Transit conference focuses on technology, future trends

Some 1,500 transit leaders from around the world, along with transit workers, vendors and manufacturers from across the country, will converge on downtown Tampa starting Friday, May 4, to talk about new transit technologies and hot topics like automated buses.

Ultimately, the nearly week-long event is about sharing what works and what doesn’t -- and showcasing what we have in the Tampa Bay Area to others in the transit industry.

"This conference means a big win for the local Tampa economy since conference attendees will be spending money at Tampa-area hotels, bars and restaurants thus boosting the monetary impact within the city," says Kenyatta Lee, Chief Administrative Officer/Interim Chief of Staff for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART). “This particular conference is their second largest, behind their annual conference. It kind of moves across the nation.”

Ticket prices ranged from $825 to $1,375 per person, depending on when they ordered and whether they’re a member of the Washington, D.C.-based American Public Transportation Association.  

The main event -- in the works for two years -- is at Tampa Marriott Waterside May 6th to 9th. Guests are expected to arrive on May 4th to participate in committee meetings, a welcome reception, and the International Bus Roadeo (yep, as in road) at the Hilton Tampa Downtown. Educational sessions and workshops begin Monday.

It consists of APTA’s Bus and Paratransit Conference and the Roadeo, a day-long competition of driving and maintenance skills which will take place Sunday at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority in St. Petersburg.

In Tampa, there are sessions on topics such as "Next Stop: The Future,” ''Automated Buses in Transit,” “Automated and Connected Vehicles,'' “It’s All About the Ride: Strategies for Sustaining and Building Ridership,” and “Zero-Emission Buses Are Ready. ... Are You Ready for Them?” They’ll also be looking at shared challenges such as recruiting and retaining bus operators and dealing with distraction and driver fatigue.

HART will be giving technical tours to show its Compressed Natural Gas Facility, Hyperlink service connecting riders to regular routes and Streetcar Barn.

While in town, conference visitors will be able to use a new Tampa Bay transit innovation, the regional Flamingo Fare, for free. When the pilot program goes into effect on a limited basis this summer, Tampa Bay area riders will pay with Account Based Smart Card or Smartphone Application accepted across multiple jurisdictions.

Tampa Bay is holding its own in the transit arena, according to Lee. HART ranks 68 among 822 transport agencies in APTA, based on the numbers of rides not involving transfers. PSTA ranks 72.

“We have been recognized for being very creative and innovative with what we have,” she explains.

So what else is happening? After a misstart with a contractor that didn’t keep on schedule, HART will again be seeking proposals for driverless services downtown. It’s looking to get proposals in June and get the vehicles on the road by December.

Since it will be in a formal submittal process, it’s up to the vendors to propose what they can offer, and discussions are precluded. “We can’t have a lot of conversation with them,” she says. “We can look from afar to see what they have available.”

Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. 
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