And increased partnerships that have been established have created a stronger voice about the value of public transportation. Instead of having transit go off on its own, he said, APTA's worked with organizations in the business community. Being a founding member of the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) and connecting with the various environmental groups or land-use and planning groups has strengthened the message. Millar said, "That whole effort of broadening partnerships has really been key to what we're doing."
There is also a much better understanding of how public transportation integrates with, supports, and makes possible, local economic development and community development programs.
"When I started the business 40 years ago, in most places transit was simply for low-income people. There's nothing wrong with that; public transit is often the first rung on the climb of the economic ladder." He continued, "As noble as that is and as important as that is, today, it's many other interests.” He stressed, “There is a much better understanding of how public transportation integrates with, supports and makes possible, local economic development and community development.
"It is a much more accepted service that people understand it's not just the bus going down the road, but it's what the people on that bus are going to do when they get there, whether it's to get to a job or to spend money or what ever it might be," Millar said.
Not only have views changed on the outside, they've changed within the industry, as well. Millar said, "I can remember when I first went to Pittsburgh, if you really wanted to get somebody angered, talk to them about transit in Cleveland.
"But today, when they undertake something in Pittsburgh, they're taking a more sophisticated approach. They'll give a call or send an email to the guy in Cleveland, see what they've done, see what they've accomplished. The attitude was I'm going to do what Pittsburgh needs, I don't care about anybody else. But, it turns out, everybody has very similar problems."
With this expanding communication and involvement, the industry is much better prepared today to support things like standards — a major activity at APTA.
"When I got to APTA, it [standards] had just gotten started and today it's a very significant portion of our activity," Millar explained. "Hundreds of employees from APTA member firms and transit agencies work on a consensus of standards just wouldn't have been possible 40 years ago.”
One of Millar's goals when he came to APTA he said, was to make it a broader, more inclusive environment. "I have always viewed APTA as a big tent," he said. "I want anyone who has an interest in public transportation to realize that if they're going to pursue their interest, whether it's as a private business or a public agency, that they are much better to belong to APTA, to be active in APTA."
It was an industry that was very male-dominated and he said they took a lot of steps to make it much more inclusive and that when thinking about who's best to talk about various topics, they have a variety of people, not just the people from the big systems, the little systems and not just the men, but the women.
He has seen in increase in involvement from transit board members and in the businesses that work in the sector, as well. The more inclusive it has become, the stronger the organization has become.
And to the new members now, he said there's a lot to learn, go learn it. "Talk to our vendors, go to our technical sessions, go up and meet the authors of the papers," Millar stressed. "Use APTA for everything it's worth and it will really help you get to know the industry.
"I would also encourage them to find a niche that makes sense to you to get personally involved." He said they've found through their surveys that those that are active on a committee, who get involved, who helped make things happen were much happier than the ones who didn't.
APTA Moving Forward
When talking about the direction of APTA for the future, Millar said one of the biggest challenges to any trade association is defining the path that most members will support, as you can rarely get 1,500 members to agree. He said listening and taking the good ideas from all the different members and putting them together to go forward where everybody at the end of the day feels it was a good idea.