Nathaniel P. Ford on public transport in the US

“The robots and flying automobiles of The Jetsons were seen as purely sci-fi 30 years ago. This type of future is not just fiction anymore.”

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Speaking at Transports Publics 2018, Nathaniel P. Ford, chair of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and CEO of Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) in Florida, talked about a “new world of public transport” and a “transformational time in our industry” where…

… Millennials use public transit when it’s the best choice, society in general is now embracing autonomous vehicles [AVs], and Mobility as a Service [Maas] is capturing the promise and potential of both public and private transport.

The Jetsons

Numerous mobility trends are affecting the marketplace for public transport in the United States (US) – from more urban-oriented lifestyles to declining car ownership to tech-driven start-ups. Also, private sector start-ups are using open data and many are now members of APTA.

In this shifting scene, the five priorities for APTA right now are:

leadership and advocacy;

the workforce of the future: the need to build it with the best and brightest;

leveraging big data: to improve the customer experience, amongst other benefits;

– enterprise risk management, i.e. understanding of the unique security challenges facing surface transportation and how to address them; and

the new mobility paradigm: according to Connected car report 2016, in 2015, the top five original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) invested US$46 billion (€40bn) on R&D into AVs; an eight percent increase year-over-year.

“We need to prepare a shared and holistic vision of mobility across all modes,” said Mr Ford.

Examples of innovative projects across the States include:

– Arizona and Nevada leading the way in AVs, which are currently being tested for circular systems and first/last mile trips;

partnerships between city authorities and operators, e.g. a demand responsive project in Boston, MA;

– top to bottom redesign of the entire bus network in New York.

In particular, Mr Ford praised LA Metro for standing out from the crowd and demonstrating how transit agencies in North America are rethinking mobility. “It’s leading innovation in so many ways, like integrating shared mobility fares into public transit as just one example.

Zooming in on Forida, his public transport home turf, Mr Ford flagged up the Ultimate Urban Circulator (UC2) – “a very exciting project expected to enhance the transport versatility of Jacksonville; a vision of the future.” Inspired by The Jetsons, perhaps?

“The vehicles will run together or independently, depending on customer needs. The first phase will be operational in two years. When fully up and running, this new system will be capable of serving three times as many customers as the Skyway, at the same cost.”

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Wrapping up, Mr Ford insisted on the importance of not only meeting customer expectations, but of exceeding them, adding: “My priority is to challenge transit systems to think and act boldly like they have never done before.”

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