At last year’s EXPO in New Orleans, Michael Melaniphy assumed the helm of president/CEO of APTA. METRO caught up with Melaniphy to discuss his first year on the job.

What are your reflections on your first year on the job?
There’s no way to appreciate what this very unique job is like until you are in it. The breadth and the depth are much broader than anyone could ever imagine. And I have to tell you, the fulfillment I get from being in this role is indescribable. It is truly an honor to represent our outstanding members.

[The year] has been very busy. With the exception of this spring when I was out because I shattered by elbow and had to get it replaced, I would spend as much time as possible meeting with members and speaking at industry meetings. I have also built relationships with our partners, particularly in Washington, including making multiple visits to the White House and having an opportunity to meet President Obama.

I also worked with our outstanding staff. It has been so fulfilling to see their expertise, their experience, and I’m really proud of all of them. Overall, the thing I have taken away from this first year is just understanding the strength of our industry, how well we’re thought of in Washington and around the country, and that we’ve just got to take that momentum and continue to work with it. I want to thank our members and our partners for being so welcoming and supportive in my first year; they are the best.

Talk about your experience meeting both President Obama and the First Lady.
It wasn’t me being invited, it was APTA being invited. Just knowing that we have reached the table to such a point that, within months of being on the job, I was invited to the White House to meet the president and the first lady said a lot about APTA’s stature in Washington, D.C. I won’t kid, it’s really cool. It was a tremendous experience; it is as great as you think it might be. They are truly engaging people, they were very nice to talk with and it was great to be able to tell a little bit of APTA’s story. It was really an honor.  

What are some of the lessons you learned in your first year that will help moving forward?
The first lesson is just being amazed at how agile and responsive our members were when Congress tried to push us out of the highway trust fund. The members absolutely stepped up and did an outstanding job at telling our story. Their advocacy work, their coalition building all paid off in a bipartisan way. That was really a great lesson to see the strength we have when we speak with one voice, but we have to continue to do that.

Also, seeing the dedication and commitment of our executive community, our board of directors and our committee members when we needed them the most was really inspiring. The other thing that was really just a great lesson to learn was when we hosted the UIC High-Speed World Congress for the very first time in the U.S., and seeing the importance of our international relationships and our standing on the global stage.

Last year, you mentioned wanting to pursue the use of technology to provide members with more useful information. How is that going?
Well, I am really pleased with a lot of the attributes we have added to the website; it’s been redesigned and improved, so it’s much more helpful to our members and we are always adding new information. What I am really proud of is that we’ve added new access to research and data; added a breaking news section to alert new members when there’s new things happening; created a new section on the website [that has] news articles that are important; and have a revolving homepage feature called “In the Spotlight,” which gives our members a chance to meet APTA members and staff, because at the end of the day, this industry is all about the people. The more that we can get to know each other as members and staff, the stronger we become. Look for us to add some interactive global technology features at some of our major conferences in the coming year. We have got some neat things that are in the works.

What impact will MAP-21 have on the industry?
I think it’s fantastic to finally have some stability for the next couple of years. When you look at where that is on the scale of national policy, it makes us feel really good. Ours is one of the very few major bipartisan bills to pass this year in any venue. And, to see public transportation be one of those selected to get the attention and support of the bipartisan Congress is very rewarding.

Certainly, we didn’t get everything we wanted. We got funding certainty; we got some improved ways and simplification of many of the programs within FTA and the ability to deliver projects faster and more efficiently. There is also more attention placed on safety, performance and the condition of assets. Obviously, we want to continue to look for a six-year bill going forward with more improvements for our agencies and riders in the industry. At the end of the day, this is a good bill and we’re pleased to have won.