Passenger Transport - May 18, 2012
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NEWS HEADLINES

LaHood Letter Reiterates Federal Priorities

On May 16, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sent a letter to House and Senate conferees working on the surface transportation authorization bill, stating the administration’s views on issues to be addressed. Among the topics he covered were the federal role of public transit safety, increasing local decision making, Buy America provisions, and the promotion of multimodal, merit-based programs such as TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants.

As expected, the letter reiterates the earlier White House veto threat on the House-passed Keystone XL regulatory approval provision and expresses strong disapproval of the House-passed environmental streamlining provisions.

The letter also notes that “S. 1813 and H.R. 4348 are the only bills passed by their respective chambers and therefore determine the scope of the conference” but the attachment to the letter also includes Administration views on some elements of H.R. 7.

The four-page letter and its 12-page attachment can be read here.

Gas Price Volatility: An Opportunity for Public Transportation Ridership

BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor

What happens to public transportation ridership when gas prices spike—and then drop—and repeat? According to a just released analysis from APTA and Building America’s Future (BAF) that used historical trends and independent research data to make predictions, nationwide public transportation systems will add nearly 200 million new trips this year, even as gas prices fluctuate by as much as 50 cents per gallon.

APTA and BAF held a media conference call May 15 to discuss the findings and their applicability to long-term investment in the nation’s infrastructure as Congress begins House-Senate conference committee negotiations to pass a comprehensive, multi-year surface transportation authorization bill.

“The volatility of gas prices continues to highlight the vital need for our nation’s leaders to provide long-term solutions to the increasing demand for public transportation,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy. “We call upon Congress to act now to handle this added demand. Our political leaders must continue to support the expansion of our infrastructure—because the demand puts pressure on the system.”

“Congestion on the roads is about reaching the intolerable level,” said BAF Co-Chair Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania and mayor of Philadelphia. “Public transportation is the backbone, not only of our big cities, but also our smaller cities as well. This is not the time to do less; it’s the time to do more.”

Rendell noted the need for billions of dollars in all aspects of the country’s infrastructure, not just public transportation. He called for a 10-year funding plan for this, saying: “It’s not should we do this. We must do this.”

A 10-year bill, said Gary Thomas, president/executive director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit and APTA chair, “allows people to look ahead. Getting us to 2013 [through a short-term authorization] really just sets us up for a conversation about a long-term bill.”

Thomas said the APTA study “emphasizes that the elasticity of gas prices proves that Americans across this country view public transportation as an integral part of the transportation network.”

Paul Jablonski, chief executive officer of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and chair of the California Transit Association, reiterated the need for Congress to pass surface transportation authorization legislation. With long-term funding, he said, “we can start to create systems that the public can rely on, because they will be lasting a long time.” Moreover, he added, “public transit projects create jobs. Investment in public transit is a boon to local economies.”

Said Curtis Stitt, president and chief executive officer of the Central Ohio Transit Authority in Columbus: “Gas prices are what drove a lot of people to our services in 2011, but we’ve found that they are staying—and ridership is continuing to grow.” Stitt also noted that riders find they can budget with public transit because the cost of a weekly or monthly pass will not fluctuate with the cost of gas.

Among the reporters asking questions were representatives from Politico, Dallas Morning News, and Huffington Post.

White House Celebrates Transportation Week

On Wednesday, May 16, APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy joined other APTA members and partners at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where the White House Office of Public Engagement, DOT, and Office of Science and Technology Policy convened to celebrate National Transportation Week and to highlight the launch of Safety.Data.gov.

“My administration has prioritized strategic, long-term investments in transportation infrastructure that will keep America safe and ensure we can compete and succeed in the global economy,” President Obama said in his proclamation. “I call upon all Americans to recognize the importance of our nation’s transportation infrastructure and to acknowledge the contributions of those who build, operate, and maintain it.”

Todd Park, assistant to the president and U.S. chief technology officer, welcomed the attendees; DOT Secretary Ray LaHood offered the keynote address. Park spoke about the safety data initiative, noting that travelers could download data that then enables them to plan around such situations as accidents and hazards. Information on the initiative appears on LaHood's FastLane blog.

 

APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy, left, and Ralign Wells, administrator, Maryland Transit Administration, prepare to attend a May 16 White House National Transportation Day event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington.

 

 

LaHood Attends UTA Ground Breaking

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) in Salt Lake City at ground-breaking ceremonies May 9 in South Salt Lake for a two-mile modern streetcar line. The Sugar House streetcar will run from the 2100 South TRAX Station to the Sugar House commercial district near Highland Drive at approximately 2235 South, with seven stations.

LaHood called the event “a celebration of coming together, of being of one mind, of being united behind the idea that you need to have a community that really reflects the next generation of transportation. This opportunity is not about highways or roads or bridges, it’s about the next generation that’s gathered here with us today—the next generation of transportation for the next generation.”

He said the future streetcar route “will become an economic corridor for small businesses, for jobs, for opportunities, for the blossoming all along the corridor. If you build it, they will come. You watch what happens along this corridor. Once this rail line is here, you are going to see all kinds of opportunities that no one has dreamed of.”

UTA General Manager Michael Allegra agreed, saying: “It’s so exciting to see the amount of investment that’s already proposed adjacent to this line—without one track being laid yet.”

South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood said the streetcar will operate in one of the city’s strongest residential neighborhoods and a prime redevelopment area. She added: “It will help transform a corridor of aging warehouses into a vibrant urban neighborhood.”

The $55.5 million project received a $26 million federal grant through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) II program. UTA, the city of South Salt Lake, and Salt Lake City provided the remainder of the funding.

“Since the announcement in October [2010] that we were the recipient of the [TIGER II] grant, we now have over a thousand units either in design, application and building phases in the Salt Lake City portion of this project,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. “We have over $400 million of investment that is happening today because of the Sugar House streetcar from developers in partnership with us as we redevelop this corridor.”

UTA projects average ridership on the line at 3,000 weekday boardings. Upon completion, it will connect to more than 130 miles of rail service across the Wasatch Front.

 

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood speaks at May 9 ground-breaking ceremonies for UTA’s Sugar House modern streetcar line.


 

NYC Transit Completes Terminus Rehabilitation

MTA New York City Transit has completed a three-year rehabilitation project at the Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue Station, the southern terminus of the subway A Line.

“The Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue terminal has been upgraded, modernized, and transformed into an aesthetically pleasing facility that is now a fitting gateway to the services offered by the MTA,” said NYC Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast. "We are also extremely proud to have been able to add an impressive art installation and the functional elements that now allow the disabled community to take advantage of the subway system.”

