Diversity & Inclusion

May 24, 2016
What does diversity and inclusion mean to the transit industry? Discussions at the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference addressed the impact of HB2.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Bus & Paratransit Conference was recently held in Charlotte, North Carolina, a state that has been in the national headlines since the passage of House Bill 2 (HB2). HB2 incited travel bans to North Carolina from some states, cities and transit agencies.

There were calls for APTA to move the conference or postpone the International Bus Roadeo but APTA Acting President & CEO Richard White said it was the executive committee’s decision to stay because the city of Charlotte works hard to promote tolerance, diversity and inclusion.

Foothill Transit Executive Director Doran Barnes, vice chair, APTA, said they felt they could boycott North Carolina or they could go and be part of the discussion to foster diversity. He said inclusion is a topic the organization will continue to talk about in the upcoming year and beyond.

There were several sessions focused on the conference theme, “Inclusion & Diversity,” which shared a variety of perspectives and provided background on HB2.

Proterra Inc. President & CEO Ryan Popple said he was one of the companies that considered not attending the conference. “We had very strong feelings about coming here and did some soul searching on attending. We make buses to improve communities; if we don’t come, that doesn’t forward that technology.”

Last year Proterra’s engineering team improved the vehicle range close to 30 percent. Electric vehicle adoption in the transit industry has been greatly expanding and last year Proterra booked 2 percent of the annual bus deliveries in the U.S. market. While 2 years ago the EV bus market was at about a quarter of a million dollars, in the next three years it will be more than $1 billion.

He said a high-tech company like Proterra goes after the people that work for companies like Apple, Google or Tesla. “If you want to win in technology, you need the best people.”

He spoke of Silicon Valley and that it is what it is because of the diversity of people there and highly creative individuals often come from non-traditional backgrounds. Being from Tesla, he also mentioned the CEO of Tesla is an immigrant.

“Diversity is essential to an open and innovative company,” he said. “When you look at it [HB2] from a hiring perspective, it’s catastrophic.”