CEO position.

“I am delighted to have this opportunity to continue to serve Jaunt and the community in this capacity,” Davis said in an announcement. “I am committed to Jaunt’s staff and our customers and I look forward to advancing our mission and vision in lockstep with Ted.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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