The project added two new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant elevators that connect the control building with the rail platform. Components of the overhaul of the existing control building included a relocated agent booth, new fare array, new employee areas, and a rebuilt staircase to the platform.

As part of the MTA’s Arts for Transit program, the station now houses Respite, a glass installation by artist Jason Rohlf that depicts an abstract landscape of birds perched on outstretched branches. The birds’ colors blend into the branches, symbolizing the connection between people and their community.

 

A glass installation by artist Jason Rohlf is a focal point of NYC Transit’s rehabilitated Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue Station.

 

APTA-ARTBA Ad Featuring Reagan, Clinton Honored

APTA and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association recently received the 2012 Hermes Awards from the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals for their television and radio ad campaign relating to the federal surface transportation reauthorization bill that featured former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. The radio ad won the Gold Award in the Audio Advocacy category, while the television spot took an honorable mention for TV Advocacy.

Both ads feature excerpts of the two men during their respective presidencies talking about the importance of public transit and highway investment to the U.S. economy. The goal of the campaign was to elevate transportation on the congressional agenda, and urge the House and Senate to move forward on a long-term surface transportation authorization bill.

Produced in partnership with “Something Else Strategies,” a media and communications firm with offices in Washington, D.C., South Carolina and Alabama, the ad has won three other national and international awards since it was unveiled in 2011.

The TV spot has run on CNN, FOX, NBC’s Meet the Press, and ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour in the D.C.-Metro area, and the radio ad aired regularly on WTOP—Washington’s highest rated news talk station—along with other major cities including New York, Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Seattle. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce-led Americans for Transportation Mobility coalition produced a similar radio spot in key media markets during the 2011 August congressional recess, and made it the foundation of a major, six-figure TV ad buy in targeted Republican congressional districts during February 2012.

The Hermes Awards program is an annual international competition recognizing outstanding creativity in the concept, writing, and design of traditional and emerging media. This year, judges selected winners from more than 4,700 applications.

HDR Acquires Stetson Engineering Firm

The global architecture and engineering firm HDR Inc. has acquired the business of Stetson Engineering Inc., a Wyoming-based firm with offices in Gillette and Riverton.

Stetson Engineering Inc. specializes in design, engineering, and consulting services related to transportation, water, sewer, storm sewer, and hydrology.

“HDR has always seen the need to have a stronger presence in Wyoming to better serve our clients, develop new clients, and expand our services. Our long-term working relationship with Stetson Engineering made the acquisition a natural fit,” said Eric Keen, president, HDR Engineering Inc.

Jack Boorse Dies; Longtime Traffic Engineer

Jack W. Boorse, 78, principal professional associate for transport engineering in the Philadelphia office of Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) since 1988, died May 9. Before joining PB, Boorse had served the Philadelphia Streets Department since 1957, spending the last five years of his tenure as chief traffic engineer.

Boorse was a founding member and chairman of the Philadelphia Traffic and Transit Coordinating Committee, which instituted dedicated traffic lanes for trolley lines in the city operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. He also installed the first U.S. “trolley-only” traffic bar signal.

As a consultant, Boorse was responsible for the integration of automobile traffic and light rail trains for 12 light rail systems operating today. At the time of his death, he was working on new light rail systems in Baltimore and San Diego.

“Jack’s unique background brought immediate creditability with municipal traffic engineers,” said T.R. Hickey, vice chair of APTA’s Streetcar Subcommittee. “He spoke to them on their terms and convinced them that autos and trains could mix safely.”

Boorse was an emeritus member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee on Light Rail Transit and the founding chair of its Subcommittee on Light Rail Circulator Systems. He published numerous papers in TRB journals and was a frequent contributor to Transit Cooperative Research Program reports. Boorse also was the author of Rapid Transit in Canada, published in 1968 by Almo Press, and Philadelphia in Motion, published by Bryn Mawr Press in 1976.

Harold Williams Dies; A Founder of COMTO

Harold Williams, 90, of Woodland Park, MI, a founder of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), died May 11.

Williams was a retired FTA associate administrator and longtime director of civil rights for its predecessor organization, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration. During his tenure at DOT, under both Democratic and Republican presidents, he helped develop far-reaching regulations for equal opportunity in public transportation, including Title Vl for equal access to service, as well as regulations on employment and small, minority, and woman-owned business opportunities in all federally funded or assisted public transportation.

Following his retirement, he was a consultant to public transit agencies and DOT on issues of equal opportunity.
 Williams joined other public transit leaders to found COMTO in 1971. The organization’s board of directors named him honorary historiographer in 2002, and he worked with the board and staff to ensure the complete documentation of COMTO’s history.

COMTO has established a blog where members can post their tributes to Williams.

COVERAGE OF THE APTA 2012 BUS & PARATRANSIT CONFERENCE

McMillan Stresses Connection Between Public Transit and Jobs

BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

President Obama and his administration remain “totally committed to strengthening the public transportation industry,” FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan told the more than 900 attendees at the May 6 Opening General Session of the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in Long Beach, CA.

“We at FTA know that Congress’ inability to pass a long-term surface transportation authorization bill makes it difficult for you to commit to projects you need to do, but we know you’ve managed to accomplish a lot at a time when some people wonder if government is a positive and good force in our nation,” she said.

As the House-Senate conference committee prepares to consider transportation authorization, McMillan called on APTA members to contact their elected officials and “let them know that transportation funding is about jobs, building strong communities—and that it’s time to put aside the partisan gridlock.”

McMillan stressed that, while expanding U.S. public transit capacity is important, “we can’t do that at the expense of what we’ve already built.”

The deputy administrator commented on the widespread success of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), saying that the redefinition of bus service is “changing assumptions about what riding the bus means” and calling it “a welcome addition to the mix of transportation choices making Americans more mobile.” She noted that the Obama administration has funded 12 BRT projects during its tenure, with another 24 recommended in the president’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

McMillan also mentioned FTA’s online discussion of improving public transit outreach to veterans. “We must never lose sight of providing service to the people “with the greatest mobility challenges, for whom public transit is the only option,” she said. Many veterans who are wounded, have limited means, or live in rural communities can build better lives only through increased access to transportation.”

Laurence W. Jackson, Long Beach Transit (LBT) president and CEO for the past 32 years an agency employee for 37 years, and a past APTA chair, said this conference is the fourth meeting APTA has held in Long Beach during his tenure.

Jackson invited conference participants to “meet our operators, talk to staff, get an idea of what this agency is all about.” He singled out the Transit Gallery a few blocks from the convention center: a modernized multimodal facility for LBT buses and Los Angeles Metro light rail that also houses an art gallery, funded with an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant.

