Management & Operations

APTA Strikes it Rich in Las Vegas

Posted on November 1, 2002 by Leslie Davis, Steve Hirano and Janna Starcic

In the fastest-growing region in the United States, the world's largest transportation expo was held. Drawing more than 15,000 attendees and 755 exhibitors from around the world, the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) Annual Meeting and EXPO in September in Las Vegas proved to be all that was promised.

Billed "the biggest and best ever" by APTA President Bill Millar, the EXPO took up 270,000 square feet in the Las Vegas Convention Center, where 65 buses, five railcars and "every conceivable type of equipment" were showcased. This year's EXPO was about 30,000 square feet larger than EXPO 1999 in Orlando — something anyone who walked around the show floor could feel at the end of its three days.

While more than 40 sessions and forums focused on everything from fare collection to e-commerce solutions to standards development, the issues of new technology, security and the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) were on the top of most agendas.

In the year following September 11, the security of transit agencies is still fresh in everyone's minds. "We must prevent terrorists from using our technology against us … and redesign transportation security systems," said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. "The enemy is very patient, and we must keep our guard up."

To help do that, the U.S. Department of Transportation is evaluating the security of all surface transportation modes. "The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is working with transit operators to protect vital transportation assets," Mineta said. Threat and vulnerability assessments have been conducted at 36 properties, and emergency planning and technical assistance teams have been sent to 60 operations. The government has provided more than $3 million to 83 transit agencies for full-scale emergency preparedness drills, and is also holding 17 forums throughout the country to promote regional cooperation.

Outgoing APTA Chair Peter Cipolla responded to the terrorist attacks by creating an executive committee-level security task force to provide direction for security issues. The task force oversaw two Transit Cooperative Research Program studies on the prevention and mitigation and response preparedness, as well as four regional security forums. APTA developed and distributed to members a checklist for emergency response planning and security. "Making public transportation as safe as possible is a fundamental industry responsibility," Cipolla said. "I am very proud of the efforts we have taken during this critical time."

Much of the technology exhibited at the EXPO dealt with advances in safety and security, including GPS systems, intelligent security systems and identification technology. "We must make the necessary investment in state-of-the-art transit technology today if we hope to meet the increasing demand tomorrow," APTA's Millar said.

Keeping systems safe
"A year ago, the world changed as we knew it. The industry's focus [on security] has been paramount," said John M. Dionisio, president and CEO of DMJM+Harris, during a forum on security.

Representatives of three transit agencies, the FTA and consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, educated attendees of the general forum, "Meeting the Security Challenge," on how the transportation industry responded to the events of September 11 and what security initiatives were implemented during the past year.

Security plans and procedures of the representative transit agencies shared common areas of focus, including information and communication, preparedness and training tactics that have been implemented in the past year. Developing strong relationships with regional operations and first responders, such as police and fire departments, was also a recurring theme.

In the area of information and communication, MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) developed a 24-hour tip hotline and issued handouts to customers informing them of heightened security elements that have been implemented throughout the system, said NYCT Senior Vice President Tom Savage. Additional information and communication planning by NYCT involves cooperation with the FBI and regular interagency meetings.

Along this same vein, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) issues weekly safety and security updates as well as advisories, said WMATA CEO Richard A. White.

Access is another major concern for transit agencies. Tightening of ID controls is a proponent to securing facilities. WMATA implemented a limited ID system using its Smartrip technology. In addition to conducting background checks on all employees, NYCT monitors the Internet for the sale of system badges and uniforms that may be used to gain access. "We are currently looking into bio-metric ID involving retinal or hand scans," said Savage.

Essential areas of training involve weapons of mass destruction, natural disasters, accidents and incidents, said Michael P. DePallo, director and general manager of Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH). "Make security proactive. Real-life testing and application in transit environment is critical," he said.

In addition to emergency response, the FTA has focused its training to include research and technology and intelligence dissemination, said FTA Deputy Administrator, Robert Jamison. "Make sure employees can deter, detect, mitigate and respond to emergency situations," he said.

