Every year, the APTA Annual Meeting brings together public transportation leaders to engage in discussions about key topics impacting their operations. METRO asked APTA President/CEO Michael Melaniphy to weigh in on some of these hot-button topics, including positive train control, workforce development and what he thinks of ridesharing services.
METRO: With so many rail systems projected to miss the PTC deadline, what is APTA doing on their behalf to solve the problem?
Melaniphy: APTA has been working aggressively to impress upon the Administration and Congress, the reality and the urgency facing commuter railroads as the December 31, 2015 deadline to implement positive train control (PTC) approaches. APTA has regularly gathered data from our commuter railroads on the progress they have made and the obstacles they continue to face. We have communicated that information to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Congress, in an effort to call attention to industry concerns, as well as seek federal funds for commuter railroads to implement the requirement.
Recently, APTA worked with leaders in the U.S. Senate as they developed legislation (ultimately included in their surface transportation bill, the DRIVE Act), which would provide for an extension of the deadline while maintaining substantial oversight for the U.S. DOT. Ultimately, that legislation included nearly $200 million for grants and loan guarantees to assist commuter railroads with PTC implementation efforts.
We continue to coordinate our efforts with the American Association of Railroads whenever appropriate, including doing joint media interviews last month, to highlight the transportation and economic crisis that will occur if Congress does not pass an extension.
Discuss APTA’s workforce development initiatives and how it will impact the industry.
Workforce development is a top priority for the public transportation industry, as 50 percent of the industry’s workforce is expected to retire in the near future. APTA has several initiatives to support our members’ efforts to build a sustainable workforce.
APTA’s educational programs reach out to all levels of employees. While Leadership APTA and the Early Career Program work on leadership and management in small groups, all of our conferences are designed to educate industry leaders on a variety of topics. Our mandate is to educate the critical leaders of public transit agencies and their staff on the challenges the industry is facing and how to lead with solutions. This means preparing industry employees to be mobility managers, not just public transit managers. It means educating people on innovative financing and land use.
It also means working to train public transportation’s front line workers. One of APTA’s priorities, an initiative of 2014-2015 APTA Chair Phil Washington, is helping public transit CEOs develop career pathways for the five most-difficult-to-fill positions in their organizations. Based on the survey of CEOs we conducted earlier this year, those positions identified were in the vehicle maintenance and operations area — across all modes. The most-difficult-to-fill positions are general mechanic, rail signal maintainer, general maintainer, traction power maintainer, and route cutter/planner.
We are in the final stages of developing these career pathways and training resources for public transit agencies to develop discipline-specific career pathways and training to fill critical frontline positions. With these structured career pathways, we can better ‘pitch’ our industry to even more potential employment pools, including returning military personnel and their families.
Finally, attracting the next generation of leaders is crucial, and to this end, the American Public Transportation Foundation has awarded over $800,000 to 250 students and is awarding over $100,000 to 30 students this year. In addition, APTA has initiatives, and provides opportunities, to promote public transportation as a career to students from middle school through higher education.
How do new transportation services (e.g. Uber, etc.) fit into the transit landscape? What is APTA’s view on these services?
As any transportation professional will tell you, one of the elements that draws us to work is the fact that transportation is dynamic. This is as true today as it was 100 years ago, with the advent of the electric propulsion replacing the horse drawn jitneys.
APTA and its predecessor associations have always found a way to adapt and embrace new technologies and remain at the forefront of our industry interests and initiatives. While shared mobility is a disruptive technology in our industry, so too were the introductions of the electric traction motors, diesel engines and subways.
We see these new transportation companies as complementary and we have embraced them as part of a transportation system. For example, in some systems, like the Dallas Area Rapid Transit have a partnership with Uber to provide the “last-mile” option.
APTA is taking the lead to not only work with the new shared mobility organizations, but to help educate our members. APTA has drafted a thoughtful policy framework and policy principles, including assuring that the evolving new systems provide for social inclusion, access for all and works as an integrated network.
What other countries does APTA look to for innovative ideas and practices that could benefit U.S. transit agencies?
APTA has partnerships worldwide and uses those relationships as a conduit for sharing best practices. Last year we partnered with the Brussells-based UITP and Canada-based CUTA on the Practicum on Innovative Transit Funding and Financing. Out of this practicum, an international study mission was organized this year for members to observe and learn about the innovations in practice. Additionally, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in 2013 with the European industry association, UNIFE, opened the door for a multi-lateral Transatlantic Rail Cooperation Project.
APTA has also been a key driver of the U.S.-China Transportation Forum, especially the urban congestion working group. Our most recently signed MOU with the Spanish railway and engineering research foundation — Fundación Caminos de Hierro — will provide our members with the outcomes of cutting-edge research. Other partnerships exist in Japan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Italy and Latin America. We continue to look for ways to make sure our members are getting access to the best ideas around the world.