The Transit Community

Last week the Southwest Transit Association (SWTA) held their annual conference and Expo. This year it was held in tandem with the Texas Transit Association’s conference. With exhibit space and sponsorships sold out and great traffic throughout the conference, it was a successful event for both exhibitors and attendees. Drawing attendees from not just one state but an entire region helped to broaden the conference experience. What I mean is while all transit professionals share similar challenges, there are differences county to county, state to state, etc. Add to the mix the backgrounds of all the different exhibitors and you have a wide variety of backgrounds to hear about and learn about. People always asked two questions when they learned I was from Wisconsin. How do we deal with the snow and cold? Second, what is going on in Madison? My answer was always the same. Personally, I’ve grown very tired of both. Ever since I started in this industry four years ago, I knew that there is a strong sense of community in transit. At SWTA I felt that even more. Mass Transit attends on average more than one conference a month, with most being national shows. Many of these large national shows remind me of walking through New York City. Move quick or you’ll be trampled. Everyone wants to get from point A to point B with nothing in-between to slow them down. The effect of this is people don’t stop and see what’s around them. This conference seemed different. Mass Transit never exhibited here before, so I had a lot of attendees stop by and talk to me. They asked about the magazine. This happens at the larger transit shows, for sure. However, here people did more than just nod their head and shuffle their feet once I started to talk for too long. They showed real interest; I witnessed this at a number of different booths. The show was held in Austin, so maybe the atmosphere had something to do with southern hospitality, but that’s probably not the main reason. Where did the sense of community come from? There were attendees from Texas, Arkansas, Colorado and exhibitors from even more states. The people attending this show obviously had met before, and the conference was just small enough that you could recognize most of them. There’s something to be said for having a smaller show that is really big. Transit is a community. While national shows are great in bringing everyone together, regional and state shows bring more people who have similar but slightly different perspectives and experiences. Next year SWTA is hosting their event in Denver, and I look forward to being there. On a personal note, while at the conference I had to deal with a health emergency back home. Everything turned out fine, by the way. This Tuesday SWTA took the time to call and follow up to see how it turned out. That meant a lot to me. Not to disparage any shows organizers, but I doubt most would have taken the time to do the same thing. Transit is a small community. The community we build at these conferences exists because we care about the same industry. In the process we get to know each other and care what happens to one another. This is what makes our industry strong and the community vibrant.