The dark clouds that hung over the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Annual Meeting and International Public Transportation EXPO in Dallas yielded to sunshine as the event got started on Sept. 25 and carried through to the trade show’s conclusion on Sept. 28.
This turn in the weather was auspicious, given that forecasters were calling for thunderstorms and high winds as the remnants of Hurricane Rita advanced into the Dallas area.
Although the nasty weather never materialized, it likely wouldn’t have dampened the spirits of the approximately 15,000 people who journeyed to the Dallas Convention Center to participate in the transit industry’s top-shelf event. More than 1,000 were international attendees, representing 60 different countries.
Technology focuses on security The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston, for innovation.
Laketran in Painesville, Ohio, for outstanding system providing fewer than 1 million trips annually.
Muncie Indiana Transit System, for outstanding system providing more than 1 million and fewer than 4 million trips annually.
Sun Tran in Tucson, Ariz., for outstanding system providing more than 4 million and fewer than 30 million trips annually.
The Orange County (Calif.) Transportation Authority, for outstanding system providing more than 30 million trips annually.
Closing out the awards show, APTA inducted Carlton Sickles and Virenda K. Sood into its public transportation Hall of Fame. Sickles served the industry for more than 50 years and is often recognized as the father of WMATA. Sood is credited with inducing pro-transit legislative change at the state and federal levels, while also overseeing the creation of Community Transit in Snohomish County, Wash., and Valley Transit Authority in Livermore, Calif.
BMBG touts record turnout
APTA’s Business Member Board of Governors (BMBG), which gathered Sept. 25 in Dallas to conduct end-of-year business, announced that the 2005 EXPO featured more exhibitors than ever before.
According to Brian Macleod, senior vice president of Gillig Corp. and head of the BMBG’s marketing efforts for EXPO, the amount of floor space at the 2005 trade show eclipsed that of the 2002 show in Las Vegas, representing an all-time record.
“To sell more floor space in any city than the show in Vegas is quite an accomplishment,” said Kim Green, president of GFI Genfare and chair of the BMBG.
The BMBG also made strides by dedicating surplus funds toward redevelopment efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Additionally, Robert Huber, president on international business issues for Europe’s International Union of Public Transport (UITP), announced a plan for increased interaction and transit advocacy between APTA and UITP, marked by an internship program for upcoming transit professionals.
Other APTA EXPO business happenings included a meeting by the U.S. Transit Suppliers Coalition, a group aimed at clarifying the original provisions of Buy America. Its members gathered at the APTA annual conference to celebrate the success of SAFETEA-LU, which made key changes to the controversial legislation.
Buy America changes include tighter enforcement of the law during procurements, altering vague language to close loopholes and requiring written notice in the Federal Register before any public interest waivers can be granted.
However, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has until Feb. 12, 2006, to make regulations on the new law, signaling a long process wherein the FTA must solicit comments and decide how to define and interpret Buy America changes. Many of the members of the coalition voiced their concern during the meeting that the FTA is in no hurry to settle on new regulations.
“After two years of hard work, we have succeeded in reinvigorating the spirit of the original Buy America law,” said Peter Peyser of Blank Rome Government Relations LLC. “But rather than score a touchdown, we are now at first and goal. There is much more work to be done.”
For more information, visit www.buyamericacoalition.org.
Media given all access pass
The EXPO, held every three years, provided attendees with an opportunity to learn about the products and services of more than 750 vendors, including bus and railcar manufacturers, component suppliers, consultants, contractors and other industry players. Dozens of innovations were unveiled during the EXPO (see Technology Showcase beginning on pg. 34), and a record number of buses (65) were exhibited, said APTA President Bill Millar. “There is a rapidly evolving sense of design and style that didn’t exist some years ago,” Millar said of the vehicles on display. “There is an emphasis on security in terms of the technology being shown. It tells you about the technological direction in which this industry is heading.”
In addition to the EXPO portion of the show, important APTA business was also conducted. At the opening session on Sept. 26, Ron Barnes, deputy director of Miami-Dade Transit, took over as chair of the association, succeeding Richard White, president/CEO of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
Barnes announced that APTA’s theme for the next year will be “Public Transportation: Investing Today for a Brighter Tomorrow.”
Barnes said the transit industry is on “the threshold of a renaissance” and needs to work toward successful implementation of the recently approved SAFETEA-LU transportation bill. He also encouraged the audience to start lobbying for the reauthorization of the bill, which expires in 2009. “We want to keep things moving,” he said. “2009 is not that far away.”
Barnes asked his colleagues to focus on customer service, especially in light of the 2% increase in ridership posted in the second quarter. “We need to try to maintain those new riders,” he said. “So we need to meet and exceed customer expectations.”
White, who remains on APTA’s executive committee as immediate past president, said the industry made great strides in the past year, pointing to the reauthorization of TEA 21. “It’s a truly impressive transportation bill,” he said, crediting its passage to “old-fashioned hard work, partnerships and tenacity.”
White also praised the advances of APTA’s standards program over the past year. He said 175 standards have now been published, helping the transit industry promote innovation, quality and performance.
