Editor's Notebook: Florida Provides Ideal Setting for APTA’s Triennial Gathering

Oct. 3, 2023
The state’s transit providers have delivered innovation, enhanced service offerings and advanced safety initiatives that fit perfectly into the event theme of “Next Starts Here.”

Welcome back to Orlando for 2023 American Public Transportation Association (APTA) TRANSform Conference and EXPO. The last time the event was held in Orlando in 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act had passed (literal) hours before the opening ceremonies and there was renewed energy to the gathering. The 2021 theme of “What’s Next” has transformed for 2023 into “Next Starts Here” and Florida is the ideal location for the industry to begin its next phase.

Florida transit professionals and agencies have been the subject of several positive news stories Mass Transit has covered during 2023. This includes the recent news that Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) was named APTA’s 2023 Outstanding Public Transportation System in the more than 3 million but fewer than 15 million annual passenger trips. PSTA debuted its bus rapid transit service, SunRunner, in October 2022 and the service has been embraced by riders. Additionally, PSTA, along with Hillsborough Transit Authority and Hernando County Transit, launched Flamingo Fares, which is a regional fare system designed to ease access to transit throughout the region using a single platform.

Another big, news making addition to south and central Florida is the opening of Brightline’s Miami to Orlando rail service. I had a chance to take Brightline from Boca Raton to Fort Lauderdale early in 2023 and the experience, including the comfort, speed and convenience was impressive.

Passenger rail is being enhanced elsewhere in the state including at South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which was one of the grant award winners of the inaugural Rail Vehicle Replacement Program through the Federal Transit Administration, story on page 22.

On the innovation front, Jacksonville Transit Authority (JTA) and Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) have plans to expand testing of autonomous vehicles on FSCJ’s downtown campus this fall, story on page 18. The AV service will connect students, faculty and visitors to the college’s downtown campus and will support JTA’s efforts to deliver pioneering transportation options through its Ultimate Urban Circulator program.

Florida has hosted several AV projects including recent launches in Altamonte Springs with the Beep supported CraneRIDES and in Orlando where the city, Beep and Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority began a six-month pilot program known as SWAN Shuttle.

Florida will play an important role in transit safety research with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarding a $500,000 grant to the University of South Florida to identify safety risks for transit workers and riders and determine the most effective strategies to minimize them. The grant is part of the first phase of FTA’s Transit Worker and Rider Safety Best Practices initiative.

On the sustainability front, CALSTART’s 2023 Zeroing in on ZEBs annual report showed Florida delivering strong gains in the number of full-size zero-emission buses put into service. In early summer, Miami-Dade County Transportation and Public Works ordered 100 battery electric 60-foot transit buses that will be used on the South Dade TransitWay BRT corridor, as well as on bus routes across Miami-Dade County.

Sticking with sustainability, Broward County Transit’s Lauderhill Transit Center became the first project to achieve LEEDv4 Transit Station Gold certification. The certification means the facility met the highest standards of green building practices.

Enjoy the big show and your time in Florida; there’s a lot going on down here.