“Transit is such an integral part of life in Long Beach, and in your cities as well,” said Barbara Sullivan George, LBT board chair, echoing Jackson. “As a business person in Long Beach with clients throughout the country, I’ve had an opportunity to see the importance of public transportation” and how it impacts people’s lives, she continued.

In his opening remarks, APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy called the host city “a transportation planner’s dream” for its integration of bus, light rail, and water taxis with the nation’s second largest container port—but stressed the primacy of buses in public transportation across the U.S. “Buses are the backbone of public transportation,” he told the audience.

He reiterated the good news about U.S. public transit providing a record 10.4 billion passenger trips in 2011, 235 million more than in 2010: “We’ve seen ridership increases in all modes of public transit, all sizes of service area, all across the country.”

In addition, Melaniphy said, ridership levels continue to grow exponentially. While 2011 ridership was 2.31 percent higher than 2010, he noted, the rate of growth climbed to 4 percent by the end of 2011—while single-occupancy vehicle miles traveled declined. “What a phenomenal story for us to tell!” he said.

Melaniphy also reminded conference participants that Dump the Pump Day is June 21 and that voters around the U.S. continue supporting public transit measures, most recently passing a tax in two Louisiana counties around Baton Rouge.

“We spend a lot of time these days talking about how the introduction of public transportation to a community is an economic gold mine,” said APTA Vice Chair Flora Castillo, noting that Long Beach has had public transportation since the introduction of Pacific Electric trolley service in 1902. She emphasized: “Buses all over this country make people’s lives better.”

Castillo continued: “The service you provide is, in many cases, a lifeline, the only way of getting to essential services…There are countless stories of riders who—because of the bus—are able to get to critical community services so that they could better themselves and help their families.”

Other speakers during the session included California state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, a former chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and a strong supporter of high-speed rail, and Frank Alejandro, chief operating officer, Los Angeles Metro.

Meeting Challenges in Bus Transit Security

BY JOHN CRANDALL, For Passenger Transport

Whether it’s snowballs, graffiti, bus hijackings, or bomb plots, the public transportation industry needs to be aware of the threats it faces every day.

So, on the final day of the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in Long Beach, CA, panelists discussed what public transit systems in Kentucky, California, and Wisconsin are doing to prepare for potential security risks and to analyze actual ones.

During the May 9 morning session, “Current Issues & Challenges in Bus Transit Security,” William Kessler, director of safety, Transit Authority of River City, Louisville, KY, talked about the steps public transit systems must take to stay safe.

According to Kessler, every public transportation system should have some basics: cameras, stealth alarm systems, an excellent rapport with law enforcement, and public outreach efforts. He also pointed to a host of new technologies coming down the pipeline to aid in security, including biometric iris recognition and remote behavior tracking systems.

Kessler added that one of the most important things a public transit official can do to make sure things are running safely is to get out there and see what’s happening on the routes, what he called “putting your feet to the street, where the action is.” As he said: “I can sit behind a desk all day, but … [that’s] not going to get the job done there.”

He also warned attendees that they need to be on the lookout for the possibility of "the coming of the bus-borne terrorist,” a lone wolf who may use a bus to engage in terrorist activity—for example, a bomb plot or a hijacking—but is not affiliated with a hate group or terrorist organization.

Connie Raya, section manager III, Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), Orange, CA, reported on an innovative program that helps law enforcement and public transit officials keep track of taggers—people who spray graffiti.

The program—named, surprisingly enough, TAGRS, or the Tracking and Automated Graffiti Reporting System—keeps a list of graffiti incidents by location, time, suspect, and numerous other details. It also helps agency officials share that information with additional organizations.

OCTA has garnered a number of awards, including the National Association of Counties Achievement Award, since implementing TAGRS in 2009.

“Over the years, our public transportation systems have been plagued by graffiti,” Raya explained. “[TAGRS] maximizes cost recovery for the Orange County Transportation Authority.”

Calling the system a “proactive response” and “a step in the right direction,” she noted that the program saves countless hours of association time, adding: “We hope the system will be adopted on a national level.”

Julie Schneider, transit security planning coordinator, Milwaukee County Transit System, spoke about how streamlining her organization’s criminal incident reporting system helped her better predict and understand crime in her community.

For example, one of her first changes was to add a “severity code” to incident reports: a snowball thrown at the bus might get a 1, while a bomb threat would get a 3. This, she said, helps public transit officials obtain a better grasp of what’s happening and plan security responses accordingly.

Schneider also winnowed down the number of categories to 10, then divided them into subcategories—and she eliminated the classification “other” from the statistics list.

“It’s important for teams to use something other than ‘other,’” she said. “It took a little bit of doing, but we got rid of the ‘other’ category and we really had a good look at what was going on in the bus.”

Before the end of the session, moderator Sgt. David Marander, transit enforcement, City of Long Beach Police Department, asked the public transportation industry for its help in creating an inexpensive way for security professionals to disable a bus’ movement.

“One of my fears is that maybe one day somebody’s going to commandeer a bus and do tremendous damage,” said Marander, who added that Long Beach has seen a number of bus hijackings. While a system is available that would disable a bus’ motion, he noted, it is expensive.

“I think we, as a group, need to champion making it less expensive and making it a viable option,” Marander said. “If any of you has any opportunity to influence somebody ... [about] this, please do.”

 

Presenters in the “Current Issues & Challenges in Bus Transit Security” session included, from left, Sgt. David Marander, moderator; Connie Raya, Julie Schneider, and William Kessler.

 

Your Customers Have Changed: What To Do About It!

BY KATHY GOLDEN, Director of Publications and Passenger Transport

In the May 7 General Session, titled “Wired: How Your Customers Have Changed and What To Do About It,” keynote speaker John R. Patterson gave an enthusiastic presentation on ways APTA members can help improve customer satisfaction.

Angela Iannuzziello, first vice chair, APTA Business Member Board of Governors, and vice chair, APTA Mobility Management Committee, presided, emphasizing that business members sponsor these types of general sessions, through which attendees can hear “new, innovative, bold, and creative ideas to grow our organizations.”

The topic of customer service, she added, “crosses all sectors of our industry. How we work with our customers is critical for our industry—both the public and private sides of our businesses.”

Patterson began with a thought for the day from researchers Len Berry and Sandra Lampo: “Greatness does not come from asking the customer what they want and then giving them what they require. It is understanding the customer well enough to give them what they desire, even if it is unexpressed.”