The best in transit, 2005
During the show, APTA held its 23rd annual awards show, honoring five public transportation agencies and four individuals for their industry accomplishments. The association also inducted two new members into its esteemed Hall of Fame.
Ron Tober, CEO of the Charlotte (N.C.) Area Transit System (CATS), received the award for Outstanding Public Transportation Manager. “It is only through the individual contributions of the people at CATS that such an award is attainable,” said Tober of the honor.
Bill Lochte, principal for Silver Lake Enterprises Inc. and former chair of APTA’s Business Member Board of Governors, received the award for Outstanding Business Member. Huelon Harrison, chairman of the board for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, was recognized as Outstanding Board Member. APTA also presented a distinguished service award to California State Assemblyman Robert Huff. Huff’s public service record is characterized by strong public transit advocacy.
Five public agencies were also given organization awards. The winners were:
One of the highlights of the EXPO was a guided media tour led by President Millar and attended by trade and newspaper journalists as well as members of APTA’s executive committee. The tour provided media representatives with the opportunity to learn about some of the technological innovations displayed by exhibitors.
Among those demonstrating their technological prowess were New Flyer, Digital Recorders Inc., Radio Engineering Industries, Orbital TMS, Cubic Transportation Systems, Gillig Corp., Verint Video Solutions and Colorado Rail Car.
Members of the media were also given full access to Millar, DART’s Gary Thomas and Miami-Dade Transit’s Barnes during a media luncheon where questions focused on transit security, customer service and the next reauthorization.
With hurricanes on everyone’s mind, journalists asked what was involved in large-scale evacuation of metropolitan areas. “Coordination is key,” said Thomas. “We have to take into consideration that there are not a lot of fueling stations for alternative-fueled buses. We have CNG and LNG vehicles. Over the next few months, we will be training with [local railroads] to coordinate plans.”
“From a community where we’ve had four hurricanes in six weeks, we are well-versed in our evacuation plan,” Miami-Dade’s Barnes said.
Changing the focus to transit system safety and security, Millar was asked whether APTA had taken a stand on standardization of intercommunication between transit systems. “APTA has become the standard setter. We believe that the more standards that we come up with, for commonality and interoperability, the better,” he said.
APTA officials recently met with Transportation Security Administration Director Kip Hawley to discuss its standards program and offer suggestions. “We offered to assist them in training their people,” Millar said. “Our people know the [transit] systems better.” He also said he explained the kind of money that was needed and where it should be spent.
Millar was asked whether APTA had already started formulating plans for the next reauthorization. “Our executive committee is planning to meet about it. The next reauthorization will largely be about what are the sources of funding and how much. We have asked to be represented on a commission,” he said.
Creating new revenue streams
In addition to the buzz generated on the EXPO floor by new technology, there was plenty to see and hear off the show floor at the numerous educational sessions. Topics ranged from increasing mobility options to workforce development and procurement.
According to panelists at a funding session, transit systems should take advantage of new revenue streams and cost-saving ideas to head off funding challenges.
The Tuesday workshop session titled, “Getting Down to Business: Creative Funding with Your Own Resources,” featured a panel discussion by Joel Volinski (director, National Center for Transit Research), Paul Skoutelas (senior vice president with PB Consult Inc.) and Dr. Steven Polzin (vice chair, Hillsborough [Fla.] Area Regional Transit Authority).
A workshop highlight included the presentation by Volinski, who discussed results of a survey of 100 transit systems across the U.S., and their various efficiency practices.
Some practices included ways transit systems generate additional revenue from equipment by selling naming rights to vehicles, becoming warranty centers for vehicle repairs and cleaning other vehicles with bus wash equipment.
Offering concessions at transit centers is another revenue-generating option. “Exclusive rights to sell a certain product like Coke or Pepsi can generate $70,000 to $100,000 more with this type of use,” Volinski said.
Other options discussed included leasing right-of-ways for telecommunications and the sale of employee pay stubs to advertisers. “In Boston they made an additional $10,000 a year by doing this,” he said. A transit agency’s passengers can also be looked at as revenue-generating assets.
During his presentation, Skoutelas, former president/CEO of Pittsburgh’s Port Authority of Allegheny County, discussed the various methods used to save the agency $211 million over the past eight years, which included the imposition of hiring, wage and salary freezes for all employee groups.
EXPO heads to San Diego in ‘08
APTA announced that San Diego will be the site of the next triennial trade show in 2008. The decision continues a trend of holding the trade show in the western half of the U.S. The 2002 meeting was held in Las Vegas.
Next year’s annual meeting will be held in San Jose, Calif., from Oct. 8 to 11.
Heard in the Aisle
How has the increase in fuel prices impacted your ridership?
There has been very little change and I would know because I’m a bus operator. The routes I drive seem to have the same leftover seating capacity as they did when fuel was cheaper. I don’t see any effects resulting from the displacement of people after the hurricanes, either.
