October 20, 2017
COMMENTARY
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Transformational Times for Public Transportation

By NATHANIEL P. FORD SR.
Chair, APTA
Chief Executive Officer
Jacksonville (FL) Transportation Authority

This is APTA’s moment. Public transportation is facing the greatest transformational change of our generation.

Our industry is evolving at a pace never before seen, moving away from current models to one where there’s ­synergy among different modes of transportation, technologies and providers.

* Technology is being developed every day that is disruptive to our industry. The probability is if you can dream it, someone is already working on it.

* Our customers’ needs and expectations continue to evolve—and so will the required skills of our employees to keep up with them.

* A paradigm shift is clearly underway. We must see opportunities where others see challenges.

We must use technology and innovation to make our transformational change sustainable.

Five Priorities for the Year

There are five priorities that I believe our association must address in the upcoming year. To make sure there is synergy across APTA, each priority will have a “champion” on APTA’s Executive Committee and a measure of success.

First, leadership and advocacy.
Soon, APTA will have a new president & CEO who will be charged with leading the association’s advocacy efforts to ensure our industry remains resilient, respected and strong.

Our recent Member Survey confirmed that APTA’s most valuable benefit is its ability to secure greater resources and create a positive impact on public policy. Along with threats to our programs and funding, this is why we must increase our advocacy efforts.

As a first measure of success, I have asked Diana Mendes and Dorval Carter to establish and execute a strong advocacy agenda—an agenda that represents out-of-the-box thinking, takes no voice for granted, and works closely with federal, state and local officials and with associations such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities.

My second priority is the new mobility paradigm.
Our focus historically has been on rail, bus and paratransit. Our future must include a focus on pedestrians, bicycles, taxis, parking management and other transportation solutions.

Mobility has evolved for our ­customers ... and it must for us!

Let’s share a vision of mobility that benefits all our systems, regardless of size or geography, and that delivers on our customers’ expectations in a world of transportation options that grow more interconnected and interdependent every day.

I have asked Gary Thomas to work with Carolyn Flowers to develop three deliverables:

1. A mobility vision around which the surface transportation community can unite;

2. A strategy to position our industry in this new policy and regulatory arena; and

3. Best practices that can be shared with our membership through a resource center on how to engage, implement and operate services in conjunction with the growth of transportation network companies.

In addition, I’m calling for a high-level Mobility Management Summit next year, which will assemble the greatest minds of our industry to discuss and establish best practices.

My third priority is our workforce of the future.
To prepare for a new mobility paradigm, we need the best and the brightest skilled workforce. We must professionalize many of our frontline jobs by linking them to skills-based certifications and measurable competencies. We also need to invest more in career paths at every level of a public transportation agency.

Industries that use transformational times to their advantage invest in their employees.

I have asked Paul Larrousse to work with Bacarra Mauldin to oversee the creation of both a pilot program for online education and learning opportunities and a framework for an APTA Training Certification program.

Fourth, we must leverage Big Data.
In the transportation industry, we compile enormous amounts of data. Are we leveraging that data to its full potential?

By using data as an advocacy tool, public officials at all levels will have the necessary information to support our industry. By making smart data-driven decisions, we also will improve and enhance our systems for our customers.

I am announcing the launch of APTA’s new voluntary benchmarking initiative that will allow our members to learn from the industry’s best practices.

I have asked William Thomsen to work with APTA’s information and technology-related committees on this initiative.

My fifth and final priority is enterprise risk management
, which directly supports the other four.

Enterprise risk management can help us determine the threats and opportunities in all areas, including safety and cybersecurity.

As we expand our use of technologies, such as data sharing and driverless vehicles, the threat of cybersecurity keeps growing. There are a lot of unknowns in this field; our job is to prepare for each growing risk.

I have asked Lester Bryant to work with the APTA Risk Management, Safety and Security committees to develop the best resources for our members to assess and prepare for the challenges to come.

I am confident that by completing these five tasks in the upcoming year, our industry will become more resilient.

Today is a time of extraordinary change for public transportation. If we are united as an industry and as an association, we will be the definitive national voice on all mobility matters.

If we are to challenge the future, we must ask it to be bolder and greater.

"Commentary" features points of view from various sources to enhance readers' broad awareness of themes that affect public transportation.


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