Manager's Forum

Austin, Texas
Fred Gilliam, President and CEO
Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority

As CEO of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and as someone who’s been in this industry the better part of five decades, I can speak authoritatively about the value of membership in professional associations.

Capital Metro belongs to three major transit associations: the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), South West Transit Association (SWTA) and the Texas Transit Association. The combined benefits these three organizations provide to our transit system and our employees help us stay agile in this rapidly changing business: ready to adapt, well-prepared for change and advancement, and able to lead.

Every transit system in the nation is facing some major challenges today. Fuel costs alone are a huge concern. Developing and maintaining multimodal systems, providing solutions to global warming, financial sustainability, quality standards—these are all transit buzzwords being discussed in board and break rooms across America. The single greatest benefit of membership in a transit association is the framework it provides for collaborative solutions to our industry’s challenges.

It’d be a great MasterCard commercial, really. Membership in APTA: $50,000. Travel to the Bus & Paratransit Annual Conference: $5,000. Not reinventing the wheel: priceless.

At Capital Metro, we strive everyday to foster a culture of empowerment for employees. Giving them access to professional development opportunities through associations is a no-brainer. By sending employees to these conferences, you develop their leadership and presentation skills, in addition to the technical expertise they gain by interacting with their peers and industry experts.

The value of being involved in multiple associations is in the latitude it affords to engage and capture the imagination of all of your employees, regardless of their stage in their careers.

State-level associations like the Texas Transit Association tend to be more “hands-on” and specialize in dealing with state issues fairly specific to your local operating environment. Smaller transit systems, in particular, get a huge benefit from state associations because travel costs for conferences are low, and the legislative advocacy component of state associations is usually robust and focused.

APTA provides massive networking opportunities. National conferences are idea generators, where best practices in every category can be shared, modified and then taken home to be applied locally. Even the most specialized interests can be explored and developed on the national stage. Advocacy at the national level benefits all of us.

Regional transit organizations like the SWTA bridge the gap between the localized focus of the state organization and the national aims of the national association. I currently serve as president of SWTA, and a major focus is training. Regional seminars provide in-depth and comprehensive learning opportunities, without the expensive travel costs.

So no matter where employees are in terms of their careers and interests, the breadth of opportunities available through association membership provides value to them and to your transit system. I’ve been in the industry for 47 years, but I still benefit from being a member. Early on, I was hungry for job-specific knowledge and the nuts and bolts of the transit industry. Now, I benefit more from mentoring the next generation of transportation leaders and sharing ideas on service quality and standards, two topics I’m passionate about.

You join to benefit your agency and your own career, but it’s like supporting a favorite community cause—it’s an opportunity to give back, to serve, to hone your skills to become a better employee and a better supporter and participant of public transportation.

And it’s been a great ride. I believe my success is a direct result of being involved in transportation associations throughout my career.

Salt Lake City, Utah
John Inglish, General Manager
Utah Transit Authority

Participating in professional and community groups can benefit your organization and help you expand and tap into knowledge that you may not have. I belong to a variety of local, national and international groups that have greatly enhanced the services we offer at the Utah Transit Authority. In determining which groups to join or boards to serve on I ask myself a number of questions.

Will it expand my knowledge? This relates to expanding my knowledge base associated with my primary responsibility as a general manager. I feel that my role is to provide creative problem solving and vision for UTA so any organization I join should help me do that. It should also provide exposure to solutions in other related or unrelated organizations that may stimulate new solution options and thinking.
Will it enhance my passion and vision for transit? This brings awareness of how UTA fits into the broader world and identifies ways we can improve it. Sometimes there are needs out there that you overlook simply because they are different than the status quo; a good organization will help you identify these opportunities. In addition, vision stimulation can result simply from spending time away from your routine home environment while engaged in intellectual pursuits.

What kind of a legacy will participation leave my agency? I look for opportunities that may result in long-term sustainable solutions which will support the interests and objectives of UTA.

Will I have the opportunity to network with my peers? Networking produces relationships which allow more detailed understanding of other organizations’ solutions and may result in support and advocacy for common interests.

What is my return on investment and does participation contribute to transit as a whole? Though this may be subjective, it is a measure of the value to UTA for time and money spent in the organizations’ activities, and to what extent does participation on the board or in the organization produce benefits for public transit in general.

