On Wednesday, the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) and the Florida Public Transportation Association (FPTA) hosted a transit summit in Fort Lauderdale. The event, attended by several hundred transportation professionals, featured short speeches from the directors of all the South Florida transit agencies as well as some words from other transit advocates and “luminaries.”
The FPTA also took the opportunity to highlight their foray into social media, the IM4Transit campaign. Roughly akin to a Facebook “Like” or the too quickly forgotten Facebook groups, their goal is to sign up 100,000 Floridians who support transit. If you care to, sign up at IM4Transit.org or head over to Facebook and spread the like. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) also expressed their support for the IM4Transit campaign, which serves as their pilot program in social media.
Harpal Kapoor, director of Miami Dade Transit, defended himself (perhaps in response to recent criticisms) by talking up his success as a leader. He highlighted that their bus on-time performance went from 66% when he started to 80%, a typical number for bus transit systems. He points out that MDT had a $25 million budget deficit when he started, and the past two years achieved surpluses of $19 million and $15 million. He touted the “only promise” from the sales tax that they kept, the Earlington Heights to Miami Intermodal Center connector currently under construction. He also focused on their use of technology, from the EasyCard to hybrid buses and the 95 Express service on the I-95 managed lanes.
Chuck Cohen, director of PalmTran, was hopeful that we would get more transit funding based on the 2010 census data. Both he and Tim Garling, director of Broward County Transit, reminded us that people will ride good transit service if we provide it. Garling also talked about the need for all the different agencies to work together. Joe Giulietti, director of the South Florida Transportation Authority, responded to that by criticizing the county transit agencies for charging transfer fares to use Tri-Rail. He said it was a move of desperation, not a regional move.
We do have some regional cooperation, as Giulietti pointed out that Tri-Rail was collaborating with Miami-Dade Transit on the EasyCard system, which is scheduled to launch on Tri-Rail this year. What no one mentioned was that EasyCard was not exactly born out of cooperation, with MDT jumping on the technology before any of the other transit agencies—and they may not have wanted that particular product. In my opinion, the surest way to get a truly regional transit system would be to merge the multiple transit agencies into one regional agency for the entire Miami urban area.
Going from the region to the nation, Art Guzzetti, Vice-President of Policy at the APTA, talked about some national trends. While 80% of transit systems across the country recently cut service and raised fares and 90% had their budgets shrunk, he believes the long term outlook is good for transit. Over the past 15 years, transit in this country has grown three times faster than population growth. Guzzetti believes population, demographics, energy, environment, and even the economy are all favorable to transit.
An interesting tidbit Guzzetti shared is that 70% of local ballots creating transit taxes actually pass. If only Congress can learn from such trends and pass a transportation authorization bill that includes generous transit funding. Michael Stepp from T4America mentioned that their advocacy group is pushing to ensure this thing gets moving.
Several others spoke briefly in the two hour luncheon, including Patrick Gittard of the Florida PIRG, Carla Coleman of the Urban Land Institute, and Vasti Amaro of TecTrans. Marti Daltry discussed the Sierra Club’s Green Transportation Campaign. John Lewis, new CEO of Orlando’s LYNX, believes that Florida will be “the center of the transportation universe.”
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