EXPO 2011 kicked off bright and early Monday morning with the Opening General Session at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.
While the list of speakers covered regions from East to West, the basic message was clear: 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.
While 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 called 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 called on 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 President William Millar's final Opening Session speech at an APTA EXPO.
Greeted by a rousing standing ovation, Millar delivered his patented "Gooooooood morning!" greeting before telling the crowd that ridership is up 1.7 percent 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 incoming President Michael 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."
Other speakers addressing the crowd included Justin Augustine, CEO at RTA; incoming APTA Chair Gary C. Thomas; and incoming APTA President Michael Melaniphy.