The scoop on PTIO

July 12, 2018

John Bendel


Say hello to the Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity. It’s new. I’ll refer to it here as PTIO.

But I’ll pronounce it “Pitooey.”

It appears to be another business-funded outfit claiming to work for the public good, when in fact it isn’t. Not really. It makes me think of the Trucking Alliance that most ironically calls itself the Alliance for Driver Safety and Security, but really wages big trucking’s war on small trucking.

The partners in PTIO include the American Trucking Associations, Daimler, FedEx, Ford, Lyft, Toyota, Uber and Waymo – all with vested interests in autonomous vehicles.

The PTIO website lists 11 “principles.” These 11 items are not principles – which are basic truths or laws – but things they like and things they say they’re going to do. PTIO is going to cultivate, promote and support stuff. Oh yeah, and collaborate. All talk. They do not mention funding, establishing, hiring, underwriting, or commissioning anything.

So far PTIO seems to be little more than a website with no contacts, no phone numbers, and only one email address – for press inquiries. So I inquired:

Hello PTIO:

I’m writing about what PTIO appears (at least to me) to be – a public relations operation more interested in the public image and depictions of autonomous vehicles than in the effects those vehicles may have on society as suggested by your name. This will obviously be an opinion piece, not reporting.

Nevertheless, here’s a chance to disabuse me of my cynical notions. You might start by explaining this statement from your website: “Our mission is to promote open and thorough discourse through a robust educational campaign to determine the opportunities and challenges autonomous vehicles may create for American workers.”

How does a robust educational campaign determine opportunities, challengers, or anything else? They call that research. I have to assume PTIO plans on more telling than asking.

If you’re going to reply, email would be best. But if you prefer to holler at me personally, my phone number is supplied. Thanks.

I very quickly received this response from Executive Director Maureen Westphal:

Hi John,

Thanks for reaching out and giving us the opportunity to discuss. I would love to share with you a little more about the coalition’s goals.

The goals, according to Maureen, involved leveraging, identifying, and focusing. Maureen continued:

“I do want to emphasize that our coalition believes that an important distinction needs to be made between transition and displacement, and PTIO believes that what some would deem ‘job disruption’ can instead serve as an opportunity to prepare Americans for new, meaningful jobs.” 

I have no idea what that means, but it must be important to her, so there it is. After all, Maureen was nice enough to respond.

But her very niceness, her polished civility appears to make another point: she is a public relations pro. I would have been pissed.

Sure enough, before joining PTIO according to her LinkedIn profile, Maureen was press secretary for a congressman, communications director for a trade association, and a freelance public relations professional who  helped “clients shape opinions, build support for complex issues, and deliver results.”

By the way, Maureen did not acknowledge my question about a robust educational campaign.

So let’s be clear. The real mission of PTIO is to control, or at least influence, the evolving depiction of driverless vehicles in society. PR people call that getting ahead of the story. And this is a PR operation. You can see it peeking through their mixed-message mission statement – like the big bad wolf in grandma’s night clothes.

They don’t hide it very well, do they? But what do you expect from an outfit that doesn’t know the difference between principles and a to-do list?