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Industry Leaders Gather for Annual Bus Conference

Aproximately 800 bus and paratransit professionals ranging from public transit agency officials to operators and maintainers and private company executives gathered May 1-6 in Fort Worth for APTA’s International Bus Roadeo and Bus & Paratransit Conference to compete with their peers, learn and share best practices, celebrate achievements, network and see new vehicles and innovative products at one of the industry’s largest gatherings.

The event’s many sessions included the Roadeo and awards banquet, Safety and Security Excellence Awards presentation, dozens of prac­tical concurrent programs led by top experts, technical tours sponsored by the host system, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T), and four General Sessions featuring APTA leaders, global adventurers, FTA officials and top public transit and urban policy makers.

“It was an outstanding conference,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy, who presided at the Closing General Session. 

“A great big thank you to Paul Ballard and his tremendous team at The T for hosting us, for the technical tours and for all the hard work they put into this conference.”

At the Opening General Session, APTA Chair Phillip Washington reviewed the success of the recent Stand Up for Transportation Day, which he called one of the most successful grassroots campaigns in the association’s history;  The U.S. DOT Update featured an interactive format that enabled APTA members to pose questions and comments to FTA leaders on such issues as safety and funding; A Bus Journey Across the Western Hemisphere showcased National Geographic Traveler editor Andrew Evans, who recounted his bus trip from Washington, D.C., to Antarctica; and Linking Transit, Land Use and Development focused on research and practical strategies for strengthening the partnership between public transit and land use.
Brief reports of these General Sessions follow:
Washington: SU4T ‘Started a Movement’ 
The success of the APTA-spearheaded Stand Up 4 Transportation (SU4T) national grassroots advocacy day on April 9 was the focus of APTA Chair Phillip Washington’s comments at the Opening General Session of the conference.
“I know I was just introduced as the APTA chair, but I think of myself as your chief transportation advocate,” said Washington, who described SU4T as “one of the most impressive events in APTA’s 100-year history.”

He reiterated APTA’s support for legislation enacting a long-term, well-funded multimodal surface transportation bill. He said he understands that, with MAP-21 expiring at the end of May, Congress may need to pass another short-term extension, the 24th in the past 10 years, but added, “That’s not the way to build our industry’s long-term value to this country.”

Regarding SU4T, Washington credited APTA and its members for starting a movement in support of public transportation.

“Hundreds of transportation agencies, businesses, state departments of transportation, advocacy groups, college students, small business owners, governors and mayors and environmentalists all took collective action,” Washington said.
“All of this action focused on a simple message: It’s time to set aside partisanship and to act in the best interest of our country to repair, strengthen and build transportation infrastructure,” he added.

Washington noted that more than 360 organizations in virtually every state participated in 150 events, including those attended by FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan, six governors, one former governor, nine U.S. senators, 50 members of the House, 71 mayors and numerous state DOT representatives.

McMillan spoke about DOT’s efforts, specifically the GROW AMERICA Act and the Ladders of Opportunity Bus Initiative. She explained that GROW AMERICA includes language to restore the bus discretionary program, which was eliminated from MAP-21, while retaining formula funding.

Concerning FTA’s role in safety issues, McMillan said, “Our ideal is to keep a very safe mode of transportation even safer for transit riders and the operators who provide the service for those who need to take them every day.” MAP-21 gave FTA safety authority for the first time, she noted, adding, “We know every transit agency is different and that one size fits all does not apply when dealing with safety in the public transit industry.”

McMillan also mentioned the Rides to Wellness Initiative, a program designed to provide improved connections between public transportation and health providers. Her other topics included the need for workforce development to keep public transit workers current with new technologies and dealing with the $86 billion backlog in ­public transportation maintenance.
In the aftermath of SU4T, she added, “This is no time to sit down and be quiet. We must keep standing, keep demanding what our customers need.”

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price stressed that “Transit is critical to our communities, connecting all our citizens to where they need to go. Taking our people from workplace to fireplace makes a stronger, more vibrant community.”

