APTA | Passenger Transport
November 17, 2008

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Transit wins big at the ballot box!

Q&A with FTA's James Simpson

TARC provides a Ride to Safety



An FTA Team Begins to Depart -- And We Thank Them
William W. Millar

November 14 marked James S. Simpson’s last day as FTA Administrator, after two and one half years. During that time, Jim proved to be a strong and dedicated advocate for public transportation.  In an administration that believes the federal government should have only a very limited role in public transportation, we were lucky to have an appointee so aggressively supportive of our industry and of APTA. We will miss his insight, commitment, and his sense of humor.

Michael S. Townes, APTA Immediate Past Chair, said it well:  “Jim was an administrator who was a breath of fresh air.  He was someone you could talk to like your brother.  His word is his bond.  He digs deep and he wants do to the right thing for the nation – and then he’s fully invested.   His efforts weren’t about political ideology.  They were about advancing an industry that Jim Simpson understands has a lot to give to this country.”

So let me take a moment to talk about some of his accomplishments. The list is long; I will highlight just a few.

* During his tenure, Jim signed a record number of Full Funding Grant Agreements, including one for The Tide in Hampton Roads, Virginia’s first light rail line, and an innovative five-corridor agreement in Salt Lake City, Utah.

* We would not have our current standards program, were it not for Jim’s efforts.  In December 2007, FTA awarded a $1.9 million grant to APTA to develop new standards for the public transportation industry.  This grant will help our industry build and buy buses and rail cars at a lower cost, improving the safety, productivity, accessibility, and quality of transit systems across the country, ultimately saving the industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

* Jim initiated the Baldrige quality improvement program focused on improving customer service with FTA external customers, namely transit agencies.

* Jim helped implement public private partnerships with BART, Denver’s RTD, and Houston Metro.

* He showed innovation and vision in the areas of alternative fuels and technology. For example, he helped accelerate the process of making hydrogen fuel cell buses commercially feasible as cleaner, more energy efficient alternatives.

To say that Jim has a competitive streak would be understatement.  At the APTA 2007 Bus Roadeo in Nashville, he competed in the transit CEO division and much to his chagrin, came in second to longtime industry leader Fred Gilliam, president/CEO, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin.  Jim claims he would have won if he’d had the time to train!

Jim frequently attended APTA conferences, recognizing them as great opportunities both to report to the industry as well as hear from the industry.  He also encouraged his staff to attend and participate.  He used APTA meetings to present awards and highlight industry accomplishments. 

Jim has a great eye for talent and assembled a first-class team to assist him.  While they will be staying on for some time longer, I would be remiss if I did not thank FTA Deputy Administrator Sherry Little, Chief Counsel Sev Miller, and Associate Administrator for the Office of Communications & Congressional Affairs Wes Irvin, for their leadership and hard work.  Jim also recognized talent in the FTA career staff and supported their growth.  

Not everything Jim did was to our liking, but he worked hard and honestly every day.  Those of us who worked closely with Jim say “thank-you” for your accomplishments.  We wish you well in your future endeavors and hope you will remain active in the public transportation industry. 

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