What is an EXPO? According to definition, it’s a public showing. It’s also an array, an exhibition, a pageant, a panorama. And in the most positive sense, it’s something spectacular.
Does “spectacular” completely describe what’s in store for attendees at the 2011 APTA Annual Meeting and EXPO, to be held Oct. 2-5 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans? Well … almost.
APTA’s EXPO, held every three years in conjunction with the Annual Meeting, is the world’s largest international showcase of public transportation technology, products, and services. In addition—it’s free! More than 17,000 attendees are expected, and they will have 350,000 net square feet to explore.
New This Year?
This year’s EXPO will feature 100 first-time exhibitors, a Natural Gas Zone pavilion that exclusively promotes this critically important part of public transit, expanded education on the showroom floor with more sessions in the Transit Tech Showcases, and the use of such emerging technologies as a mobile application called Chirpe, charging stations, and wayfinder terminals.
Attendees will find more than 75 buses on display (traditional and green), one light rail vehicle, and the ameriTRAMTM streetcar, a 100 percent low floor streetcar powered by e-Brid™, a propulsion technology that enables operation powered by overhead catenary or on-board lithium-ion batteries. This exhibit, found at the Kinkisharyo booth, will enable city and transit authorities to tour the full-size rail vehicle and discuss modern streetcar options for their cities.
More than 66 Disadvantaged Business Enterprise firms will be represented; the schedule includes a special business-to-business reception Tuesday, Oct. 4, 4:30-6 p.m., which will focus on promoting DBEs.
The reasons to attend this triennial event are many—and are based on what part of the industry attendees represent. Take two ends of the spectrum: Businesses, of course, show their services and products, while transit agency heads find out what’s new. Attendees can walk the floors of the convention center and discover solutions for every aspect of public transit—from procurement to maintenance, from engineering to operational safety and security.
“Every third year we come together where many of the people who provide the products and services for our industry showcase what this industry is all about. It gives everybody— external and internal audiences alike—a bigger glimpse of how critical our industry is to the well-being of this nation,” said APTA Chair Michael Scanlon, general manager and CEO of the San Mateo County Transit District in San Carlos, CA.
“Most of our knowledge comes from what comes into our offices. That tends to be both a constrictor and a filter,” said Michael Melaniphy, vice president, public sector, for Motor Coach Industries. “By attending the EXPO, you see everything from everybody and ask any questions you ever had and get an intelligent answer—and maybe get the answer from multiple points of view. What better way to recalibrate your knowledge base? You’ll make better decisions, you’ll have more information, and you’ll spark new ideas,” he added.
“EXPO is the one time you can truly see everything going on in our business,” said APTA Vice Chair Gary Thomas, president and executive director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit. “How many conferences can you attend where you can literally ‘kick the wheels’ of a new rail car, do the same thing with whatever new bus you want to try, and talk to the folks who built those vehicles as well as the people who made all of the components that make up that bus or rail car?” Thomas continued: “Like all APTA meetings, these are great opportunities to learn best practices from each other and think about how different approaches could help our own customers.”
Paul Jablonski, chief executive officer of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System—host of the 2008 EXPO—noted that EXPO years at APTA are always highly anticipated. He called it “the highlight” of all APTA activities, adding: “I believe this year will be one of the most dynamic ever.”
Huelon Harrison of Legacy Resource Group has attended EXPOs as both a board member and business member. “From a marketing standpoint, you have an opportunity to see and be seen and get exposed,” he said. “I think it’s a win-win. Those that I’ve referred to the EXPO have seen positive results.”
What about the small operator? Does EXPO hold the same value? Martin Sennett, general manager of the Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation (CityBus) in Lafayette, IN, and chair of the APTA Site Selection Committee, spoke to that issue, basically agreeing.
“What we try to do is—look at what our needs will be for the next three to five years and try to identify the vendors we need to speak with for certain projects,” Sennett said. “For the remaining time, we look to keep relationships that we’ve built up over the years with certain vendors and find out what’s new and what to be on the lookout for in the years to come.”
He added that gaining information at EXPO is enormously helpful when interacting with board members. “Because you just never know what you’re going to run into regarding the differences in the projects. Sometimes it’s good to point out to your board members why you don’t like a certain project—so when it comes to decision time, it makes the decision process a lot smoother,” he explained.