Customer service, he explained, is about creating a positively memorable experience. To do that, he said, you first have to ask, because: “If you don’t ask, you don’t know. The only assessment is theirs. The customers’ assessment of their experience is the only assessment that really matters.”

Today’s customers, said Patterson, demand value, are quicker to leave if dissatisfied, are vocal and tell all, and expect personalized service.

While technology is important, he advised, so is the personal touch: “The customer’s experience isn’t just personal contact. You need to make the two work together. You need to merge high tech with high touch for optimum results.” He cited Zappos, Starbucks, and USAA as just a few entities that have managed to make this successful integration.

The customer experience, Patterson said, is critical in turbulent times. Why? Because 73 percent of customers said friendly employees or customer service representations made them “fall in love with a brand,” he explained. Also, 50 percent of consumers will stop doing business with a brand if their customer service inquiry is not answered within one week. So loyalty is key: 95 percent of customers who complain about service and have their problem resolved quickly are more loyal.

Today’s customers are powerful, and the Internet can be their best friend. As an example, Patterson cited a 2008 incident in which United Airlines broke a passenger’s guitar. The musician, unhappy with the airlines’ refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing, created a song and video and posted it on YouTube. It got 11.9 million hits. The result: a $180 million negative impact to United’s bottom line.

Social media are empowering customers as well: approximately 51 percent of customers use social media to communicate, Patterson said. This method of communication drives five times the impact of traditional word of mouth: more than 60 percent of customers who hear about a bad experience on networking sites stop doing business with the offending company.

So, how do you improve customer service at your organization or system? Patterson emphasized: rethink strategies to stay in touch with your customers. Engage them, and think of them as your partners.

Finally, he noted: listen. What you will hear them saying, he said, is: “Surprise me; include me; understand me; teach me; and protect me.”

Closing Session: Innovation Helps Agencies Survive in Tough Economic Times

BY JOHN CRANDALL, For Passenger Transport

During the May 9 closing session of the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference, five public transit professionals shared the innovative ideas that have helped their organizations survive, and even thrive, in the current recession.

Angela Iannuzziello, first vice chair, APTA Business Member Board of Governors, and vice chair, APTA Mobility Management Committee, moderated the session, “New Business Models for the Transit Industry,” which capped the conference at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center.

“Today you’re going to hear from our panelists about what is going on in the industry that is truly out of the box thinking and doing,” Iannuzziello said.

For Stanley G. Feinsod, chair, APTA High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Legislative Subcommittee; co-chair, APTA Commuter & Intercity Rail Subcommittee; senior business development advisor, RAPT Dev America; and principal, Stan Feinsod-Passenger Rail Consultant, the new business model that could change the public transportation world is already happening in the United Kingdom.

According to Feinsod, when it comes to operating buses in the U.K., Transport for London (TfL)—the local governing body that provides public transportation for much of the nation’s capital—has a “completely disaggregated model” under which private companies own the buses. With this system, TfL allows the private sector to bid for individual bus routes, and companies can make more or less money depending on their performance.

“The goal is to serve the public in the most cost-effective, high-quality way, using competition to drive for quality and cost management,” he explained.

Joyce C. Gallagher, vice president and general manager, bus operations, New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit), cited the “Scorecard Initiative”—a quarterly report card that provides the public and agency officials with a system of metrics, allowing them to gauge the organization’s performance—as the innovation that has helped NJ Transit increase its efficiency. As Gallagher said, an efficient business is a healthy business.

“We believe at New Jersey Transit that, to provide good public transit, we have to provide a healthy business,” Gallagher said. “A quarterly report card sets corporate-wide standards of accountability and transparency for the public.”

Matthew O. Tucker, chair, APTA Safety Coordinating Committee, and executive director, North County Transit District (NCTD), Oceanside, CA, described how—despite facing an $80 million budget shortfall over a five-year period—the NCTD found a solution: privatization.

“We were able to enter into an agreement with First Transit that has allowed us to achieve significant financial stability,” Tucker said. ”Annually, we will save $10 million as a result of privatization.”

For Carter Pate, chief executive officer, MV Transportation, Fairfield, CA, having the latest technology for “computer telephonic integration” is one of the ways his firm has been able to thrive. “The big idea,” he said, “is: ‘How can we improve customer service and bring it down to a cost that is attractive to everyone?’”

Pate reported that MV’s new computer system has reduced call time at call centers—where riders request bus information—to a low of 2 minutes and 17 seconds. He added that this effort isn’t finished: he hopes to get the call time down to 1 minute and 30 seconds.

“The savings are dramatic,” Pate said.

Another benefit of the new system, according to Pate, is that it can even match the accent of the caller to a phone support technician who has a similar accent.

For the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County in Reno, NV, the process is all about creating performance partnerships and shared services arrangements, said Chief Executive Officer Lee Gibson, co-chair, APTA Metropolitan Planning Subcommittee.

“The bottom line of this has been [that] we have helped the local government—again, who are our partners—save money,” Gibson said. “We’ve created enhanced planning tools and planning framework. Nothing builds financial stability better than customer service.”

After the presentation, panelists answered questions from the audience.

“The final session was fascinating to me,” said attendee Christopher E. Wallgren, vice president, Transportation Resource Association. “It gives me a lot of hope that transit is moving in the right direction. I think the folks who were up there presented some great ideas.”

 

Panelists at the Closing General Session were, from left, Stanley G. Feinsod, Lee Gibson, Joyce C. Gallagher, Carter Pate, Matthew O. Tucker, and Angela Iannuzziello, moderator.


 

Long Beach: Mecca for Film Industry

BY KATHY GOLDEN, Director of Publications and Passenger Transport

The May 8 Host Forum at the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference, titled “Lights, Camera, Long Beach!”, gave attendees an entertaining look into how Long Beach has become a filming mecca for Southern California.

Kevin Lee, marketing manager, Long Beach Transit (LBT), noted how the city is a magnet for film crews and spoke about its adaptability: “One day we’re San Diego, the next day we’re Spain.”

Tasha Day, film commissioner, City of Long Beach, told the audience that more than 800 productions are filmed in the city each year, citing such examples as CSI: Miami and Dexter. “It sounds glamorous,” she said, but behind the scenes much coordination is needed. She recognized LBT Operations Supervisor Michael Wilson for his efforts redirecting buses and moving bus stops to accommodate filming. She also showed an action-packed video of the many scenes and episodes filmed on Long Beach’s streets, under its bridges, and along its public transit routes.

Paul Codiga, location manager for CSI, discussed how his crew successfully works with LBT to film scenes while minimizing disruption to the public transit service and ensuring everyone’s safety.

