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CEOs, Autonomous, Announcements – Highlights at APTA EXPO 2017

Oct 26, 2017
Last updated: Nov 27, 2017
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Trapeze Booth at APTA Expo

Over the past three years, the technology world has been constantly transforming. Whether it is high-speed rail making some headway in America, vehicle-to-vehicle communication attempting to advance safety, or the Hyperloop one beginning high-speed tests, the transportation world is constantly wondering, “What’s next?”

This year, ATPA EXPO had close to 13,000 attendees, 800 exhibitors, filling more than 300,000 square feet of Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center, all in the hopes to get a glimpse of what transit professionals thought would answer that question. Is it going to be the advancement of autonomous vehicles? Mobility as a Service (MaaS) as bikesharing and ridesharing help make connecting to transit easier? Or is it learning from the experience of the CEOs that are going to lead us into the next era of public transit?

CEO Roundtable: Six Transit CEOs Share Their Agency’s Stories

The full CEO Roundtable video can be found here.

One of the more notable things that happened during this year’s EXPO was the CEO Roundtable I hosted. This event included six of the nation’s top transit CEOs for a discussion centering on each of their career paths to the top, their agency profiles and challenges, and upcoming transit trends they are adopting that could help others improve their mobility offerings. The CEOs that we got to learn from were:

  • Tom Lambert, President & CEO, Houston Metro
  • Dwight A. Ferrell, CEO & General Manager, SORTA
  • Tiffany Gunter, Interim CEO, RTA Southeast Michigan
  • Roger Morton, President & General Manager, Oahu Transit Services Inc.
  • Bill Carpenter, CEO, Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority
  • Yann Leriche, CEO, Transdev North America

Tom Lambert of Houston spoke about how their transit system helped their city recover from the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey. His management team’s planning and fast action ensured their buses stayed safe and dry during the storm surge. They were back in business within days, ensuring residents had a means of mobility to get to food, shelter, services, and work. Additionally, he discussed how the total rerouting of Houston’s bus system increased efficiency and ridership.

Dwight Farrell from Cincinnati spoke about the power of transit to affect economic development. The idea that investing in transit does have an ROI to your area’s GDP is something we should remember. “If you don’t use transit, someone you depend on does,” really gets you thinking that so many people rely on mobility. If it isn’t you, it is the barista that serves you coffee, the workers at airports, or any number of people that you interact with on a daily basis.

Tiffany Gunter who oversees the agency that funds public transit in southeast Michigan, including Detroit, spoke about how their citizens voted on funding improvements for public transit in the 2016 election. A proposal was on the ballot in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw counties to raise $3 billion dollars through a property tax millage — a yearly average of slightly less than $100 per home — to support a bevy of regional transit services for the next 20 years. It failed by just over 18,000 votes or about one percent. Ms. Gunter discussed the results of that referendum and what is coming next for funding transit in the region.

Roger Morton from Oahu, Hawaii spoke about the nuances of providing bus transit service to every home on the Island and their upcoming elevated heavy rail system serving Honolulu and beyond on Oahu. He went on to talk about new initiatives for the area to increase the use of renewable energy and the challenges of how to make that a success.

Yann Leriche, the new CEO of private transit provider Transdev, spoke about the innovations his company is working on all over the world. Transdev’s idea for the future of mobility is PACE: personalization, autonomous vehicles, connected mobility (also known as Mobility as a Service), and the transition to electric vehicles. It will definitely be interesting to see how all of these things shape the world of transportation.

Bill Carpenter from Rochester showcased how his agency has one of the highest cost recovery models in the nation at over 35% - charging only $1 for fares. This is achievable by the leadership styles he strives for and with collaboration. If there’s a route near a business that mainly services their employees, rather than cutting this barely-used route, instead he collaborates with these businesses who pay a portion to his transit agency and then have the routes optimized for their employees (buses arriving at shift change times). It works for transit, it works for the business, and it keeps these riders happy.

Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are likely closer to being a reality than we think. The advancements are moving quickly and it is only a matter of time before we see them interact in a mixed traffic environment. This year, several companies at APTA EXPO offered free rides on autonomous shuttles (and our friends at Transdev were one of them). I was lucky enough to get to ride on one and here is my report:

Collaboration with Lyft to Combat Paratransit Costs

A “game changer” for paratransit agencies looking to keep their per trip costs manageable was announced during the afternoon of day one at APTA. We were lucky enough to make a joint announcement with Lyft that gives Trapeze customers with our paratransit solution, PASS, a “plug-in” to book trips directly to Lyft drivers in their city/region. This effectively adds a new low-cost provider to paratransit networks with Lyft/Trapeze handling all the payments with their behind-the-scenes software. Now, transit agencies can use the Trapeze software to schedule rides on the Lyft platform well in advance of the trip date, letting them plan and inform riders earlier.

After the announcement, Kevin Bade, General Manager at Trapeze, hosted a fireside chat with Jeff Moore, Director, Industry Solutions and Alliances, at Trapeze; Amit Patel, Director of Business Development at Lyft; and Kamil Rodoper, Head of Business Product at Lyft. They discussed transit trends and their visions for the future of cities.

Stay tuned for video coverage of the fireside chat.

VIP Tech Tour of MARTA’s Integrated Operations Center

Day two of APTA EXPO kicked off with a private Trapeze Technical Tour of MARTA’s Integrated Operations Center (IOC). Their IOC consists of personnel from passenger mode operations of bus communications, mobility dispatch, rail, and police dispatch. Participants learned about the background of the center, the change of management processes MARTA applied, and success of the project.

The facility was built to facilitate MARTA’s integrated transit network for bus, mobility, and rail, and has the ability for future expansion to serve the entire Atlanta region. From this very spot, more than a half million MARTA riders experience system coordination, visibility, and precise response every day. The tour also went behind the scenes in the employee training and simulation center where MARTA employees train for all the required technologies.

A huge thank you to the MARTA staff for taking the time to open their doors to Trapeze friends and clients.

7 Quick Tips to Make or Save Money – Panel

Later that afternoon, I participated in an APTA panel addressing Innovative Funding, Finance and P3s and spoke about 7 Quick Tips on Making or Saving Money for Your Transit Agency. The first and most effective way to do so, which I highlighted from personal experience, was to build momentum for your agency. Pick out a major problem and propose a solution and execute it, publicly celebrating the successes along the way. Funding agencies and boards only want into invest in winners. “Nothing breeds success like success.” – Gary Player

A Podcast is Here – Transit Unplugged

I also took the chance to interview numerous industry CEOs in attendance for my podcast Transit Unplugged. Some of these include Andy Byford, CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission, who won the APTA award this year for best large Transit System of the Year; First Transit CEO Brad Thomas; Keolis NA CEO Clement Michel, and more.

Be sure to tune into our podcast entitled Transit Unplugged on iTunes, Google Play, or, where you can hear directly from transit CEOs and leaders about their careers, challenges, and how they are adopting new transit trends to take their systems and companies to the next level of excellence.

Let’s Continue the Momentum

Networking, gathering best practices and checking out new products and services were the highlights of this and every APTA EXPO. Let’s keep it going by continuing to share and learn from each other throughout the year. 

Paul Comfort is the VP, Business Development at Trapeze Group. Prior, he most recently served as CEO and GM of MTA Maryland (Baltimore’s transit agency), the 11th largest transit system in the U.S.
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