Bus Operator, Milwaukee County Transit
Ridership has definitely increased as a result of fuel price increases. This peaked in early August. Flagstaff is a big biking community, and now bikers are riding in greater numbers due to us putting more bicycle racks on the buses. Gas prices are also beginning to impact the neighborhood soccer moms, who are getting more comfortable putting kids on our buses.
Transit Operations Manager
Coconino County Transit, Flagstaff, Ariz.
What has been the impact of rising fuel costs at your operation?
Ridership has increased 4% this year, partially due to the increased cost of fuel. But diesel fuel costs have skyrocketed so high that the increased revenue from more ridership is not going to offset fuel expenses. The agency budgeted $1.67 per gallon of fuel this year. That’s not even close. We need a higher fuel budget.
Chicago Transit Authority
What is your system’s greatest challenge?
Inadequate funding. We were fortunate in SAFETEA-LU in securing substantial funding through the formula program, but unless we get some relief at the state and local level, we won’t be able to make full use of the federal dollars.
Centre Area Transportation Authority, State College, Pa.
To continue to improve service. We’ve become a victim of our own success. People have finally decided that DART is a good thing. They want new rail lines and bus service, too. And they want it right away.
Senior Manager of Northwest Bus Operations
Dallas Area Rapid Transit
Do you have an emergency plan in place in case of natural disasters?
We have an emergency measures plan, which includes assessing needs and responding to evacuations. This includes securing the equipment. We operate ferries, so we need to take them out into the water. After Sept. 11, we had to develop a response plan to get people off planes, because flights have been diverted to our airport.
Kenny Silver, P.E.
Manager, Planning and Development
Halifax (Nova Scotia) Regional Municipal Transit Authority
DART CEO Gary Thomas discusses key challenges
In addition to playing host to the EXPO, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) garnered more time in the spotlight with the release of its TOD (transit-oriented development) study, which estimated that more than $3.3 billion in private funds were invested by developers at stations along DART’s 45-mile light rail system serving Dallas, Garland, Richardson and Plano. METRO Senior Editor Janna Starcic got a chance to sit down with DART CEO Gary Thomas to talk about the study and challenges facing the system.
Tell me about DART’s transit-oriented development study.
We did a study on property values about five years ago, but this time we wanted someone outside to conduct the study. Intuitively, we knew [the investment in development] was going well. [In terms of the light rail system], when you talk to people, all they really worry about is getting from point A to point B. We think we’ve accomplished that. Also, the return on investment for the light rail system is greater than what taxpayers have spent to build it.
What is your system’s greatest challenge?
The most important thing to me is putting a quality service on the street. Right now, the second biggest thing I look at is the extension of the light rail system. We wanted to ensure that the funding ($260 million) comes through.
How has your system dealt with rising fuel costs?
We’ve been monitoring fuel costs and have a consultant working on whether we are going to lock it in the price or do futures. We use 6.4 million gallons of fuel a year. For FY ’05 in October, we budgeted $1.29 per gallon. Three weeks prior to Hurricane Katrina, fuel was $2.20 per gallon. It costs us $64,000 annually for every penny of change.
A lot of agencies are looking at fuel efficiency programs. We implemented those same technologies several years ago. Now, the real challenge is to cut deadhead miles and to continue to fine-tune our approach. We’ve hedged fuel prices in the past. In normal times we would lock in the price. We use that method right now with LNG and electricity. On our diesel, when the hedge ran out we worked with consultants. We will review entire organizational efficiencies we can make in our staffing, in how we run our service. We will not necessarily be adding a fuel surcharge.
What kinds of changes have you made in terms of security?
We have a capital test project that involves new camera technology for our buses. Some buses will have them in place by the end of the year.
In addition, we have prepared safety information and are issuing it online, and with posters. All employees have been through safety training and we remind customers to be watchful. We also have a higher visibility of police and security personnel, as well as fare inspectors, supervisors on platforms and at other key areas.
King County captures top prize in bus roadeo
King County Metro in Seattle captured top honors at the 2005 APTA International Bus Roadeo, held Sept. 24 at Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s Arapaho Station.
The Metro team garnered the highest combined score for the maintenance team and bus operators. The transit system’s maintenance team (Leonard Emry, Larry Fitzpatrick and Ryan Stringfellow) won first place for the third straight year. Bus operator Michael Grady helped his team’s cause by placing fourth out of 70 competitors in the 40-foot bus division.
The San Mateo County (Calif.) Transit District took second place. Third place went to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
In the maintainers’ category, Coast Mountain Bus Co. in Vancouver, B.C., came in second to King County, while the Orange County (Calif.) Transportation Authority (OCTA) finished third.
In the operators’ category, Arthur Murillo of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin, Texas, placed first. Second place went to Daniel Schmidt of Ben Franklin Transit in Richland, Wash., while Pete Christensen of Clallam Transit in Port Angeles, Wash., took third place.
Nearly 100 transit systems were represented at this year’s competition. Next year’s event will be held during the APTA Bus and Paratransit Conference rather than at the Annual Meeting. The 2006 Roadeo will be held April 30 to May 3. It will be hosted by OCTA in Orange, Calif.