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Community Advocacy Program Q&A

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Categories: Blog

An interview with Community Advocacy Officer Aaron Abbott: By Sam Soliz, Marketing Manager

CATA recognizes the need to work collaboratively with the community to address the region’s homeless epidemic. This effort aligns with CATA’s mission, vision, values and strategic goals, which call for innovative solutions in partnership with the communities they serve and the re-imagination of regional mobility challenges.

Additionally, CATA is aware that homelessness is a challenge that the organization and community faces on a daily basis. And, while studies show that homelessness has decreased nationally and in Michigan in recent years, Ingham County’s data tells a different story: Homelessness has not declined since 2014 – ’15.

Together, CATA representatives, City of Lansing Director of Human Relations and Community Services Kim Coleman, and Executive Director of Advent House Ministries Susan Cancro discussed opportunities to work to better understand the needs of homeless citizens, available resources and how to administer assistance most effectively.

CATA contracted with Advent House Ministries to onboard a trained and experienced street outreach specialist to support its Community Advocacy Office at the downtown CTC. Aaron Abbott compassionately and empathetically focuses on the needs of individuals and families who are disconnected from shelter and housing, as well as those who frequent locations associated with CATA. Abbott works to build trust with those whose paths intersect with CATA's to accurately assess their needs and connect them with appropriate community resources.

 

Q: What drew you to this position in particular?

A: Being able to make a difference. When I was going to Lansing Community College, I used to visit the CTC all the time and catch the bus, so being able to come back and help make a change was a no brainer.

 

Q: What does a day in the life of a community outreach coordinator look like?

A: It changes day-to-day because you just never know what will happen each day. People come to me for conversation so they can talk and get some assistance or to be heard. Some days I see a lot more people who need bus passes. I've helped in a lot of different ways. There are people in a lot of different situations, so each day can be completely different. I can connect with them and work with a lot of different agencies, and a lot of agencies refer people to me.

 

Q: What is the most difficult part of your position? The easiest part?

A: The most difficult part is building trust with clients. Sometimes they will trust you and want to build a relationship and want help, but more times than not they don't actually want the help. They are going to tell you what you want to hear so they can get the services. The easiest part is knowing that I'm making a difference and helping others who can't help themselves.

 

Q: Do you often work with area youth? If so, how and to what extent?

A: Yes, when school was in session the students came to the CTC so I was able to bond with most of them by handing out snacks. I'm always able to check with them on their grades and make sure they are on the right path.

 

Q: What do you want Lansing to know about the people you serve and/or the resources you have available through this program?

A: Lansing should know that the population that we serve are humans and deserve the same respect we give each other. Their life circumstances may have led them to their current situation, but they are still like us. We all need food, water, shelter, warmth and care. We are successful at the Advent House because we do our best to provide these needs to our population.

 

Q: In the next five years, what do you see as the greatest challenge that the Lansing community will face, specifically for those who may use this program?

A: Our clients can currently afford housing. But with Lansing building more apartment complexes, it is taking away from our clients being placed with affordable living. This will cause them to be placed back out on the streets.  

 

Q: What do you believe are some solutions to address the challenges facing the population you serve?

A: Getting people access to the resources that they need. Also, strong communication with other organizations with resources for what may be needed. 

 

Q: Share an important lesson you have learned through conversations with Lansing community members.

A: When it comes to our clients, they just want support; someone who they can talk to and is willing to help them take the next step. Sometimes all they need is that extra push from us and just knowing what to do and how to do it and even just where to go. When it comes to our community, they just want to help in any way possible such as donating clothes, food and volunteering at the shelter. People just want to try and make as big a difference in the city as possible.  

 

Q: What is the most memorable experience you have had as a community outreach coordinator?

A: I wish I could point out one, but I've had so many. It can just be a conversation with a person or even just making a person's day by giving them a bus pass, so they can get where they need to.

 

Q: How can members of the general Lansing community help those in need?

A: Volunteering their time at a local shelter such as Advent House. Checking a local shelter’s website to see what items are needed.

 

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

A: On weekends, Advent House offers a Weekend Day for the homeless, impoverished or anyone else who would like to stop in. The shelter is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. We offer hot lunches from noon until 1 p.m. and dinner from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Families with children are welcome to stop in, while being supervised by a parent. At the shelter we do our best to provide a safe and peaceful location for our clients to be able to relax and know that they are surrounded by people who care for them.

This content has been published in the 2022 Community Report.   

 

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Advancing Technology to Better Serve Riders and Community

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Categories: Blog

By Dan Goodemoot, Director of Information Technology Services

A half-century after its founding, CATA is leading the way with technological advances that improve customer experience and safety, while enhancing accessibility, reliability and efficiency. From CATA’s initial trials with electric vehicles in 1973, to the modern hybrid buses that dominate the fleet today, CATA embraces innovation as a guiding principle.

