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WTS International Annual Conference Highlights

Tune into the Future of Transportation – Highlights of the 2016 WTS International Conference

June 6, 2016

By Anna Nadler, MassDOT District 2  

“My take away:  that Boston WTS women rock!  You are gracious, welcoming and very entertaining.  And brave – Paula Simmons wearing a New England Patriots hat in Texas was pretty spectacular! As for the conference, I really enjoyed the Bootstraps/Boardroom session with the executive leader breakout tables.  To sit with Dr. Bev Scott was really an honor and a privilege.  It was great to see the more junior women engaging and hearing from someone who is so unabashedly herself and defines her own rules of leadership.”

 -Connie Englert, TrueNorth Transit Group

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The 2016 WTS Annual Conference took place this past month in Austin, Texas.  Attending this conference allowed for the exploration of transportation in a new city with a new perspective. Austin incorporates the beauty of infrastructure in a way that functions for those using it. Sixth Street closes down to vehicles every Friday and Saturday night to keep pedestrians safe. Police use horses as an alternative form of transportation. And up to 1.2 million female Mexican FreeTailed Bats roost under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge which ultimately keeps insect numbers down, helping with the local agriculture. The picture above to the left vgis from our sunset cruise on the portion of the Colorado River known as Lady Bird Lake, when the bats fly out from under the bridge off into the dusk. The photo on the right portrays a beautiful sunset overlooking downtown Austin. These many unique aspects of transportation are what keep the Austin environment comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists who are constantly using the ample sidewalks and bike paths found in the city.

As Connie stated above, you cannot beat the opportunities and friendship WTS has to offer women in transportation, and this annual conference allowed us to fully take advantage of that.

At the conference, I was able to spend more time with our WTS-Boston members, as well as network with some of the country’s top women across all modes of transportation.  Nearly thirty members represented WTS-Boston out of the 600 + attendees present for this sold-out conference.  

In addition, I participated in many engaging conference events, detailed below. 

Technical Tours

 

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The conference began and ended with technical tours that gave us a firsthand look at transportation in Austin.  I was able to attend a tour of the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). The COTA is the first and only U.S. Grand Prix Formula 1 facility. We were able to see the pit area, stand on the actual track, and see their state of the art media center. The track not only hosts races, but also countless concerts including Journey who was performing hours after we visited and, Taylor Swift plans to open her next tour there this fall. Crews were preparing for the X Games which are occurring at COTA June 2-5, 2016. 

Other tours included ones about local tolling systems, Austin’s public art, the Capital Metro Bus Rapid Transit line & MetroRail, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport as well as Austin’s bike share system, B-cycle.  With regard to public transportation in Austin, Liz Levin of Liz Levin and Company commented “I enjoyed the bus trip that Allison Sweeney ably navigated to take us by public bus to and from the airport for the grand fee of $1.75 each way.  I love riding buses.  They tell you a lot about a community.  In Austin the ride was excellent, albeit the wait a little long.”

 Professional Development Events

I was able to attend various professional development events. Again this year, like last year in Chicago, the conference included Grace Crunican and Liz Levin (of our Boston Chapter) about their book Boots on the Ground, Flats in the Boardroom:  Women Transportation Leaders Tell Their Stories.  The workshop allowed for acknowledgment of the invaluable experiences from these transportation leaders, but also allowed participants to examine their personal leadership challenges, what can be learned from them and how to improve for the future. Christine Aras of MassDOT commented on how “the book is inspiring, lifting and motivates the reader. There are “must read” thrilling stories that can be enjoyed by women & men.”

Other sessions included looking at data collection methods, Intelligent Transportation Systems, funding, autonomous vehicles, communication among the generations and equal pay. One of my personal favorites was The Future of Transportation Funding because it included WTS-Boston’s own Elizabeth LaBelle of Travelers Marketing who spoke about potential income sources for DOTs in order to help with the transportation budget deficits.  Allison Sweeny of MBTA commented on how the number of trial and pilot programs for autonomous and connected vehicles has drastically increased in recent years. With this new research, it raises questions for future conferences about how a driverless society will be managed. 

