Limitless: APTA Mobility Conference Opens with Emphasis on Creativity


Kicking off APTA’s 2024 Mobility Conference and International Bus Roadeo at the Opening General Session April 29 in Portland, OR, APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas struck a balance of optimism and pragmatism in his welcome address. He had reasons for both.

More than 2,000 registered attendees across the events, including record attendance at the Roadeo (returning after five years); billions in FY24 appropriations for public transportation; and increasing ridership were encouraging. Yet challenges remain, in public safety, workforce shortages, and more, Skoutelas said. Seeking solutions, APTA is building a Zero-Emissions Advisory Group now, and last fall created a taskforce on U.S. bus manufacturing. “As a result of that taskforce’s work, APTA was invited to participate in a White House roundtable on clean bus manufacturing just this February,” he said.

Welcoming attendees, APTA Chair Michele Wong Krause said she considered the event an “incubator” for agencies to work together on how best to meet the needs of transit as it evolves. “There has never been a time in our history when our industry has had so much at stake,” she said.

Wong Krause also discussed APTA’s new marketing campaign, identifying public transit, particularly buses, as “wealth accelerators.” She shared a story from a recent conversation she had with singer-songwriter Erykah Badu, who “still remembers the bus rides that she took every day to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts. So yes, a bus helped shape her future. Her story is a reminder that we should never underestimate how what we do can have a positive impact on someone’s entire life.”

Samuel Desue, general manager of host agency, Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet), was enthusiastic in his welcome and was thrilled to host the conference. He had special thanks for the Port of Portland, which provided the 300,000 square feet of space needed for the return of the International Bus Roadeo—“no small feat,” he said, which truly reflected the theme of connection.

Just as public transportation connects people to opportunities, Desue said, “This conference here is connecting all of us to opportunities… to learn from each other, to lean on each other, to help one another, and isn’t that what this is all about?”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, (D-OR) recipient of APTA’s Congressional Legacy Award, called for “an unprecedented effort at collaboration and community planning,” to lay the foundation for future, equitable transit.

Keynote speaker Phil Hansen had a different take on challenges, which he described while leading participants in creating a huge, shared piece of transit art. To become the famed artist and innovator he is, Hansen first had to reframe his own limitations.

An art student in love with the finely detailed style of pointillism, Hansen recounted how he gave up art after developing a hand tremor. The doctor who diagnosed his nerve damage suggested Hansen “embrace the shake.” He didn’t, initially. Then he tried painting in new ways, with his feet, with karate chops, with different materials including hamburger grease. His artworks were now huge, but they were still complex and fragmented, like his early art, he realized.

“That was a moment for me. I could still create. I went from having that single approach to art in pointillism to this approach to creativity … this idea that limitation can actually drive creativity.”

Because he filmed his creative processes, he became a YouTube sensation, too. Taking on other projects, he connected with more people and became curious about human responses to limitation. Most people naturally seek help first, rather than pulling from their resilience and creativity, he said, but “Looking at limitations as that place for creativity, that changed the course of my life.”

Presenting sponsor was HNTB Corporation, represented by Justine Belizaire, associate vice-president and program manager. UZURV was the session sponsor.

View a video recording of the Opening General Session here. See more images from the conference here.