SUN METRO: 2011 Outstanding Public Transportation System

Category: Providing more than 4 million but fewer than 20 million annual passenger trips

America's 2011 Outstanding Public Transportation: Sun Metro (awarded by APTA)For more than 20 years Sun Metro has strived to provide quality transportation for the growing border community of El Paso; linking governments, businesses, families, friends and more from two countries and three states with fixed-route and paratransit services.

Covering an area of about 250 square miles and home to an estimated 649,121 people, the City of El Paso has seen an increase of about 15% over the last ten years, and as the city continues to grow so does the demand on Sun Metro. To help address this demand the Mass Transit Department Board challenged the system to make El Paso the least car-dependent city in the Southwest.

To that end, Sun Metro has revitalized and strengthened its operation to make public transit in El Paso a more accessible, attractive and viable travel option for all, thereby leading to economic development and improving the quality of life of the community.

The system, which is managed by First Transit, has seen drastic improvements over the last three years, including a 21 percent increase in ridership at a time when an economic downturn caused national ridership figures to drop. With 166 vehicles servicing 58 fixed routes, Sun Metro makes about 15 million bus passenger trips each year, while the paratransit service consists of 65 LIFT vehicles that provide about 200,000 trips to passengers with a disability.

Also in the last three years, Sun Metro saw the completion of four new transfer centers, a partnership with Google Transit, the installation of nearly 200 new shelters, the arrival of eight new vehicles and the beginning steps toward developing a Rapid Transit System (RTS) for El Paso, commonly known as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

Sun Metro has adopted an aggressive plan to develop an RTS system along four of El Paso's primary corridors—Alameda Avenue, Mesa Street, Montana Avenue and Dyer Street. The Alameda Avenue and Mesa Street corridors will be the first two corridors to become operational in late 2013. The remaining two corridors will follow shortly after.

Resources also have been directed into essential operational components such as safety, customer service, environmental sustainability and more.

In 2009 and 2010, Sun Metro earned two safety awards for the lowest collision rate per 100,000 miles. In addition to keeping its clients safe, Sun Metro worked to improve the customer experience by building new facilities with amenities such as free Wi-Fi, real-time display monitors, heated and air-conditioned waiting areas. Furthermore, the newest facilities, which were funded in part by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, were built with energy savings, water efficiency, and CO2 emissions reduction in mind. Beyond green buildings, Sun Metro’s entire fleet is powered by clean natural gas and is equipped with bike racks that can carry up to two bicycles.

Sun Metro has invigorated its system with new opportunities and exciting efforts that are helping to further strengthen the community’s local mass transit as a first-rate operation—a key component of a lively, economically prosperous and culture-rich border metropolis.