Referring to CSI: Miami, Codiga said: “My bosses here in California told me—‘You have to find me a Miami that’s here.’ Everything we needed was here. Our situation is evolving, but at the end of the day we’re going to go where we can to get the work done. This town is great. We would come back here to shoot anything. Long Beach Transit gets it. They know what all the excitement is and that relationship enables us to create a product.”

Marcelle Epley, LBT chief administrative officer/senior vice president, said the agency was thrilled APTA brought the conference there. She recognized Larry Jackson, president and chief executive officer, for his 38 years in the industry and thanked him for his dedication to Long Beach.

Robyn Peterson, chief operating officer/senior vice president, LBT, spoke passionately about the agency’s many dedicated LBT employees. “When Catalina Island was on fire,” she recalled, LBT was there to help and lend comfort. “We are a huge family; we don’t just put service on the streets.”

 

APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy, second from right, joined the Host Forum speakers, from left: Paul Codiga, moderator Kevin Lee, Robin Peterson, Marcelle Epley, Tasha Day, and Michael Wilson.

 

DART Takes Top Honor at Bus Roadeo Banquet

Award presentations are a major component of the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference, recognizing the top operators and maintenance teams, the agencies with the strongest safety records, and the leaders in superior customer service. Here is a roundup of the award winners from this year’s events.

International Bus Roadeo
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) took the Grand Champion Award at the May 6 APTA International Bus Roadeo, which went to the team with the highest combined score. The honor was presented at the May 8 International Bus Roadeo Banquet.

DART’s maintenance team—Timothy Simmons, Lewis Wheeler, and James Furino—placed third in their competition. Operator Stanley Carpenter also represented the agency in the 40-foot bus category.

First place among maintenance teams went to VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, TX—Hugo Villarreal, Marcel Longmire, and Phil Davis. The Los Angeles Metro team of David Klinkenborg, Angel Feria, and Jose Moya placed second.

Among operators of 40-foot buses, Ramon Farfan of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Jacksonville, FL, came in first. The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency’s Kevin Grady was in second place, followed by Zennon Rinylo of Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in third.

Arthur Murillo of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Austin, TX, placed first among operators of 35-foot buses. Second place went to Gabe Beliz, Ben Franklin Transit, Richland, WA. Lloyd Eisemen, Jefferson Transit Authority, Port Townsend, WA, was the third-place winner.

Seventy-two public transit agencies participated in this year’s roadeo.

Bus Safety & Security Excellence Awards
APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy announced the winners of the 2012 Bus Safety & Security Excellence Awards during the May 5 Opening General Session of the conference. He was joined in the award presentation by APTA Vice Chair Flora M. Castillo, CHIE, and FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan.

These APTA awards recognize public transportation organizations for their innovative and proactive safety and security programs. They also provide value to the industry by benchmarking successful programs so other public transit systems can adopt them and derive similar benefits. The four award criteria are effectiveness, benefit level, innovation, and transferability.

The top honor is the Gold Award, given to organizations with the best overall bus safety or bus security program. A Certificate of Merit goes to organizations in recognition of exceptional achievement in safety or security.

Winners of this year’s award program include:

Among bus systems with more than 4 million and fewer than 20 million passenger trips annually: Monterey Salinas Transit, Monterey, CA, Gold Award for Safety, and Pierce Transit, Lakewood, WA, Gold Award for Security.

Bus systems with 20 million or more passenger trips annually: VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio, TX, Gold Award for Safety; MTA New York City Transit, Gold Award for Security; and Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Certificate of Merit for Safety.

Customer Service Challenge
Gerald Waters, Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, Reno, NV, won the seventh annual Customer Service Challenge on May 7. The runner-up was Penny Foster, Yakima Transit District, Yakima, WA.

Seven bus operators participated in the event, which included three parts: greeting passengers as they board; a standard scenario (a passenger complaining because the bus was late); and a “wild card” round with a different scenario for each contestant.

 

Representatives of Dallas Area Rapid Transit—including operator Stanley Carpenter, front row fourth from left, and maintenance team members Lewis Wheeler, fifth from right; James Furino, fourth from right; and Timothy Simmons, third from right—accept the Grand Champion Award at the APTA International Bus Roadeo Banquet. At far right in all photos are Monique Wyche from the International Bus Roadeo Committee and APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy.

 

The first-place maintenance team from VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, TX, included Marcel Longmire, fifth from left; Phil Davis, fifth from right; and Hugo Villarreal, fourth from right.

 

 

Arthur Murillo of Capital Metro in Austin, TX, third from right, took first place among operators of 35-foot buses.

First place among operators of 40-foot buses went to Ramon Farfan of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Jacksonville, FL, third from right.

 

Gerald Walters, Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, Reno, NV, took first place in the Customer Service Challenge. Penny Foster, Yakima Transit, Yakima, WA, was the runner-up.


Recipients of Bus Safety & Security Excellence Awards

 

 

 

Carl Sedoryk, general manager/chief executive officer, Monterey Salinas Transit, accepts the Gold Award for Safety among bus systems with more than 4 million and fewer than 20 million annual passenger trips.

Don Dzyacky, senior manager of transportation, Pierce Transit, with the Gold Award for Security among bus systems with more than 4 million and fewer than 20 million annual passenger trips. 

Bobby Diehl, assistant general superintendent, MTA New York City Transit, displays the Gold Award for Security among bus systems with 20 million or more annual passenger trips.

 

 

Representatives of VIA Metropolitan Transit receive the Gold Award for Safety among bus systems with 20 million or more annual passenger trips. From left are Gary Glasscock, vice president, maintenance; David Frost, manager, paratransit operations; Hector Arias, safety supervisor; Keith Hom, vice president, operations; and Michael Ledesma, manager, bus service transportation, operations.

Pamela McCombe, director of safety, and Joseph Calabrese, chief executive officer, general manager/secretary-treasurer, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, hold the Certificate of Merit for Safety among bus systems with 20 million or more annual passenger trips.

 

Scenes from the 2012 APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference

 

The Bus Display outside the Long Beach Arena showcased buses and paratransit vehicles in a variety of body types, engines, and fueling options.

 

Conference participants flocked to the Bus Products & Services Showcase to learn about the newest, most innovative bus technologies.

 

APTA and Easter Seals Project ACTION partnered for the third annual Walk & Roll event on May 8, promoting accessibility with a walk around several blocks of downtown Long Beach.

 

 

Lindsey Robertson of the Eno Transportation Foundation, left, and LaShawn Gillespie of Foothill Transit in West Covina, CA, networked between sessions at the conference.

APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy displayed a new brochure during his address to the Mobility Management Workshop held in Long Beach following the Bus & Paratransit Conference. The Partnership for Mobility Management, of which APTA is a founding partner, hosted the workshop.

 

 

 More than 100 students from area universities attended the conference. Two sessions focused specifically on their needs: “Showcasing Careers in Public Transportation” and “University Research Projects,” where three college students presented their transportation research projects.

Contestants in the International Bus Roadeo walked across the atrium of the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center following the competition.

Speakers in the May 6 Opening General Session included, from left: seated, APTA Vice Chair Flora M. Castillo; FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan; and Long Beach Transit Board Chair Barbara Sullivan George; standing, APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy; California state Sen. Alan Lowenthal; Frank Alejandro, chief operating officer, Los Angeles Metro; and LBT President & CEO Laurence W. Jackson.

A “pirate” threatened Chicago Transit Authority operator Carl Haymore in one scenario during the seventh annual Customer Service Challenge. Seven bus operators competed in the May 7 event. 

 

APTA MEMBER PROFILE

Meet Jolene Molitoris!

Jolene M. Molitoris
President
US Railcar Company
Chair, APTA High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Committee

How many people do you employ/how many people work at your agency/business?
The Value Recovery Group (VRG) owns US Railcar and employs 150 people, with 10 working directly with US Railcar.

How long have you worked in the public transportation industry?
I have worked in transportation for 30+ years.

How long have you been an APTA member?
The answer depends on where I worked … but I have been involved with APTA for 20 years.

What drew you to a career in public transportation?
I was drawn to transportation in the beginning because I had a ground floor opportunity to join a new agency—the Ohio Rail Transportation Authority—and I thought that would be both challenging and interesting. “Interesting” turned into “fascinating” and then turned into “Wow!!” There’s nothing that transportation doesn’t touch in a very significant way. It connects to everyone in every demographic group. It’s a game changer!

What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource?
There are so many benefits! First of all, I think a transportation career gives one a chance to be part of the extraordinary transportation family. Being a part of APTA and the APTA family gives you a network of colleagues, friends, people of like minds with whom to work, brainstorm, problem solve, create solutions that ensure success and who relish the outcomes of your efforts together. APTA is an organization that’s very responsive! APTA fights for what’s important to the American people. I especially like being part of an advocacy organization that operates at an extraordinarily high professional level with success outcomes all the time.

While there are certainly many other fine organizations, I have a special place in my heart for APTA. I feel this very strong connection. I have a level of confidence about the professionalism and integrity and responsiveness of APTA, and that’s why I support it and continue to want to be a part of it.

Please explain why or how this has helped.
I have had the privilege of working with the smartest, most talented, and experienced people in the transportation industry. An APTA member can be affected positively every day in every way if you avail yourself of all of APTA’s benefits. These include networking on the phone, committee activity—which is huge—legislative impact, recommended best practices, Passenger Transport, Speedlines (our High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Committee newsletter). Through an almost an endless list of opportunities, APTA provides a way to be successful to its members and to the industry overall.

What do you like most about your job?
I am energized by being involved with building our future together!! I believe incontrovertibly that we must build a transportation system in the U.S. for ourselves and the people of the future. And I believe that university students and young professionals and younger!—high school students—want a mobility option that most Americans just don’t have. To the extent that US Railcar can be part of the solution for mobility that is safe, fuel efficient, and kind to the environment—I love being part of such a worthwhile effort.

What is unique about your business?
Many people might be surprised to know that our Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) is very competitive in many corridors with other kinds of technology. Passenger service can begin with reasonable start-up costs and enable passengers to ride trains within 24 to 30 months, depending on the infrastructure needs. The US Railcar team believes that the DMU is a very high performance technology and very complementary to higher speed rail. Riders in Florida, Oregon, and Alaska love the experience! In fact, I understand that some Florida riders will pass up another train if they know a DMU is coming. What they love is the personal experience—huge domed windows, very quiet—a peaceful place in a beautiful environment where you can work in safety—something people really want when they travel.

Make sure you see Jolene Molitoris' video, now that you've read this!

MEET THE APTA STAFF

Meet Nicole DuPuis!

Nicole M. DuPuis
Program Manager-Policy and Planning
Policy Department

What are your primary job responsibilities?
In my work for APTA’s Policy Department, I wear a number of different hats. I track federal transit regulations including planning, land use, livability, and capital funding streams. I support ongoing transportation planning research efforts, serving as primary staff advisor to APTA's Sustainable Urban Design Standards Working Group. I also serve as staff advisor to four member committees—I am the primary staff advisor to the Mobility Management Committee and secondary staff advisor on the State Affairs and Policy and Planning committees and the Intergovernmental Issues subcommittee—directing and organizing committee products and reports.

I also manage the continuing development and implementation of the APTA Mobility Management Outreach and Education Initiative. This includes our engagement as a national member of the Partnership for Mobility Management and the ongoing development and management of APTA’s online Mobility Management Technical Assistance website.

Finally, I manage, build, and energize overall participation in the National Alliance of Public Transportation Advocates (NAPTA), directing outreach and advocacy efforts for state and local level grassroots advocates and coalitions. This includes developing outreach products, resources, and legislative action alerts, and managing our Local Coalition Grant Program.

How did you “land” at APTA?
I saw an ad on the APTA website for what is now my position, and I applied for it. I was working in the housing policy sector as a research assistant, dealing with some of the same planning, land use, and livability issues that I deal with at APTA —but on the affordable housing side. I decided I wanted to pursue my passion for transportation policy and took the leap into the public transportation world.

Do you have direct contact with APTA members? If so, please talk about recent times you’ve helped out a member.
Because of my role as staff advisor to various committees, I work directly with members regularly. Recently, a member called inquiring about the program and audience for our upcoming Mobility Management Conference in Long Beach. I was able to direct that individual to our website, walk the member through our preliminary program, and explain why attending would be beneficial both personally and to colleagues.

I also work frequently with our state association leadership keeping an up-to-date list of upcoming state association conference information on our website. Recently one of our members, the executive director of a state association, e-mailed me, asking me to update our website with the dates of their upcoming conference. I was also able to assist in coordinating APTA’s participation in their meeting.

What initiatives, projects, or programs have you worked on at APTA that you have taken particular pride in completing?
I take pride in my work and APTA’s role in the Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative. (VTCLI) This initiative is an innovative, federally coordinated partnership that will make it easier for U.S. veterans, active service members, military families, and others to learn about and arrange for locally available transportation services that connect them with work, education, health care, and other vital services in their communities. The VTCLI reaches out to a population I wasn’t familiar with before I started working here, so working on this initiative has given me the opportunity to learn more about veterans and the military community. I think it’s so important to engage this group, and to educate them as to the transportation options available for any place they need to go.

