I recently returned from attending the 21st Annual Conference of the International Association of Transportation Regulators (IATR). This year, as in years past, the conference offered taxi and for-hire regulators from both national and international jurisdictions a chance to delve into important issues, such as - clean air vehicles, accessible transportation, customer service and driver retention and safety.
As Chair of the IATR's education committee, I was privileged to help develop the conference program along with my colleagues. The overarching theme of the conference was "Planning for the Future", resulting in the following day-long modules on such topics as: (1) "Sustainability and Clean Air Vehicles", which explored how far we have come in the development and usage of "green taxis" in the two years since we focused on the issue at an earlier conference; (2) "Driver Personal Safety", at which we discussed the latest practices and programs used nationally and internationally to protect our driver workforce; and (3) "Developing and Sustaining a Professional Driver and Regulator's Workforce", which tackled the ways in which our regulates industries remained financially viable, and how we, as regulators, could support these industries through effective training and enforcement practices. The conference was an extended dialogue on how regulators should be forward-thinking and focused on long-term goals and policies, such as: regulators keeping their regulated businesses economically viable in light of surging gas prices by exploring alternative fueled vehicle plans; and ensuring a professional and experienced labor force of drivers that will provide quality service for years to come by ensuring their safety, economic viability as well as sustained and effective enforcement against unlicensed operators.
I facilitated and moderated the first of the conference's three days, which began with review of an IATR survey of its members on the use of clean air taxicabs. We continued with a panel of distinguished professionals from London, Winnipeg, California and Baltimore, whose jurisdictions have had many years of collective experience with testing the various available types of alternative fuel vehicles. A subsequent panel made up of experts from Florida, Toronto, Montreal, British Columbia and San Francisco took up the question of regulatory mandates and voluntary incentives to place more fuel efficient vehicles into service. Regulators and their industries have come a long way since we last broached this topic at the 2006 IATR conference in Seattle, where only one-third of member jurisdictions had experience of any kind with clean air vehicles. Now, four IATR member jurisdictions have committed programs in place and vehicles on the road - a trend that is increasing as we speak.
Conference highlights included illuminating discussions about the training and retention of drivers (led by Craig Leisy, Manager, Seattle Consumer Affairs Division), driver safety (expertly led by former IATR President and Manager, Vehicle Licensing for Mississauga, Ontario Canada) and best practices in the development and sustaining of a professional regulatory workforce (facilitated by Susan Jones, the IATR's Vice President and Director of By-Law and Regulatory Services for Ottawa, Ontario Canada). Interesting panels were featured on topics like "Challenges and Best Practices to Retain Service Focused Taxicab Drivers" with such knowledgeable regulators as John Scott from San Diego, IATR Immediate Past President Joe Mora of Miami-Dade Florida, Diane Sibley of Windsor Ontario, Canadian industry leader Hanif Patney, and Pam Hayes of Vancouver British Columbia.
Training expert Glenn Steeves of Toronto and Charles Johnson, a vendor of training solutions offered presentations on "Service Excellence and its Relationship to Taxi Driver Compensation and Retention." Panelists Marc Halat and Leila Gosselin of Calgary, Alberta; Allan Matthews of London, Angela Morgan or Burlington, Ontario and new IATR President Malachi Hull of Atlanta, Georgia had an enlightening discussion of "Professional Training and Certification of Taxicab Inspectors and Regulators: Challenges and Best Practices."
"Current Enforcement Challenges in Regulating" feature a panel made up of host Tom Drishler of Los Angeles, and regulators Larry Regnier of Niagara Falls, Ontario and Cathy McEwan of Ottawa, Ontario. Of course, these are just a few of the highlights.
What made this year's conference particularly exciting was that the IATR has chosen New York City as host of its 2009 conference. While we regularly receive visitors from around the world (this year alone we have received delegations from Rome, Japan, China, Germany, just to name a few), this is truly an unparalleled honor for us, and it tells us the regulators of taxi towns from around the world want to see what we do and how we do it. I was also honored to be nominated by my colleagues as President-Elect of the IATR - a privilege which I accepted, and my tenure as IATR President will commence around this time next year.
I will keep you all up to date as the conference shapes up over the next year, but suffice it to say that this 2009 conference will be about more than just meetings and presentations…..though they are valuable and have their place. We also intend for our regulatory partners to get out into the field, and have some golden opportunities to meet and talk to the people who make up the industries we regulate, and see what they do and how they do it firsthand. It is nice to know that our regulated industries enjoy the same reputation as we do at the TLC!
Before closing, please allow me to wish everyone reading this column a happy, safe and prosperous autumn! Until next month…….