How much time will participation require? This is a measure of personal time (since board meetings often require travel during off hours and weekends and even meetings held on weekends) which may result in family stress, time away from the office which results in less time available for staff consultation, and decision making and meetings, etc.

If I am able to answer those questions positively about a professional organization I am far more likely to join and get involved. Following these criteria has led me to joining and serving on the boards of a number of great organizations. For example, participating in the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has given me and my staff the opportunity to exchange best practices with our fellow transit agencies in the United States. Being able to sit down with fellow general managers and discuss issues helps all of us to be better. Whether it’s implementing a new transit mode, identifying the best ways to maintain a bus or looking at the best business model for the agency, there is far more we can learn from each other rather than going it alone.

The International Public Transport Association (UITP) has exposed me to a lot of European transit agencies that have been utilizing public transit for decades longer than we have. They have had the time to find what works and what doesn’t and tapping into that makes my agency better.

It’s also extremely important not to forget your local organizations. Local chambers of commerce, municipal planning organizations and community councils can be great resources. By tightly working with them we are able to identify and create the projects with the most benefit for the people of Utah.

San Francisco, Calif.
Nathaniel P. Ford, Sr., Executive Director
San Francisco Municpal Transportation Agency

From both an agency and an individual perspective, membership in transit associations provides the crucial tools for innovation in a constantly changing industry with an expanding role in America’s future. From my vantage point at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which operates the seventh-largest transit agency in North

America (Muni), I see the best and brightest ideas come to us from our peer agencies — and go out from us to our peers.

The SFTMA and I are involved in a veritable alphabet soup of transit associations, including but not limited to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the California Transit Association (CTA), the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the Transportation Research Board (TRB).

What all of these capital letters have in common is a commitment to information sharing and professional development. When I started my career at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority New York City Transit, the first APTA conferences I attended opened my eyes to the possibility (subsequently confirmed) that New York City was not the center of the universe, and that each and every transit system was unique, with complicated operations, funding and governance environments.

Later in my career, I had the privilege of participating in an APTA working group looking into the possibilities of smart card technology, which has clearly become one of the greatest opportunities for innovation in the transit industry. My experience with this working group helped me guide the successful implementation of the Breeze Card in Atlanta, and the lessons learned have shaped the SFMTA’s approach to TransLink, the long-awaited regional smart card for the San Francisco Bay Area.

But working groups alone do not tell the full story. Transit association conferences confer the unmatched benefit of seeing new transit products up front at conferences like APTA. Whether it is a farebox or a simulator, to know if a product is worth the lengthy procurement process it helps to see it and touch it.

In the policy arena, membership in the CTA allows the SFMTA to join with its sister agencies in California to speak with one loud, strong voice on issues of concern in Sacramento. Most importantly, CTA has done an excellent job advocating for transit funding in the state budget.

But a huge state budget deficit has threatened transit funding, making the CTA’s expert knowledge of the state budget process (and this being California, the complicated history of voter initiatives on transit funding) invaluable as we work together to make sure that transit gets the resources it needs to serve our customers now and into the future. For me personally, the CTA helped make my transition from Georgia to California transit politics as smooth as possible.

NACTO and TRB also create an important arena of policy development on subjects like public/private partnerships and the upcoming dress rehearsal for reauthorization of the federal transportation bill.

When it comes to organizations like the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), the personal and the professional come together. Throughout my 25-year career, COMTO has helped me develop my personal skills to the point where I felt comfortable taking on progressively responsible roles in the industry. From a cultural standpoint, COMTO has provided me with a network of mentors to look to for guidance. Fundamentally, COMTO has helped me be a better leader, which can only benefit the agencies for which I have worked.

The collaboration and information-sharing that transit associations make possible will only be more important as our increasingly connected world tries to take on the enormous challenge of global warming. The additional demand for transit that we have seen in the last year as gasoline prices soared will only continue, and for us to rise to the occasion with new technologies and policy approaches we will have to rely on the knowledge and the relationships fostered when we sit down together at conferences around the country and ask: what’s new with you?

Manager’s Forum goes to the front lines of the transit industry to get feedback on different topics relevant to passenger transportation—and we want to hear from you! If you have an idea for discussion or would like to voice your opinion, please contact Leah Harnack at (800) 547-7377 Ext. 1535 or via email at leah.harnack@cygnusb2b.com.

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