The 30th Anniversary Conference of the International Association of Transportation Regulators (IATR) in Austin was one of “weirdest” – in a good way. While our members prepared to travel, Texas and Florida were both hit hard by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. After some hesitation to assess the damage, the IATR decided to move forward with the conference and participated in a volunteer donation drive to help the hurricane victims. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those affected, and who lost their lives, and our thanks go out to all of those public servants who assisted in the recovery and relief efforts, several of whom were IATR members.
The theme of our Austin conference, consistent with the city’s slogan of “Keeping Austin Weird,” was “Keeping Regulation Weird?!” Well, weird it certainly was. Just as the conference opened and I was preparing a speech about IATR regulators moving on to rise above the antics of disruptive smartphone app companies, I tore up my notes as some regulators are not ready to turn the page on public safety. On the eve of the conference, London’s TfL (Transport for London) announced its decision not to renew Uber’s license as the company was not deemed “fit and proper.” That same day, right after Montreal’s speech, Uber announced it was pulling out of Quebec, Canada, objecting to requirements that Uber drivers be trained and subject to more stringent criminal background checks. That same day, NYC’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) prompted discussion in the media about revisiting the issue of a for-hire vehicle cap on Uber vehicles following a call with the TfL. IATR welcomed the drama, as regulators may now be rethinking their approach to TNCs.
This was a turning point and transitional year for the IATR, as it embarks on its next 30 years in a new and even “weirder” regulatory world. With so many new IATR regulators entering public service over the last few years, we held our first-ever Boot Camp training. This basic full-day training module included an introduction to regulation, regulatory management, rulemaking and legislative processes, best practices, ethics and procurement. The survey results by trainees, who received completion certificates, were overwhelmingly positive, including the mentorship program for experienced regulators to guide new regulators.
Of course, being the Silicon Hills of Austin, technology figured prominently in the program, which included leading experts in automated and connected vehicle technology, smart meter technology, alternative fuel technology, smartphone apps, big transportation data and safety related technology (i.e., black boxes). Regulators presented new developments in the following topics: universal apps (Chicago), electric vehicle mandates (London), public private taxi/tourism rebranding partnerships with electric vehicles and data platforms (Montreal), the introduction of smart meters and app based meters (National Conference on Weights and Measures) and app data platforms (District of Columbia and NYC).
The IATR also announced the winner of its second Hack-A-Thon, Team Boiler Hackers from Purdue University, whose students worked on a project involving automated electric taxis. The second-place team, known as Team Crash Alert from NY Institute of Technology (NYIT), delivered a presentation about accident detection through smartphones, and beat out many other competitors. Attendees also held brainstorming sessions to plan an Accessible Data Challenge for 2017-2018 (like a hack-a-thon, but longer), where students and researchers around the world will be asked to solve problems involving wheelchair accessible service demand using IATR’s transportation data platform or “data commons.”
Multi-modal unity and shared mobility were on full display via discussion topics, coinciding with the launch of IATR’s Multi-Modal Integration Committee. Welcoming comments to start the conference were delivered by Austin Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar, where he discussed his agency’s local, integrated vision for taxicabs, transportation network companies, car sharing, bike sharing and microtransit. Art Guzzetti, a keynote speaker from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), which represents transit authorities, pledged to collaborate with the IATR on public paratransit and Mobility As A Service (MAAS). This spirit of cooperation was echoed by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), whose representative Casey Garber, discussed its Automated Vehicles Working Group and IATR collaboration.
Safety was kept prominently on the radar screen with a keynote speech by the Deputy Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Daphne Jefferson. Administrator Jefferson spoke about the FMCSA’s system of electronic regulatory compliance, automated vehicles and federal safety programs. The conference also included reports on local Vision Zero safety programs in Austin and San Antonio, Texas, as well as a new report on driver safety and fatalities issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Last but not least, the IATR held a results-oriented all-day workshop devoted to Accessible Transportation Solutions. The day started with an overview of U.S. and Canadian laws involving ground transport accessibility, a review and survey of several displayed wheelchair accessible vehicles by regulators, the adoption of point-to-point for-hire service (taxi and sedan) integration via broker contracts as part of public paratransit systems (DC and Boston), and several blackboard sessions to discuss changes to the IATR’s model regulations for accessible transportation.
At our dinner event, the IATR announced Ramonia McCarty as the IATR’s International Driver of the Year. Ramonia has been providing transportation services for METROLift customers for five years and was nominated by Yellow Cab Houston, due to her incredible efforts last month during Hurricane Harvey, as well as her exemplary service and safety record. Ramonia was stranded with a METROLift paratransit client on board when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. She drove the cab to high ground and stayed in the cab with her passenger, surrounded by high water during the storm for approximately 18 hours. She then delivered her passenger home safely through flooded streets, without flooding the vehicle.
The IATR’s Regulator of the Year Award went to Ernest Chrappah and the District of Columbia Department of For Hire Vehicles, for his reorganization and rebranding of the former D.C. Taxi Commission, as well as developing a new ecosystem of ridesourcing, taxis and limousines. He has helped to change the face of the industry in D.C. with innovations such as creating the first-ever electric taxi program in D.C. with 150 all-electric vehicles and two fast charging stations that increased awareness of climate change, generated fuel cost savings, and reduced C02 emissions by more than 1,064,896 pounds. He is also honored for expanding economic opportunities by implementing grant programs that provided over $1 million to entrepreneurs to start or grow for-hire transportation businesses, provide wheelchair accessible service, and reduce transportation inequities. Director Chrappah also led the creation of the first ever taxi shuttle-based microtransit service for underserved areas of the city and nighttime economy workers.
Overall, the IATR turned a corner to set the stage for the next 30 years, retooling its operations and activities to prepare for the future and be ahead of the regulatory technology curve. Formed in 1987, through the merger of two separate groups of U.S. and Canadian regulators, the IATR held its first conference in Tampa, Fla., and then held conferences in North America and beyond, from as far as Strasbourg, France, to Anchorage, Alaska. As we turn 30, at one of the most exciting times in transportation history, where technology is causing inter-related transport modes and businesses to merge and work together, IATR took a major step in forming an Advisory Board, including the following: international organizations such as the International Public Transportation Association (UITP), the International Transport Forum (ITF-OECD) and Keroul; U.S. groups such as APTA, AAMVA, the Airport Ground Transportation Association (AGTA), the National Conference of State Transportation Specialists (NCSTS), the Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI), and the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM); and Universities such as the City University of NY and the University of California, Berkeley.
The IATR has broadened its membership base well beyond taxi regulators to include airports, Public Utilities Commissions, Motor Vehicle Departments, Transit and Traffic agencies, on a federal, state and local level, including members from all around the world on almost every continent. Membership is open to any transportation government agency and associate membership to industry groups and stakeholders, so if you are thinking of joining, visit www.iatr.global or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.
Finally, I am proud to announce we are entering the next phase of our regulatory liberty in the “City of Brotherly Love” – Philadelphia – where our regulatory freedom will be on full display in 2018 for our 31st Annual Conference. While there is no way to predict the next 30 years, 30 days or 30 minutes, as technology and regulatory developments are moving at lightning speed, let’s wish a “Happy 30th Birthday to IATR!”
Professor Matthew W. Daus, Esq. is President, International Association of Transportation Regulators; Distinguished Lecturer, University Transportation Research Center, Region 2; and Partner and Chairman, Windels Marx Transportation Practice Group.