Paul Skoutelas, president and CEO of American Public Transportation Association, believes regions like Orlando have an obligation to provide a standard and comprehensive set of mobility services to citizens

Do you need a car to succeed economically in the Orlando region?

It’s a question many have asked while stuck in Interstate 4 traffic during rush hour. But with the Orlando metropolitan area adding close to 1,500 people per week, with potentially 600,000 more personal vehicles traveling on I4 by 2030, congestion is only going to increase.

That’s why President and CEO of American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and former President of Lynx (1991-97) Paul Skoutelas believes regions like Orlando have an obligation to provide a standard and comprehensive set of mobility services to citizens. Doing so won’t just create alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles on the roadways. Improving the mobility of citizens directly results in broad-based economic development, livability, job growth, talent attraction and workforce development throughout a region.

“The future of public transit is shared, electric and autonomous,” Skoutelas said.

“We must develop more partnerships and take a holistic approach to adapting our transportation systems to trends and technology in order to provide the most mobility to the most people well into the future.”

Paul Skoutelas, President and CEO of American Public Transportation Association

In terms of mobility, technology has changed almost everything since Skoutelas began his career. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the perception that, as an industry, transit is behind the curve. But Skoutelas says public transit is ahead in terms of the number of fleet vehicles operated with alternative fuels to limit the negative environmental impacts of transit along with cost-effective purposes. Approximately 55 percent of bus fleets operate on alternative fuels with a move toward battery electric.

When it comes to autonomous vehicles, Skoutelas also sees it in the future, just not in the near-term. “We’re at least a couple decades or more away from that in terms of being the mainstream form of transportation,” Skoutelas says.

But disruptions caused by technological advancement have been a wakeup call for the public transportation leaders. As a result, transit funding has the highest federal appropriations to date. Still, a $90 billion backlog exists for infrastructure improvement, maintenance and repair projects.

APTA is the transportation trade association that advocates for the interests of the U.S. public transportation industry. Recently, the nonprofit supported efforts to pass a ballot measure to fund public transit in Phoenix by providing advisory services to help educate and organize local campaign efforts.

In Skoutelas’ experience, ballot measures like the one in Phoenix have high odds of passage. “I’m encouraged in the sense that if you look at the last 15 years, ballot measures to raise funds for transportation have an over 70 percent passage rate,” he said. “At the local level people get it and they’re willing to step up if they’re willing to accept the premise you’re trying to achieve. The solutions aren’t difficult – it’s getting to them that’s the challenge.”

For an example of a transportation system that empowers its citizens, Skoutelas says look no further than Pittsburgh, which has a much larger system with just as large a ridership base.

“When you get to that scale and you provide that level of frequency it becomes a reasonable option for people,” he says.

“Public transit has to be competitive in terms of both reasonability and reliability.”

Paul Skoutelas, President and CEO of American Public Transportation Association

Successful transportation systems have both attractive and frequent service with integrated lines and networks to give people the opportunity to travel throughout the region effortlessly.  When regional leaders build out a transportation system, they build out opportunities for businesses to grow and profit, and the opportunity for citizens to one day ditch their car and gain back the hours they spend sitting in traffic.