In addition to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) honoring MARTA GM/CEO Keith T. Parker as its 2015 Outstanding Public Transportation Manager, the trade association also graduated a group of up-and-coming transit professionals from its year-long Leadership APTA class. LaShanda Dawkins, MARTA’s senior director of Human Resources, was among the graduates who submitted a research paper entitled “Redefining Public Transit Benefits for Future Generations: The CEO’s Vision for the Future.” Below is an edited excerpt of their work that offers key insights about where the industry is headed culled from existing research and interviews with Parker and other top transit leaders.
The population of the United States is projected to grow 25 percent by 2050, with most of the growth happening in already congested urban areas. As we know, traffic congestion wastes a massive amount of time, fuel and money. The transit leaders we interviewed had a lot to say regarding how public transit changes lives, how to maximize the benefits of transit for future generations and how they see the transit industry changing in the next 5 to 15 years. The leaders’ opinions converged into four consistent themes:
- Population growth and congestion demand higher levels of transit
- Transit is vital for a healthy city
- Technology impacts transit
- Transit is a choice for all
Our research and interviews found that everyone benefits from an effective transit system – whether they ride it or not. We concluded that the vision for transit defines a future in which public transit maximizes its contribution to the economy, environment and overall quality of life.
Transit is the best way, and often the only way, to increase transportation capacity along congested corridors in urban areas. Given limited space and funding, transit can move more people per mile and per dollar than new roadway expansion projects.
For example, in ideal conditions, an uncongested highway lane can move as many as 1,900 vehicles per hour. A congested highway lane may only see 700 vehicles per hour. In comparison, a light-rail train running four-car trains every four minutes at maximum capacity can move up to 12,000 riders per hour in each direction.
Even as roads and highways become more congested, two emerging demographic trends will impact the future of transit. First, the retiring Baby Boom generation is looking for more urban-oriented housing and transportation choices. Moreover, the emergent Millenial generation, ranging in age from 19 to 30, is a bigger population cohort than the Boomers and they travel in cars seven fewer miles per day than Gen X-ers, the generation that immediately preceded them. Researchers say this marks the first time in our history that car travel, or “automobility” has declined.
Transit CEOs are well aware of how these demographic changes would affect transit in the future. Keith Parker, GM/CEO of MARTA, explained it this way: “If Atlanta wants to continue to grow, Atlanta will have to make a major investment in mass transit.”
Steve Banta, CEO from Valley Metro in Phoenix echoed that opinion saying, “Millienials want to be more mobile. They are not investing in suburban homes. They have less need for a personal automobile and want to live work and play in the same geographic area. Seniors and empty nesters are also moving back to the urban core.”
As population trends shift and congestion levels increase, transit becomes more important for providing access to jobs. Currently, nearly 85 percent of U.S. workers commute by automobile; public transit is used by 5.2 percent. Households living in auto-dependent locations spend 25 percent of their income on transportation. With transit providing access to employment, shopping, restaurants and other amenities, household transportation costs can be reduced to 9 percent of household income.
While transit can help boost a family’s budget, there is growing evidence that it can also improve the bottom line for the private sector as well. Driven in part by convenient access to MARTA, corporate relocations are taking place in Atlanta with companies such as State Farm, Kaiser Permanente and Mercedes Benz. This trend is also underway in other cities. In fact, there have been notable examples of public-private partnerships involving companies that provide increased transit access for their employees. In the years ahead, companies and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft may offer more transportation options that will complement public transit.
As part of the public-private collaboration many transit CEOs envision, a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute entitled “Disruptive Technologies: Advances that will Transform Life, Business and the Global Economy” examined technologies that will have a direct impact on transit including the Mobile Internet, autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things.
In order to embrace and position his agency for these technological advances, Phil Washington, CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has launched the Office of Extraordinary Innovation to “consult with some of the best and brightest minds in local, national and international academia, along with those in the nation’s transportation/policy think tanks and senior transportation veterans, to understand both new, and old mobility ideas and thought.”
Most important, the CEOs we interviewed supported the ideal that “Transit if For All.” That means transit should be a transportation mode available to everyone who needs it, or wants it. We must create environments of equity that connect all groups of people to opportunity and create viable housing, employment and recreation options. Our greatness lies in our ability to use our power to mitigate inequality, to improve the environment, to develop technologically and economically; and improve the overall lives of future generations.