Ready for the Future: APTA TRANSform Opening Session Energizes and Inspires


The Oct. 9 Opening General Session of APTA’s 2023 TRANSform Conference, Oct. 8 to 11 in Orlando, FL, set an optimistic tone for the future. From incoming APTA Chair Michele Wong Krause’s multilingual greeting to hilarious lessons in innovation from keynote speaker Duncan Wardle, a theme emerged: Yes, there are challenges ahead, but yes, the public transportation industry will be ready for them.

In her welcome, Wong Krause, chair, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the first APTA chair of Asian descent, cited both an emerging issue and the solution already taking shape: a drop in the number of bus manufacturers serving the U.S. market, and the creation of a new task force to identify and address the causes of financial instability in that market. She thanked APTA Immediate Past Chair Dorval R. Carter, Jr., president, Chicago Transit Authority, for stepping up, at her request, to lead this work.

Similarly, she urged those in the room to support her vision of “making the business case” for increasing transit investments, advancing diversity and inclusion throughout the industry and developing the transit workforce for the future. The “common thread” of these calls to action, she said, “is that they require our collective contributions from our diverse membership, large and small, urban and rural, businesses and transit boards.”

APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas anticipated a “limitless” future, as he celebrated the past year’s wins in returning ridership, voter-approved funding, clean-fuel vehicles, agency and partnership innovations and capital development. “You and your teams should be enormously proud,” he said, of accomplishments in infrastructure and service expansions, making “remarkable progress for the kind of public transportation our communities need, want and certainly deserve.”

While pandemic recovery remains costly and painful, Skoutelas said “the good news is our transit agencies and businesses are already identifying opportunities, thinking differently, implementing new ways of doing business and changing the way that they approach the customer. Change is imperative for our future.”

Carter declared his term as APTA chair an honor, adding “One of my proudest moments this year was when the [National Council of Mayors] adopted a resolution calling for more federal, state and local funding to support public transit’s role in keeping America’s cities and the regions mobile, vibrant, environmentally friendly,
resilient and equitable.”

That collaboration reflected Carter’s focus on broadening support for transit funding through alliances with new stakeholders during his term. He also applauded the creation of APTA’s “Public Transit Benefits Everyone” communications campaign to educate legislators on the value of transit.

Carter’s own CTA earned praise for its work to advance equity through a planned Red Line Extension to serve low-income communities. “As the first African American to serve as president of the Chicago Transit Authority and a proud son of the south side of Chicago, this issue holds special importance to me,” he said.

Presenting sponsor, HNTB Corporation, was represented by Veronique (Ronnie) Hakim, senior vice-president. She shared her organization’s focus on equity in her remarks.

Representing the conference’s host agency, Tiffany Homler Hawkins, CEO of the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (LYNX), welcomed all with a don’t-miss list of LYNX innovations. These included LYMMO BRT, an autonomous vehicle pilot program with private partner BEEP, and a brand-new paratransit facility. “The past several years have allowed us to reimagine how we deliver our service and gave us an opportunity to do what is best for our community and for our out-of-town guests like you all,” she said.

Homler Hawkins presented a video welcome from Orlando Mayor John “Buddy” Dyer, then introduced Jerry Demings, mayor of Orange County, who welcomed the group by describing the region’s rapid population growth and corresponding need for public transit.

Sally Librera, senior vice president for session sponsor AECOM, paused to recognize the gravity of the moment, and the “incredible opportunity” that lay ahead.

Keynote speaker Duncan Wardle, former head of innovation and creativity at Disney, expanded on that optimism. With disarming honesty and a series of collaborative exercises, he reminded audience members of their inherent creativity, and the importance of fostering that creativity. “Artificial intelligence is coming,” he said. “What will be the most employable skill sets of the next decade? Perhaps those that will be the hardest to program.”

They are the skills we were all born with, he said. “You have an amazing imagination… You use your intuition every day. And you used to ask why, why and why. These were not the most employable skill sets of the last two decades. They didn’t need to be. They almost certainly are now.”

Wardle offered two minimum take-aways from his talk: Give yourselves time to think, because ideas don’t grow in stressful environments; and “No, because,” should never be your first response to a new idea

View a video of the Opening General Session at and an APTA TRANSform Conference and EXPO highlights video at­transform-expo-highlights. Additional session recordings are available at