Keynote Speakers and Receptions

Lilly Ledbetter proved to be an inspiration for all when she spoke at lunch on Thursday. She told the story of how she worked for Goodyear in Alabama. She discovered she was being paid significantly less than her male counterparts near the end of her career and ultimately ended up suing Goodyear. With a husband dying of cancer back home, Lilly ultimately made her way to the Supreme Court and continued to fight not only for her case, but for the cause as a whole. Though she did not win her suit, the 111th United States Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 to relax the timeliness requirements for the filing of a discrimination suit so long as the act of discrimination occurs within the 180 day period of limitations. She continues to speak about and fight for equal pay. She is an author, lecturer editor, and activist.  Audrey Stuart of Kleinfelder said “Lilly Ledbetter’s story was so compelling. She portrayed a common occurrence-pay inequality-as the tragedy it really is. She reminded us that not only is it unjust, but the impact on women’s lives and those of their families reaches beyond the paycheck and well into the retirement years. Thank you to Lilly for persisting in trying to correct this practice that continues still today.”

Thursday evening was the Annual Awards Banquet when the Boston Chapter was honored to have two WTS-International Award Winners: Fred Salvucci of MIT won the Honorable Ray LaHood Award and Senator Karen E. Spilka won the Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award. Senator Spilka was unable to attend and had Margaret O’Meara accept her award. Fred Salvucci was able to join us in Austin and left a lasting impact with his acceptance speech. Lee Filipe of MassPort stated she especially enjoyed Fred’s remarks about “how adding women to transportation related boards and positions of leadership improved the culture and accountability of our agencies.” Liz Levin of Liz Levin & Company commented how Fred’s “examples of women who were activists to fight issues like roads and airport noise in their neighborhoods and examples of women in his administration like Jane Garvey and Ann Hershfang who brought new ways of thinking about transportation. His remembrances of Ann Hershfang and Claire Battett as founding members of WTS-Boston were also touching, particularly as he looked at the audience and remarked at how small WTS was at its founding and how large and successful the organization is today.”

Friday’s lunch included the tragic, yet moving story of Jacy Good. In May 2008, both of Jacy’s parents were killed on their way home from Jacy’s graduation from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. Jacy was severely injured.  This horrible accident was caused because an 18 year old driver was distracted by talking on his cell phone. Jacy and her husband now travel the country speaking and sharing her story hoping to prevent such devastating traffic incidents. Though her story left many with teary eyes, she also inspired change among WTS-Boston members. Marie Sullivan of Stantec was impacted immediately; “Hang up and drive! I have found myself picking up my phone only to think of what Jacy Good has been through and put it back down. She has experienced a horrible tragedy that easily could have been avoided.” Connie Englert, Principal & Managing Director of TrueNorth Transit Group,  furthered Marie’s thoughts and when she arrived home from Austin, she updated TrueNorth’s corporate policies on device use while on company time in any vehicle: absolutely no device interface at any time and all devices must be in airplane mode. 

On the last day of the conference, WTS Boston members attended the Circle of Excellence Awards Breakfast, and our chapter was honored to have earned Gold Circle status.

Reflections on the 2015 WTS International Conference

The presenters were not the only women who had a lasting impact on us.  The conference was a great opportunity to get to know the other women of WTS. Having the opportunity to meet new people and hear their stories of how they successfully have reached the point they are at in their career is moving as well as inspirational. Being around such powerful women motivates me to continue and aim to follow in their footsteps. 

The conference allowed WTS to strengthen as a support network and professional development group.  We could clearly see how the women of WTS work together to better themselves and the organization.  Regardless of work experience or expertise, women in transportation face many similar obstacles.  Together, through WTS, we are able to support each other through our personal and professional challenges.

Thank you WTS-Boston for giving me the opportunity to attend the 2016 WTS Annual Conference in Austin. The memories and connections I developed in Austin will last a lifetime.

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