Funding, Football and Human Trafficking

As Super Bowl XLVIII was kicking off, so was the South West Transit Association Annual Conference and Expo. At the welcoming reception, SWTA Executive Director Kristen Joyner said seeing all the people connecting at the event is truly a highlight.

More than just connecting the old friends and new friends here at the conference, she said transit's role is connecting and that is the theme of this year's conference, Transit Connects: People, Jobs, Healthcare, Life.

The welcoming reception/Super Bowl viewing party was hosted by Veolia Transportation and Veolia Vice President, Business Development Rick Pulido said it's kind of become a tradition. This conference and the Super Bowl often coincide and he said it's always a lot of people, a lot of fun and it's great to be a part of that.

With prizes, games, food and drink, people were relaxing and having a good time. From the beginning, Gatekeeper Systems Regional Manager Rick Hope was holding it out that it was going to be the greatest comeback ever for the 49ers and by the end of the game we were thinking his premonition might come true.

A couple of the SWTA folks were busy keeping things running last night, including Jason Snoddy, who does IT work and keeps the presentations/AV going during sessions at the meetings. He's excited about a new addition this year, utilizing GoTo Meetings to include a few presenters that were not able to be here in person.

I met Tomi Lee Grover at the welcoming reception. A consultant with Traffic Stop, she will be speaking at Monday's luncheon. There are 200,000 people -- primarily children -- caught in human trafficking in the United States. 20,000 of those are from other countries while the rest are from here in the United States.

There are trainers that have worked with people in the airline industry to educate those employees on signs to watch for, the tattoos and scarring, for example, to help locate missing persons that have been forced into this life. She explained how transit is also being used to transport many of these kids and adults around. With 27 million people around the world caught in this life, Grover said it is the 2nd leading crime in the world today, 2nd only to drugs.

There are a variety of sessions covering all the topics impacting agencies and one of the sessions on Tuesday is Multi-Modal Communities of the Future. I spoke briefly with North Central Regional Transit Transit Operations and Maintenance Manager Mike Kelly, one of the speakers who will be talking about the regional coordination and partnerships involved in serving rural clients in an effective way. He said that another part of the presentation will be rural bus rapid transit. That would be the first time I've heard that phrase and I'm not sure what rural bus rapid transit entails, but look forward to finding out.

The Expo opening reception is Monday and with more than 60 exhibitors, there are a variety of services and products to be highlighted. USSC Group Sales Manager Brian Chappal said in addition to what they normally offer, they also have some new passenger seats and a new suspension for an operator seat for the small bus market.

I also talked to Motor Coach Industries Inc. Business Development Manager Lee Kemp who talked about commuter rail and commuter buses. Being the former board chairman for the Regional Transportation District in Denver, Colo., (and last year's American Public Transportation Association's Outstanding Public Transportation Board Member recipient), Kemp referenced a familiar example, the SkyRide service from downtown out to Denver's airport. He said providing multimodal services, offering people options is important.

It's off to a good start — especially for the Raven fans. And after URS Corp.'s Keith Jones, former general manager with the Central Arkansas Transit Authority, talked about the last time the meeting was held in Little Rock at Monday morning's host session, I think everyone is thinking it's off to a tremendous start. Apparently, 11 years ago the Peabody just finished remodeling, was under new management, and there was no electricity and no hot water. He said to attendees, either we have faulty memories or we're all very forgiving.

Of all the people I've talked to so far it sounds like there was only one thing missing at this conference. Sorry to Trapeze's Joy Uniat, but there won't be a Canadian team in the mix.