Partners In Transit – Ryan Landers, Lawton Area Transit System

Partners In Transit – Ryan Landers, Lawton Area Transit System

TripSpark is honored to work with our agency partners to transform their challenges into a new vision of public transit for their community. But that vision can’t become a reality without the dedication of transit leaders like Ryan Landers.

Ryan is a busy guy. He’s the General Manager at Lawton Area Transit System, Vice President at the Hendrickson Transportation Group, and President of the Oklahoma Transit Association. Phew! Read our interview to learn what’s ahead for Ryan in 2024.

Lawton Area Transit System (LATS) serves the City of Lawton, Oklahoma. LATS is governed by the City Trust, a group of elected council members for Lawton, and managed on behalf of the Trust by HTG (Hendrickson Transportation Group).

Let’s learn more about LATS from Ryan.

As of April of this year, we would have been around for about 22 years, and not a lot has really changed with the system. We’ve made some adjustments to our routes. It used to be ten fixed routes and now we’re down to nine to make it a more efficient system. We run six days a week Monday through Friday, 6:00 AM till 7:00 PM, and then 9:00 AM till 6:00 PM on Saturday. We also have a shuttle service to our military base and complimentary paratransit that runs during those hours.

Over the last six months a lot more has changed. We started the design of our new transfer center maintenance and administration facility. We’re looking to expand microtransit to pockets around town and more service to our industrial park. So yeah, we have a lot going on right now, which is exciting but at times a little overwhelming too.

It’s interesting to note that Lawton lost bus transit around 1972 and had no public transit for 30 years before the establishment of LATS in 2002. What are the unique characteristics of the agency today?

The interesting thing with our agency right now that’s taken some time is finally having a lot of local support for what we’re trying to do. Not only do we have the military base just north of us that we’re providing service to and planning for even more service, but we also have an interlocal agreement with our school system where all of the school kids can ride free of charge on our buses.

And this has been such a unique project for the last, I would say, four or five years. We were averaging close to 70,000 trips before COVID, and then even during COVID, we still had a big part of our ridership. I would say at least 20% of our ridership accounts for these programs, and it was just as simple as reaching out to the school system and asking if there was anything we could do. It not only helps the kids, but helps the school save money because they don’t have to provide that transportation.

I also think working with Fort Sill is going to be a huge project for us, and we’ve talked about it for a couple of months now with the Southwest Transit Association (SWTA) and different agencies in the State. They really like this particular system. We’re not only excited about where we’re at, but where we’re going. This is going to be a pretty exciting year for us going after different grants not only for our buildings but also new services, getting new hybrid electric vehicles … there’s just a lot going on this year.

Like most transit agencies, LATS adopted transit technology to serve riders better and Ryan is working with TripSpark to take LATS into the future.

We ran into issues with our legacy fixed route solution with cellular coverage in certain pockets and decided to move on from them. Ironically enough, we issued an RFP about March or April of last year. I had been working with Melody Floyd (from TripSpark) on a couple of different things. Long story short, when we were about to announce the RFP, Melody made me aware that TripSpark had bought out Routematch. We ended up pausing the RFP just so we could do a little due diligence and throughout that process we found out not only can TripSpark do everything we’re asking for, but they can also do microtransit.

I think what really hit the nail on the head was that everything can be done in one app solution where you have fixed route, microtransit, and paratransit scheduling. Everything is in one app which would make it a seamless integration for the consumer and that sold us. The product that TripSpark offers is great and we love the entire ecosystem that it provides for dispatchers or supervisors. It was a no brainer as far as we were concerned. We just had to figure out the procurement process for everything and yeah, we just made it work.

Ryan is talking about the Rides on Demand mobility-on-demand app that LATS is adopting to accelerate paratransit and microtransit service in Lawton.

LATS was approached by our mayor and the Command Sergeant Major from Fort Sill for help transporting soldiers three days a week or providing a night service. That’s when we pushed up getting the Rides on Demand app. The biggest reason why we had to get Rides on Demand is that the mayor and the military wanted a March the 1st start date.

