Omnitrans Planning Director Rohan Kuruppu is something of a Renaissance man. He makes exotic wines, enjoys extreme adventure travel and is working on restoring his 100-year-old home. But his passion is public transit.
“Transit has been a big part of my life from childhood,” says Kuruppu. “I was born in Sri Lanka where 98% of the people use public transit. There, transit is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and runs very frequently. It is something you are born into. From the time you are a child, the routes, the numbers and the network is all in your head like a second language. Nobody needs maps or bus books. This concept of informing people and marketing transit is foreign to that culture. It is the complete opposite from here, where 98% of people use cars and only 2% use transit.”
As a young student, Kuruppu originally planned to become a lawyer and came to San Bernardino to study pre-law at Cal State University. While at the university, he took a part-time job with Omnitrans in gathering and analyzing information as an on-board transit checker. Transit checkers were the precursor to automated passenger counters, and it was common practice for agencies at that time to hire students to ride the buses and physically count the number of people getting on and off.
Kuruppu had been working for Omnitrans for several months when the 1991 American Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. “My boss approached me and said, ‘Hey, you’re a law student. Why don’t you look over these new laws and prepare a plan for Omnitrans.’“ Kuruppu laughs. “So I read the American Disabilities Act from top to bottom, reviewed all our existing policies on how we accommodated existing passengers and worked up a plan. He was so impressed that he gave me other tasks. Before long he really encouraged me to become a transit planner instead of a lawyer.”
Because Kuruppu was doing so well and was so passionate about transit, his boss sent him to an American Public Transportation Association (APTA) conference. At one of the workshops, Kuruppu had to stand and introduce himself to the other attendees. “I explained I was planning to go to law school but that my boss had asked me to become a transit planner. Everyone said, ‘Not a lawyer! We have enough lawyers.’ I said well, in that case, I will become a transit planner! Everyone clapped and jumped to their feet and cheered ‘hey—we’ve got another planner!’” Kuruppu laughs.
“So I gave up law school and began building on my graduate degree. I had my Associates’ degree in electrical engineering and strong analytical and planning skills from my experience with traffic engineering and signal design. My political science, pre-law studies and policy training gave me a good foundation on laws and regulations. They were all a natural fit into transit planning. After that I got my Masters in Public Policy and Public Administration. Now here I am. I love what I do and it was the best decision I ever made!”
Of his many accomplishments, Kuruppu is most proud of his role as father of the new sbX Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line which Omnitrans will launch in January 2014. It is the first of its kind express service to be constructed in the Inland Empire.
The sbX BRT line is the beginning of an intermodal public transit system in the San Bernardino Valley that will reduce vehicle congestion while providing the public an environmentally friendly alternative that is sophisticated, cost effective, and time efficient.
This express service will serve a 15.7-mile corridor that spans between northern San Bernardino and Loma Linda. It will include 16 art-inspired stations at key university, government, business, entertainment and medical centers as well as four park-and-ride facilities.
—Juno Kughler Carlson
Rohan was recently featured in this People in Transit video
from Mass Transit Magazine.
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