MNTRC Newsletter Vol. 21, Issue 3: Winter 2014-2015

San Jose State University News

Transit and urban policy research acclaimed

Karen E. Philbrick, PhD, Executive Director

Matt Holian, PhD, is already making a name for himself at San Jose State University. He was selected for the University’s “Early Career Investigator” award for the quality of his research. In particular, he has excelled with two reports he completed as a Research Associate for MTI.

Vibrancy affects land and transportation use

In The Impact of Center City Economic and Cultural Vibrancy on Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Transportation notes that, while urban planners and scholars have given much attention to understanding the relationship between the built environment and transportation behavior, other aspects of the urban environment have received little attention. These include the vibrancy and quality of life in urban areas. Dr. Holian’s report helps to close this gap by analyzing the effects of land use and urban vibrancy on transportation patterns.

The data analysis suggests that urban environment vibrancy does affect transportation behavior as well as land-use patterns. By integrating objective measures of center-city quality of life into transportation choice models, Dr. Holian’s new statistical results inform public policy. The report also discusses specific public policy options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing public transit use.

Will suburban dwellers support transit?

In California Voting and Suburbanization Patterns: Implications for Transit Policy, Dr. Holian notes that population and employment have been moving to the suburbs over the last 60 years and asks: As the median voter lives further from the city center and thus enjoys fewer benefits from public transit, does this reduce a suburban voter’s propensity to support public investment in public transit improvements?

Dr. Holian and his team analyzed voting patterns on 20 transit-related ballot propositions from statewide elections in California between 1990 and 2010. Controlling for demographic, socioeconomic and political ideological factors, they focused on whether suburbanization could be a causal factor in determining public support for public transit investment.

The research has provides a rich picture of the attitudes towards transportation policy among California voters to help policy makers better understand citizen preferences and predict how future trends may shift support toward or against transit. The report concludes with suggestions for using urban land markets to increase support for transit.


Transportation students predict five future trends

Alex Kenefick, MSTM Student
Person holding sign: "Share a ride or bust."

Students predicted the “sharing economy” would lead to more ridesharing and vehicle sharing.

Professor Peter Haas asked MTI MSTM students to post five predictions for the transportation topics they would be pondering in the next ten years.

Challenges ahead for transit agencies

More than 25% of the class mentioned succession and knowledge retention planning for transit agencies, which will face large employee turnovers in the years to come. Transit agencies will continue to be tested by scarce funds and must uncover new funding sources and develop new efficiencies.

These might be created by contracting for new services, forming public/private partnerships, and even merging agencies. New transit vehicle technology will be employed, and electronic payment systems will grow and become more integrated. Continued information technology developments will give managers better control of agency resources. We will need it because we will be improving the “last mile” of transit service, providing services for an aging population and supporting more suburb-to-suburb trips.  As public transit agencies adopt social media for communications, they will deliver more transparency.

Urban development and transportation

The class expects an increase in transit-oriented development (TOD) and a continued expansion in urban living for retiring baby boomers and millennials. Redeveloped downtowns will host diverse transportation options, including bike, pedestrian, transit, and auto access, but will they contain affordable housing, or will the people who could most benefit from TOD be pushed to the metro area fringes?

The urban population will double over the next 50 years, so we will decide whether to densify urban and suburban zones or sprawl even farther. Choosing sprawl will further complicate the affordability of providing transit services in the suburbs, but even if our cities don't sprawl, transportation challenges will take the form of more trips, trips for non-commute purposes, and increased trips between emerging population centers. Our highway department will transition from expanding capacity to operating and managing our already aging infrastructure. Will it be prepared for the boom to come? Transit will be incorporated much earlier into the development process, as the Europeans do.

Environmental protection

As California grows, we must continue developing cities that can help people be healthy while keeping the environment healthy, too. We will continue to develop sustainable energy resources while correctly pricing the consumption of fossil fuels. Fuel costs will increase, and fuel efficiency will improve. Marketing will be stepped up to move electric vehicle adoption inland from coastal communities. 

Mobile Web technology and the informal/sharing economy

Car sharing, bike sharing, ride sharing, and new private sector ventures will continue to provide appealing alternatives to public transit for those who can afford them. Public transit agencies may at first view these technologies as competition until they realize that they can capture these riders for the trips for which public transit is best suited.

Public-private partnerships will bloom between transit agencies considering demand response systems and web/tech firms such as Uber and Google. People will profit from working with these types of applications to provide services for others and will push more people into the informal economy, permanently changing our commute patterns and neighborhood choices.

There will be less rush-hour and more around-the-clock demand for transportation services. Autonomous vehicles will surmount the first of many hurdles to implementation, but the public will begin using vehicles with semi-autonomous features, such as lane centering and collision avoidance systems. Crowd-sourced data accuracy will improve while also improving all types of transportation operations.

Funding issues

User fees for roads and parking will increase to support the cost of transportation improvements and infrastructure repair. The deeply entrenched gas tax may not be fully replaced by a vehicle mileage tax, but first steps will be taken to make such a tax politically palatable. Transit agency coordination will finally happen because seamless transportation services from the customer's perspective will be mandated in the next omnibus transportation act. 

Anything overlooked?

High-speed rail was mentioned by one student—a person who works for the High Speed Rail Authority. This student predicted that a major task for transportation managers in the next decade will be implementing high-speed rail and developing connecting transit services to expand its reach.


Information and Technology Transfer
Media campaigns help drive research usage

Donna Maurillo, MSTM, Director of Technology Transfer

A large part of our mission is to ensure that the excellent research conducted by the MNTRC is read by those who can put the data use for the public good. That’s why we conduct media campaigns for every research report we release and every event we sponsor or co-sponsor.

This past year, we set a new record, with 35 news releases and more than 20 conferences or similar events. We tracked nearly 125 original print and online news stories, not including numerous reprints in syndicated publications. And our campaigns got results: visitors downloaded more than 1.2 million research reports and other documents from our website.

News releases included stories about the Detroit Regional Transit Study; Perceptions of Bicycle-Friendly Policy Impacts on Accessibility to Transit Services; Modeling Taxi Demand with GPS Data; Lithium-Ion Battery Remanufacturing, Repurposing, and Recycling; a report by MTI transportation security expert Brian Michael Jenkins about the Abuja bus attack; and many other reports. News releases were also issued for the Women in Transportation Conference at the University of Denver; and many other newsworthy stories.

Media campaigns were conducted for conferences and other gatherings sponsored by MNTRC and MTI, includingTransit Research Board’s Finance Conference in Irvine CA; the Logistics for Entrepreneurs Forum in Bowling Green OH; the US High-Speed Rail Conferences in San Francisco and in Los Angeles; the AREMA Forum in Las Vegas; the Green Industry Hall of Fame Conference in San Jose CA; the annual Garrett Morgan Sustainable Transportation Competition, broadcast nationwide; 21st Century Challenge in Philadelphia; Transit Smart Moves in Detroit; and many others.