SEPTA Getting 'Lean' on Low-Waste, High-Efficiency Diet

July 29, 2011

New Model Is A Business & Culture Change For Transit Authority

As published in: APTA Passenger Transport - July 15, 2011

By Andrew Busch
Press Officer, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is getting "lean" with a business plan that has all the characteristics of a good diet: Reduce unnecessary consumption, eliminate wasteful habits, and maximize energy use to improve short- and long- term health.

These are the values at the core of Lean, SEPTA's initiative to increase productivity and improve customer service with fewer resources. The scope covers all operations-related facilities and offices throughout SEPTA's multi-modal system, which serves nearly one million riders each day throughout the Philadelphia region.

"Lean is a culture change - a change in the way SEPTA does business," said John R. Jamison Jr., SEPTA's Assistant Chief Mechanical Officer and chief Lean architect. "It isn't a tactic or a cost reduction program, it's a new way of thinking and acting for an entire organization."

While the scope of Lean is larger than a specific effort taken on to cut costs, Jamison said it will pay dividends for years to come through the efficiencies it creates. For example, a major component of Lean includes simplifying workspaces for employees so they have the tools and resources needed to their jobs. This helps increase productivity while also improving the quality of the work being done.

Lean events at SEPTA facilities over the last couple years have consistently backed up the initiative's core philosophy. In one instance, Lean observers saw a chance to achieve better results and reduce hours needed to rebuild the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system on a rail car.

A series of minor adjustments were suggested, such as reorganizing tool kits to provide mechanics easier access to the materials they need, replacing and adding and certain materials, and eliminating a test on the unit performed at another shop. After the Lean recommendations were implemented, and a follow-up inspection showed a 32 percent in man-hours needed for the HVAC rebuild.

Similar results were demonstrated through a series of additional Lean events at SEPTA repair shops and other facilities. Lean recommendations also resulted in a streamlined bus inspection process.

"These efficiencies will help with SEPTA's efforts to control and reduce costs," Jamison said. "We're also creating more value for our customers, and using fewer resources to do so."

Lean complements standard work instructions already available to SEPTA's 9,000-plus employees, providing added resources to help them complete their tasks in an efficient manner.

"We're all on the same page," Jamison said. "Everyone - directors, managers, mechanics maintenance workers - they know what's expected of them."

Jamison views Lean as a constant work in progress, and expects SEPTA's talented workforce to improve with their own creative ideas and additions in years to come.

"We're moving from an old way of thinking to a 'lean' way of thinking," Jamison said. "This requires a complete transformation in how we conduct business, and that takes a long-term perspective and perseverance."

John R. Jamison Jr., SEPTA Assistant Chief Mechanical Officer, Conducts Lean Seminar for SEPTA Managers