Tim Phelps, Executive Director of Transportation Management Association of Chester County, is passionate about public transportation, transportation apps, and public policy. With deep experience in chambers of commerce, he brings a multi-layered perspective to TMA. We asked him about his interest in public policy.
1. How did you get involved in public policy? What connection does it have to your job/career/other activities (especially those related to ACT)?
There are two significant professional experiences that have helped shape my current public policy engagement commitment. Several years ago, I was a development manager for Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas, where I worked with the Board of Directors. I learned why corporate leaders become engaged in initiatives and how they can enhance outcomes through partnerships and investments. I then parlayed those experiences into chambers of commerce. Playing leadership roles in three chambers of commerce, I helped bring business leaders, elected officials and other stakeholders together to discuss issues at the local, state or federal government levels that impacted their businesses and employees. I achieved my professional designation, Institute for Organization Management, from the US Chamber of Commerce. Today as the Executive Director of a TMA, I work to understand the stories and challenges of our members and articulate to our elected officials the desired outcomes and benefits, just as we need to do currently to preserve the Transit Benefits.
2. What do you see as posing the most significant opportunity or challenge to TDM on a federal (or state or local) level?
“Strain the gnat but swallow the camel,” characterizes how we are tinkering at the federal level with tasks instead of creating a strategy. The challenge I see is elected officials’ lack of understanding of TDM and the benefits it brings to businesses and communities: TDM is a resource tool box, not a mold. Regions developed differently depending on zoning, topography, access, and the US economic history. Boston’s TDM needs are different from those of Washington DC and Los Angeles.
It is not an issue of rural versus suburban versus urban, and we also need to be mode agnostic but instead focus on the transportation of people in their communities. We spend way too much time talking about cars.
3. What do you see as the future of public policy?
As we build policy, whether it’s tax or transportation Investment, we need to have vision, flexibility, and incentive, not issue mandates. Any funding stream should be sustainable with accountabilities but not rely on another measure to trigger of payment.
Establishing good policy will bridge politics. The future of public policy is what we want to make it. We need to be willing to develop and tell compelling TDM stories to our elected officials and to communicate the benefits and impacts it has on their constituents and communities. We need to be engaged and willing to compromise, or, if need be, to draw a line.
4. What is your take on the role of ACT in public policy?
We need to be the collective megaphone for TMA’s, businesses and employees alike to push Government for better commuter transportation.
5. Why should ACT members get involved in public policy?
As an association, ACT has a very important role in public policy; we become the clearinghouse for all TDM and related issues. With a lobbyist in Washington, we can track federal policy issues that impact our members, clients, and their employees. Our Public Policy committee vets the issues and provides clear, concise, and coordinated messaging, so when elected official exchange notes, they see a unified effort. It is our responsibility as ACT members to bring that message to our own members and their employees. We need to speak up, especially NOW, with the threat to transit benefits.
6. What outside interests do you have? Are there any details about you that might surprise ACT members?
My family of three has been a one car suburban family for the past six years. My eleven-year old daughter knows that the train waits for no man, woman, or child. I hold metro passes for NYC and Washington DC; I haven’t driven to NYC in the past 5 years – always take the train. Transportation apps on my IPhone are Septa, Amtrak, NYC subway, Embark DC, Waze, 511PA, UBER, Lyft, and now Via. I took my friend Bill on his first Lyft ride during the Public Policy Summit in Washington!
For the past seven years, I have been helping to shape early learning investment in Pennsylvania. I am honored to serve on the PA Early Learning Investment Commission with 70 other PA business leaders. We provide insight and education to the Governor and elected officials on the benefits of investing in high quality learning opportunities for children 0-5 years of age.