Other preparedness and training issues discussed by the panelists included the development of staff guidelines for handling suspicious packages and mail. Agencies also removed trashcans from public areas to prevent the possible placement of explosives. WMATA has replaced its trashcans with explosive containment devices.

A study conducted by the National Academies Committee showed the need for multi-layered security systems that are technologically sophisticated. "Go beyond gates, guns and guards," said Mortimer Downey, principal consultant of PB Consult Inc.

Predicting and preventing terrorist activity by using intelligence surveillance and disrupting terrorist networks and containing threats were key points of analysis in the study. Protection of the population by hardening targets and through immunization was another element of the counter-terrorism discussion.

Reauthorization gets a push
As you might expect, the reauthorization of TEA 21, scheduled for 2003, was a key topic in Las Vegas.

TEA 21 authorized $41 billion for public transportation, including $36 billion in guaranteed funding. Predictability and reliability of this funding has helped transit agencies attract local and state investment as well as public/private partnerships. Transit advocates strongly support continued protection of funding guarantees and "firewalls" that ensure that Transportation Trust Fund monies are used for transportation purposes.

At press time, the outcome of the November elections was unknown, making it difficult to predict how partisan politics could affect the reauthorization. In Las Vegas, however, Mineta laid out his goals for the reauthorization proposal:
• Assure adequate, predictable funding for investment in the nation's surface transportation system, including public transit.
• Preserve funding flexibility to allow the broadest application of funds to the best transportation solutions identified by state and local partners.
• Build on the intermodal approaches of ISTEA and TEA 21.
• Expand and improve programs of innovative financing, to encourage private sector investment in the transportation system, and look for other inventive means to augment existing revenue streams.
• Provide the means and mechanisms to perform risk assessment and analysis, incident identification, response and, when necessary, evacuation.

Also speaking on the reauthorization process in Las Vegas, FTA Administrator Jenna Dorn was more specific in framing her objectives, which include convincing more Americans to forsake their cars for public transportation. "If most of America won't ride a transit bus, we will not be able to sustain transit systems that meet community mobility needs," she said.

Dorn is a strong believer in using ridership as an indicator of success and suggested that transit properties that generate ridership gains as a result of federal investment be rewarded.

Dorn said she would like to see commensurate ridership gains for increased federal investment. "I know you want Congress to double the financial resources for transit," she said. "I would like to challenge us, in working together, to double transit ridership."

Pushing intermodalism
An APTA meeting would not be complete without mention of how much ridership has grown in the past years, and how important intermodalism is to the future of public transportation.

"More people are using public transportation now than at any other time in the history of the federal transit program," Mineta said. "It's the catalyst for economic growth and trade, and important to the quality of life." For every $1 billion spent in federal funding for transit construction, about 45,700 jobs are generated, he said.

Dorn calls the second half of the '90s "boom years" for public transit. From 1996 to 2001, ridership rose 20%, a reversal of the past decade, she said. "That's only telling part of the story," she added. "Overall, market share has declined since the '70s."

Less than 5% of the population is using transit on weekdays, and only 2% of all trips made by the population are made on transit, Dorn pointed out.

Public transit must be seen as an attractive alternative to the automobile, said Angela S. Iannuzziello, president of ENTRA Consultants. To increase ridership and reduce congestion, the choice rider market must be tapped. "We need public transportation to be the choice. Ultimately the emphasis has to be on customer experience, rather than cost reduction," she said.

Iannuzziello said a systems approach, where more than one component — commuter rail, light rail, etc. — is used by the customer to get where they want to go, is the best choice.

Public transportation also plays a key role in reducing traffic congestion. A core capacity study and a regional bus study conducted by WMATA helped the region identify congestion problems, said Edward L. Thomas, an assistant general manager at the agency. The study showed that the system was approaching or exceeding capacity in certain areas. In response, WMATA's 10-year capital improvement program allocates $2.9 billion to respond to population growth, and infrastructure renewal includes adding 460 new metro buses and 160 new local buses to the system.

