Leading a mass transit agency is a tough job, fraught with thorny politics, convoluted financing, intricate matters of engineering and, of course, the practical and emotional involvement of a very large group of people who use the service every day. But possibly the most difficult part of being the chief executive of a mass transit agency is that there are very few people in the world with similar jobs to whom they can turn for help and advice.
Later this month, Regional Plan Association will be convening a group of top executives of some of the world's biggest and most innovative mass transit agencies in a small group setting, precisely to foster the type of peer-to-peer exchange that is so difficult when peers are located halfway around the world. Transit agency executives from Hong Kong, Singapore, Munich, Stockholm, São Paulo, Barcelona, London, Montreal, New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles will spend three days together at a retreat near New York City to discuss challenges they face. Issues ranging from planning, financing, labor relations, fare policy, station design and information technology will be on the agenda at the gathering, which will be held in the run-up to RPA's Regional Assembly on Friday, April 27, in New York City.
The executives all run large transit agencies, but the systems they represent are diverse. Some come from cities with mature transit networks, while others operate relatively new networks that are expanding rapidly to keep pace with surging population growth. (In the last 10 years, the population of Singapore has grown 25% and transit ridership has doubled, while the New York region has grown in population by less than 4%.) Large, road-oriented cities such as Los Angeles are trying to capture more trips on rail and bus, while others enjoy extremely high transit use. Financially, some rely heavily on federal subsidies while a few break even on passenger fares alone.
With just 30 people in the room and the "Chatham House Rule" of nondisclosure in effect, participating executives will be able to speak freely about their toughest problems and seek advice from their global counterparts. Beyond the immediate input they receive, the goal is to allow these senior public officials to get to know one another and establish an ongoing peer network.
Several transit leaders, including those from London, Stockholm and Singapore, are extending their trip to New York to speak on a special panel at the Regional Assembly with Joseph Lhota, the new president and chief executive of New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The discussion, "Transit in Other World Cities," should spark the imagination and ambition of those of us in the New York region about strategies and technologies that could be applied to transit systems here.
If you have thoughts about this panel, or questions you would like to see answered by the participants, please let us know at http://bit.ly/worldtransitpanel. We hope to see you on April 27.