Fifteen years ago federal aid for public transportation was less than 4 billion dollars a year. Today, it's 11 billion. Along with that growth in federal funding in the last 15 years American Public Transportation Association CEO William Millar has seen growth in ridership by 31 percent. He said that's really gratifying because APTA and its members have done a lot of planning, a lot of work, and have really made a difference. "I'm very glad that I was able to be here long enough to see the results of a lot of the seeds we planted a long time ago."
Millar became CEO of APTA in 1996 after 24 years in transportation operations and management. He was the executive director of the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) for 13 years prior to that. As head of one of the country's largest public transit providers, he directed a system that operates bus, light rail, exclusive busway, demand response and inclined plane transit service.
Before joining PAT in 1977, he developed and managed Pennsylvania's Free Transit Program for Senior Citizens, as well as other transit aid programs for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, including rural and other community-based transportation systems.
A lot has changed during Millar's transit career, from the technological evolution of the vehicles themselves to the better understanding and appreciation of public transportation.
"There are many parts of the county now that are investing now in public transportation that just never thought that they would need it," Millar said. "That's a big change."
There are a lot of things APTA and its members have done to change the image of public transit and Millar said he's very proud of what's been accomplished. "We worked very hard. First there was something called VIP and later something we called PT2 — Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow — and then today what we call RCA, Research, Communication and Advocacy program." The RCA has spun ideas like the Telling Our Story campaign and the Selling Our Story.
"We proved with PT2 that with using very traditional market research and then designing advertising and public campaigns, you could in fact sell transit much the way other industries have sold their image." He continued, "That may seem like an obvious statement as we sit in 2011, but I assure you, I was presenting those ideas in 1998, 1999, 2000 to our members and asking them to pay for it, it was very skeptical, indeed. But we proved you could do it and be very successful."
At the same time, utilizing this research for these various initiatives has organized the APTA members better to go back from Washington to talk to their elected officials. "We put a face on the statistics," said Millar.
And this research greatly increased the amount of statistics APTA's able to provide. When the topic of the country was global warming and climate change, APTA had hard data that showed how beneficial public transit was to reducing the amount of carbon that goes in the air. With the issue of jobs and job creation today, APTA's done the research to meet that challenge, as well, Millar said.
"With APTA having done the research, we can help people understand that every billion dollars of federal aid maintains about 36,000 jobs." He stressed, "Those kinds of raw, basic data are very important."
Having increased the research and statistics, the image and awareness, it's all improved the way APTA interacts in Washington. "We've worked very hard to raise the profile of APTA and public transportation so that we don't have to fight to get into meetings where important decisions are going to be made, but we're on the guest list and invited," said Millar. "I'm very pleased about that.
"We really increased our efforts to educate congress in a much broader sense than we ever did before."