How long have you worked here?
1-1/2 years.

What professional affiliations do you have?
WTS, Young Professionals in Transportation, NAPTA.

Could you tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?
I’m a Crossfitter and a physical fitness junkie in general. I can dead lift 145 pounds, and I did an Olympic triathlon in 2008.

Make sure you see Nicole DuPuis' video, now that you've read this!

CASE STUDY

Valley Metro Notes: Rider Information in Music and Video

BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

A clever promotional campaign can encourage non-riders to try public transportation. How can an agency know what will work? Just ask the public—and listen.

That’s the root of Valley Metro’s award-winning “Valley Metro Notes” campaign in Phoenix. Local bands provided clever, catchy songs on rider information topics (how to ride the bus or METRO light rail, use a single pass for both modes, and read system maps and timetables); a local illustrator matched the tunes with a variety of engaging visuals. All the videos can be seen on the Valley Metro website, www.valleymetro.org/notes, or on YouTube.

Heidi Gracie, Valley Metro’s head of marketing and customer experience, explained that the inspiration for Valley Metro Notes came from participants in a focus group.

“People told us that their number one barrier to trying transit is that they didn’t want to look silly because they aren’t sure how to ride,” she said. “Many riders are very comfortable trying transit in another city where nobody knows them, but not in their hometown. So we began thinking how we could reach potential riders in the comfort of their home, before they go to the bus stop, so they’ll see exactly what they expect to see.”

Valley Metro employees realized that music and animation are nonthreatening ways to share information while entertaining the viewer and listener. According to Gracie, the next step was determining the available outlets for a public transit agency with limited finances.

“We put our heads together and decided to keep the project local,” she said. “It’s one thing if the public transit agency says this is how you ride, it’s easy, but what if your friend says it? What if new riders, younger riders, told the story and we didn’t?”

The next step was to approach local bands, selecting them both for their musical skill and their songwriting ability. “We knew what the topics needed to be, but they wrote the songs, and we let the bands choose which topics they wanted to write about,” Gracie said. “For example, a member of one band has a young son, so he wrote ‘Be Safe’ because it’s important for him that his son be safe around transit.”

Since the campaign uses the music of several different bands—with names like Elvis Before Noon, What Laura Says, Mill’s End, Peachcake, and Captain Squeegee—how could Valley Metro tie the videos together as a single campaign? The solution was to work with a single illustrator working in multiple styles.

“Each of the videos has a story,” Gracie added. “Why should we just tell people how to do stuff ? People remember stories.” So “How to Ride the Light Rail” depicts a man and a woman, stuck in separate cars in traffic, fantasizing about riding METRO together—seeing lush desert flowers through the railcar window instead of a packed highway—and “Be Safe” demonstrates what not to do, such as playing on light rail tracks or running after a bus.

Gracie also explained that the Valley Metro Notes songs have taken on a life beyond the website. For example, Phoenix area Safeway supermarkets sell Valley Metro fare media, so the songs turn up on the stores’ background music system, and the bands sometimes show the videos and perform the songs live at their concerts. “The point is for transit information to be in places where you’re not thinking about transit,” she added.

Beyond that, the brief videos have received recognition, not only in the 2011 APTA AdWheel Award competition for public transportation marketing and advertising, but in the Phoenix ADDY Awards and the Effie Awards, which honor the effectiveness of public and private sector campaigns.

Valley Metro cites the video campaign as one reason why its ridership is climbing. “Forty-six percent of all riders report using public transit more often now than a year ago,” said Gracie. “Eighty-three percent of all riders say they would recommend Valley Metro to others, compared with 78 percent last year.”

She added: “What Valley Metro Notes has done is put even more voices out there. We’re not telling anyone to ride; we supply the information to people and they encourage others to ride.”

APTA NEWS

Universities Conference Will Convene in Fargo

APTA invites representatives of universities, and public transportation agencies that provide service to university communities, to participate in the 2012 Public Transportation and Universities Conference, June 16-19 in Fargo, ND. North Dakota State University and the Fargo-Moorhead Metro Area Transit (MATBUS) system will co-host the conference.

Educational sessions will focus on topics of interest to public transit operators in university communities, such as:

* Marketing for Success: “Selling” Your Campus Transit Services

* New and Emerging Technologies: Challenges and Opportunities

* Transportation in Small College and University Communities

* Universal Access: What’s New in UPASS Programs

* University Transportation Safety and Emergency Response: Keeping Your Students and Campus Safe

* Future University Trends

* Sustainability

* University-Transit Collaboration: Maximizing Mobility for Your Campus and Community

* Workforce, Education, and Career Development

Other highlights include a Products and Services Showcase and Bus Display/Networking Luncheon and two technical tours, one focusing on MATBUS’ public transit-business partnerships and the other including visits to MATBUS and North Dakota State University facilities.

To register for the conference, contact Adam Martin. For information about the program, contact Pam Boswell or visit the website.

Submit AdWheel Entries by June 18

APTA member organizations can gain the recognition they deserve at the 2012 AdWheel Awards competition.

APTA is accepting nominations through June 18 for the annual award program, which acknowledges the creative excellence of member public transit systems and business members in advertising, communications, and marketing.

The AdWheel competition judges entries in five categories—print, electronic, campaign, special event, and social media—to determine the best of the best in public transit marketing and communications. Public transit agencies compete against systems of similar size, in categories based on the number of rides they provide each year.

This year’s event features a new niche category: Off-Peak Marketing & Communications, recognizing entries that showcase innovative marketing and communication efforts to attract riders during off-peak times.

The AdWheel Grand Awards, selected from among first-place awards in each category, will be presented during the 2012 APTA Annual Meeting in Seattle.

For information about the award competition or to submit entries, visit the APTA website. More information is available from Laticia King.

AROUND THE INDUSTRY

Nashville Mayor Takes the Bus


Nashville Mayor Karl Dean emphasized the importance of healthy habits—such as taking public transportation—in his May 14 appearance on CBS This Morning. The story, which focused on the mayor’s efforts to increase exercise and lower obesity levels among the city’s residents, included Dean’s ride on a Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority bus. “I probably ride the bus two or three mornings a week,” Dean told CBS reporter Chip Reid. “I really enjoy it. It’s a great way to start the morning. People are incredibly friendly and you get a little exercise. You get out and you meet people.”

