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The State of the Association, October 2020

Dear IBTTA Members,

Unprecedented. Uncertain. Challenging. Pivot. These are a few of the many words that have flooded our everyday speech during the pandemic. All of us want very much NOT to be living in a pandemic right now. The isolation from family, friends, and colleagues are the most obvious examples of the pain and disruption brought by the pandemic. And there are many more. To use a sailing analogy, 2020 has brought terrible winds and rough seas. But together, we have adjusted our sails and charted a new course.

I call this letter a “State of the Association.” But it’s really a thank you note. We on staff are extremely grateful for everything you have done this year to keep the association and our industry together. None of what we have accomplished together would have been possible without your energy, patience, commitment, and perseverance.  For all of that, we thank you.

Like every association grappling with the pandemic, we are adjusting our sails and prioritizing the fundamentals: to preserve and foster community; rethink how to facilitate the exchange of information; serve as a trusted source of information; and advocate for the members.

Preserve and foster community

When the pandemic was first declared and nations and states began locking down, we cancelled our first two in-person meetings of the year and scanned the rest of the 2020 calendar with a mix of hope and anxiety. We knew in our bones that the most important thing that builds community in the industry and connects the members is our in-person meetings. Without our in-person meetings, how would we foster community? It was time to adjust.

To preserve that sense of community among our members, we lit up the phone lines and amped up the Zoom meetings. In the last two weeks of March, we held more than a dozen conference calls and Zoom meetings with members. The goal was simply to stay connected, be in touch, listen, and give our members a space to commiserate, vent and be together.

Rethink how to facilitate the exchange of information

With no in-person meetings for the foreseeable future, the logical step was to try to hold virtual meetings. Zoom and other virtual platforms provided a space where members – isolated in their homes – could be with one another, if not in-person, at least in a way that allowed folks to see and hear facial expressions and emotions.

We began to develop content and organize Zoom meetings, webinars, Café IBTTA, and other digital content with great vigor. With the help of a lot of members, committees, and councils, we have held 50-plus virtual events for 10,000 attendees. That’s five times the number of attendees at all our in-person events in 2019. Yes, we all want to return to in-person meetings. But the bright spot in these unusual times is that we’re gathering in larger numbers and we’re seeing many new faces that we’ve never seen before.  We are so grateful to you, our members, for allowing and encouraging so many members of your team to participate in IBTTA. 

Serve as a trusted source of information

One of the most important functions of a trade association is to organize useful and relevant information. It’s easy to find lots of information – just open a web browser and conduct a search. But to get information that’s meaningful to you when you need it, it helps to have a curator like IBTTA. Within days of going into lockdown, we created a web page called “The Tolling Industry Response to Coronavirus or COVID-19.” On this page, you can find links to information about what toll operators around the world are doing in response to COVID-19. Information about social distancing, suspension of cash toll collection, use of personal protective equipment, emerging practices in remote working, and more. In the early days of the pandemic, this page was an invaluable resource to countless members.  This is just one example of how we adjusted our sails to organize the information our members most needed and wanted.

Advocate for the members

Speaking of prioritizing fundamentals, there’s nothing more basic in the work of an association than advocating for our members. The last seven months have been some of IBTTA’s most active in terms of advocacy. The CARES Act which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020, provided more than $2 trillion in economic relief to many parts of the U.S. economy. As part of that package, $25 billion in relief flowed to transit systems. Not long after, discussions turned to the possibility of another relief measure that would include other forms of infrastructure including toll facilities. IBTTA submitted a letter to Congress on April 7 asking them to make direct aid and non-direct financing assistance available to U.S. toll operators. We continue to make the case for direct funding aid for toll operators who are interested in such aid.

In addition to seeking direct aid, we have also been deeply engaged in reauthorization of the FAST Act. The Senate passed its reauthorization package in July 2019 and the House passed its INVEST in America Act in June of this year. Since then, we have been working with congressional staff on ways to fix provisions in the House bill that could make it harder for states and other levels of government to implement tolling and priced managed lanes. We have also assembled a “Reauthorization Working Group” of toll agency members. The goals of this group are to improve IBTTA’s ability to quickly assess impacts of potential legislative proposals and focus the association’s efforts in the next reauthorization cycle, which will occur later this year and in early 2021.

Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone. But there is also wisdom to be gained from the current challenges. The wisdom we embrace right now comes from our President, Samuel Johnson, CEO of the Transportation Corridor Agencies. His theme for 2020 is “The Road to Continued Excellence.” Little did we know in January how rough the road would be. And while “The Road to Continued Excellence” is the slogan that lives at the top of the marquee, the slogan at the bottom of the marquee is just as important. Anyone who receives an email from Samuel Johnson will see a one-word exhortation just above his signature: Together!  

I believe that sentiment – Together! – is a worldview, an aspiration, and a charge. President Samuel Johnson recognizes that all of us confront big challenges. Some may try to face those challenges alone. But we are much more likely to be successful if we face our challenges together. Together! is also a recognition – in these times of heightened consciousness of and protests over racial and social injustice – that our true nature is NOT to be divided by race, ethnicity, party, or any other distinction; rather, our true nature is to see ourselves as one. Finally, Together! is Samuel’s way of encouraging and charging you and me to embrace a Together! consciousness in every aspect of our lives. 

As challenging, stressful, and heartbreaking as 2020 has been, I think the struggle has also brought out the best in everyone in our industry. In his speech accepting election as the 2021 IBTTA President on the final day of the annual meeting, Mark Compton said it well when he quoted former Intel CEO Andy Grove: “Bad companies are destroyed by crises; good companies survive them; great companies are improved by them.” Those words apply to every person in our industry. We’re all taking stock of what’s happening, one day at a time, and we’re responding by doing the next right thing, the next decent thing. We can’t know for certain what tomorrow or next week or next month will bring. But we can set our minds on doing the next right thing. We’re not always successful, but we keep trying. 

As we enter the final three months of 2020, we keep thinking about and working on Samuel Johnson’s theme, “The Road to Continued Excellence.” The 2020 road has been a tough one, with no guarantee that 2021 will be any easier. For his year as IBTTA President in 2021, Mark Compton has chosen the theme “Leading through Disruption.” It’s a fitting theme for a lot of reasons, and because disruption is defined as “a break or interruption in the normal course of some activity or process.” We’ve certainly all experienced that.

One activity that we are not interrupting is membership. This is membership renewal time, so be on the lookout for your membership renewal packet. Together this year, we’ve worked hard to emphasize four fundamentals: preserve and foster community; rethink how to facilitate the exchange of information; serve as a trusted source of information; and advocate for the members. I hope we’ve met your expectations.

On behalf of the entire staff, I want to thank you for your continued energy, hard work, and perseverance. You are the lifeblood of IBTTA, and our association would be nothing without you! Thanks for staying engaged as we proceed on “The Road to Continued Excellence,” move toward “Leading through Disruption,” and come out together an even stronger industry on the other side.

Sincerely,

Patrick D. Jones
Executive Director and CEO