Adopting new technologies that improve the transit experience for CATA riders is always a top priority.

Tech Upgrades:

MyRideCATA app - Launched February 2022

Earlier this year, Spec-Tran customers were provided another technology tool with the introduction of a new mobile app called MyRideCATA. The free app allows customers to schedule, track and manage rides on their mobile devices. Spec-Tran riders still have the option to call for a ride reservation or book online.

Cybersecurity - Fall 2022

In a world where advancing technology can enable hackers to infiltrate sensitive computer systems, CATA is taking major steps to enhance cybersecurity across all technology platforms. In 2022, CATA hosted a conference – the first in Michigan – that engaged the Federal Transit Administration to conduct cybersecurity training for transportation agencies across the state. Staff is also working with a security consultant to update security-response plans in different emergency situations.

Advancements in CATA’s internal financial system have increased efficiencies across the complex accounting processes to benefit employees, vendors and partners. Staff is also working diligently to enhance the security of information technology systems by establishing redundancy in CATA’s computer networks to ensure that system failures don’t hamper operations.

Automatic vehicle location - Fall 2022

This fall, customers will see upgrades to the Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) systems on CATA buses. AVL provides CATA operators real-time information about their routes, so they can improve on-time performance.

Contactless payment options - Summer 2023

The Authority is in the process of upgrading fareboxes across the CATA fleet, which will allow riders to make contactless payment. Instead of physically touching the farebox, riders will be able to tap their credit card or use a smartphone app to pay their fare. This upgrade, to be completed in the next year, will further enhance passenger and operator safety and increase CATA’s operational efficiency by speeding up the boarding process.

Cameras on buses - Summer 2023

Expanding the installation of cameras on a greater number of CATA buses is yet another effort that will enhance safety for riders and bus operators. Cameras were first installed in 2018 in paratransit vehicles, operated by subcontractor Transdev. Extending this technology to fixed-route service will improve reliability and deter unwelcome activity aboard large buses. High-definition cameras will be installed on several bus routes over the next few months and across CATA’S fixed-route service area. Cameras will continue to be used only to ensure a safe transit experience while riding with CATA.

Michigan Public Safety Communication System

Improving community safety is CATA’s goal in partnering with the Michigan Public Safety Communication System – the second-largest trunked radio network in the world. First responders across the state use this system to communicate during emergency situations, and CATA is now a member of the network. When there was a major accident on I-96, for example, this system allowed law enforcement to communicate directly with one of our bus operators to request a warming bus, which quickly arrived on the scene to provide safe-haven for those involved in the incident. This advancement in communications technology enhances public safety because the radio system is monitored 24/7, allowing CATA to step in and help keep our communities safe at any time. This year, we will continue to invest in radio upgrades, so CATA is ready to respond whenever called upon to assist.

Together, these innovations will enhance the experience of CATA riders by improving both security and efficiencies.

This content has been published in the 2022 Community Report.

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On the Road to Zero-Emission By 2035

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Categories: Blog

By Dustin Hagfors, Director of Planning & Development

A cleaner future with a zero-emission fleet by 2035 was approved by CATA’s Board of Directors on April 21, 2022. This initiative will significantly reduce harmful pollutants from being emitted into the environment and disturbing the climate.

Electric Bus sitting in front of CATA facility“CATA is acutely aware that the transportation sector accounts for 32 percent of Michigan’s greenhouse gas emissions, the second largest-emitting sector of our economy, and that these emissions are driving the climate crisis,” said CATA Board Chair Nathan Triplett. “We recognize our responsibility to swiftly decarbonize our operations and replace CATA’s current fleet with clean, zero-emission vehicles. This moment demands bold action, and CATA is ready to do our part and help lead our region and Michigan into a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable transportation future.”

The zero-emission fleet plan includes large buses, small buses, minivans, support vehicles and related infrastructure.

“We are exploring next steps that will allow us to achieve a zero-emission fleet, starting with the addition of three electric buses and charging infrastructure this year. We will continue to assess environmental and cost benefits, craft a zero-emission transition plan and a procurement plan, and identify funding opportunities,” said CATA Chief Executive Officer Bradley T. Funkhouser.Smiling man sits in the driver seat of the electric bus

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was enacted by Congress in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November 2021, providing new funding to rebuild our nation’s roads, bridges and rails, with a focus on climate-change mitigation, resilience, equity and safety for all users.

Timothy Minotas, Legislative & Political Coordinator at Sierra Club said, “We applaud CATA’s decision to fully transition its fleet by 2035. We encourage other transit agencies across the state to follow CATA’s lead and make similar commitments and investments to a cleaner transportation future.”

This content has been published in the 2022 Community Report.

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