Adapting Together: A 2022 APTA Rail Conference Recap

People are living and moving differently, and agencies need to adapt to meet those changes,” said Paul Skoutelas, President and CEO of APTA, setting the tone for the 2022 APTA Rail Conference in San Diego, California.

A record-breaking number of transit professionals, advocates, and policymakers gathered to reflect on the changes helping to reshape the industry and spur economic growth. Contemporary challenges, including disruptions to supply chains, chipset shortages, and workforce dilemmas, were addressed, with an overwhelmingly optimistic view of the future.

 “We have a great deal to look forward to and to be thankful for,” said Skoutelas. “Our attitude should be more of gratitude; more grateful to reunite our APTA family after two challenging years; grateful for the sacrifice and hard work of our colleagues; grateful for the historic opportunity to redefine public transportation and it’s an opportunity we have all earned and created.”

Ridership is recovering, especially on the weekends. Nationally, we are seeing 65% of pre-pandemic levels. While many people are utilizing various mobility options, Nathan Fletcher, Chair of the San Diego MTS argues, “I understand those other (new and innovative) tools, but this is the backbone of our transportation systems. We need to have rail in our big cities in order to make our cities grow!”

As ridership improves, the labor force is another major issue confronting our transit agencies, especially as more and more projects are made possible through the massive financial investment of the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) and other grant opportunities. While many employees have gotten comfortable with working remotely and have a level of resistance to getting back to the office, transit agencies know they cannot meet their challenges from home.

Some industries may feel they are able to sustain a remote or hybrid work environment, but real growth and quality of life will require a return to the workplace. Skoutelas emphasized this point in saying, “The magic of bringing people together to solve a problem… that’s what is going to change our situation!”

Not everything can be solved with technology, but it can greatly enhance our ability to connect and gain intelligence, to interpret it and respond, and help get people where they’re going in better time.

To adapt and overcome challenges and better serve our riders, technology investments are essential.

Another prevalent technology focus at the 2022 APTA Rail Conference was cybersecurity.

Some presenters joked that it’s nice to take our focus off the supply chain and resource issues and look at renewable technologies and cybersecurity for a few minutes, but it doesn’t necessarily get any easier.

In a Monday morning session, Scott Belcher of the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) in San Jose summarized how agencies have struggled to protect themselves with increasing threats to public infrastructure. Typically, a consultant group is hired, who then looks at other previous RFPs and they proceed to “cram duplicative, unachievable requirements in their RFP to try to protect the agency in the procurement process. This is exactly the wrong way to go,” says Belcher.

Understanding the complex threats and technical requirements to address them are so important in specifying and responding with appropriate solutions. This is another area where strategic technology partnerships are key to getting it right.

This is where proven and adaptable solutions make all the difference.

Icomera has worked with operators and agencies to integrate complex solution requirements and bring efficiency and simplicity. We provide a secure, unified onboard communications network that can monitor and report events and issues in near real-time. Our award-winning X-Series routers can provide the most reliable connection in the industry and run multiple containerized applications for digital video surveillance monitoring and storage, passenger counting and other systems integrations to add intelligence and make what has been manual and tedious, now very simple, automatic, and efficient.

“Railroads are the backbone of America and the communities served” said Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal, Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Icomera in North America. “APTA Rail brought together the sharpest minds in the industry to share ideas and spurn new innovative solutions that will make our rail systems more efficient – all while better serving our constituents.”

With Icomera onboard, agencies can also take advantage of AI to advise on learned conditions supported by a streamlined back-office suite of tools for operational efficiency and reporting.

There has never been a better opportunity to advance our fleets and infrastructure and to provide leadership in redefining what public transportation should look like.

We need each other, both public and private sector, to solve the issues of the day and integrated solutions and simplicity to pave the way.