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Industry Leaders Convene for Annual Meeting & EXPO; Ford Assumes APTA Chair, Lists Priorities

Atlanta, a city with deep roots in ­public transportation, proved the perfect venue to host APTA’s 2017 Annual Meeting & EXPO with nearly 13,000 attendees who shared best practices, examined industry challenges and witnessed the newest innovations, technologies and products and services.

The event set a record as the largest EXPO in APTA’s history, with more than 800 exhibitor booths covering more than 300,000 net square feet on the floor of the Georgia World Congress Center.

General Sessions featured association news and priorities, remarks from FTA ­Acting Administrator Jane Williams and a closing session that featured DOT Secretary Elaine L. Chao. Also on the schedule were awards events honoring public transit agencies and professionals, recognizing the industry’s best marketing and communication campaigns, introducing the 28 American Public Transportation Foundation scholarship recipients and graduating the Leadership APTA Class of 2017.

APTA and agency general managers also held a press briefing to share insights on the value of public transit, as well as the significance of public transit agencies locating routes near businesses.

See videos from major sessions and award ceremonies here.

DOT Secretary Chao Stresses Need for Partnerships, Infrastructure Investment

U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine L. Chao emphasized ­public transportation’s importance to the nation and the continued need for partnerships among the federal government, industry and the public and private sectors in her remarks before a packed audience at the Oct. 11 Closing General Session of the 2017 APTA Annual Meeting in Atlanta.

Joining DOT Secretary Elaine L. Chao, front row second from left, were, from left: front row, APTA Chair Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., FTA Acting Administrator Jane Williams and APTA Acting President & CEO Richard White; back row, BMBG Chair Jeffrey Wharton, APTA Vice Chair David M. Stackrow Sr., FTA Executive Director Matthew Welbes, APTA Immediate Past Chair Doran J. Barnes and outgoing MARTA General Manager/CEO Keith Parker.

The White House is developing a plan to use $200 billion in federal seed money to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investments over 10 years. She said the plan would “mobilize innovative federal, state, local and private sector investment.” Chao gave no timetable for the plan’s release.

“America’s [public transit] systems are a critical part of our transportation system,” she said. “They serve more than 10 billion people a year. Continued collaboration between federal, state and local governments, transit providers and private companies make that possible.”

Chao also said ridership on public transit grew 8 percent in rural and small towns between 2007 and 2015, referencing a newly released APTA report, Public Transportation’s Impact on Rural and Small Towns.

Citing the recent hurricanes that struck the U.S., and DOT’s efforts to aid areas in Florida, Texas and parts of the Caribbean, she said disasters such as these “highlight the importance of a strong national infrastructure,” which she added is failing to keep pace with technological change.

As examples of the kind of success that can occur when the public and private sectors work together, Chao discussed the Maryland Transit Administration’s Purple Line in the Washington, DC, suburbs, as well as DOT’s recent $55 million in Low or No Emission Vehicle grants that promote the use of advanced fuel technologies in transit buses and infrastructure.

Chao also underscored her agency’s recognition of technology and innovation in transforming the nation’s transportation systems. One example she pointed to is the Automated Driving System, which has the potential to save lives and increase access to transportation options for underserved communities, such as older people and those with disabilities. She also mentioned the Mobility on Demand Sandbox program, a federal initiative that funds pilot projects around the country to test safe, affordable and reliable multimodal transit options.

The secretary concluded her remarks with an emphasis on safety and a reminder to states with rail transit systems to have their State Safety Oversight programs approved and certified by FTA by April 15, 2019.

“Public transit will continue to play an important role in the future of our nation’s infrastructure,” she said. “The Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration are committed to working with you to keep our transit systems safe, reliable and accessible.”

At the close of the session, Chao toured the EXPO floor and met with several APTA member exhibitors, including Keolis, the Spirit of America trolley from ARBOC Specialty Vehicles, Cummins Engine, NS Corporation, Protran Safety and Clever Devices.

