Reflections from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Bus and Paratransit Conference

Brian Lester ·

The Public Transit industry has been a major focus of EDSI’s Workforce Development consulting efforts for nearly 15 years. Throughout this time, our participation as a business member in the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) conferences has been a consistently enriching experience. It is amazing to think how we have grown from a single engagement at SEPTA for a skill gap analysis of mechanics in 2001, to work across the country with dozens of agencies, state associations and governments, labor unions and partnerships in a huge variety of Workforce Development efforts.

At the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Bus and Paratransit Conference in Fort Worth, TX last month, I was privileged to help facilitate a table top discussion of maintenance training and development practices and to present as part of two panels on Maintenance Management and Workforce Development initiatives.

The table top discussion was a part of Maintenance Monday, a “conference within the conference” that gathered over 100 maintenance managers, trainers and fleet planners to share best practices through a variety of facilitated discussions. Topics ranged from alternative fuel infrastructure to bus procurement specifications, and everything in between. The critical conclusion at our table was that new technology on vehicles, combined with significant generational turnover, presents a huge resource challenge to train incumbent and future bus technicians. Whereas there are many avenues to become an automotive or diesel truck technician, there is always going to be a steep post-hire learning curve for bus technicians that requires internal capacity and innovative on-the-job training initiatives. You can’t just hire a bus technician, you must commit to supporting him/her in developing a career.

At the Maintenance Management panel, EDSI presented on our Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) sponsored research efforts on Bus to Technician staffing ratios, and previewed the detailed calculator and guidebook for staffing that will soon be available to the industry. Other presenters spoke on the use of Standard Operating Procedures in training, attracting and retaining women technicians, and the development and tracking of key performance indicators through maintenance and IT collaborations. For the Workforce Development panel, we shared case studies from our recent work in Knowledge Management for the utility industry, which is especially relevant as public transit has a similarly aging workforce and experiences the pitfalls of “knowledge silos” we’ve encountered with our utility customers. Other presentations included change management, public-private cooperation initiatives and future workforce planning. The enthusiasm from panels and audiences, both in and between conference sessions, was infectious.

After hearing from such a wide variety of people passionate about their efforts to improve their organizations and communities through reliable public transit maintenance and operations, I began to think on the flight home about how the common thread of all these efforts is seeking continuous improvement in the 3P’s of People, Process and Perspective that make up the EDSI Impact:

People

Public Transit is a place of great opportunity. It provides family-sustaining wages for people without college degrees, and there are innumerable stories of senior leaders in organizations who started as drivers, cleaners or mechanic helpers. This doesn’t just happen, it is the result of a lot of planning, effort and commitment on the part of agencies and labor unions.

Process

More and more we are hearing about agencies harnessing data and engaging teams in moving the lead indicators that drive critical performance measures. There is a commitment at all levels to delivering quality service in an efficient manner.

Perspective

I can’t think of any other industry where people are more willing to give of their time to help colleagues at other organizations across the country. APTA sponsors a peer review process where agencies can get valuable external perspective on their operations, and the conferences always facilitate new ideas and collaborations within and across organizations.

These are very exciting times for EDSI and the Public Transit industry. I’m very excited to see where we can go together over the next 15 years.