This year’s Sustainability & Multimodal Planning Workshop conference will be APTA’s first in person conference since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This conference will be in Philadelphia, PA, October 4-6

The conference registration will open this summer and we encourage you to join the hundreds who are already planning to attend this premier event for industry professionals which will help them learn best practices needed to enhance their transit agencies and organizations.

Guidelines for Abstracts

Below are a few guidelines that will help you with your submission. You will find more details at the below abstract link.

  • Abstract submitters must belong to an APTA member organization.
  • All abstracts must be submitted online through the APTA website.
  • Abstracts must be 350 words or less (about a half page in length).
  • Although we suggest that you submit based on the topics identified, we also encourage submission of abstracts on topics that are not listed. If you have a topic that does not fall within one of the suggested sessions, please select “other” when submitting your abstract.

Planning Schedule

  • Abstracts due to APTA – Friday, June 11, 2021
  • Conference Registration Opens – this summer
  • Decision notifications – July 2021

Please review the educational topic areas prior to submitting your abstract.

Submit Your Abstract


1. Climate Action Planning
The new federal administration has renewed a focus on climate change mitigation and emphasized the role of public infrastructure as a key delivery mechanism for local to global solutions. At the same time, many transit agencies are struggling to regain ridership, which is key to greenhouse gas reduction efforts. Within the context of this paradox, how are agencies addressing climate change?

  • Climate change planning from the bottom up: How are agencies planning for greenhouse gas mitigation – from planning and design to construction and operations? How do agency efforts connect to the broader climate action planning that’s happening at the city, regional and state level? How can transit agencies best support – and be supported by – policy?
  • Using state or federal policy to support transit agency operations and climate change efforts: How can transit agencies use existing or emerging climate policy mechanisms (clean fuel standards/cap and trade legislation /carbon credit programs) to support climate change policy planning efforts, as well as core operations? How can these climate policy mechanisms bolster transit agency funding for climate change initiatives or core operations?

2. Operations Planning Post-COVID
2020 was an unprecedented year for transit agencies, forcing us to respond on the fly to a totally unexpected pandemic.  How did your agency respond to declining demand as a result of COVID-19?  How did time-honored procedures regarding service planning and scheduling change?  Will you keep any of these changes to procedures going forward?  What lessons did you learn that you can share with other agencies?  Is your agency simply restoring pre-COVID service?  Or are new insights regarding ridership markets, equity, or the way your agency does business guiding service restoration?

3. Customer Engagement
How do you conduct open houses during a pandemic, when people can’t meet in person?  How do you communicate make new route maps and timetables available to customers in a matter of days?  Will your apps and real-time data reflect your new, rapidly rolled-out schedules? In 2020, agencies were faced overnight with major new challenges from emergency service changes, made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, and 2020 ended up being a major year for rolling out innovative new technologies–such as video conferencing–as well as a proving ground for mobile apps, social media, and other newer forms of communication that may have been used over the past several years.  How did your agency respond to these new challenges?  What worked?  What didn’t?  What new practices will continue?  What do you wish you had done?

4. Implementation of COVID Responses
For many agencies, child-care and other family obligations arising overnight out of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders turned a pre-existing operator shortage into an outright crisis, prompting immediate, severe service reductions. For planners and schedulers, this led to a frenzy of route and service changes. With many agencies adopting emergency declarations, the ordinarily slow and methodical review and approval pipeline was often shortened from months to days.  For many agency officials, the pandemic became a crash course in aspects of the business, such as run cuts, unbid work, and cafeteria bidding, that used to happen automatically in the background.  Scheduling and payroll systems–and the downstream customer information systems–were in a matter of days pushed into uncharted waters. Many articles of the union contract also got dusted off, as emergency bids became the norm, and safety precautions for operators and customers were rapidly erected. This is the session to share your all-nighters, your nightmare scenarios, and how your agency surmounted them, to implement your agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed traffic patterns in 2020.  Peak-hour commutes into dense cities evaporated.  Notoriously late buses were suddenly running hot.  How did schedulers respond to the challenges of the past year?  Did you face a unique scheduling challenge, and how did you solve it?  We invite presentations about scheduling service during a pandemic.  Topics may range from gathering accurate running time data, to adjusting running time systemwide, to communicating revised schedules to the public.

6. Resilient Community Design
How does your transit agency define resiliency?

In 2012, the FTA defined resiliency “as those projects designed and built to address current and future vulnerabilities to a public transportation facility or system due to future occurrence or recurrence of emergencies or major disasters that are likely to occur in the geographic area in which the public transportation system is located; or projected changes in development patterns, demographics, or climate change and extreme weather patterns.”

Now add a global pandemic and the urgent need to address racial justice.

  • How can transit agencies design resilient communities? Are there ways in which transit agencies can plan and design for community wellbeing – to better support diversity and inclusion and mitigate inequitable social and economic impacts?
  • What are the key lessons learned from developing resilient transit infrastructure? Resilience has traditionally addressed emergencies, natural disasters, climate change or significant changes in development patterns and demographics. What are the lessons learned from these strategies – and can they also be used to address issues of social and racial justice?

