Dr. Delon Hampton is the chairman of Delon Hampton and Associates (DHA), an engineering and construction program management firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. Hampton recently began his two-year tenure as chair of the APTA Business Member Board of Governors (BMBG), the chief industry body for the supply side of public transportation. METRO Magazine Contributing Editor Cliff Henke recently sat down with Hampton to discuss his leadership of BMBG, as well as several other industry issues.
What are your priorities as BMBG chair and why?
APTA Chairman Howard Silver plans to establish two task forces that will play leadership roles in the future development of the association. One will develop a new strategic plan for APTA that will guide our association toward making its maximum contributions to public transportation. The second will study APTA governance and make recommendations as to how it can be improved to make it more equitable in regard to business members and small transit operator members. For example, business members comprise approximately 40% of APTA membership but hold only two of 18 seats on the APTA executive committees. I applaud these planned efforts and have requested to be actively involved.
Yes, preparing for reauthorization, which is not that far away , and other issues is extremely important. However, unless we get the strategic planning and equity issues in governance of our association right, what the APTA leadership develops and approves might not represent the best interests of the whole transit industry. The makeup of the industry has changed, so the association and its policies must change with it if APTA is to continue to be successful.
I feel that unless equity of representation is resolved satisfactorily, there will always be an undercurrent of unrest and unhappiness within the association that will undermine its growth and effectiveness. We also need to ensure that we have the best people in leadership positions, and that cannot be possible if we discount more than half of the membership, when you count business and small operator members.
Related, but more fundamentally than the number of seats, is the structure of the executive committee. In my view, the modal leadership should report to the executive committee, and the executive committee should provide policy guidance to those modal leaders. Most business and industry boards are policy oriented in their structure, not operations oriented, which is what involving modal representation on APTA’s principal governing body does.
Secondly, I want to make the BMBG more efficient in its business as well as more useful to its members by making our meetings more issue oriented. I want each meeting to spend less time on issues that can be dispensed via a consent agenda and/or the information can be extracted by reading attachments to the agenda. The time saved can be used to give business members valuable information through briefings that they can take back to help improve their businesses. The sessions we had at our annual meeting in Florida in January on new technology and the current and future situation with the new transit starts process are examples of what I mean. We will do at least one of these sessions at each of the BMBG meetings during my term in office.
The strategic plan of APTA and many local jurisdictions recognizes the importance of communicating the “business case” for public transportation investment. Many cities were successful in getting ballot initiatives passed this past fall in large part because they communicated business-oriented reasons for doing so. What aspects of this “business case” do you think are most important now and to whom and how should APTA communicate them?
I think that transit-inspired economic development and energy conservation are the most important things we can communicate. These are issues that should resonate with the public and both parties. For Democrats, creation of good jobs, and for Republicans, generation of economic growth and opportunities are things that transit has done throughout our country. For both parties, making places attractive for businesses and people to locate is another aspect we should be communicating more strongly. These should become constant messages for our renewed (PT)2 campaign.
Beginning right now, this message needs to be communicated to members of Congress and their staffs as they get ready to consider reauthorization. In Europe and Asia, policymakers get this connection between good public transportation and business investment and growth. As a result, they invest in public transportation at far greater levels than we do in the U.S. I once chaired a panel at a conference in which a former vice chairman of Amtrak was asked if we will ever see high-speed rail like that in Europe or some Asian countries in this country, and he said not unless we change the mindset of people in government offices as to the economic and environmental importance of transit.
Fortunately, that situation has changed a little in a few places, with several cities having very successful elections on referenda in support of transit. Still, we need to step up our communications efforts. I will help lead the effort to get this message heard, but we should also explore how we communicate this message in new and different ways.
As a program management oversight (PMO) contractor what is the most common pitfall new starts sponsors make and what can they do to avoid it?
Too often, PMO is involved late in the game, and PMOs are viewed as just a regulatory compliance step rather than as a consultant who can be part of the team to help make the project better. I know that the FTA incorporated this oversight as a quality control step, and it has done a lot of good. It helps save taxpayer money and serves the public in other ways. But this oversight needs to happen earlier, during the planning stage. Quality should be designed in, up front.
I think the most important thing that agencies looking to build a new start could do better is involve the PMO early in decision-making. PMO contractors can help agencies refine their objectives: What they want to do and what they can do with the money available, the corridor they have selected and its characteristics and so on.
Finally, I want to ask about a controversial subject that I know you have strong views about; DBE set-asides: Should we end, mend or continue the current system?
First, let me say that my firm and I are strong supporters of minority, women and small businesses. Hardly a week goes by that one of our principals is not requested to give advice and counsel to one of the aforementioned groups. In recognition of our service in that area, our firm was chosen the first mentor in FTA’s PMO Mentor-Protégé program. In addition, as BMBG chair I established the first Small Business Committee for that body.
Having established my strong support of DBE/WBE/Small Minority Businesses, let me say I do not believe that the present federal program in support of such businesses is the right program. Most view it as a wealth distribution mechanism and not one to develop DBE/WBE/SBE firms in such a way as to allow them to achieve their maximum potential. For example, it rewards firms for staying small so they can stay in the program. As long as they remain below an arbitrary monetary size standard, their telephones keep ringing and business comes in, they do not have to learn how to manage or develop business.
Under the pre-DBE minority program, there were no size limitations. As a result, newly created firms had to compete with long-established firms for business and thus were forced to learn skills necessary for survival.
To make a long story short, the present DBE program needs to be mended if it is to reach anywhere near its maximum potential. It is a good wealth distribution program but has not demonstrated a good track record in developing strong firms that can compete in an open market. That is the challenge.