(PT)2 shows promise
The Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow (PT)2 is on its way to change some Americans' minds. Public awareness of transit increased nearly 10% in the first three months of the campaign, Cipolla said.

Pledges are now more than $31 million over the five years of the program. About 90% of APTA's transit members and 26% of its business members have become involved with (PT)2.

"Where we are now is only possible because of all the tremendous support we have received," Cipolla said.

Las Vegas expands
For the host city, public transit is a relatively new concept. Its Citizens Area Transit (CATS) system only opened in 1992, but has grown from 15 million riders on 22 routes in its first year to 51 million riders and 50 routes today. Vegas is also launching a bus rapid transit system late next year and is in the process of constructing a monorail system that will begin operation in 2004.

"As the fastest-growing region in the country, it makes sense that we blaze the trail in transportation options," said Bruce Woodbury, chairman of the Las Vegas Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada.

Jacob Snow, general manager of the RTC, said the average visitor spends 3.5 days in Vegas. Some of those may become residents, as the city grows by about 10,000 people each month. Las Vegas currently has 1.5 million residents."

Heard in the Aisle

Wayne Bohannan, Board of Trustees, Metropolitan Tulsa (Okla.) Transit Authority:
What have you seen at the EXPO that is of interest to you?
"We are looking to purchase new buses for the fleet. I've been looking at the Gillig buses. We are trying to reduce the number of manufacturers that we use to make the parts inventory easier for the maintenance department."
What is your system's greatest challenge?
"Increasing our ridership is important. We don't have the revenue coming in because the state is behind on the budget, so they have made cuts in our funding. We have had to reduce routes and our level of service because of this."

Wayne Mandryk, manager, Edmonton Transit in Alberta, Canada:
What have you seen at the EXPO that is of interest to you?
"I've been interested in automated driver technology."
What is your system's greatest challenge?
"Our greatest challenges are in funding and growth infrastructure. We don't get a lot of federal or provincial support for the system. Our money comes from the farebox and we compete for money from a gasoline tax."

Joseph Rye, transit services manager, Santa Maria (Calif.) Area Transit:
What have you seen at the EXPO that is of interest to you?
"I've have been looking into the different fare media. We have experienced a lot of fraud issues with our current passes so I'm interested in the different colored monthly passes and foils to prevent duplication. I'm also looking into the bus wash systems, as we are building a new maintenance operation center. I would like to get an affordable low-end system that is automatic that the vehicles can drive through."

Joe Murray Rivers, board member, Chatham Area Transit Authority, Savannah, Ga.:
What have you seen at the EXPO that is of interest to you?
"The show in itself is awesome, especially the new technology. I've looked at low-floor buses and restraint systems. The big focus for our system is making transportation accessible to the disabled community. We have even created a position on our board for a person with a disability so they can give us their expertise."
What is your system's greatest challenge?
"Our biggest challenge would be funding. The county commission controls funding and they don't want to raise the level of taxes. Our capital improvement projects have stalled. We have to find an alternate source of funding."

Nicholas Lang, driver, Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority:
What have you seen at the EXPO that is of interest to you?
Lang: "I'm a bus enthusiast, so I've loved looking at all of the buses. I liked the Irisbus. I think that would work really well in Cincinnati."
What is your system's greatest challenge?
Lang: "We are trying to get support for the MetroMoves transit development. We want to get into the hub system. Cincinnati is a super-conservative city and they don't like change. Our community is not in favor of public transit so it is hard to get support for this project."

Art Leahy, CEO, Orange County Transportation Authority, Orange, Calif.:
What is your system's greatest challenge?
"Our biggest challenge is keeping up with the growth in Orange County. We now have a population of 2.8 million people and continue to see growth. Also, it is a very conservative community and many people are not happy with change. They associate buses and trains with big cities."

Matthew Barnes, transportation demand management planner, Rogue Valley Transportation District, Medford, Ore.:
What is your system's greatest challenge?
"I'd say that our biggest challenge is the attitude of our transit board. They under-value being involved in local and regional planning and prefer to put dollars into the fixed-route system."

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