With a looming presidential election and still no new federal funding bill, this year's annual conference of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), held Oct. 10 through 14 in Atlanta, carried a little more weight than usual. Always a meeting of considerable gravity, the show was further highlighted by the approval of APTA's new five-year strategic plan, which set important ridership and funding goals for transit.
"With approval of the plan, our association can look forward to fulfilling a vision that more clearly and accurately reflects the APTA of today, and for many years to come," said George F. Dixon III, outgoing APTA chair and president of the board of trustees for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. Dixon was replaced by Richard White, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, who will serve as chair until next year's meeting.
As usual, the conference was reinforced with a healthy slate of pertinent workshops and general speaking sessions. In the opening session, Jenna Dorn, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, told attendees that the need for transit options in today's world is much greater than it was in the past. "Ten years ago, our industry tended to think of things as a contest between roads and transit," she said. "[That] assumed that demand for transportation is finite — a zero-sum game. We know now that there is plenty of transportation demand to go around."
Another important and frequently addressed topic at the four-day event was, not surprisingly, transit security. Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary of borders and transportation at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, headlined a well-attended security session before holding a press conference to field media questions. The federal government and transit systems should work together to secure "an open system," said Hutchinson. "We must measure threat and vulnerability with how much to invest in security. We don't want to shut down a system we are trying to protect."
Probably the most urgent issue on the minds of conferees in Atlanta was the status of the long-delayed reauthorization of TEA 21. Though no conclusive decisions were made about how to ensure an increase in guaranteed federal funding, APTA officials expressed a genuine optimism on prospects for a new, transit-friendly bill.
"With a few weeks until the presidential election, we are still optimistic that we can get a good bill," said APTA President Bill Millar. "It's not going to be as soon as we want it, but I believe it's coming."
Other speakers at the conference included former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, renowned futurist Daniel Burrus and Andy Stefanovich, a creative marketing expert.
Next year's meeting, which also features the APTA EXPO, will be held Sept. 26 to 28 in Dallas.
For more information on the conference, go to www.apta.com.