On receiving the gavel from outgoing APTA Chair Michael J. Scanlon, Gary C. Thomas officially became chair of APTA for 2011-2012.
“Our challenges are familiar. You live them every day,” said Thomas. “A tough economy and uncertainty over funding—especially at the federal level—are just two that come immediately to mind. At the same time, our services have never been more important.”
He called on all APTA members to join in the advocacy process, providing “fresh voices in the room and new faces at the table … We can learn from each other. We can work together to solve our shared problems.”
Photo by Jerome Holmes
Speakers at the Opening General Session include, from left: Elliot G. Sander of AECOM, sponsor of the session; FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff; RTA Chief Executive Officer Justin T. Augustine III; Mark Joseph, chief executive officer and chairman, Veolia Transportation; BMBG Chair Charles R. Wochele; RTA Board Chairwoman Barbara C. Major; APTA President and CEO-Elect Michael P. Melaniphy; Louisiana Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri H. LeBas; APTA Chair Gary C. Thomas; APTA President William Millar; and APTA Immediate Past Chair Michael J. Scanlon.
In addition to increasing member involvement in the organization, Thomas said he will focus on passage of a surface transportation authorization bill and workforce development.
Thomas continued: “These are absolutely tough times, so let’s get ready for the opportunities that are coming. We have to use all our resources to make sure things happen. No one person has all the answers, but together we can find them …. This is a time of both opportunity and challenge for our industry. We will be strongest when we are all on board and at the table.”
He concluded: “Thank you for electing me as your chair. I am honored to hold this position, and I promise you – together we will make this year one to remember!”
Millar Makes Farewell Speech
A packed house recognized APTA President William Millar with two standing ovations during the session, which also incorporated a video showing highlights of his life and an overview of his 40-year career in public transportation.
In his address—beginning with his trademark “Good morning!”—Millar reflected on his experiences through the years. “I’ve made lifelong friendships, I’ve been fortunate to work with many talented people, and sincerely hope I have left some mark on public transportation across North America,” he said. “I’ve loved visiting with many APTA members … because, by doing that, I got to see the real backbone of our industry.”
Among his proudest accomplishments, Millar listed the 1997 ceremony where he presented Rosa Parks with APTA’s first Lifetime Achievement Award; the association’s contribution to transportation exhibits at the Smithsonian and the National Building Museum; the growth in APTA membership from less than 1,100 when he started as president to more than 1,550; and the APTA workforce development initiative.
Millar also reported on current successes for the public transportation industry. For example, U.S. public transit ridership for the first six months of 2011 showed a 1.7 percent increased compared with the same period the previous year. “That’s 5.2 billion trips—nearly 86 million more than were taken in the first half of 2010,” he noted, adding that both the heavy rail and light rail sectors saw increases during that time.
Millar cited statistics from a newly-released report that showed steady growth in the U.S. public transportation sector during the past three decades and that public transit is now a $55 billion industry. The report, The Case for Business Investment in Public Transportation, also notes that 73 percent of transit-related ballot measures have passed over the last 12 years.
Millar told the session participants that Congress recently passed a six-month extension of the surface transportation authorization bill and that discussion of a six-year bill may follow. “We must continue to join forces to make sure that all our voices are heard and to ensure that early next year we have a long-term bill,” he added.
AECOM sponsored the session; Elliot G. “Lee” Sander, its group chief executive-global transportation, welcomed attendees to New Orleans.
Melaniphy: Looking Forward and Back
Michael P. Melaniphy, who will succeed Millar as APTA president and chief executive officer on Nov. 1, spoke about his transit industry experience in both the public and private sectors: “I have been on both sides of the table and I look forward to putting the education I received from the public and private sides of our industry to work for the membership of APTA.” He noted he is a member of the Leadership APTA Class of 2005.
“We have a strong foundation at APTA,” he said, “and I have a tremendous passion for the people, the activities that are the lifeblood of this association. I love public transportation.”
