That’s a Wrap from Music City: Looking Back at ThinkTransit 2023

Another ThinkTransit is the books. This was our most exciting and best-attended ThinkTransit ever, with nearly 500 attendees from across North America coming together to celebrate public transit. Thanks to everyone who made time to attend and connect with colleagues, listen to the keynotes, take part in sessions, level up with hands-on training, or take a moment to chat with us in the Solution Center.

What makes ThinkTransit special is the people. It’s all of you who lead sessions, ask questions, give feedback, and collaborate as a transit community. Here are just some of the highlights from ThinkTransit.

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Warm welcome from Gail Carr Williams, plus updates from Trapeze and Vontas

We started off Day One with a warm welcome to Nashville from Nashville MTA and WeGo Board Chair Gail Carr Williams. Ms. Carr Williams not only welcomed us to the city and everything it had to offer but also highlighted her personal connection to transit. Her father was a bus operator, and she has fond memories of running up and down the bus aisles of her father’s bus as a kid. She talked about how proud she was of the work her father was doing and how we’re honoring that pride in the work that we all do every day.

Following Ms. Carr Williams’ inspiring welcome, Peter Azcel, GM of Vontas, and Teresa Domingo, Group Leader for Trapeze North America, gave a quick update on both companies. Peter talked about Vontas’ deliberate focus on products and product development, covering the new executive team and product OnTransit ecosystem. Teresa highlighted the new Trapeze management structure with four business units, each focused on a single product area, and how this change was driven by the desire to innovate and release products faster and better aligned with your needs.

Karen Philbrick lays out our path forward

We know public transit is facing tremendous challenges right now. Things are better than they were three years ago—even a year ago—but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. In her keynote, Dr. Philbrick, Executive Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, didn’t shy away from the challenges—she leaned into them. She highlighted what the industry is currently tackling; ridership patterns are changing, we’re fighting for the limited workforce, we’re trying to do a better job of protecting and supporting our mental health, and we’re trying to secure funds to provide the service we want to the people who need it.

But there’s hope.

There’s hope because by leaning into the challenges, we can start fixing them. From getting people interested in careers in transit starting in elementary school to learning what regular and “choice” riders want in a public transit system, Karen gave us a path forward. Last year Terry White affirmed for all of us the “why” of what we do; this year Karen Philbrick gave us the “what” and “how.” We’ll be releasing her entire keynote as a future episode of Inside Trapeze-Inside Vontas; keep an eye out for this great affirming listen.

Not your usual product showcase

Usually when companies do a product showcase, you get a parade of people and slides talking about all the cool stuff that’s coming. This year we did something a little different. I led a talk show-style discussion with Sabrina Blais and Carly Caucci from Trapeze RISC (Risk Incident and Safety Compliance), Hans Habenicht of Vontas, and Eliza Pendexter of COTA (Central Ohio Transit Authority) for Vontas OnSite to talk about customer-led product development. Too often software is created in a vacuum with no input or feedback about a product from customers until it’s “done,” only to learn that it wasn’t really what people needed. Using something akin to Agile Methodology, Sabrina and Hans made sure their development teams and customers were in close communication.

For Vontas OnSite, COTA is one of the first to deploy new technologies like Ultra Wide Band (UWB) sensors and a new product direction for managing bus and rail yards. Before development on RISC even started, Sabrina talked with dozens of agencies across North America to learn what they really needed to manage agency safety programs.

The result—better solutions that meet your needs with less rework and faster deployment. We’ll also be releasing the product showcase as an episode of Inside Trapeze-Inside Vontas in the near future so you can hear for yourself how these products were developed.

The Transit Unplugged Live CEO Roundtable wows the audience

Paul Comfort, the host of Transit Unplugged, always gets amazing guests for his live CEO Roundtables, and this year was no exception. Joining Paul on stage were:

The conversation went from career stories to zero emissions to working with boards to educating our next generation of transit leaders. All four guests had engaging stories to tell and inspiring ideas for the future of our industry. The entire CEO Roundtable will be released as an episode of Transit Unplugged on April 19th. Make sure you listen to take in this engaging, and unplugged, discussion about public transit in North America.

Showcasing the best of transit with the Awards of Excellence

It’s not ThinkTransit without the Awards of Excellence. This year we gave awards to:

These winners typify what ThinkTransit is all about: working together to deliver better public transit for everyone. Congratulations to all the winners.

How do you have a stadium with no parking lots?

Our final keynote of ThinkTransit was given by Burke Nihill, President and CEO of the Tennessee Titans NFL team. Burke presented an interesting challenge for us. If you build a new stadium in an area where adding acres of parking isn’t an option, what do you do? To solve this challenge, Burke is working with ThinkTransit host agency WeGo to ensure getting to games via transit is fast, easy, and convenient. While there will always be some need for parking, diverting cars off the road gives attendees—and the City of Nashville—far more options to create engaging celebrations for the whole community.

Learning unlocked with sessions, hands on learning, the Solution Center, and tech tours

Most of all, ThinkTransit is about connecting and learning from each other. From customer and industry-led sessions to hands-on classes, the Solution Center to tech tours of WeGo, everyone at ThinkTransit went home with new tools in their toolkit to help them go forward and solve problems at their agencies.

Whenever we ask past attendees why they come to ThinkTransit, they always say it’s about connecting with colleagues and learning from experts. Transit agencies aren’t in competition with each other, and that spirit of connection, collaboration, and sharing permeates everything over the three days of sessions.

Bringing transit leaders together to tackle tough questions

Paul Comfort brought together 60 transit leaders from across North America for the ThinkTransit Executive Summit. This day-and-a-half event focused on helping leaders open up to address and solve the tough industry challenges they are all facing. Paul created an amazing program with panels on the future of transit, zero-fare versus fare enforcement, a panel of new CEOs talking about their first year on the job, and leadership lessons from Shawn Moon of FranklinCovey.

This conference-within-a-conference is a unique opportunity for leaders to learn from each other and for leaders of Trapeze and Vontas to learn from them. Giving and receiving frank, honest feedback is essential for leaders. If people only tell you what they think you want to hear, you won’t ever solve challenges or get new ideas to do things better. And the ThinkTransit Executive Summit is one place these CEOs can do just that.

Always make time for fun

Balancing work and fun is essential for good mental health, and there was certainly fun to be had in Nashville. From the amazing food to live bands everywhere, ThinkTransit attendees were all over Broadway taking it all in.

See you next year!

Work has already begun on ThinkTransit 2024! We’ll be releasing updates on the location and dates over the next several months—so sign up for communications and keep an eye on the Trapeze and Vontas blogs for all your ThinkTransit news and updates.

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