Building Your Legacy and Public Transit’s Future

By Michele Wong Krause, APTA Chair | 10/20/2023

As the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Chinese-Japanese-Hawaiian father, married to a German, Polish and Scotch-Irishman, and living in Dallas, Texas, my multi-cultural roots remind me of the African proverb, “If we stand tall, it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.”

As the first APTA chair of Asian descent, I begin my term with deep feelings of appreciation and responsibility to all those trailblazers who made this moment possible.

I am grateful to my family, my colleagues in the legal profession and the public transportation industry, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and its CEO Nadine Lee, and especially to APTA Immediate Past Chair Dorval R. Carter, Jr., whose contributions have made APTA’s future more promising.

It is the duty of every APTA chair to contribute in their own way to the success of our association’s strategic plan—“to champion investment and supportive policies; leverage new mobility services and technologies; develop a future-ready, inclusive and diverse leadership and workforce; and enhance safety, security and system resilience.”

The year ahead marks the mid-point of APTA’s three-year strategic plan, and I have chosen three inter-connected “calls-to-action.” The common thread among them is that they require the collective contributions of our broad membership—large and small urban and rural transit agencies, businesses and transit boards.

1) The first call to action is to continue telling the ­amazing stories that APTA members are writing every day.

Ridership is no longer the sole metric to measure our success. We have weathered a global pandemic. The world has changed, ridership has changed, and how we think about the future of public transportation has changed.

Making the business case for more transit investment starts by showing how public transportation attracts employers, creates jobs, increases tax revenues and spurs economic development. Public transportation is the catalyst for vibrant, growing communities, and a better quality of life for everyone—­riders and non-riders alike.

One challenge that hinders our “business story” is the current realignment of America’s bus manufacturers. In 2004, there were 10 bus makers serving the American market; today, there are only three, and one has declared bankruptcy.

In my first act as APTA chair, I have asked Dorval ­Carter to chair a new, all-encompassing Task Force on Bus Procurement that will:

This is the kind of urgent issue that APTA is so well suited to address. The task force will be just one of the many ways we harness the inherent resources in our wide-ranging membership to make the economic case for ­public transportation.

  • Identify the causes of financial instability in the U.S. bus manufacturing sector;
  • Propose immediate and long-term solutions to address those causes; and
  • Consider alternative procurement approaches.

2) My next call to action is our continued commitment to advance diversity and inclusion throughout the public transportation industry.

This is what makes us stronger, more resilient and ­creative—in our neighborhoods, workplaces, industry and our nation. Today, however, we see people questioning the value of diversity, equity and inclusion as some communities and institutions roll-back or even eliminate these policies and practices. Let us create skill sets that allow us to change minds and make diversity a competitive advantage.

This is challenging work, but I am confident that APTA and our industry can continue to be a leading, respected and influential model for fairness and empathy. I welcome your ideas, your participation and your voices.

3) My final call to action is to emphasize recruiting, retaining and empowering the next generation of skilled, future-ready transit workers.

Last year, 96 percent of public transit agencies reported workforce shortages, and 84 percent said these shortages limited their ability to serve the public.

We need to fill essential jobs that are vacant or will soon become vacant, and we also must do more to retain our current employees who are already experienced and trained.

All of this will require a comprehensive plan that:

  • Introduces innovative ways of preparing new workers for new jobs that require new skills;
  • Invests in lifelong learning that develops both technical and interpersonal competencies such as community awareness; and
  • Reimagines how we define transit jobs to create attractive career paths.

These are this century’s essentials for a productive, ­competitive workforce.

I ask for your support in making these three issues not just APTA success stories, but priorities in your own organizations.

When we collaborate, we amplify our impact. Our transit board members, business members and transit CEOs bring valuable knowledge and unique experiences to any challenge we face.

Throughout my personal and professional life, and as an attorney, former judge and DART board member, I’ve learned that what we give back is the legacy we leave for our successors. I look forward to being part of your legacy and supporting your work.

Thank you for this opportunity to serve you, the APTA family and the public transportation community.