7. Transit Speed and Reliability
Traffic congestion was reduced or eliminated during the early days of the pandemic. However, traffic has returned in most places-at least outside of the downtown core. Has your agency seen a change in vehicle speed and reliability during the pandemic? Has the resulting reduction in congestion helped or hindered your agency’s efforts to implement projects designed to improve the speed and reliability of transit? Some roadway owners may be more likely to try bus lanes and other tools since concerns about reducing general purpose traffic capacity are mitigated by the drop in congestion, while others may be less likely because congestion is less of an issue. How do we make the case that now is the time to make these improvements, before most drivers return to commuting to work during rush hour? Has your agency shifted its approach to speed and reliability projects based on changes in travel demand and patterns, or are you staying the course? Once pandemic restrictions and concerns about riding mass transit are alleviated, how will your buses and trains gain or maintain these improvements in speed and reliability?

8. Quickly Using Data to Solve Problems
Transit agencies now have more access to data about their customers, vehicles, and networks than ever.  How does your agencies make decisions with this data?  Do you now have data scientists to mine the data for useful insights?  Is this data visualized?  What were the impacts of COVID on your data analysis?  Was senior management demanding data overnight?  Did you find new ways to process and visualize data?  Will you continue to use these methods go forward?  What type of analysis did you conduct so that operations could effectively respond to the impacts of COVID?

9. Fares
Rear-door boarding, no farebox data, demand for contactless payment…the pandemic has changed our views of fares.  How has your agency responded?  Have free fares moved up on the agenda of possible changes?  What data sources have replaced farebox data?  What revenue sources have been tapped to replace fare revenues?  Have you experienced unexpected benefits or problem related to fares and fare collection?  Is the path forward a return to preexisting fare policies and collection methods, or is your agency actively planning new policies and procedures?  How do all these factors affect service planning and scheduling?

10. Collaboration
Taking advantage of the combined workshop format this year, this session will explore how service planners and schedulers have worked across department lines with specialists in Sustainability, Technology, and Fares. Share experiences working with Information Services to deploy new or upgraded scheduling software. Discuss how sustainability goals have been intertwined with service development needs. Present information on how fare collection data have influenced scheduling, or how system plans have been developed using service levels and fare policies as a unified package. Co-presentations between specialists in different areas are highly desirable. This session should appeal to attendees who otherwise wonder just what planners and schedulers do all day!

11. Sustainable Operations Frameworks and Implementation
Through a series of core sustainability principles, the APTA Sustainability Commitment provides both agency and business members with a common framework that helps define, initiate, and advance sustainability in the public transportation industry. In addition to the Commitment, Environmental Management Systems also provide a tool to plan, do, check and course correct sustainability strategies.

  • What sustainability frameworks have best supported the development and continual improvement of transit agency sustainability initiatives? How has the pandemic impacted the ability to use these frameworks?
  • During the pandemic, what aspect of implementing sustainable operations has been the most achievable or challenging? How has the pandemic positively or negatively impacted the ability for transit agencies to:
    • Implement management systems such as an ESMS
    • Report on progress towards sustainability goals
    • Implement water, waste, and energy efficiency or zero emissions vehicle projects
    • Implement sustainable construction practices
    • Implement sustainable procurement practices

12. Reimagining the Transit Network During an Uncertain Time
The COVID-19 crisis has partially forced the transit industry into damage control mode, but this shakeup has also had a silver lining. In an era of increased change and flexibility, agencies are taking advantage of the relaxation of previous restrictions to reimagine their networks. Changing priorities mean that some properties are now able to greenlight long shelved plans, while others can fast-track projects that are suddenly more relevant. Is your agency reacting to the pandemic by redistributing resources, rethinking agency priorities, implementing long needed changes, or shifting already underway plans to better suit a new paradigm? What tools and strategies have you used to arrive at these decisions? What surprise benefits has your agency seen as a result of this shakeup? How could this historical moment be leveraged even more to deliver further improvements to service?

13. Electric Buses / Zero Emission Fleet Issues
2020 appeared to be the year planning for electric bus fleets really took off across the transit industry, but then maybe not so fast?  The challenges of vehicle range, new vehicle costs, operator scheduling issues, large scale battery recharging infrastructure, and the technical and cost difficulties of ramping up large sized divisions to be all electric started to come into clearer focus.  The challenges for hydrogen fuel cell technology were no less than those faced by the battery-electric supporters.  Tell us the most recent actions, experiences and planning work your agency experienced in 2020-21, and what the latest thoughts are going forward as the industry continues to seek a pathway to a full zero-emission future.

14. Rapid Fire – COVID Response
What happened at your transit agency between March 2020 when COVID-19 safety actions went into effect and the end of 2020?  There are a million stories out there, and we want to hear yours, but with a twist.  This is a session that is seeking quality and quantity – by getting as many stories told that touch on the same topics as they relate to changes that occurred due to COVID-19.  In 5 minutes, averaging 1 slide per issue, please explain how your agency addressed at least 5 of the following issues:  operator safety, passenger safety, transit administration work (i.e., working from home), operator sign ups, scheduling and scheduling changes, fare collection, revenue loss, paratransit service and public outreach efforts on any capital projects or service changes. Your entire presentation must be completed in less than 5 minutes.

Submit Your Abstract
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