It was finally here; the first official day of EXPO. After sleeping a solid ten hours (thank you Roadeo), I was ready to head to the daily CTAA pre-EXPO staff meeting. During this time, we had the opportunity to discuss any potential problems, work together to head-off any issues and prepare for the day ahead. We briefly discussed who would be attending which training intensives and I was pleased to learn I would have the opportunity to join Selena Barlow’s Transit Marketing for Community and Public Transportation. At the conclusion of the staff meeting, I hurried over to Selena’s course to introduce myself to her and claim a coveted seat. In addition to Selena’s training, EXPO attendees had their pick of more than ten certification or training programs to participate in. Whether EXPO goers were looking to become a certified PASS driver or wanting to lead more innovation in their organization, they had the opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills in our industry.
I was excited to take part in Selena’s class, as my role at CTAA leads me to work closely with marketing and communications projects. I found this course to be especially helpful in understanding more about the transit side of marketing. Selena also gave participants insider knowledge on how to best brand (or rebrand) their system, which tools to use when engaging and expanding their customer base and good communications practices. Not only was she engaging and made the material exciting, participants walked away with helpful handouts and the tools to create their own strategic marketing plan.
Lunch came faster than most of us anticipated, and EXPO attendees had the opportunity to explore Palm Springs’ many restaurants. During this break, my colleagues and I were able to meet CTAA members and learn what they were looking to get out of EXPO. Everyone we spoke with was excited to be in California and grateful for the times available to network with their peers.
Following a jam-packed day of marketing, it was time for the CTAA Leadership Reception and Meeting. Traditionally, this event was held for the CTAA State Delegates. The event gives them the opportunity to network and be updated by CTAA staff on what’s happening at the Association. However this year, for the first time, the Leadership meeting was open to all EXPO attendees. It was planned this way to give attendees an opportunity to learn what CTAA is doing legislatively, the latest updates on our training and certification, as well as an update on what current projects are happening around the country.
As the reception began, it was astounding to see every single person having a conversation. I used to work on Capitol Hill and most of the receptions I attended were cliquey and served the simple purpose of allowing interns to eat free food. The organization sponsoring the event was considered lucky to welcome high-level Congressional staff, let alone the chance for a rare sighting of a Member of Congress. This was not the case at EXPO. The room buzzed with discussions and you could tell CTAA’s Executive Director Scott Bogren was hesitant to start the program and disrupt the dialogue.
He began the meeting with just that, “It was almost too hard to stop all of these conversations from happening. There’s an inspiring kind of energy in a room where transit professionals are gathered and exchanging updates on their systems and communities.”
Attendees heard from CTAA leaders Scott Bogren, Caryn Souza, Chris Zeilinger, Rich Sampson and Amy Conrick on a multitude of new things going on at the Association. As I looked around the room, everyone seemed engaged in what was happening and curious to learn more. If you were unable to attend the event and are interested in what was discussed, the presentation can be found at the bottom of this blog post.
The finishing touch on a great day came when it was time for dinner. In true California style, a group of CTAA staff headed to In-N-Out Burger to enjoy double-doubles and animal style fries. It gave us the chance to reflect on the trainings, the leadership meeting and we discussed what we could do better next year. We agreed that there’s always room for improvement, but we couldn’t have asked for a better first day.
The second day began as energetic as the first and I had decided to sit in on multiple transit intensives in order to get a better grasp on everything CTAA has to offer. I chose:
I began the day with Understanding the ADA. I was prepared to learn a lot, mainly because I have little to no grasp of the ADA beyond its basic parameters. Led by Monica Simon, she gave participants an in-depth dive into ADA definitions and their practicality. This class comes highly- recommended to those agencies who need help determining whether or not they must provide complementary paratransit service. Halfway through the morning, I went over to the Mobility Management Forum. This forum was created for those who work as a mobility manager, or have interest in the mobility space. Here, CTAA’s Amy Conrick lead participants through engaging, interactive tasks; allowing for those in the field to come together and solve real-life problems they’ve found in their community.
