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Roland Mross' Ambassador Blog: September 2011

Pure Michigan

The Michigan Public Transit Association (MPTA) held its annual conference on August 15-17, 2011 at Crystal Mountain Resort in northwest Michigan. There were 116 registrants and 62 vendors represented at the conference. For the past several years, the state of Michigan has sponsored a television and radio promotion called Pure Michigan that promotes the state's travel and tourism destinations. Crystal Mountain Resort is one of the focuses of that promotion as it is one of the top-rated golf and ski resorts in the Midwest. While the area surrounding the resort is somewhat remote, the location is perfect for conferences and meetings in a relaxed but business-like atmosphere. Sadly, I noticed a tinge of color change in the leaves of the maple trees even though it was mid-August.

Vendor Display, Michigan Public Transit Association Conference

Vendor Display, Michigan Public Transit Association Conference

In addition to attracting a large number of vendors, the annual conference is a cooperative one between the MPTA and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). The decision was made several years ago to hold one conference each year with both MDOT and MPTA participating. The MPTA membership includes the urban and rural transit systems and the program is always directed at providing information for all interests. The keynote address was provided by Mark Aesch, the CEO of Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority in New York State. It was a stimulating presentation in how Mark was able to turn around a debt ridden transit program though some very innovative policies. He is also the author of a book called Driving Excellence. Following the keynote, there was a panel of state legislators who discussed pending and proposed legislation.

In the enactment of the state's budget, there were only two areas that survived budget reductions: education and transportation. The Governor and a majority of legislators agree that transportation is a vital part of Michigan's economy and the budget reflects that support. On the negative side, there are legislative issues that could impact collective bargaining agreements should they become law. The MPTA does a great job of advocacy and connecting with state legislators. The downside is term limits in the state and this year is no exception in that there will be a number of new legislators taking office in January. It is an ongoing process to maintain the importance of transit in the state and educate new legislators to its importance.

The following day's program included a Transit Business Leader's Roundtable. The MPTA has formed a roundtable of state business leaders to allow for greater participation by business partners who benefit from public transit investment in the state. Art Guzzetti of the American Public Transportation Association and I were next and gave the Washington update. The staff of the Regional Office of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) provided the latest from FTA and responded to questions from attendees. The final program was presented by staff of MDOT and, again, included a question and answer period.

I mentioned there were 62 vendors present (see photo above). In this case a new fire suppressant system was demonstrated outdoors. Did I forget to mention that the evening banquet was held on the Crystal Mountain Lodge Deck and Pavilion under a beautiful evening sunset? A bonfire and sing along around the campfire followed. I will not mention some of the names of attendees who took advantage of the free rides on the Crystal Coastal Ride, taking the chair lift to the top of the mountain and sliding 1600 feet down the chute. It's the only alpine slide in the State. Definitely "Pure Michigan."