Transit Leadership Summit Convenes C40 Cities for Mutual Learning

Leading a mass transit agency is a tough job, fraught with thorny politics, convoluted financing, intricate matters of engineering and, of course, the practical and emotional involvement of a very large group of people who use the service every day. But possibly the most difficult part of being the chief executive of a mass transit agency is that there are very few people in the world with similar jobs to whom they can turn for help and advice.
— Juliette Michaelson, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Regional Plan Association (RPA)

Juliette Michaelson's insightful words strike at the heart of why the RPA, America's oldest and most distinguished independent urban research and advocacy group, convened the recent Transit Leadership Summit, gathering the heads of some of the world’s largest transit systems through a strong roster of C40 Cities in attendance. In total, 10 C40 Cities were represented: Barcelona, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York, Santiago, Sao Paulo, Singapore, and Stockholm, as well as Montreal and Washington, D.C.

“Collaboration and knowledge-sharing is a hallmark of C40, as our existing city-led networks clearly show,” says Terri Wills, Director of Global Initiatives, C40, in partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative. “This event -- bringing together a small yet global group of top transit leaders for face-to-face discussions -- is an unprecedented opportunity for learning, whose benefits and impact will be felt by C40 Cities well into the future.”

Over the course of four days at Pocantico, the Rockefeller Estate in New York, the select group of 30 participants engaged in frank and in-depth discussions in a closed-door setting. The Volvo Research and Education Foundations had sponsored the development of case studies from the transit agencies of cities in attendance, highlighting particular challenges as well as successful innovations. In response to the studies presented, transit executives and experts provided ideas and insights based on their own experiences.

Discussions at the event were thought-provoking, and covered a range of issues, including fare policy, public-private partnerships, strategies for modal shift, and rider experience. While there was often agreement on the challenges faced by transit agencies, the diversity of views on proposed solutions led to lively debates. The opportunity to engage with peers and experts was invaluable, participants said; many spoke of having gained new ideas and insights to take back to their agencies and implement.

On leaving Pocantico, Summit participants were keen to continue the dialogue and find ways to collaborate going forward. To this end, the RPA, Volvo Foundations and C40 will advance several next steps, including developing a research paper with Volvo, and engaging mayors across the global C40 network to create a common understanding of the challenges transit agencies face. The parties are already planning a subsequent event to develop further areas of potential collaboration identified in Pocantico.

For further reading on the Transit Leadership Summit, please see Juliette Michaelson’s recent article on the subject.