Voices of Remix Scheduling: Delilah Garcia• 6 min read
In a time of driver shortages and upended demand patterns, transit scheduling has never been more complicated. That’s why schedulers across the country are ditching pen and paper and leveraging modern tools. Hear from transit leaders at the innovative transit agencies who use Remix Scheduling to streamline their work and respond proactively to their communities’ needs.
Recommended reading: Want to back up and meet some more amazing women in transit? Read our series “Women in TransitTech.” Want to dig in and learn more about the Remix Scheduling product? Check out our Remix Scheduling overview.
Spotlight on: Delilah Garcia, Transit Operations Director at North Central Regional Transit District (NCRTD) in northern New Mexico. She oversees the daily transit operations for the agency’s 29 routes, and recommends and implements service additions and modifications over the 10,000 sq miles and 8 counties NCRTD serves. Before NCRTD, she worked at the state’s Department of Transportation as a rural transit program manager, and as a transit superintendent — and sometime driver — in Taos for ten years.
Tell us a bit about your career path, and how you navigated your professional progression as a transit leader over the years:
DG: Well I’ve been in the public transit field for almost 19 years, working primarily in rural operations. I started out as a transit dispatcher, admin, and driver in Taos.
Driver? Were you out on the road a lot, or did you step in when extra help was needed?
DG: It took me a while to get behind the wheel in Taos; I was primarily involved in planning. But in many local governments and small governments, it’s common that employees wear different hats, so stepping in to drive was something that people did. But at first, I was terrified to drive such a large vehicle.
What actually happened was that my grandmother had mobility challenges, and she was reliant on family to get her to and from doctor’s appointments. It started to get difficult for family to take her — getting her into vehicles, getting time off work — and so we were telling her “you need to get on the bus, the bus will take you where you need to go, you’re gonna love it.” And she was terrified, she didn’t trust it. She wanted to make sure she would be picked up and dropped off, that she wasn’t going to be stranded.
So at that point, because I saw the challenges that she was facing, I learned how to drive the bus. I got in the bus and I picked her up. I showed her how the lift worked and gave her the confidence to know we would take care of her. Not only because she was my grandma, but because that was what the service we were providing does for so many individuals. It gives them a sense of independence, the ability to get out and not have to rely on friends or family, especially in a place like Taos.
Wow, you really got to know your transit service inside out and see its impact. Were you always so passionate about the possibilities of public transit?
DG: Transit to me, before I got into the field — all I saw was the bus. It was a nuisance to me. Because I was always stuck behind the bus when I was trying to get somewhere fast. But then I had some conversations with recruiters and agency people, and got into transit because it was clear they needed the support. But now that I’m in transit, I will never leave it. This is my career and this is my passion and I will do it until I retire.
What was your first route-planning and scheduling project? What was the process like?
DG: The first ever route that I designed was a route for Taos Express back in 2009, a two-stop route moving riders from a light-rail stop in Santa Fe to Taos for a day trip. We thought this could be an economic development driver for our community. I was told: “we need to create a route; this is the budget that you’re working with; these are the days we wanted to operate. And they asked me what it’s gonna look like.
Back then all I had was pen and paper. I literally got in a vehicle, drove from Taos to Santa Fe, tracked the mileage, and timed it in a passenger vehicle. When planning, I needed to figure out a dozen things manually — including bus stop locations, connection times with the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, budget, time frame, etc. But the process was still relatively simple, since it was a direct service with only one stop in Taos and one stop in Santa Fe.
Were most of the routes designed by pen and paper back then, those that were more than two stops like the Taos Express?
DG: Yes, a lot of them. There was no technology available.
How did you manage the scheduling process when you first started working at NCRTD?
DG: When I did the first semi-annual bid and the first runcut for our drivers in 2017, when I started out as the transit operations director at NCRTD, I had almost zero knowledge of scheduling. I didn’t even know what a runcut was. I dealt with the work with paper and pen and Excel. It took me about a month to finish semi-annual operator schedules and runcutting for operators’ bids. So two bids a year took two months out of my job.
The scheduling task was very challenging, because there were just so many things to take care of, like miscalculations from prior bids, times that were missing from start and end periods, etc. There were 26 routes at the time and I had to go to every schedule and look at the start time and the end time, and make sure every single trip was a part of that bid. And so it was a nightmare.
What inspired you and your team to think differently about transit scheduling? What led you to look for a new way to manage services for your community?
DG: We decided to opt for using transit scheduling software as opposed to just using pen and paper because of high demand from the community for making route modifications, planning updates, creating new lines, and a variety of other planning work. When using pen and paper and Excel, there was always room for error.
Also, our executive director is very forward-thinking, and he is a huge advocate of technology to help us do better. So, having support from him giving us the tools and resources that we need to do our jobs as best as we can, is really important.
I consider the NCRTD a leader in the state of New Mexico for public transit, and a lot of entities rely on us for information and insights. And that applies to other rural transit providers around the country. We get questions from other agencies on how we provide certain services and how we’ve made certain decisions. And I say that if we have the right tools, then we’re making better decisions.
How does Remix Scheduling help improve your work efficiency? How long do you estimate it takes to finish a bid with the tool?
DG: Remix was very beneficial for me and my staff, because during COVID we were making route modifications on a weekly basis for a few months. So every week I would have to go and reevaluate the routes and either reduce service or make new schedules for the staff. At one point, we had an A/B schedule for the staff and that meant one group was working one week and the other group was off and then they would reverse. So I had to make two schedules for them to be able to know what they were working on.
These days, we build all the routes in Remix, whether that’s adding new routes, or making changes to existing ones. To get started, we pulled the GTFS file that we had from our AVL [ed. note: automatic vehicle locator systems] into Remix, and that populated all the existing routes. In terms of completing the bid process, I remember that the first bid I did with Remix, it went from spending a month of time to about eight hours of getting it done. If I had a total of eight hours of time, just to focus on it, I could whip it out pretty quickly.
Having all the data and resources that Remix gives us was important for us, so that we’re able to see where the transit need is — in terms of demographic statistics — without having to check census information and do deep drill-downs, and not know if it’s true or not. Having all the information in one place helps us to deal with the increased demand for service changes more efficiently.
Are there any other elements of Remix that have really helped you with your job?
DG: I really enjoy Remix and working with the team over the years. We’ve had it since 2017 and it has been nothing but a great experience for me, I’m a huge supporter and advocate of the product. I love that customer support is always available. Whether it’s early in the morning or late at night, or I send an email or I place the call, somebody who is project managing our program, they always respond in a timely manner. The fixes are quick and I’m able to just move forward. So that was a significant time saving for me.
There are many government executives out there who recognize efficient, and easy transit planning is a problem in their community but feel strapped for resources. Given your experience, what advice would you give them?
DG: I guess the advice I would have is: give your staff the tools and resources they need to do their jobs.