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Author Spotlight: Paul Comfort

Published: June 10, 2024

What does the next phase of mobility hold?

That’s what Paul Comfort set out to discover in The New Future of Public Transportation - 2nd Edition.

Through the book, the SVP & Chief Customer Officer for Modaxo Americas, and host of the Transit Unplugged podcast explores the transit ecosystem in a post-pandemic world.

Comfort describes the book as a “tool sharpener,” and cites collaboration as a cornerstone to his work.

“I've always tried to integrate outward facing communication to the public, and so I work heavily with other leaders to pull ideas together. I would suggest that people read the table of contents and identify the areas that interest them most—and have that be their starting point,” he said.

The book’s first chapter, written by Mohammed Mezghani, Head of the UITP International Transit Union, gives an overview of public transit and mobility industries, with the rest of the chapters delving into more specific topics.

“I wanted to identify the hottest topics in transit, then identify the right people who are experts in those topics. We really tried to get things that were just over the horizon,” Comfort said.

To understand that next phase, though, Comfort and his fellow experts had to consider the context of the current mobility environment. The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the public transit sector dropped commuter rail and bus services to 5% of their previous ridership at the height of the shutdown. Additionally, a lack of drivers on the road meant less taxes from gas sales, depleting funds for these and other federally subsidized transportation services.

But less vehicles on the road also meant less vehicle emissions—a challenge the mobility industry has been trying to tackle as the push toward net zero by 2050.

So what’s the balance?

There are ongoing proposals to change North American gas taxes to a road usage charge/ which would charge motorists based on miles traveled as opposed to a tax on  fuel.  “States are already piloting this effort and the federal government will also be studying it”, said Comfort.

 There are several chapters on Zero Emission Fuels for buses including battery electric and the newer up and coming technology of hydrogen fuel cells.  Either way, one bus takes hundreds of cars off the road, so it's cleaner no matter what kind of fuel you use,” Comfort said.

Ridership recovery post-pandemic is a hot topic now that is addressed in the book and Comfort has a history with this issue and how private transportation companies can affect public transit, dating back to his time as CEO of the MTA /Baltimore’s public transit system.

“I went to a yearly meeting for CEOs of public transit, and I remember everybody was very concerned about ridership decline then. We’d had a monopoly on public mobility for 40 years—since the 70s, when private bus companies sold their assets when they went bankrupt. It was around this time that governments fully took over public transit. That’s over now, though,he said.  “The entry of private for-profit transport networking and microtransit companies like Uber and Lyft, has altered the equation and now they have become an important part of the mobility ecosphere and partners with transit agencies in most cities.” 

Comfort has noticed a surge in cooperation between public and private sectors over the years—specifically in response to the pandemic—that has been positive as noted in another chapter of the book One case he recalled was when private contracting transit companies provided  support for Meals on Wheels programs, and in another, private transit companies posted vehicles with WiFi sources to apartment complexes and areas with low internet connection so students could do their schoolwork online during the pandemic We’ve seen some real partnership between the private and the public sector—all to meet people’s needs,” Comfort said.

These changes reflect what Comfort aims to show in The New Future of Public Transportation as the book considers how entities and attitudes within the industry have changed.

In his chapter from the book, Paul stated that “Most leaders know how to communicate upwards to their bosses, and outward to the public. What they often fail to do is communicate inwards to their employees and make sure they’re brought along with what they're doing… Today’s transit leaders need to learn new skills if they want to stay relevant,” he added.

Find The New Future of Public Transportation – 2nd Edition online now, and keep updated with Paul at the Transit Unplugged podcast and YouTube TV Show.