[IMAGE]GeneralSessionPanel2FULL.jpg[/IMAGE] For the first time ever, the Washington, D.C.-based Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) brought its annual Expo to California.  

Transportation professionals from across the U.S. converged on Long Beach, Calif. to get ideas and share concerns at the 2010 Community Transportation Expo, which took place from May 24 to 28.The Expo featured training sessions and workshops, a trade fair, the Community Transportation National Roadeo, special speakers and three conferences.

Special conferences were held on Monday and Tuesday: "Connecting Communities: A Passenger Rail Symposium", "Thinking Outside the Bus: New Approaches to Commuter Transportation" and "Nations in Transit: Tribal Transit Conference."

Intensive training sessions were also offered throughout the course of the conference. Topics covered included transit management, preventive maintenance and transit's role in emergency response.

Wednesday's itinerary was filled with professional development sessions, which covered topics ranging from Medicaid transportation, going green, converting to alternative-fuel use and winning support at the polls for public transportation.

In the well-attended "Quality Medicaid Transportation: Building Partnerships that Work", Dale Marsico, executive director, CTAA, discussed the complex history of the Medicaid program, the changes made to it by the recently passed health reform legislation - the Affordable Care Act -  and its impact on paratransit providers. Marsico outlined the steps that states would have to take to navigate the changes in providing non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT). "What's unique in the NEMT and health care bill is that it recognizes that there will be no success without access to primary and secondary care, and access to public transportation," Marsico said.

"There is a demand for a separation between primary service and those who deliver it with gatekeepers," he added. There is now an understanding in Congress that health care cannot be properly provided without transportation, whether it's of the public or community variety. "The key factor is how we work together in communities to build mobility services."

Valerie Miller, CTAA Medical Transportation Specialist, explained how changes in health care legislation would affect how different states across the U.S. turn to managed care, such as brokerages and intermediaries, in terms of dealing with transportation. Brokerages can offer cost containment and client encounter data, both of which are vital for receiving federal funds, she explained. "Know your costs. Learn how to advocate for yourself. Educate Congress about your system," Miller advised.

[IMAGE]GoingGreenSessionPanelFULL-1.jpg[/IMAGE] In the session, "Color Me Green: Implementing and Promoting Transit as the Green Alternative" John Knox White from the Oakland, Calif.-based transit advocacy organization, TransForm CA, discussed the importance of promoting transit oriented development as well as the organization's own LEED program designed to certify green development projects.

Ron Wenger, City of Billings Transit, Billings, Mont., talked about his agency's experience with turning to solar energy. "It's more expensive to go solar in the beginning, but the payback is in the [cost of services] in the long run, and it's healthy by design. When arguing health, it's hard to find opposition," he said.

Jeff Meilbeck, Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority, Flagstaff, Ariz., shared how his agency went green by using shaded parking for the bus storage area and installed solar panels to generate surplus power and earn extra credits.

Offering additional green guidance, "Alternative Fuels in Transit - the Southern California Experience" focused on Santa Monica Transit's Big Blue Bus and eco-friendly fueling. Presenter Ralph Merced, transit maintenance manager, Big Blue Bus, Santa Monica, Calif., walked conference-goers through the steps the agency took to meet 2010 emissions compliance and convert to natural gas and a hybrid fleet.

In "Winning at the Polls: Making the Case for Transit" Dan Dirks, United We Ride, Region VI Ambassador, Detroit, recounted what it took to win an election for a referendum to provide a transit tax when he worked at SMART in Detroit. He laid out a timeline of what to do one year, six months and two months before an election. Tips included getting feedback from local businesses; using a secret rider system; meeting with key community groups such as schools, churches and senior groups; getting familiar with voter demographics and developing a strategy to identify donors.

During the general session, the Charles Henry Award was presented to congressional Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.). Clyburn spoke about how connecting rural communities through transportation is crucial.

CTAA Chief Editor Scott Bogren introduced a panel to discuss the current state of transit funding and take questions from the audience.

Jeff Rosenberg, legislative director, Amalgamated Transit Union, remarked that the quality of service has increased. "Buses are newer. You don't see many 17-year-old buses anymore. People were turning to public transit even when the economy was good. The trends are going our way," he said.

