Where Cowboys and APTA Come to Meet

May 6, 2015

Workforce shortage, new technology and money's a problem. The APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference recently came to a close and when I write a round-up of the activity it always seems like I’m writing some of the same things. However, every year there are twists that show progress on what’s being done in the industry and there are changes on the outside influences impacting our market.

The American Public Transportation Association's Bus & Paratransit Conference and Roadeo was recently held in Fort Worth, Texas. With the end of Map-21 at the end of the month, funding, politics and infrastructure were, of course, top discussion points for folks. There was a lot of talk about the success of “Stand Up for Transportation” with more than 350 organizations participating across the country but now the talk is, what do we do next?

I have to say, I kind of liked one of the ideas that was brought up in a number of the business member committees. Show the true impact of public transportation by having all public transportation stop for one day or even one hour. And, I say I “kind of” like the idea because I don’t really want someone to lose their job or someone to not make it to their dialysis appointment. But in theory, people who don’t necessarily use transit to see what impact it makes, would be pretty amazing. Even with the transportation we have running, Federal Transit Administration Acting Administrator Therese McMillan stated that 3.6 million Americans a year delay healthcare appointments because of inadequate transportation.

When it comes to the aging infrastructure and our lack of funding, McMillan stated that maintenance backlog is growing by $2.5 billion a year. She added, “This is not the time to sit down and be quiet,” as she talked about the growing demand for public transportation. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price echoed that sentiment when she talked about the “huge silver tsunami coming our way,” and stated, “We want to age in place.”

The other driving force for increased demand is the younger generation not having the desire to drive and own a car like years past. When it comes to that generation, they are looking for the most convenient form of transportation, so there were ongoing discussions around factors impacting the future market, such as autonomous vehicles and the various Uber, Lyft, and Bridj options out there.

While safety and security are always critical issues, rising operator assaults were a major concern being talked about. There was a 3-part session on prevention and a number of the operations folks were talking about the various in-vehicle barrier options and if and when that would be the norm.

We’ll have more in the coming days about some of the technologies. In case you missed it, you can see highlights from the 2015 Bus Roadeo at www.MassTransitmag.com/12070629.

Also during the conference was a presentation by National Geographic Contributor Andrew Evans. I didn’t have a chance to see it this year but was fortunate to see him speak at a South West Transit Association’s annual conference a year ago. I told a number of people at the conference they absolutely had to go see him speak and afterwards, one sought me out to thank me saying I didn’t over-sell it. You can read about his 12,000-mile trek by bus to Antarctica through countries where people literally risk their lives to ride the bus at www.MassTransitmag.com/11306592