Paul Ballard, president and chief executive officer of the host system, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T), reported on the agency’s current projects. The T is working toward a 2018 opening for TEX Rail, which will connect downtown Fort Worth with Dallas/Fort Worth Inter­national Airport.

He also discussed The T’s Transit Master Plan, which will help the agency determine its service area and scope of operations in the future. According to Ballard, Fort Worth is the fastest-growing city in Texas and one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S.

APTA presented its Safety and Security Excellence Awards during the session. (See related story.)

MV Transportation sponsored the session.

FTA Panel: GROW AMERICA, MAP-21, Funding, Safety, Access
DOT’s GROW AMERICA Act, which includes a proposed $115 billion investment in public transportation, was Topic A at “U.S. DOT Update,” a ­Monday morning General Session with FTA senior officials in a panel discussion led by Senior Advisor Carolyn Flowers. 

APTA Chair Phillip Washington presided at the session, which has become a perennial favorite at APTA conferences with its open-ended format that enables conference participants to pose questions to FTA officials.

“APTA conferences are a venue for the U.S. DOT, not just to communicate their new initiatives but also to hear from you—their customers—first-hand about the impact of funding decisions, regulatory initiatives and technical guidance,” Washington said.

Flowers, chief executive officer of the Charlotte Area Transit System in North Carolina prior to her FTA appointment, offered brief remarks that recapped FTA’s top priorities: investing in new BRT lines, capital investment grants and allocating additional funds to repairing and strengthening aging infrastructure; increasing access to public transportation; strengthening workforce development; and the continuing shift from discretionary to formula funding.

She also discussed FTA’s role in public transit safety and its Safety Management Systems initiative, as granted by ­MAP-21. “Our safety initiative is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach,” Flowers said. “We’re committed to working with transit agencies of all sizes to get the results we’re all looking for.”

Thomas Littleton, associate administrator for transit safety and oversight, discussed FTA’s new role in accident investigation.
Littleton, who noted that FTA has hired two new investigators, said the agency would “provide technical assistance and advice” to public transit agencies and help gather and analyze data on such matters as “heritage streetcars, energy-efficient buses and lithium ion batteries.” Plus, he noted, “You’re likely to see an investigator show up if there is a big accident. We’ll be ‘tagging along’ with NTSB [the National Transportation Safety Board],” he said.

“But “it’s not a ‘black hat situation’,” he said. “It’s about defining what happened [in the event of a major accident] and what we could have done in a regulatory way.”

In addition, Henrika Buchanan-Smith, associate administrator for program management, discussed FTA’s new Rides to Wellness initiative, which would advance the “concept of connectivity—employment, health care … it would help plan services that tie into the values and needs of communities and connect people to the services they need.”

The panelists also fielded questions on local hiring practices and DBEs, the American with Disabilities Act and ­“reasonable accommodations” and FTA’s capacity to fund research on such topics as safety advances, asset management, autonomous vehicles and international studies.

From Washington to Antarctica by Bus
At a high-energy General Session May 4, Andrew Evans, a contributing editor to National Geographic Traveler, recounted his solo trip from Washington, D.C., to Antarctica—a distance of 12,000 miles, more than 10,000 of them by bus—and the fresh perspective it gave him on access to public transit as a human right.

“When you’ve driven across the world, you know how big it is,” Evans said at the conclusion of his exuberant presentation, to which the audience gave a standing ovation. “Public transit providers change the size of the world for people and make it accessible to them. Everyone starts in a cramped world, but you open it up for people.”

He continued, “When people talk about mobility, they mean you. Public transit provides access to medical care and education—to life. This is why what you do is so important.”

Evans said he had always dreamed of visiting Antarctica but had no idea how he would make the trip. Then he looked at a map of the Americas and realized that the countries between here and there have roads and public transportation, so the idea was born.

He enthusiastically recounted how he set off from the National ­Geographic offices in downtown ­Washington with no advance planning and his belongings in a backpack, caught a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority bus to the Greyhound terminal, then boarded a bus bound for Atlanta. He live tweeted the entire journey and noted that he made no advance plans, buying the next bus ticket when he arrived at each station.