There were three CTAA awards to be presented: Rural Transit System of the Year, Manager of the Year and the Dr. Aaron Henry Award. Pelivan Transit, based in Oklahoma, received Rural Transit System of the Year. Executive Director Kendra McGeady proudly took the stage and was so visibly honored that her system was recognized on this national level. Kendra made it clear that the fact they serve a smaller population has no impact in their quality of services or innovations happening within their programs.
Julia Castillo of HIRTA (Iowa) was awarded Manager of the Year and it was so much fun to be present as she accepted this award. Within my first couple months at CTAA, the Association was asked to provide a witness at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing. The team knew that Julia Castillo would be perfect for this, as she expertly manages the largest rural transit system in Iowa. I had the opportunity to work closely with her and the CTAA team when developing her testimony and I was there as she delivered it. She confidently gave her recommendations to Members of Congress and more than held her own between the likes of large urban transit operators. Ever since that experience, I was in complete awe of Julia and amazed at what she has, and continues, to accomplish.
Charles Carr of the Mississippi DOT and a member of CTAA’s Board of Directors was awarded the Dr. Aaron Henry Award. This award is given to a person who represents leadership, dedication and commitment, and honors those who have applied leadership either directly or indirectly to the community and public transportation industry. Charles Carr is more than deserving of this award, as he works hard to advocate on behalf of his community on the local, state and national level.
Following the awards, FTA Acting Administrator Jane Williams gave EXPO attendees an overview of the FTA’s latest updates, focusing on its response to this year’s government shutdown and FTA’s work to move past that. She gave many compliments to CTAA and to rural transit, noting how critical their services are.
The luncheon wrapped up with the graduation of the 2018-19 class of the Emerging Leaders Academy. For those unfamiliar with this program, the ELA offers participants the opportunity to gain leadership skills, learn industry skills and pairs them with a mentor that guides them through the year. The ELA program concludes at the following year’s EXPO with the graduation and their poster session (more on that in the next blog post).
After lunch, I attended NEMT: Beyond Medicaid and the FTA’s Triennial Review: Top Findings Workshop. CTAA staff Alex King and Scott Bogren delivered a popular and informative session on how NEMT providers can look for funding options outside of Medicaid streams and ways to articulate their return on investment in a way that the health care world understands. They had a multitude of speakers; all of whom touch NEMT services in a different way. Speakers included: health care providers, Medicaid directors and NEMT operators. It opened a lot of doors for NEMT providers to see how they can better operate with their health care counterparts. Once I could pull myself away from the lively discussions happening around this topic, I headed to the FTA workshop. I found this workshop insightful because it was led by an FTA staff member and a consultant that worked with transit agencies on their triennial reviews. This workshop gave participants the opportunity to learn specifics about the top ten most common findings and how they can work to fix them at their particular system. Unsurprisingly, the findings focused around fleet procurement and ADA accessibility. I found this workshop to be helpful in learning more about what transit systems have to do when going through this lengthy process.
Next came the Trade Fair Grand Opening. To say I was overwhelmed as I walked in would be an understatement. I felt like a little guppy swimming with the big fish. The vendor displays were eye-catching. There was swag as far as the eye could see. I made my way through all the aisles and was surprised at how much our industry truly has to offer. There were new products everywhere, from buses to trip planning software to improved seat design. All of the vendors were friendly, engaging and couldn’t wait to tell you more about their product.
The day ended with Quick, Clever Ideas Powered by Pecha Kucha. Once again, I was out of my element and eager to learn what these presentations were like. These presentations, sponsored this year by Transdev, are centered around a concept and the presenter is allowed 20 seconds for 20 slides, ideally each slide being an image that ties back to the concept. Each presenter at this event in EXPO offered something completely different; and the topics definitely didn’t stick to just transit. Everything was covered from the census, to transit found in sci-fi and even a dive into a rock opera. Almost all the presentations were funny and the crowd was constantly laughing.
As I left the event, I reflected on how proud of myself I was for actively learning new things throughout the first couple days of EXPO. I talked to people I had never met and learned about innovative transit operations all over the country. It might have been easier to sit back and passively participate, but I was determined to live out the EXPO 2019 slogan – this week was a time to be bold.
The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.