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2017 ThinkTransit: The Trapeze Technology Conference Recap

Apr 21, 2017
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What a week! The 2017 ThinkTransit: Trapeze Technology Conference has come to an end and we are already back at it planning for another successful conference in 2018. But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a moment to look back and reflect on the many highlights (some of which caused me sleepless nights) that helped make ThinkTransit what it was.

First off, it wouldn’t have been a success if it wasn’t for all of you that attended. With over 400 registered attendees giving us their feedback on the sessions, speakers and everything else about the conference (yes, breakfast, I’m speaking about you), it helps us know what you enjoyed and how we can make 2018 even better.

Inspiring Keynotes

For some of us, these caused some very early mornings making sure everything went off without a hitch. For the rest of you, you were lucky enough to sit back and enjoy some fabulous speakers talk about issues surrounding transportation, the history of different transit agencies, and where the future of public transit is likely to go.

Gabe Klein started ThinkTransit off with a bang, with one of the best, highly talked about sessions of the conference. He explained transit’s history and that sometimes it’s better to go back to what worked before. The way we are currently doing things is causing us to “[build] cities that are making us sick.” The fix, according to Gabe? Focusing on people first, public transportation second, bikes third, and the single occupant vehicle last.

Tuesday’s keynote began with our General Manager Kevin Bade sharing, among other things, that there was 116 lbs of bacon served during the morning breakfast – not surprising, but people really love their bacon! Next, Melinda Metzger, Deputy Executive Director for Pace, went through the history of the agency, the importance of the ADA, and an interesting exception in Illinois that allows Pace buses to drive on the shoulder of the road during traffic jams.

It was fascinating to hear Melinda talk about how we have to constantly re-evaluate what we do and how we do it to make sure we’re providing the necessary levels and types of services that the public demand.

People of the Streets of Chicago

Probably one of the most humorous parts of ThinkTransit was when Mark Miller went out onto the streets of Chicago to ask people’s thoughts of transit and the CTA – watch the video below to see what he filmed:

About his filming experience, Mark Miller said, “Getting out on the streets and chatting with the people of Chicago that are moved by public transit was one of my best experiences ever at a Trapeze conference. It really hit home for me.”

The President of CTA, Dorval Carter, took to the stage on day three to talk about the history behind the illustrious agency and their plans for the future. He even admitted that he stays plugged into their public Twitter feed to ensure he gets the most up-to-date information, rather than relying solely on internal systems. We all have to realize that “crowd sourcing” information is a way of life today; we can no longer rely on some monolithic repository to distribute information. It happens real time and needs to be received in real time.

Continuing, he mentioned that the future landscape isn’t “public transit versus driving.” With the array of options our riders face, Carter stated that, “public transit service providers have to adapt to that marketplace. We need to be flexible and innovative… And we have to do it while navigating an environment where there are a great number of uncertainties.”

The future may be uncertain, but it’s certain that public transportation will still play a factor into society’s mobility.

Shark Tank

The ever popular Shark Tank: Public Transit Edition returned this year with some great new ideas.

The first pitch came from Kenneth Brown (First Transit) who had some interesting ideas on how to make paratransit scheduling smarter. Satyen Patel (MBTA) pitched an open source method of modifying their current Trapeze technology.

The runner-up (a.k.a. the audience choice) came from Mike Hill (Spokane Transit Authority). The only one not to use a PowerPoint, his presentation was entertaining and a hit. Using props to help get his idea across, it’s easy to see why this was an audience favorite. The idea was great too – making the life of the vehicle operator easier with modifications to MDT messaging and preferences.

However, the winner was Phillip St. Pierre (HART) suggesting apps and integration to current Trapeze software to further develop mobility on demand management. With the assist from Alexa, nudging the Sharks a little, there was no doubt that this pitch was the one that caught their attention.

Technical Tours

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get on one of these great tours. But, I heard through the grapevine that these were one of the best parts of the conference. Attendees got to take a closer look into CTA’s bus and rail operations. And those that wanted to could take a deeper look into Pace’s demand response operations and go on a run to test their new turn by turn system that harnesses the power of TransitMaster.

“The Pace technical tour was a great experience. The takeaway for me was networking, observing real-time utilization of Trapeze Software (by the "everyday" end user) and insight on developing better practices, solutions and policies to ensure FTA compliance and customer satisfaction,” said Vaneshia Houston, Paratransit Assistant Transportation Manager, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

Customer-Led Sessions

What do Stephen Hopkins, Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Stephen Hawking, and Ralph Braun have in common? They all had a disability. But, not only did that not stop them, they were very influential people that helped shape the world to the way it is today. Donna Smith, Easterseals Project Action, took us on a journey and enlightened the audience with a captivating session on the History of the ADA.

During this session, Donna explained that only 50-60% of transit was accessible before the ADA and showed the progression until its induction in 1990. The one thing I was left with after this session was when Donna stated, “ADA is a civil rights law – most people forget that.”

Evette Ricketts, Operations Manager at Palm Tran, talked about how she automated Palm Tran’s bidding process using Trapeze OPS. Going from paper to software has really saved Evette and her team weeks of work. One key takeaway that stood out was the importance of succession planning. By documenting processes, you’re eliminating the stress on passing off knowledge once an expert leaves the organization.

The transit industry is no stranger to the large collection of data. When it comes to business intelligence (BI), you are choosing to leverage all that raw data to identify actionable insights that result in successful business strategies. Garrett Vandendries, Senior Manager, Data Analytics at CTA, elaborated on the importance of BI, how CTA identified the need for it, and the three key tools for innovation via BI: empathy, creativity, and curiosity.

This is just a snippet of the 28 amazing customer-led sessions that took place over the course of ThinkTransit.

Trapeze Sessions

Of all the hands-on sessions, the one I heard the most about was the Runcutting Showdown. The session was set up as a challenge from the Runcut Master, Dave Fulton. Parameters were set by Dave and then the goal was to beat Dave’s runcut time. The word around the conference was that it was different, interesting, and an engaging learning experience for all who were able to participate.

Sending congratulations after the session was complete, Dave said he was “Very happy to hear many of my runcutting colleagues beat my runcut in the Blockbuster showdown.”

And one attendee replied back with thanks, “for setting the bar for the runcut.”

Closing Reception

Held at Lucky Strike, people went all out to dress up in their 70s gear. There were some afros, bell-bottoms, fake chest hair, platform shoes, and so much more. The music was retro and people were able to relax a little bit and network after three days of learning.  

Finally, we also revealed the exciting news of where the 2018 ThinkTransit Conference will take place. Wait for it and a drumroll please…

ThinkTransit: The Trapeze Technology Conference 2018 will take place in Nashville, Tennessee.

Hope everyone had a good time and we’ll see you in Nashville – Yee-haw!  

Nicholas Furi is Trapeze's Content Marketing Specialist where he focuses on creating new content on the trends and challenges in the transit industry (and how to solve them). He also manages their third-party editorial contributions and communications for ThinkTransit, Trapeze's annual conference. Previously, he worked for B2B companies and wrote for an online publication. Nick has a Bachelor of Commerce, where he majored in Marketing, from the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan.
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