Melaniphy noted that his first job in the public transit field was driving a bus while attending Indiana University, studying with the legendary professor Dr. George Smerk. During that period, he said, he picked up his future wife, Karen, for dates at her sorority house in the bus he used to transport the IU basketball team coached by Bobby Knight.
After quoting late NASCAR champion Alan Kulwicki—“Obstacles are those things you see when you take your eyes off of the goal”—he said: “My fellow APTA members, I don’t see obstacles in our future, I see opportunities. And if we all move forward together, with one common voice, we can and will achieve tremendous success. Now is the time and APTA is that voice!”
Scanlon: Public Transit Drives Development
Michael J. Scanlon, 2010-2011 APTA chair, was the first of several speakers to emphasize public transportation as an engine for community and national growth and renewal. At issue is how increased federal investment in public transit projects will put people back to work while strengthening the nation’s infrastructure.
“I wish the doubters in Congress could be here. In fact, I wish every elected official could be here, and everyone who casts a ballot, to get a feel for what we’re really all about,” Scanlon said. “Since they can’t be here, it’s up to all of us to devote as much time as we can to share our ideas. We must communicate to them.”
Scanlon also pointed to APTA members giving back to the community in another way. More than 200 volunteers arrived in New Orleans before the meeting began to participate in rebuilding efforts for flood-damaged homes in St. Bernard Parish, and another 100 were scheduled to join the program after the meeting ended Oct. 5.
New Orleans: Rebirth and Renewal
Rebirth and renewal—and reinvestment—were the primary themes of the Regional Transit Authority (RTA), host system for the meeting. RTA kicked off the day’s events with a video of city scenes—including buses and streetcars—in decline and recovery, accompanied by the voice-over of spoken-word artist Xero.
Barbara Major, chairwoman of the RTA Board of Commissioners, reported on the agency’s restoration and improvement of New Orleans’ public transportation service in the six years since Hurricane Katrina.
“You are here at a time of great renewal,” she said. “Seventy-five percent of New Orleans residents have returned since Katrina; RTA is operating a new bus fleet and restored streetcars; and we have received money for two new streetcar line expansions.”
The devastating hurricane destroyed 251 buses out of a 380-vehicle fleet and damaged 30 streetcars (out of 31) so severely they required complete restoration, Major said. However, “RTA overcame enormous challenges,” restoring bus service and partial streetcar service within months. She acknowledged the role other U.S. transit agencies and the Federal Transit Administration played in helping effect this renewal.
Justin T. Augustine III, RTA chief executive officer, described how the agency has put its passengers’ needs first, investing $250 million in capital improvements. For example, he said, the new streetcar service will operate to Loyola University and into the French Quarter.
Sherri H. LeBas, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said that RTA not only rebuilt the transit system after Katrina, but built it better and stronger. She noted how public transit continues to keep Louisiana moving—LA Swift bus service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge began shortly after Katrina and remains in operation—and that further advances are ongoing.
New Orleans Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu enthusiastically called the rebirth of his city “one of the great stories of resurrection and redemption … This area has gone through things in the past decade we wouldn’t wish on any other town: the aftermath of 9/11, Katrina, other storms, last year’s oil spill—now we’re waiting for an invasion of locusts,” he joked, “but we got off our knees and moved on.”
Cutting the Ribbon
In a bow to Millar, Thomas invited the outgoing APTA president to join him on stage at the conclusion of the session—along with Charles R. Wochele, chair of the Business Member Board of Governors, and other APTA leaders—to cut the ribbon that opened the 2011 International Public Transportation EXPO. A parade of session attendees left the ballroom and followed a 125-piece band and lavishly costumed “Mardi Gras Indians” into the exhibit hall, where nearly 800 exhibitors displayed the latest in public transit products and services on 22 miles of floor space encompassing 274,000 net square feet to an estimated 15,000 visitors.
Photo by Jerome Holmes
2010-2011 APTA Chair Michael L. Scanlon, right, symbolically "passes the gavel" to his successor, Gary C. Thomas, at the Opening General Session.