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Tolling Points

IBTTA Washington Briefing: It Begins With Collecting Business Cards

By: 
Bill Cramer

Sometimes, the process of building influence begins with collecting business cards. That was just one of the gains that IBTTA Past President Rob Horr, Executive Director of the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, took away from the association’s Washington Briefing in late March. He shared his most memorable moments in this conversation with Tolling Points.


Tolling Points: What were your most important takeaways from the conference?

Rob Horr: It was important to be in Washington, DC and hear first-hand from folks who are involved with legislative issues. Interacting with staffers from the Hill, and with a senior administrator from the Federal Highway Administration, was a real highlight for me.

The other takeaway was the visits to the Hill that IBTTA coordinated for our members. It’s something that we as tolling operators don’t do enough. It was really advantageous that IBTTA set up meetings with Members of Congress and staff while we were already in town to attend the conference.

Meeting with Congressional staffers is so important for the issues we face, particularly along the northern border [between the United States and Canada]. The staff on Capitol Hill change over frequently. So it’s important to get in front of them, state our case, and help them understand the conditions on the ground.

I came away with a good collection of business cards and contact information, and that’s a big part of the process. It’s all part and parcel of the networking that is so important in any business setting, and certainly on Capitol Hill.

Tolling Points: It sounds like a good example of the day in, day out liaison that IBTTA has undertaken with its Moving America Forward campaign?

Rob Horr: Many of the folks who took part in the advocacy program had never visited their federal representatives before. We all have new staff, and for those who had never had the experience of running around Capitol Hill, that in itself was extremely positive. Particularly for people who are new in the industry or just starting out in their careers, it’s a good way to understand that the job is about more than just collecting tolls. You can elevate the conversation, and at that point it’s all about education and helping elected officials understand that tolling supports reliable, sustainable mobility. And helping them understand what we need to get the job done.

Tolling Points: So this was an opportunity to put forward a clear legislative agenda?

Rob Horr: The way we went about it was really interesting. When I meet with an elected official, I never ask for anything. I’m always there to present solutions. IBTTA’s solution is greater flexibility for states to include tolling in their highway infrastructure plans, when and where it makes sense for them to include it.

From the perspective of our local crossing, we can help speed up traffic across an international border, without having to use scarce federal dollars. That’s not an ask, it’s a solution. The message is that we’re from the tolling industry and we do provide solutions.

Tolling Points: How do IBTTA members go about building that kind of relationship with their own elected representatives?

Rob Horr: You have to remember that one visit is not enough. It has to be a continuing conversation with Hill staffers. It’s as simple as a quick email after the meeting, thanking them for their time and sending them a summary of what you discussed. I followed up my meetings with a couple of white papers and website links, to reinforce the conversation and set a certain tone.

In the first instance, the staffers will be reporting back to their bosses, and we can make that easier for them by anticipating and delivering the information they’ll need. But I’ve also found that after years of doing this, if you do it consistently, eventually the Member of Congress or the Senator will call you directly. They know you’re out there, they know you’re a constituent, they know you are consistent, and if you have something that can help them solve a problem, they’ll reach out.

I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I’m glad to see the association taking it up in a more formalized way. That’s important for the lifeblood and longevity of our industry. And that makes it important for the customers and communities who depend on us to get them to and from their destination, safely and on time.

IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick D. Jones likes to say it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you are a consistent provider of reliable information, it really pays off over time. IBTTA offers us the opportunity and the doorway to start that process and keep it moving forward.

Have you called or emailed your congressional members recently?  Go ahead and stay in touch, remind them you are a resource, a transportation solutions provider and most importantly a constituent.

Click here for a summary of IBTTA’s 2015 Washington Briefing.

 

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