APTA | Passenger Transport
May 11, 2009

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APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference Opens

“Every transit job is a green job,” APTA President William W. Millar told bus and paratransit professionals gathered May 3 at the Sheraton Seattle for the Opening General Session of the 2009 APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference. “Each time someone uses public transit, America uses less foreign oil.”

In a letter to APTA, Washington State Gov. Christine O. Gregoire sent her regards to conference attendees. “APTA has represented the transit industry for over 200 years and continues to be a leading voice in promoting public transportation,” she wrote. “This annual event is a wonderful opportunity to learn about best practices and current trends, as well as network with industry leaders and peers from throughout North America. In addition to the conference, the Bus Roadeo is a creative way for bus operators and mechanics to showcase their skills in what is sure to be a memorable competition.”

In describing the increasing support for public transportation by the federal government and voters across the U.S., Millar cited a report showing that transit is directly responsible for 383,000 jobs, two-thirds of which are classified as blue-collar, and that transit supports more than 1.7 million jobs. He emphasized the many ways that transit supports the economy, energy independence, and the environment, leading to an enhanced quality of life.

APTA Chair Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D., spoke about the “new and challenging times” facing bus and paratransit operators. She called the current economic situation “the most sobering times we have ever faced,” adding, “This is not the time to hold back.”

Scott then listed the three major priorities of her term: passing a new federal transportation authorization bill; workforce development efforts to counteract the coming loss of longtime transit employees to retirement; and incorporating the results of the recent TransitVision 2050 process into the next APTA Strategic Plan, which will cover the years 2010 to 2014.

King County Executive Ron Sims, a member of the Sound Transit Board of Directors, described how transit is a priority of President Barack Obama, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shawn Donovan. In his remarks, Millar announced that Sims has been nominated deputy secretary of HUD, but that the full Senate has not yet voted on the appointment.

King County Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond explained that public transportation in the central Puget Sound region is the responsibility of several transit agencies working in partnership. For example, seven area agencies have jointly introduced the ORCA (One Regional Card for All) electronic fare medium, and Sound Transit’s soon-to-open light rail line will operate in the downtown Seattle transit tunnel now served only by buses. Concerning ridership, Desmond noted that King County Metro recently provided the three millionth ride in its history.

“Quality Transit—Now” was the theme of the conference. Matthew Welbes, Federal Transit Administration executive director and acting deputy administrator, offered remarks about the importance of transit agencies to apply immediately for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.

Joyce Eleanor, APTA vice chair-bus & paratransit operations and chief executive officer of Community Transit in Snohomish County, WA, presented APTA’s 2009 Bus Safety Awards to five public transit agencies and one management company during the session.

At the May 4 General Forum during the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in Seattle, hearing-impaired comedian Kathy Buckley, the session’s inspirational speaker, took a moment away from her often raucous presentation to thank public transit providers for helping her maintain her independence.  “If it wasn’t for you, people couldn’t move,” Buckley said. “You’re making people’s dreams come true, giving them independence…You gave me the gift of independence. You may see bus and rail operators, but I see angels.”

Also at the forum, Reba Malone announced that 403 people are currently on the American Public Transportation Foundation (APTF) donor list. APTF will award at least 10 $2,500 scholarships this year, she noted, and the foundation is accepting scholarship applications through June 5.

Concurrent with this conference, APTA and the Transportation Research Board co-hosted another event dedicated to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) issues.

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