As an organization that relies on public funding, SEPTA competes for money with other organizations and must be responsible to taxpayers. In a difficult economy, doing so is absolutely vital to SEPTA’s survival.  Yet, the scope of SEPTA’s operations makes that a tall challenge. The majority of SEPTA’s 9,000 employees work in the organization’s 25 shop locations, where thousands of buses, trolleys, subway/elevated trains and regional rail cars are diagnosed, repaired, rebuilt and serviced, often on a fast turnaround schedule.

According to SEPTA Assistant Chief Mechanical Officer and Chief Lean Architect John Jamison, “We need our employees to think like we’re a private entity, not a public one.  We want them to understand that efficiency and cost matter when conducting business.

With DVIRC training and guidance, Jamison is leading an effort to create a Lean Transformation, with the goals of improving performance, freeing up resources and improving customer satisfaction.  “Through Lean methodologies and by empowering employee’s to effect change, we feel that SEPTA will be better able to sustain and encourage new ways of working, so that we can get better at what we do.

SEPTA had tried continuous improvement methods in the past, but none were successful.  “We found that many methods were too statistical,” said Jamison. “They didn’t apply to the average person day to day.  Lean is different.  It’s general common sense concepts that everyone can understand and apply.”  Additionally, Jamison notes that Lean is effective because it trains employees how to teach others.  “You may be good at what you do,” he noted, “But are you able to teach the next person?  That’s key to driving Lean throughout the organization.”

Lean Management Training

SEPTA first began reviewing Lean principles in 2008. By 2010, they were ready to explore it in a more formal way. Two of the organization’s continuous improvement managers participated in a Lean Level One Certification workshop through DVIRC’s Institute for World Class Manufacturing. Convinced that Lean was the way to go, Jamison provided senior management with a Lean overview to encourage buy in from the top. With senior management approval, Lean training and guidance was launched and delivered from the top down through the SEPTA management ranks.

DVIRC conducted Lean 101 workshops to introduce Lean concepts. On-site Lean Certification training was then provided, offering instruction in Lean principals and methodologies. A custom Winning Teams program was also developed and delivered by DVIRC. The Winning Teams program helps participants develop technical skills, problem solving abilities and cooperative, team building strategies – a combination that is critical to the success of Lean efforts.  All DVIRC Lean training follows a “learn and do” method that enables participants to put new skills into practice – and see an immediate result.

Three events were completed as part of the Winning Teams program and one more is currently ongoing. These include:

  • A Traction Motor Changeout that reduced time by 42 percent and saved SEPTA over $100,000
  • An HVAC project that reduced time by 59 percent and generated close to $200,000 in savings.
  • A massive revamp of the stations washdown process, which is currently ongoing.
  • A120 day subway car vehicle inspection process, which has generated annual savings of $342,000.

Since beginning their Lean efforts, 23 director-level employees and 250 first- and second-level supervisors have participated in Lean training. Administrative staff are also scheduled to begin training through the Lean Office program.

Lean and the SEPTA Union

Most hourly workers at SEPTA are union members. With between eight and 12 different unions operating within the organization, introducing Lean to the hourly workforce presents some challenges.  “There are craft rules that must be respected,” notes Jamison.  “So we have to find ways to work within those rules.”  Jamison has introduced Lean to the union leadership, and with leadership support, will begin involving the hourly employees. While Jamison expects some initial hesitation, he feels it will be readily overcome. “Our workers realize that to be competitive we need to do this,” he said. “Otherwise, ultimately, SEPTA could be privatized.”

Lean Events and Projects

Since beginning their Lean journey a number of Lean activities and events have been implemented and are ongoing. Management level employees have learned to use Value Stream Mapping methods for visualizing and tracking processes from beginning to end, highlighting wasted steps or bottlenecks.  SEPTA has also held Kaizen events, intense, goal-oriented work groups focused on achieving specific reductions in the time, effort, materials and systems used to complete a task or process.  As part of these events, employees have learned to use 5S techniques to organize tools and materials, and to create more effective workplace organization.  SEPTA’s Lean activities have focused on issues including preventive maintenance, vehicle inspections, station cleaning, HVAC rebuilds, traction motor changeouts and motor rebuilds.

Going forward, each SEPTA manager has a goal to complete at least one Lean event over a 12-month period. This includes not only performing the event, but also following up to ensure that the new standards are being maintained.  Training will be expanded, internal consulting to support Lean initiatives will be provided, and Lean concepts will continue to be promoted throughout the organization.

SEPTA has achieved significant reductions in the time taken to perform maintenance tasks.  Hours and labor dollars have been reduced, while productivity and efficiency has improved.  This has enabled SEPTA to utilize manpower for other priorities, ultimately reducing the time a vehicle is out of service.  Specific projects and savings include:


Motor Shop
Fern Rock Shop
Wayne Junction
Media Sharon Hill
69th Street


1460L Motor Rebuild
Kiepe Control Box Mod.
HVAC Rebuild
LRV D/E Car Inspection
Traction Motor Changeout

Original Hours
Revised Hours
% Improved

Cultural Change
While cultural change in the SEPTA environment is challenging, it is happening.  “We are slowly working toward changing employee mindsets so looking at processes differently comes naturally,” says Jamison. “Additionally, we have begun to empower our first-level supervisors by self-motivating them to take initiative in identifying problems and making improvements.

The nation’s sixth largest public transportation system, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) provides public transit services to four million residents in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties. SEPTA’s fleet of 2,750 vehicles, including buses, subway cars, trolleys, high-speed rail and regional-rail trains, move through a network of 198 routes over a 2,200-mile coverage area.  One of the region’s largest employers, SEPTA has a workforce of more than 9,000 employees.

Lessons Learned

Thoughts from John Jamison on the Lean Journey

“Start slow.  Begin with processes that are easier to change and where you will see quick results.  Make sure you have buy in from upper management.  Don’t expect to change everything overnight.  It is a long process and takes time.”


DVIRC Advantage

The support and response we have received from DVIRC has been top notch. We have worked with different consultants in the past and they are not even in the same league with DVIRC. We would definitely recommend DVIRC to anyone looking to implement a Lean program.

John Jamison
Assistant Chief Mechanical Officer and Chief Lean Architect