Omnitrans Receives Statewide Award

Omnitrans in San Bernardino, CA, was one of several recent recipients of the Challenge Award presented by the California Council for Excellence and the California Awards for Performance Excellence (CAPE). The California Challenge is a self-assessment recognition program designed and administered exclusively by CAPE as a way to help organizations understand their strengths and opportunities for improvement as defined by the criteria of the Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP).

“The award establishes the organization as a role model for other organizations, regardless of industry or sector, to emulate in achievement of results,” CCE stated.

“I always knew Omnitrans was a good organization. Now, having been here two and a half years, I see it is a great organization,” said Omnitrans Chief Executive Officer/General Manager Milo Victoria. “Receiving the California Challenge Award is further evidence of this and a testament to the great team of employees at Omnitrans. I am proud to be a part of it.”

Organizations enter the award program by submitting a profile and information in seven major categories derived from the BPEP criteria: leadership; strategic planning; customer focus; measurement, analysis, and knowledge management; workforce focus; operations focus; and results. The Challenge Award represents the first level of CAPE’s Baldrige-based performance excellence program.

The California Council for Excellence is a nonprofit educational foundation dedicated to helping California-based organizations achieve outstanding results through BPEP principles and criteria.

COMMENTARY

The Importance of Public Transportation

Editor's Note: From coast to coast, concerned citizens weigh in on the importance of public transportation.

Keeping Florida competitive means appealing to youth

This editorial originally appeared May 5, 2012, in The Sun-Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, FL.

BY DOUGLAS C. LYONS
Sun-Sentinel Senior Editorial Writer

My son doesn’t have his driver’s license, which should concern the state of Florida.

It’s not because he’s my kid. Of course I’m biased. I think my son’s great, but that’s not the point. What should matter is he’s part of a growing number of young adults who seem to be shying away from the rush to get behind the wheel of a car. It seems that young people are driving less, and that has big ramifications for the Sunshine State.

From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by people between the ages 16 and 34 decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita, a drop of 23 percent, according to a study by the Frontier Group.

The trend isn’t exactly a momentarily blip, or necessarily a boon to those who may think that our streets and highways would be better off without young motorists. We’re looking at a new pocketbook issue here, one that could one day spur government officials in Tallahassee to rank quality of life issues right up there with tax breaks to make Florida a better place for business growth and jobs.

Higher gas prices, tougher driving licensing laws, new technologies and a shift in values are all cited as reasons young adults are driving less. They’re walking more frequently and relying more on public transit, the Transportation and the New Generation study found. They’re more concerned about preserving the environment, and they prefer living in places where they can easily walk, bike or take public transportation.

It’s that last point that should serve as a wake-up call to a car-crazed state that simply couldn’t function without the automobile. Florida, like many American communities, has developed a set of road building policies that assume driving will continue to increase at a rapid pace. What young adults seem to be saying is many of those policies are simply out of touch with a new reality.

“Driving is really important to a lot of the kids in the culture, but it isn’t the central focus like it was 25 years ago,” the study quoted an administrator at a Washington, D.C.-based drivers education program. It seems spending time on extracurricular activities, social media, even studying has greater priority.

Imagine a new generation that would rather hop a bus, bike or walk to nearby destinations as part of a new demand for a better quality of life. The problem facing Florida is that if government officials don’t move fast enough to address what will become a new wave of competition for economic and human development, they may see the state’s best talent vote with their feet and leave Florida for more desirable communities, and jobs. In fact, some believe this trend has already begun.

“Young adults have begun leaving their parents’ homes to move into vibrant, compact and walkable communities full of economic, social and recreational activities,” according to the Brookings Institution, which estimates 77 percent of young people between 18 and 35 plan to live in urban centers.

Mason C. Jackson, president and CEO of Workforce One, was ahead of the trend. Years ago, he noticed several studies that indicated young adults – and ultimately employers—would gravitate toward communities that were affordable, vibrant, socially diverse and “green,” as in environmentally friendly. He often wondered how well the Sunshine State would fare in such a trend.

“Unlike the good ol’ days, the reality is that work now moves around the world at the click of a mouse, which means increasingly talent is choosing where they want to live and good employers with good jobs will follow the talent,” Jackson wrote in a 2009 Sun-Sentinel column. “Our task is both to invest in our talent base and to have the quality of life which attracts and keeps that talent and therefore the kind of employers we would like to see here.”

The challenge facing our state government is to think beyond tolls and tax breaks. Quality of life for a new generation had better become job 1, if we hope to be competitive in attracting, and keeping, young talent in Florida.


EDITORIAL: Senate gets it right
Choice is clear on new transportation spending bill

This editorial originally appeared May 9, 2012, in The Register-Guard, Eugene, OR.

Much is at stake for Oregonians as U.S. House and Senate negotiators begin working this week on a compromise between starkly different versions of transportation spending bills.

Negotiators, which fortuitously include Reps. Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, should wholly embrace the two-year reauthorization bill approved by the Senate in March with broad bipartisan support. It would provide $109 billion to states and communities for mass transit, bridges and roads, including many projects that have been delayed for years.

The Senate bill would give states more flexibility in how they spend federal transportation funds, increase the pace of highway construction by streamlining environmental reviews, impose an array of sorely needed new safety regulations and boost funding for a federal loan guarantee program to encourage private investment in major infrastructure projects.

More significantly for Oregon, the Senate version includes a one-year extension of the county timber payments program, providing some federal funding to counties where the federal government has shut down most logging for environmental reasons. Even though the amount of payments is disappointingly small—$104 million compared to the $250 million allocated in 2008—the money is desperately needed by counties, some of which are teetering on the brink of insolvency while others, such as Lane County, face draconian and imminent cuts in public safety and other core services.

The Senate version also includes $700 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other conservation programs that provide jobs and help boost the economies of struggling rural communities throughout the state.

The Senate bill is not perfect—its biggest flaw is its two-year duration, which lawmakers resorted to after they were unable to agree on how to provide long-term funding in the face of declining gasoline tax revenues. But it is far superior to the House version.

House Republicans failed to secure the votes necessary to pass their own comprehensive transportation bill. That’s fortunate, because the sole redeeming feature of their proposed five-year, $260 billion measure was its duration. The legislation was loaded with noxious provisions that, among other things, would have eliminated guaranteed public financing for mass transit and relied instead on volatile revenue from oil and gas drilling.

Instead, the House approved a short-term extension of highway funding that allowed its members to begin negotiations with the Senate. But House Republicans dragged along several of the worst features from the failed long-term bill, including a mandate for federal approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, restrictions on the public’s ability to challenge transportation projects on environmental grounds, and removal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate toxic coal ash.

The choice for conference committee negotiators is clear: Accepting the Senate transportation is the right thing to do.