Townes was the director of planning, marketing and scheduling for the El Tiaf division of the Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company. He says about the challenging job and environment, “You either didn’t do well and didn’t stay around long or you challenged yourself and you found out that you could meet the challenges of this environment and you gained confidence and experience by that.”
Townes was one of those that did well in that environment. Not only did he gain experience and confidence, as he says, he came back with a “lucky strike extra.”
“I had no inkling that I would meet my future wife in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but I did.” His wife is from the Philippines and was in the Kingdom as a nurse. When Townes’ contract came to an end, he left and went to Stockton, Calif., still with ATE, to be the assistant general manager, where his future wife’s sister lived. Townes says that provided an opportunity for them to get together and they got married.
Or at least that’s the short version. He tells the story with amazing detail, as if it had all happened yesterday. A story of suspect illegal immigration, miscommunication, flying to Manilla and INS interviews unravels to explain how he and his wife got together some 25 years ago.
He also shares that his two daughters, having spent more time at the doctor’s office than at the transit company, have gone into nursing. “I was just joking with my daughters the other day. I mentioned transportation and I got the old, the turned-up-nose look.”
Changing Times in Hampton Roads
Townes explains that when he first moved to Hampton Roads back in 1986, it was a long distance call from Hampton to downtown Norfolk. Now, he says, it is a very typical travel pattern for someone to live in Hampton and work in Norfolk. There were two transit systems back in 1986; Pentran, servicing the peninsula and TRT, servicing South Hampton Roads.
Two agencies created a natural sense of competition for funding, principally at the state level. Also, with the expanding travel patterns, the region needed to be approached as one region, which would be impossible to do with two agencies.
The association with APTA, Townes says, helped this region in uniting to one transit agency. Back when ISTEA became law, officials at Pentran and TRT knew about the provisions of STP and CMAQ that were coming into law with ISTEA, as well as the new regional decision-making funding distribution processes that were embedded in the MPOs as a result of ISTEA. “We got together and we determined that we wanted to fund these project needs from these new regional and flexible sources of funds,” Townes says. “But it required our fledgling, newly reformed MPO to distribute these funds to us so we developed a strategy where I would go talk to my mayor who was associated with the project and they would do the same with their mayor and we would come to the MPO and through the strength and influence of these mayors, we would get these projects funded.
“We had gone on our side of the water, we had talked to our mayor, Mayor Frank, and he understood the need for the project and he understood the process because we explained it to him. “ He continues, “He recognized that there was going to be, for the foreseeable future, opportunities when a city like his wanted something and needed the support of the other cities in the region, to get it and that vice versa would happen in the future. So there would be more or less, trade-offs, and he was willing to trade off for these projects.”
He adds with a laugh, “The mayor of Norfolk, however, wasn’t as well persuaded as the mayor of Newport.” He says, “When we came to the MPO meeting, we expected the two of them to work together to move these projects forward but the mayor of Norfolk expressed some objection but the mayor of Newport News, who we had briefed very, very well, stood up and basically, very eloquently said, ‘These are important projects for the two transit agencies. Newport News is very much in favor of the project, we consider this a top priority project. We expect it to be funded and if it is not funded when the time comes for one of your communities to want our support on projects, it may not be forthcoming.’
“The mayor of Norfolk understood that very, very well,” says Townes. “He sat down and the end of the story is that the projects were funded. And we built two transportation centers as a result of it.”