Panel Highlights Partnerships, Policy, Preparation for the Next Generation


From left: Jose Bustamante, Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., Lynda Tran, Carolyn Gonot. (Photo by Evrim Icoz Photography.)

Public transportation of the future must be developed strategically, with a regional approach, ongoing community engagement, and thoughtful communications, advised the Reinventing the Next Generation of Transportation panel April 30 at the APTA Mobility Conference.

Agencies should not expect another opportunity like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, warned Lynda Tran, now an STV Inc., board member and until recently a senior advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Instead, they should set a year-end goal to “make it impossible for whomever is sitting in the chair, whatever level (of government) they’re at… to put themselves in opposition to public transportation.”

Tran advised agencies to “tell the story of all the good we have done,” with full agreement from fellow panelists Carolyn Gonot, GM & CEO, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., CEO, Jacksonville Transportation Authority. Session moderator Jose Bustamante, vice president, T&I national business development, STV Inc., questioned the group on policy and project delivery, housing and equity, and coordination of efforts, including leveraging APTA’s strengths.

Policy is a challenge that encompasses every issue within transportation, Gonot said, and she is always thinking about the links between transit and employment, housing, and education. In her service area, regional collaboration is essential, since so many services intersect there.

Delivering on projects may require reframing the proposal, as in the 30 years overdue light-rail expansion to a transit desert Gonot recently began. “Let’s not call it expansion,” she said, “let’s call it making sure there’s an equitable level of service throughout the region.”

Ford said that JTA often just avoids the word “transit.” People use transit or they don’t, he said, which can be divisive. “Our community does not see us as a transit operator, they see us as a mobility provider,” he said, a builder of sidewalks, bike lanes, and projects that benefit everyone.

He and Gonot recommended strategic communication, including consistent community engagement, to build and sustain support for transit projects, especially when they’re delayed.

“That is upon us, in this industry, to really explain to the elected officials and the public, daily, even as you’re cutting the ribbon, take them back in history and explain, this project started about eight years ago, and here was the journey of delivering this project,” said Ford.

Tran suggested a thoughtful approach to “blowing that horn, versus just doing the thing,” when agencies find ways to advance equity, but also to invite elected officials and stakeholders to every single ribbon cutting, and “celebrate every win.”

See more images from the conference.