Evans’ trip took him through Montgomery, AL, where he reflected on the importance of buses in the civil rights movement; into Mexico and then Guatemala, “the place where old school buses go to die” and peddlers sell goods by walking through stopped buses.

Next, he took a nighttime trip through the Nicaraguan rainforest in a milk truck after the buses stopped running for the day; traveled into Panama, where bus companies paint elaborate designs on vehicle exteriors and install large sound systems on board; and rode through South America on a road atop a sand dune 300 feet above the Pacific Ocean and into the Andes, where tires burst from the pressure as they climbed the mountains.

He traveled on the longest commercial bus route in the world: more than 3,600 miles in five days from Lima, Peru, to São Paulo, Brazil, equivalent to the distance between Fort Worth, TX, and Fairbanks, AK.

By the time he arrived in Bolivia (about 4,600 miles from Antarctica), Evans said, “I stopped caring about whether I was going to make it to Antarctica because I was having such adventures along the way.” Fewer than 10 percent of the country’s roads are paved, and the passengers work together as part of the crew to get the bus back in service if it goes off the road or sinks into the mud.

In contrast, he said, Argentina has a sophisticated intercity bus system that carried him the last 3,000 miles to the foot of South America.

After a harrowing trip on a ferry at Tierra del Fuego during a severe storm, Evans arrived at “the southernmost bus stop in the southernmost city in the world [Ushuaia, Argentina].” From there, he boarded a National Geographic ship that arrived a day and a half later on the coast of Antarctica, where he spent three weeks.

To sum up, he called his travels “an intimate experience where you’re thrown alongside people you wouldn’t otherwise meet.”
Keolis Transit America sponsored the session.

Creating Transit, Land Use Partnerships
The relationship between land use and public transportation is complex, involving a spectrum of projects that range from large-scale decisions like where and when real estate developers plan multi-unit residential space to how small-business owners construct drive-throughs, said the panelists at “Linking Transit, Land Use and Development,” Wednesday’s Closing General Session.

APTA President & CEO Michael ­Melaniphy presided at the session, which featured moderator Lucy Galbraith, director, transit-oriented development, Metro Transit, Minneapolis, and co-chair of APTA’s Land Use and Economic Development Subcommittee; presenter Brian McMahon, sustainability and planning/place making, Parsons Brinckerhoff; and panelists Owen O’Neil, executive director, Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority, Allentown, PA; Alexander Garcia, senior planner, Pace Suburban Bus, Arlington Heights, IL; and Julia Ryan, senior planner, city of Fort Worth.

The panelists, who represent various public and private-sector organizations, have “been working to improve communities of all sizes,” Melaniphy said in opening remarks that also recapped the conference highlights.

To ensure that public transit agencies are meaningful participants in land-use conversations, agencies, local governments and developers should consider key preconditions for success: a supportive agency board, designated staff person, effective coordination, a common language and a transit-supportive community.

McMahon presented these preliminary findings and others from the Transit Cooperative Research Program’s Creating Transit Supportive Land Use Decisions: Effective Interactions Guidebook.

“What is our role, and how do we help other local municipal planners involved understand how we do what we do?” asked O’Neil, whose agency was one of five case studies featured in the research report, along with Pace Suburban Bus. He noted that the basics—like sidewalks—can have far-reaching consequences on both public transit service and land use.

Pace’s Garcia suggested that planners and developers need to look at projects from the customer’s point of view. “How will transit and land use interact—will it be positive or negative [from the customer’s perspective]?” he asked. “It’s a process,” he continued. “What does Pace need to do to operate successfully in its community?” he asked.

Ryan said that in Fort Worth, city planners and transit officials have regular meetings. “We’re in constant communication,” she said, noting that The T’s master plan—focused on determining the future mobility needs of fast-growing Fort Worth—incorporates planning guidelines.

Panelists also discussed such factors as high-traffic corridors and environmental impacts (watersheds, storm water runoff and wetlands), among others.

The final report will be available this fall.

See It Here …
The Bus & Paratransit Conference featured more news and events than Passenger Transport can report on in these pages. To watch APTA’s conference recap videos, click here and then search for Bus & Paratransit Conference under the 2015 Meetings menu.
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