FTA, APTA, MARTA Leadership Convene Opening Session

Atlanta became the Mecca for all things associated with public transportation during APTA’s Annual Meeting & EXPO—and that was strikingly apparent right from the start of the Opening General Session.

Following a fast-paced video montage depicting public transportation’s history in 60 seconds, APTA’s newly elected Chair Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., outgoing Chair Doran J. Barnes and Acting President & CEO Richard White collectively welcomed attendees. Their message was direct: “What we do as an industry matters and what we do here this week matters too, now more than ever; we’re at a critical moment that demands leadership, not by others, but by all of us.”

Ford reiterated this theme in his remarks, which outlined an ambitious agenda of priorities for the coming year. (See Commentary in this issue for details about his 2017-2018 goals.) He praised APTA’s work under the leadership of Barnes and White to build a solid foundation and get “back to basics,” but also noted “there is still work to be done.”

“These are transformational times for public transportation,” he said.

Ford presented the five priorities of his term during the opening session.

In pledging to “refocus and re-emphasize APTA’s core mission of advocacy, innovation and information sharing,” Ford described five key priorities: leadership and advocacy; a new mobility paradigm; our workforce of the future; leveraging Big Data; and enterprise risk management. For each one, he named an Executive Committee member to serve as a “champion” and he set a deliverable measure of success.

A video retrospective of the past year’s events and milestones introduced Barnes. “I wanted my year as APTA chair to be about unifying our membership, strengthening governance and putting APTA on stronger footing for the future,” he said.

Quoting poet Maya Angelou, who said people may forget what you did and said but they'll always remember how you made them feel, Barnes added, “If you feel proud of what we together have accomplished, then my tenure has been a success.”

Before thanking members of the public transportation community and his family for their support during his year as chair, Barnes urged attendees to participate in APTA’s virtual rally for transit, #Rally4Transit: an online advocacy initiative to demonstrate support for the industry on Twitter and Facebook. “We want the folks in Washington, DC, and across the country to know that nearly 13,000 people have assembled here in Atlanta to invest in the future of public transportation,” he said.

A short “person-on-the-street” video highlighting suggestions of what public transportation should be in the future preceded White’s remarks. “Were you listening carefully to those people?” he asked. “Those aren’t just our customers; that is our future.”

Using a series of “then” and “now” graphics, White showed the dramatic advances in public transit since he began his career. “What’s going to happen in the next five to 10 years will be even more dramatic than what we’ve experienced in the last 50 years,” he said. “If we are going to remain not just relevant but central to serving the public, we need to evolve our services and business models.”

He encouraged APTA members to use the Annual Meeting & EXPO to start defining what we need to become. “APTA is with you, stronger than ever,” White said, “and ready to help you make public transportation crucial to every mobility issue.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed added his welcome to APTA, calling public transit a lifeline for the business community, millennials, workers and all members of the community. He credited APTA with depoliticizing the transit conversation and praised the association’s advocacy efforts, calling the association “the most important voice for public transportation investment.”

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) sent a video message with his greetings and support.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority leaders Robert Ashe III, board chair, and Keith Parker, general manager, said their agency was honored to host the largest Annual Meeting & EXPO in APTA’s history. They heralded the new voter-approved tax to raise $2.6 billion for MARTA’s largest expansion to date and urged attendees to use local transit to explore Atlanta.

FTA Acting Administrator Jane Williams said her role at the event was to learn and she welcomed the opportunity to meet so many leaders in our industry. She said her goal at FTA is to help make federal funds “go farther” and to “do things faster” as her agency re-evaluates the partnership among federal, state and local entities.


 APTA and FTA leaders, along with members of the Business Member Board of Governors, open EXPO.

AECOM sponsored the Opening General Session.

At the session’s close, Ford welcomed Barnes, White, Ashe and Parker back onstage to lead the audience to the EXPO hall. “We’ve spent the morning talking about where we are going as an industry; now let’s see where we are going literally,” he announced as the Atlanta Drum Line led attendees to a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the 2017 EXPO.
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