Expanding Horizons: The Value Of International Study Missions

In an era of globalization and interconnectedness, APTA has recognized the importance of international collaboration and learning. By organizing study missions abroad, the association provides valuable opportunities for its business members to engage with public transit agency executives and board members from around the world. These study missions serve as a gateway to facilitate knowledge sharing, foster innovation, establish new relationships and deepen existing ones.

By Francis “Buddy” Coleman | 7/7/2023

Francis Buddy Coleman
Francis “Buddy” Coleman
Chief Customer Officer
Clever Devices Ltd.

I RECENTLY RETURNED FROM APTA’S PRE-UITP Summit Tour to Spain, which included stops in Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona. I came away from this trip with a greater understanding of the issues that agencies are facing in their transition to zero emissions and how a technology partner like Clever Devices can better support our customers in an evolving transit landscape.

Under Spain’s Climate Change and Energy Transition Law, by December 31, 2023, cities with more than 50,000 residents must create Low-Emission Zones, aimed at lowering their C02 emissions. Not only will this impact individuals driving traditional non-electric vehicles, but public transit as well, encouraging municipalities to invest in all-electric fleets and encouraging drivers to utilize public transit in a greater way to lessen emissions. This puts Spain at the forefront of the transition to all-electric fleets and provides a valuable case study for North American agencies looking to adopt a similar initiative.

By expanding my own horizons through visits to other parts of the world, I have grown significantly as an industry leader. It has been crucial to my development of a deeper understanding of global issues facing transit and the ways in which we can innovate to solve the same problems in North America. Through my participation in various APTA study missions, including the Asia Study Mission in September 2017 (focused on safety culture, state of good repair and innovative operations), the European Study Mission in June 2019 (focused on Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS)), and most recently the 2023 APTA Pre UITP Summit Tour (focusing on decarbonization strategies, including electric and hydrogen bus developments), I have been able to provide valuable insights that benefit not only Clever Devices but the public transit industry in North America as a whole.

During my study mission in Asia, I was impressed by the emphasis on safety within the corporate culture and the dedication companies had to integrating safety practices into every aspect of their processes and technology. This commitment serves as a valuable example of something we should continue to focus on here in North America as we build connected systems that must work together to ensure the safety of both passengers and workers alike. From essential traffic safety solutions designed to prevent accidents, to sophisticated systems enabling rapid intervention in emergency situations by dispatchers and control centers, as well as passenger-centric solutions that provide constant information, transit agencies have a vital responsibility toward the passengers who depend on them each day.

There are major differences in how urban planning was approached in the United States after World War II compared to Canadian and European cities. There is much to be learned from their examples as North American cities look to make public transit a user-friendly and convenient option for their riders. By emphasizing the availability of frequent, local connections radiating from city centers, many other countries have made transit a convenient option for those not only in major cities, but in suburbs as well. While both U.S. and European cities had a boom in highway construction post-war through the ‘70s, our counterparts overseas never stopped investing in their public transit infrastructure.

“Knowledge gained from how issues are managed globally allows us to avoid reinventing the wheel where viable solutions already exist and gives us the tools to better help our agency partners achieve their goals.”

Staying ahead of industry trends is crucial in today’s rapidly evolving world. APTA study missions equip our members with the tools and knowledge necessary to anticipate and adapt to emerging trends. By participating in these missions, we become more informed and better prepared to meet the challenges facing us all. As leaders within the transit industry, this positions us to better identify new trends, potential challenges and emerging opportunities to provide innovative solutions to our customers.

The exchange of knowledge and best practices between transit professionals can be one of the most valuable reasons to participate. By engaging with transit agency executives and board members from other parts of the globe, APTA business members can learn from their experiences, successes and challenges. This knowledge-sharing environment sparks meaningful discussions and encourages the development of new ideas. Collaborative relationships formed during these missions often extend beyond the duration of the trip, leading to ongoing partnerships and cooperation between organizations.

Defining the ROI of a study mission for transit agencies or business members in dollars and cents can prove challenging. However, the knowledge gained from how issues are managed globally allows us to avoid reinventing the wheel where viable solutions already exist and gives us the tools to better help our agency partners achieve their goals.

The value of APTA study missions for agencies, transit board members and business members cannot be overstated. Through these missions, participants gain new perspectives, engage in an invaluable exchange of knowledge, drive industry advancement and stay at the forefront of growing trends. As the world becomes increasingly more connected, the importance of global collaboration and learning cannot be ignored.