We live in a rapidly changing world—from economics to legislation to technology. Those who walk the aisles at the EXPO will learn the latest in evolving technologies, as pointed out by Paul Skoutelas, senior vice president and market leader, transit and rail, for Parsons Brinckerhoff in Pittsburgh: “EXPO is a tremendous way to see what our industry is offering and get ideas about the solutions to the challenges we all face, public agencies as well as the private sector.” Jablonski echoed that thought: “[EXPO] gives us a hands-on opportunity to understand what new technologies are out there that can help us in the job we do every day.”
Maryanne Roberts, senior advisor, communications and public affairs, U.S., for Bombardier Transportation, discussed the theme of her company’s exhibit: The smartest way to save the planet.
“By that I mean we’ll be showcasing our complete portfolio—smart transportation solutions—that deliver energy efficiency, passenger comfort, environmental performance, and cost savings,” she said.
Melaniphy noted that his company will be showing the broadest range of propulsion systems it has ever displayed: diesel, hybrid, and compressed natural gas.
“I can’t think of anywhere else in North America where all these transit agencies and suppliers will be under one roof at one time,” said Roberts. “It’s one-stop shopping—there’s no other place like it!”
The opportunities to meet and greet fellow attendees should also not be overlooked—and, according to some industry veterans, cannot be overstated. Joe Gibson, senior vice president for North American Bus Industries, termed EXPO “an excellent opportunity for networking.” He also cautioned while there are “a lot of choices, if anything, some might be a bit overwhelmed. I know that for my first one, I sure was. Wow.”
If there is a “takeaway” from this event, Scanlon has it pegged. “I hope attendees come away with not only a ‘can-do’ spirit, but a ‘must-do’ spirit. This is our time to rise to the challenge,” he said. Thomas echoed Scanlon’s comments: “We want members to leave New Orleans refreshed and excited about our industry and their agency or business. We want them to bring home a renewed commitment to serving our customers.”
What is EXPO’s Message This Year?
“Public transit is alive and well,” said Jeff Wharton, president of IMPulse NC, LLC, and co-chair of APTA’s Business Development Committee. He stressed that the committee increased international participation—to let U.S. businesses see what they can offer international agencies. He added that with the current federal emphasis on high-speed rail, EXPO “gives an opportunity for international companies to show their high-speed rail experience as well as American businesses showing that they are ready, willing, and capable of participating in the U.S. high-speed rail arena.”
Said Thomas: “In spite of all the challenges we face with regard to funding, our industry is vibrant and vital and is essential to rebuilding the North American economy.”
“EXPO showcases the best of the best,” said Harrison. “It shows that APTA is committed to taking it to the next level, that APTA has a whatever-it-takes approach to the industry.”
What to Expect?
This is APTA’s first major conference in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, so attendees will be able to see how the city continues to recover and how, in particular, transit is being used to bring New Orleans back.
From a more nuts and bolts perspective, EXPO will be “a little bit larger,” notes Gibson, who serves on the EXPO planning committee. Also, the entire showcase will be on one floor—with a tram operating down the center aisle!
Scanlon commented on the symbolism of holding EXPO in New Orleans, “a city that has dealt with serious problems. It stands as a metaphor. Now, our nation needs to come forward and pull itself up as New Orleans did, and develop an enlightened policy about public transportation to do what we need to do,” he said.
Final Words of Wisdom
Jablonski said: “I always tell people—if they can go to only one thing, they should go to an EXPO. There’s just so much more to learn there than the other conferences—it’s rail and bus and everything!”
Melaniphy said he hopes attendees will come away “feeling that their pool of industry knowledge has been filled to the brim, and that they now have a much better understanding of what is state-of-the-art—not only in their core discipline, but in the industry as a whole.”
Don’t forget, though, EXPO is B.I.G. So “pace yourself,” said Thomas. “You can’t really see everything in one try.”
And from a very practical approach, Roberts noted that walking up and down the aisles and seeing what the exhibitors are presenting is “another opportunity for exercise.”
Scanlon got the last words, however: “Wear comfortable shoes.”
Editor’s Note: Susan Berlin, Senior Editor, contributed to this story.