Much like the city of New Orleans, APTA's 2011 EXPO showcased its own revitalization, be it the ever-present examples of transit systems working harder and smarter despite economic hardships, or the bountiful product offerings on the show floor, to the leadership changes, most notably, the introduction of incoming APTA President, Michael Melaniphy.
APTA's triennial event, which took place at New Orleans' Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, was bigger than ever, boasting 772 exhibitors, including 300 newcomers and spanning 60 countries, on a 300,000-square-foot show floor that featured 54 buses and vans and five offerings from railcar manufacturers. APTA was also expecting more than 15,000 attendees to visit the show floor, which is a far cry from 30 years ago in Chicago, where there were 5,500 attendees and 265 exhibitors. Rebirth, leadership changes
During the Opening General Session, speakers delivered a shared message: this is a trying time for our country, and specifically the public transportation industry, but everyone must take their seat at the table to make their voice heard.
Although the situation may look dire to some, there appears to be no better place to call for the industry to stay the course than New Orleans, as was demonstrated by a host of speakers from the area, including Mayor Mitchell Landrieu who cited the city's work since the hurricanes six years ago "one of the great stories of resurrection and redemption."
Mayor Landrieu spoke about the difficult times public transportation is facing as well as the difficult decade New Orleans faced following the shriveling of tourism post 9/11, the hurricanes, the BP oil spill and the nation's economic recession and joked that now the city is just "waiting for the locusts."
Despite the numerous hurdles, Mayor Landrieu commended the city itself as well as the nation for their work in rebuilding New Orleans, including the work of the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and its private industry partner Veolia Transportation for working to fill the gap in transportation in the areas that have repopulated.
Mayor Landrieu urged the audience to continue to fight to save public transportation as well as the larger issues the nation is facing by calling for more investment and creating more jobs.
"When you invest...the country grows strong," he said before adding a note of optimism. "Like your mama told you, where there's a will, there is a way."
Bittersweet and emotional would be the best way to describe outgoing APTA President William Millar's final Opening Session speech.
Greeted by a rousing standing ovation, Millar delivered his patented "Gooooooood morning!" greeting before telling the crowd that ridership is up 1.7% over the first six months of 2011, compared to last year, and that there are discussions going on in Washington, D.C., to get a long-term authorization bill done before the current extension lapses.
Millar also spent time thanking everybody he has worked with, inside and outside of APTA, and his wife Barbara, as well as offering Melaniphy his ringing endorsement. He also reminisced on all his accomplishments over the years, while remaining true to his nature that has endeared him throughout the industry to remain humble.
"You should be tired, you've been busy," he told the crowd. "We did all these things together."
Meanwhile, Melaniphy addressed his first EXPO Opening Session, saying that he was excited to take part in the goings-on of the week and "proud, honored and challenged" by his new position.
"This is the only industry I've ever known; it's the only thing I know how to do," said Melaniphy. "I sincerely appreciate what is truly a golden opportunity...Bill, a very special thank you. I'm absolutely keeping your number on my speed dial."
Other speakers addressing the crowd included Justin Augustine, CEO at RTA; incoming APTA Chair Gary C. Thomas; and outgoing Chair Michael J. Scanlon.