Having the initial discussions with TripSpark, we kind of gave them a warning, hey this is why we need everything set up by March. But that particular part has slowed down which is good for us because we had way too much going on. We’re grateful that TripSpark can allow that and I’ve been playing with the demo at least three or four times a week just to see how it would work. The app is going to be great for us.

LATS is also migrating from Routematch to Novus on demand software, as well as procuring Streets fixed route software, passenger information systems, hardware, and other solutions to create an intelligent transportation ecosystem.

Going back to moving away from our legacy solution at the end of last year, currently, we don’t have any type of solution. We’ve had to put more customer service personnel on for the first couple of months of this year until we can get the app going because we have a bombardment of people calling to find out where the bus is.

We noticed that a lot of people used the service before and I believe they’re really going to love when we have the TripSpark solution because it offers a lot more. They can use it to plan their trip better on the Novus side. We’ve been looking to upgrade from Routematch for a couple of years now. There’s no issues or anything like that. We want to upgrade to microtransit and have been looking at a number of different programs. Once we got a demo of TripSpark last year, we loved it. It does everything we want and we’re looking forward to using it.

Not to brag, but we’ve got some rock star people at TripSpark. Our teams are hardworking folks and genuinely care about making solutions of the highest quality that our partner agencies can count on. How does Ryan find working with TripSpark as a vendor?

I had a really good relationship with Melody going through the RFP process and then signing the contract with TripSpark. With the demos, they provided as much information as we could gather. But at the APTA Conference I got to meet the rest of the team and they completely understood what we’re trying to do here in Lawton. Everyone on the TripSpark team has been wonderful. I could not ask for anything more.

I’m a guru for new tech. I just love it. I get very excited about new tech because you can see what customers are looking for. I’m trying to create a system where if I’m not able to drive, I can use a transit system that has all of the services I need.

Every technology is completely different. It’s the uniqueness of not only the technology, but also the uniqueness of the team that you’re working with. How much interest are they putting into the project, how willing are they to quickly find and solve bugs? And then always wanting to expand, always wanting to see what else can be done. We saw that in TripSpark and we’re looking forward to the new technology we can embrace.

A Moving Together webinar poll in January revealed the number one priority for attendees was customer experience and providing riders with a great trip. Is customer experience top of mind for Ryan?

Oh, absolutely. Identifying what the customer wants is always the top priority. Safety is an ongoing issue, but identifying what the customer wants, whether it’s a new service to certain areas or expanding service, that’s something that’s always changing. Some of the tools we need to understand this Tripspark can provide. What times are people getting on the bus, where are they getting onto the bus? Just a number of insights that help us expand our transit. The consumer is always going to be our top priority and we’re going to do as much as humanly possible to give them what they want.

Remember we said Ryan is a busy guy? That’s because he’s passionate about public transit and building a system that helps more people in Lawton move around the city.

I’ve been in this industry for almost 18 years. I started right out of college in an internship. It’s called Trinity Metro now, but it was The T in Fort Worth. I started with an internship, and then ran my first transit system in Valparaiso, Indiana about six or seven months after that, and then Colorado Springs, and then here. So yeah, you either love it or you hate it with transit.

People get mystified as to how passionate I am about transit and I think if you really like transit, you want it to improve because you see all of the people that it affects. Without public transit, I don’t think society could function.

You know, it’s an exciting time. Here in the U.S., we passed the infrastructure bill a couple of years ago and that’s had a huge impact. You can see why there needs to be that kind of investment into public transit. When I look at public transit all over the world, the investments made have huge impacts on society. You’re starting to see that a lot more here which makes me believe the future is bright for public transit.

Thank you, Ryan, for sharing your transit mission for LATS in 2024 and beyond. We’re delighted your agency is part of the TripSpark community. When we work together, we move more people together!

If you’re a TripSpark customer that would like to be profiled for our Partners In Transit series, please contact C.J. Zvanitajs.