Richard Doyle, regulations administrator, FTA, pointed out that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding has been very successful. "People think the transit community did well in applying for that money in a short time. But now that the money is out there, it's up to the agencies to spend it well," he advised.

On Thursday, "Strategies for Forging Partnerships with the Business Sector" focused on the importance for businesses to provide transportation alternatives to their employees, which also helps their bottom line through such things as tax cuts.

Deb Smith, mobility manager for the Clearwater Economic Development Association in Lewiston, Idaho, discussed the struggle of providing transportation alternatives to citizens in a rural area with a high poverty level. Smith also discussed how, through attending Chamber of Commerce meetings, finding partners in her local Department of Labor and Department of Employment offices, and meeting with local businesspeople and transit agencies she was able to successfully coordinate new transportation programs, including a new vanpool that will provide members of the Nez Perce tribe easier access to their jobs.

Smith, who explained that she was new at her job and didn't really know how to go about setting up new transportation programs, said by forging these partnerships she was able to identify sectors in Idaho that needed alternatives and find the necessary help to implement new programs that worked. She also urged the audience to contact CTAA via phone or its Website to order the "Transportation to Work Toolkit."

Continuing on the importance of providing transportation alternatives, the "Mobility Management: Practical Implications for Transportation Providers" session featured transportation providers discussing innovative new programs to be responsive to changing community needs.  

During the session, Barbara Ladner, manager for business development at Pace Transit in Arlington Heights, Ill., discussed a program at her agency that enables employers to offer prospective employees a free pass to try Pace and, upon their hiring, offer them 50 percent off their first monthly pass as well as $5-a-month discounts thereafter. The program, which was begun by Pace to partner with businesses attending job fairs, has grown in popularity with local businesses and has helped to grow ridership on the system, according to Ladner.  

Following the session, attendees were urged to ask questions to find out how each of the presenters were able to set up their programs and some even bounced ideas off of the panel for programs they are trying to implement.

In the afternoon, "What To Do With the 2010 Census Results - Don't Just Sit There!" Frederick Schmidt, director of the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont, and Beverly Ward, Region I Ambassador for United We Ride, spoke about the impact the 2010 Census will have on transportation systems, especially on rural and small town decision-making. They also discussed how it will shift metro and rural boundaries, which could make it more difficult for transit systems in those areas to compete for much-needed funds.

"The problem will be what the new definition for rural or mid-size areas will be, which will definitely cause changes in the transit formula funding process," said Schmidt.

Both Schmidt and Ward also urged the crowd to find alternatives to Census 2010 data, since it only shows a microcosmic snapshot of the larger picture.

Meanwhile on the show floor, attendees were able to get an up-close and personal view of vehicles, products and services that could make their jobs easier. Many attendees also discussed the benefits they were getting from the sessions:

  • "During the 'Senior Transportation Innovations' session, one of the presenters had an excellent idea that I plan on taking home with me. That is the really great thing about this show; a bunch of people from all over the nation sharing ideas that can also work for you." - Orlando J. Papucci, regional transportation coordinator for the Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments in Sumter, S.C. 
  • When asked what she found most beneficial about the Expo, one show-goer remarked on the high quality of the professional development workshops. "The performance measurement workshop speaker, Mark Aesch, from Rochester Genessee RTA was inspiring. They shared how they went from having a deficit, to being in the black and increasing ridership." - Dorothy Yeager, assistant executive director, OATS Inc.
  • What are some of your biggest challenges when trying to provide transportation in Idaho? "The first challenge is getting everybody together. Every agency wants to do their own thing, and so it's important to coordinate so you don't lose the program because of conflicting opinions. You got to bring them to the table to see how they can work together and become more efficient public providers of an important service. Many times in the private sector you see a coordinated effort to provide a service, such as the way mail is delivered, for instance. The customer doesn't care how it gets there; it just needs to get there by the time promised. Our ultimate goal, then, is to coordinate services in the same vane across the state to bridge the transportation gap." - John Krause, program manager, Idaho Transportation Department.


 METRO TV: To watch video of FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff addressing CTAA Expo participants, click here.