Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—a frequent rider of public transportation—described the city’s efforts to improve existing service and provide additional service to the more than 1,500 people attending the Sept. 30 Opening General Session of the 2013 APTA Annual Meeting.
“Mass transit is a key component of our strategy to bring new people into Chicago,” Emanuel said as he described how the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has added or rebuilt six stations and rehabilitated another 100 stations. “We just opened the first new El station in the Loop in two decades,” he added.
He pointed to CTA’s new Morgan Station, the first in its neighborhood since shortly after World War II. As a result, the area is now home to 43 commercial real estate transactions compared with three before the station opened, and real estate prices have jumped.
Another new CTA station, Cermak, provides public transit service to the McCormick Place convention center for the first time. “The lack of a transit connection hindered our ability to get international visitors,” Emanuel said. “Adding that station will allow us to recruit other types of shows that we previously haven’t been able to recruit.”
CTA also is preparing to reopen its Red Line after a comprehensive rebuild of the rail and all stations that required a five-month suspension of service on the line. “The Red Line had not been refurbished since it opened in 1969,” the mayor said. “It had deteriorated to the point that people on bikes were able to pass the train and arrive 20 minutes before the train did. The debilitation of the Red Line meant that residents of the South Side were physically cut off from the economic dynamism in Chicago.”
Emanuel recognized the 5,000 people he said are “rebuilding the CTA from top to bottom,” noting that their efforts will allow the agency to become an even more modern transit system that supports the cities it serves.
FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff reported on President Obama’s “vision for all of surface transportation going forward,” such as a Fiscal Year 2014 budget that includes $10.9 billion for public transportation and an additional $9 billion for the Fix It First Initiative.
Although the Obama proposal would be funded through the General Fund rather than the Highway Trust Fund, Rogoff said, “It’s paid for, invested, counts against the deficit, and he’s committed to it. Reinvestment in infrastructure is a core element of his plan.”
He reported on federal emergency relief legislation passed in 2012 that provided funding directly to FTA rather than through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “We never knew we would face the worst transit disaster in the nation’s history—Hurricane Sandy,” he added. “More than half the transit trips in America were not operating immediately after Sandy, and easily more than a third remained unavailable later on.” Now, he said, the public transportation sector needs federal funding not just to renovate in the aftermath of Sandy, but also to protect system infrastructure from the next severe storm.
Rogoff also addressed the federal government showdown that threatened at midnight Oct. 1. He said 95 percent of FTA staff was likely to be furloughed: “Rather than helping you advance grants and plan for a brighter future, the staff will be home wondering when they will be back at work and will again draw a salary. They do not deserve this.”
Outgoing APTA Chair Flora Castillo turned over the reins to her successor, Peter Varga, chief executive officer, The Rapid, Grand Rapids, MI, at the session.
Varga announced that his theme for the coming year is “America’s Future is Riding on Public Transportation.” He explained: “Children, Millennials, Gen Xers, young families—are all riding our buses and trains in great numbers. That future, and ours too, will be here before we know it.”
He noted that Castillo and he “share a common heritage: We both came to this country from far-off lands and different cultures. It is actually a testament to this organization that someone born in Africa is the new APTA chair following someone who was born in Central America.” He explained that he was born in Ethiopia, the son of Hungarian exiles, and came to the U.S. at age 13.
He told the audience: “I believe we’re about to enter a new era of public transportation in America, and we have to rise to the challenge. I believe that we should organize ourselves to succeed, energize those who support us, and work to authorize the funding we require to prepare for America’s future. APTA is ready.”
Castillo presented a brief look back at her year, including the connection between public transportation and health care organizations, and the year’s theme, “It’s All About the People.” She emphasized that APTA’s members are part of the “people” and added, “APTA is there for you because you are there for APTA.”
CTA President Forrest Claypool spoke about the importance of bipartisan cooperation at the federal, state, and local levels. Specifically, he pointed to the rebuilding of the agency’s Brown Line, which has become one of the fastest-growing public transit lines in the city.
In his welcoming remarks, APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy said: “We love transportation. That’s why we’re here today in the city of Chicago.” He also reported on APTA’s efforts to train a workforce for the 21st century.
Melaniphy talked about the forward thinking that is happening in systems and businesses across the continent. He also listed some of the highlights of the past year, including APTA’s important victory against ArrivalStar, a patent troll that filed frivolous lawsuits and claims against members. “Rest assured, we have your back,” he said.
He also spoke about international partnerships that are helping APTA members. Agencies and companies in Europe and Japan, he said, are innovating in areas ranging from high-speed rail to financing. “And we’ve adapted some of their best practices here in North America,” he added. “One of those is value capture—when the transit investment increases property values which in turn help fund the project.” He cited the extension of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to Dulles International Airport in Virginia as an example, noting that it is funded partly through special fees on properties adjacent to the rail line.
MAP-21 expires on Sept. 30, 2014, Melaniphy reminded the audience: “That’s just 12 months from today! Clearly authorization is a major focus of APTA.”
Bonnie D. Shepherd, chair, American Public Transportation Foundation (APTF), introduced the recipients of this year’s APTF scholarships. A video of the students played before her remarks.
Other speakers included Terry Peterson, chair, Chicago Transit Board, and Francois-Xavier Perin, chief executive officer & president, Ratp Dev, which sponsored the session.
A performance by the Chicago Police’s bagpipe and drum corps kicked off the Opening General Session.
More than 1,700 people attended the Annual Meeting. In the Products & Services Showcase, 470 exhibitors from 114 companies displayed their products and services at 142 booths.
For the first time, APTA created a smartphone app that allowed meeting participants to chart their schedules. Many attendees downloaded the app to receive updates, consult the list of exhibitors at the Products & Services Showcase, and link to Twitter and Facebook, among other things.
Speakers at the Opening General Session, from left, Forrest Claypool, Peter Varga, Rahm Emanuel, Peter Rogoff, Flora Castillo, Terry Peterson, and Michael Melaniphy.