Norm Gavlick was the right man in the right place at the right time.
In September 2014, the Luzerne County Transportation Authority’s relatively new human resources director was named interim executive director as the agency looked for new leadership amid the “ghost rider” scandal which led to charges against senior officials accused of inflating ridership numbers to bring in more government funding.
Quiet, methodical and experienced in human resources, Gavlick quickly set about restoring confidence in the transit system among insiders and the community at large. The following year, Gavlick’s appointment was made permanent.
Readers of Sunday’s feature on efforts to improve transit connections for workers at area industrial parks may not know that Gavlick is no stranger to such a job.
When he and his wife were running their own staffing firm in the 1990s, they encountered some of the same issues, and for a time operated 15-passenger shuttle buses to help workers at the then-new business parks reach employment.
Now, he’s doing it on a much larger scale.
More than that, Gavlick is helping shepherd many other projects to completion, including the updating of LCTA’s aging bus fleet, plans to start a worker-focused night bus service, an anticipated move from landlocked quarters in Kingston to the former Murray Complex in Wilkes-Barre, and more.
As well, Gavlick is focused on bringing in more riders who will attract more cash revenue to the agency. While senior citizens and other subsidized passengers do generate revenue, adult workers and students of all ages are a market that LCTA is bringing back to public transit through education, specialized bus pass programs and tailoring schedules to meet their needs.
Gavlick talked with us about these issues during an interview at LCTA’s headquarters last week.
Q: How many riders does LCTA carry?
A: We carry about 1.1-1.2 million per year, and we’re starting to see it tick up — we’re starting to focus on students and employees, especially increasing service to industrial parks.
Q: And your fleet is expanding, right?
A: Last Friday our two newest Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses rolled onto the lot, bringing the fleet from 38 to 40. They’ll be on the road in another week or two. These are the first two new buses we’ve been able to acquire in over six years.
We have five more CNG buses coming next year, probably not until mid-summer, late-summer, because there’s an 18-month delay in the manufacturing process. Once we get those we can probably start retiring the oldest buses in our fleet, which are over 12 years old. Going foward, we’re hoping we can replace four to five buses per year.
Q: What makes these new buses different?
A: CNG is much cleaner burning, has slightly better fuel efficiency, its better for the environment, and the buses run smoother and quieter. The ride quality has been improved on these buses in several ways, and passengers will notice the improvement.
Also, CNG is being implemented as part of a PennDOT-mandated statewide program. All of the fleets in the state are being converted to it — number one, because of the Marcellus Shale and the availability of it in Pennsylvania, and because of its environmental benefits.
Q: They’re also in a dramatically different color scheme. How was that chosen?
A: We wanted something new and eye-catching. The purple stripe matches the maroon shirts the drivers wear.
Q: How is the night bus project coming along?
A: We have a mid- to late-September target date. We planned on originally doing it in April, but we had some internal issues to work out with drivers and the bidding process.
Q: And how about the move to the Murray Complex?
A: That’s a project we’ve been working on for three years now, and we’re this close to getting it done. At the moment they’re doing the last piece of archaeological surveys on the site. Once all the paperwork and approvals are done, we can formally make an offer for the property.
Q: What about those old brick buildings still standing?
A: The first two things that will happen: At some point the site will be cleared. Everything will be razed and leveled. And then they’ll begin the installation of a retail CNG station that will be open to the public.
Q: So right now you have two CNG buses. Where will you fuel them in the meanwhile?
A: We’re going to fuel them at a station up in Dupont, we’ve set up an account there.
Q: You have a number of other projects in the works. Tell us about a few of them.
A: We have a project to replace every bus stop on the system with brand new, larger signs with more information, the route numbers that serve them will be on there.
Also all the hardware on all of our buses will be replaced under another PennDOT program cameras, GPS, passenger counters — all brand-new stuff is coming,
As part of that, we’ll be getting new smartcard technology for bus fares, similar to an EZ-Pass system, so that you’ll be able to use the same card on any bus system in the state. LCTA has been selected as one of the first systems in the state to have the technology installed.
We also have a new website in the works, which we may roll out when the Murray Complex announcement is ready.
So over the next six to nine months there will be a lot of cool announcements coming.