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Tolling Points

'Light Year Advancement' On Display at IBTTA Panel October 15

By: 
Bill Cramer

The “light year advancement” Maryland transportation agencies have achieved through the state’s OneMDOT initiative is the focus of a special panel coming up on October 15, the first morning of IBTTA’s 86th Annual Meeting and Exhibition in Baltimore.

Kevin Reigrut, Executive Director of the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA), says the bold initiative has boosted coordination and collaboration among all the state’s transportation agencies—with public transparency as a key building block for improving day-to-day service delivery and measurably increasing public satisfaction.

Apart from a dynamic new transportation secretary and a revamped mission statement, a key component of the state transportation network’s transformation is MDOT Excellerator, a data-driven performance management system that has brought several diverse agencies together, capturing key operational metrics and sharing them openly and transparently with stakeholders and the wider public. “In an environment like ours, where the job more often than not is to focus very diligently on what’s in front of us right now, the emphasis on objective data…gives us an opportunity to take a step back and really look at places where our performance is not up to our standards, then put our energies where we want to see improvements,” Reigrut said, in an interview with Tolling Points.

“It’s a forward-thinking, transparent program where each and every one of the administrators is expected to be present and participating,” he added. “That sets up a level of accountability that otherwise wouldn’t exist. The Secretary of Transportation and the leadership of MDOT and all the business units are all in that room together. So, we can see where there are successes and performance issues, reach out to programs that are going well, and find out how to use that experience in some other part of the system.”

Here’s a summary of our conversation with Reigrut, edited for length.

Where did the OneMDOT vision originate, and how long has the state been working in this direction?

KR: Since the early 1970s, MDOT has always encapsulated all the different business units in the state’s transportation system, but in many cases those business units operated as quasi-independent entities. OneMDOT reflects the very clear direction from our political leadership that state government must reinvent and reinvest in delivering premium customer service.

Our Transportation Secretary, Pete Rahn, is the only person ever to have served in that capacity in three different states. He came to Maryland after serving in Missouri and New Mexico. He said he came here because it’s a unique DOT, with all the modes and functions of transportation under one roof. He saw that as a terrific opportunity to come and work in a fundamentally different dynamic. The OneMDOT vision and MDOT Excellerator are the result.

The conference program refers to this exercise as “uncharted territory.” What have you and your colleagues learned from the experience so far?

KR: There is no doubt in my mind that we have seen a light year advancement in the level of cooperation and collaboration across the various elements of the department. My agency, MDTA, does tolled highways, bridges and tunnels, and then we’ve got the non-tolled State Highway facilities, and the Motor Vehicle Administration handling licensing, insurance and plates. The Port Administration manages a major industrial port, the Aviation Administration runs two airports, and our Transit Administration manages a major urban transit system.  So, if it’s transportation related, we’ve got it covered. It’s a working relationship that I would happily put up against any other in the history of the DOT for our ability to share information and best practices and deliver spectacularly better coordination, incident management, and response.

We know, for example, that our port administration runs a cruise terminal. Now, when we have inclement weather, and since MDTA and our State Highway Administration have the snow plows, we can communicate instantaneously once we’ve cleared our roads and facilities, to provide assistance to them to get OUR customers where they need to go more effectively and efficiently. This allows us as one MDOT to better and more efficiently serve the interests of the traveling public.

There’s an element of the question about uncharted territory that really struck me. In an environment like ours, where the job more often than not to is to focus very diligently on what’s in front of us right now, the emphasis on objective data - outcomes and not outputs – gives us an opportunity to take a step back and really look at places where our performance is not up to our standards, then put our energies where we want to see improvements.

But it takes a forward-thinking, transparent program where each and every one of the administrators is expected to be present and participating. That sets up a level of accountability that otherwise wouldn’t exist. The Secretary of Transportation and the leadership of MDOT and all the business units are all in that room together. So we can see where there are successes and performance issues, reach out to a program that is going well, and find out how to use that experience in some other part of the system.

What does success look like? What tangible results has the program produced, at the level of inter-agency collaboration or actual projects?

KR: We’re seeing a completely different perspective from the citizens of Maryland and the visitors who use our transportation facilities. There’s been a statistically significant improvement in what our customers think and feel about what we’re doing. Even better, they get to peek behind the curtain, because all those numbers are publicly available.

The success of the program really drives home the message that transportation is an organism, and if any one element of the organism is unhealthy, the rest of the organism gets sick, too. By having this system of mutual support and collaboration, we can make the overall organism run as effectively as possible.

The conference program talks about building “new powerful relationships” to make the process work. How widely do those relationships range, and why are they so important?

KR: My ability to interact regularly, personally, confidentially with my colleagues means I have the ability to absorb great ideas and share experiences with others who are in similar circumstances. And the relationship-building doesn’t stop at the executive level: the program is designed to bring in employees who are directly involved with day-to-day operations, and those relationships are flourishing, as well. It means that when something comes up that is out of the ordinary or extreme, we already know who to talk to.

And that dynamic makes me one of the luckiest guys on the planet. I know there are states where the relationship between tolling and other transportation entities is not altogether positive. In Maryland, I have a seat at the table with all the other business units.

How does the OneMDOT experience tie in with IBTTA’s theme this year, Trust and Accountability?

KR: I can answer that in one word, which is surprising for anybody who knows me: Perfectly.

The Excellerator program is the highest level of transparency I’ve ever seen in state government, and I’ve been in and around state government since I was 24 years old. All our performance data—the good, the bad, the ugly, the bumps and the bruises—it’s all out there for the world to see and evaluate us by. As we make improvements, people see it. If we’re not making improvements, people see it. That disclosure is another motivation for us, because nobody wants to tell the world you’re not doing something particularly well. The high level of transparency helps channel our energies into resolving any issues we have, so that the public sees continuous improvement.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

KR: Nobody should miss IBTTA Baltimore. We intend to deliver the best IBTTA event ever. It’s a great city, it’s going to be a great program, and I am confident that anybody who doesn’t make it to Baltimore is going to hear from everybody who did that they missed something special.

Take Kevin’s advice! Sign up before it’s too late to attend IBTTA’s 86th Annual Meeting and Exhibition, October 14-16, 2018 in Baltimore.