Play Well Together and Attract the Millenials

May 8, 2014
The APTA 2014 Bus & Paratransit Conference had attendees talking about how to get money and how to get millennials on their systems.

I’m sure it’s not surprising to anyone that a main theme at the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference was funding. And, being that it’s the “bus conference,” bus funding, MAP-21 and future authorization bus funding was of course the hot topic. Many are still feeling the burn of losing bus and bus facility funding and a fear of something similar happening again though APTA is asking for pre-MAP-21 numbers. APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy said it’s not about restoring funding, it’s about building to where we need to go. Federal Transit Administration Dorval Carter said the GROW AMERICA Act quadruples bus and bus facility funding.

Henrika Buchanan-Smith, associate administrator for Program Management for the FTA, and Carter led a question-answer session for conference attendees and stressed that many of the things in Grow America are directly there because the FTA heard the industry’s voice and problems with MAP-21 and there are things you don’t like about it, let the FTA know.

At the APTA Marketing  and Communications Workshop back in February Melaniphy had told those at the M&C Committee meeting that he had heard from various members on the Hill that the industry isn’t unified and it needs to have one voice instead of looking like the industry itself can’t agree on what it needs. At every conference, during every session, Melaniphy and APTA Chair Peter Varga, and CEO at The Rapid, reiterated the industry must be speaking with one voice to bring meaningful change.

At the Bus Conference Opening Session Varga said, “We have a plan – a really good one. This is clearly what we all want.” He added, “A divided house will start to fall.” 

The keynote speaker, Strong Towns President Charles Marohn Jr., gave some perspectives on growing economy that really got people talking. One architect appreciated the slide comparisons Marohn had with equal areas, different planning strategies, and listing the tax revenue that each generates. While the Fleet Farm (Midwest super store that feels similar to a Wal-Mart with the addition of farming supplies) has one expansive store, an auto garage, fueling station and an expansive parking lot, the contrast was the same amount of space with many multiple-level buildings housing a variety of stores, businesses and housing and it generated nearly twice as much revenue. 

The other thing he pointed out, if the one business goes out of business, what's the impact to the community? Large, hard-to-fill empty space. On the other hand, if one business goes out of business, there's much less impact and easier to fill one vacant, small shop. 

Latest Technology

The vehicles and products people were talking about focused on technology to make things greener and to make riding the bus easier. Electric buses, digital signage, mobile ticking, there are a variety of quickly evolving technologies that were drawing the attention of attendees.

Talking to mechanics at the International Bus Roadeo, that also means what they’re working on is continually changing. With Maintenance Monday, there were a variety of technical sessions focusing on those challenges they’re faced with.

"BRT Tuesday"

New to the conference this year was BRT Tuesday, a day of sessions and discussion about bus rapid transit. There were highlights of current projects and discussions on international BRT, bus design changes, standards and the latest technology.

It was clear that things are unique to each areas as small groups debated everything from what the bus should or shouldn’t look like to what it should or shouldn’t be called. While some felt the front wheels should be covered to help convey the image that this is more than a “bus,” another was adamant that the wheel covers serve no purpose other than adding weight to the vehicle and every good design should serve a function. Then at the next table there was the discussion of whether you should be using a name that has the word “bus” in the description of the service or if that turns some riders off. Some felt it was important to include “bus” in the description because if you over sell it, that will also turn people off. The day really allowed for some important discussion on sharing what has worked and what has caused challenges in different locations.

A Greater Appreciation

The adage is that you learn something new every day and one thing I never considered was from sitting in on the Preventing a Hijacking session. I read “hijacking” and have violent visions of a rider with a weapon holding riders hostage as the vehicle is forced to a different location. Bret Brooks, senior consultant with Gray Ram Tactical LLC, explained what an attempted hijacking entails and having not been an operator or more directly involved in bus operations like many of you, never occurred to how often an attempted hijacking occurs.

When a rider gets angry with the operator and demands he or she be left off at the next corner – despite that not being a stop, it’s an attempted hijacking with the potential for the situation to escalate. And, as Brooks pointed out, you don’t know how far it could escalate until it happens.

The session went over the verbal cues and the body language cues and explained the clustering of those cues and the split-second the operator has to judge to what degree the situation could escalate and how to de-escalate the situation.

A manager from an agency in North Dakota shared a story of a hijacking they had the week following refresher training. A rider had a day pass from a local mental health facility and when it came time to return, didn’t want to and pulled a knife on the driver yelling that he wouldn’t be taken back. Somehow the operator remained calm (even with training, not sure I could handle this as well as the driver did), and told the passenger OK, he didn’t have to go back, they could go anywhere he wanted, and asked where he would like to go. I forget how long she said they drove, but the whole time the driver let the passenger talk, listened to him, let him vent, and by the end was able to drive back to the facility from a different angle and brought the passenger back safely.