Newsletter Vol. 22, Issue 3: Winter 2015

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Women on boards boost performance

by Karen E. Philbrick, PhD

Karen E. Philbrick, PhDWomen comprise more than fifty percent of college graduates and the general population, hold the dominant share of purchasing power, and, according to several recent studies, significantly improve the performance of organizations on whose boards they serve.

A 2012 Credit Suisse study of 2,360 organizations over a six-year span found that companies with women on the board “delivered higher average returns on equity.” Those findings were reinforced in a 2014 study that found superior financial performance in organizations with women in senior management positions. Yet, women comprise less than fifteen percent of the board membership of the S&P 500 and are entirely absent from the boards of three percent of the Fortune 1000, according to Triple Pundit. 

We are extremely proud that of the twenty-five distinguished trustees on the MNTRC board, a noteworthy eight – almost one-third – are highly accomplished women. For example:

  • MNTRC Board Chair Nuria Fernandez is CEO of Santa Clara (Calif.) Valley Transportation Authority and brings experience from past roles at New York Metro and other agencies, including the federal government.
  • Vice Chair Grace Crunican is general manager of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), having previously led Seattle's Department of Transportation. She also was a deputy in the Federal Transit Administration.
  • Immediate Past Chair Stephanie Pinson, PhD, is retired CEO of Gilbert Tweed International, a transportation executive search firm.

Although the goals of nonprofit organizations differ from those of commercial enterprises, they must demonstrate fiscal responsibility with the funds they manage and prove they are effective in fulfilling their missions. MNTRC has consistently met its rigorous performance goals, thanks in large part to the contributions of its gender-diverse board. 


Will Kempton

MNTRC Trustee Will KemptonIf anyone in California is identified with transportation, it is Will Kempton. He began his impressive career at Caltrans after graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in political science. Nine years later, he became executive director of the Santa Clara County Traffic Authority, managing a billion-dollar highway construction program delivered on schedule and within budget. 

From there, he went into transportation consulting, then moved into the Folsom assistant city manager’s position. He was then recruited to lead Caltrans through major transitions, which he successfully completed before becoming CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority. He has since served as executive director of Transportation California and is currently executive director of the California Transportation Commission. 

Meanwhile, he has served on the board of the Mineta Transportation Institute (and now the Mineta National Transit Research Consortium). He’s also been an adjunct professor of transportation finance in MTI’s Master of Science in Transportation Management program.

Not just a “highway” guy, Will is equally well known for his love of bicycling. During his Caltrans tenure, the agency’s Sacramento headquarters was honored for its participation in Bike to Work Week, and Will personally biked from his home in Folsom to his Sacramento office – a distance of roughly 23 miles.

MNTRC executive director Karen Philbrick said, “It’s always a pleasure and an honor to work with Will. He is an expert in his field and he shares the benefit of that expertise with MNTRC, MTI, and the entire nation.”


Grand Valley completes sustainable rural recycling prototype

by Charles Standridge, PhD, Professor and Assistant Dean, Padnos Col. of Engineering 

Portable rural recycling facility

GVSU assistant professor Nick Baine looks out from the recycling center window.

A prototype of a portable rural recycling center has been completed through a partnership between Grand Valley State University and Hastings (MI) Township. The unit, run by renewable energy, is a fully functional recycling center that can be trucked to rural areas where curbside recycling pickup is too costly, as well as to places where a central transfer station is too distant for people to make the trip. 

The unit is efficient because it runs on solar power and recycled batteries, and it minimizes operational costs because township staff can use remote cameras to see exactly when the recycling bins must be emptied.

This is essentially a used semi-trailer with some important modifications. Windows and doors were cut into the sides, and it has four solar panels on the roof so it can be placed where there are no power lines.

The solar panels send power through a system to the bank of batteries inside the unit, which allows lights and security systems to work at night or on cloudy days. The power bank is made of post-vehicle-application lithium-ion batteries, commonly found in newer hybrid and electric vehicles. It can power the recycling center for up to three days without sunshine.

The GVSU portion of the project was funded by the US Department of Transportation through the Mineta National Transit Research Consortium, with matching funds provided by Grand Valley State University. 



News from MTI

by Donna Maurillo, MSTM, Director of Communications and Tech Transfer 


Which tax is more fair?

Traffic-clogged roadway

Many options are considered for funding transportation infrastructure.

Government agencies are addressing the funding shortfall for US highways by considering ways to raise revenue. Two ideas are a vehicle fuel tax and a road user charge. But which one will cost more per household? 

MTI Research Associates Christopher Ferrell, PhD, and David Reinke conducted a comparative analysis. Their report, Household Income and Vehicle Fuel Economy in California, revealed no significant difference in impact.

Dr. Ferrell said, “The current per-gallon fuel tax no longer meets highway funding needs because vehicles can travel much farther on a single gallon of fuel. But it’s difficult to convince voters to increase that tax. Basing revenue on a fee per mile traveled could be more realistic.”

Primary research results indicate that:

  • Daily household fuel consumption and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) both appear to increase with household income.
  • Urban and rural households show roughly the same amount of fuel consumption and VMT.
  • Research uncovered slight differences in estimated costs over different income groups and rural vs. urban households, but there was no statistically significant difference among income groups between a fuel tax and a road user charge.
  • Fuel efficiency for vehicles of the same make, model, year, and engine differ because of different maintenance, driving cycles, vehicle loads, fuel type, etc.

“Other aspects of these alternatives should be examined, too,” cautioned Dr. Ferrell. “For example, a fuel tax is applied equally to all vehicles, regardless of size or weight. But a road user charge could be based on vehicle class, which would more fairly assess for actual wear and tear they impose on the roads.” 


CUTC Student of the Year: Ben Lichty

Ben Lichty

Ben Lichty, CUTC Outstanding StudentBen Lichty has been named MTI’s 2015 Student of the Year by the Council of University Transportation Centers, sponsored by USDOT. He was selected on the basis of his outstanding record of academic achievement and his distinguished career, which includes12 years of professional experience in transportation infrastructure planning and implementation.

He currently works for the California High-Speed Rail Authority as a senior transportation planner in the Division of Commercial Planning and Integration. His primary responsibilities include station area planning and network integration for a portfolio of investments in Northern California.

Ben holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Brigham Young University and a Master’s degree in Urban Land Development from Sacramento State University. He is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Transportation Management at SJSU where he maintains a 4.0 GPA and is on track to graduate next summer. Ben says his graduate education experience has helped prepare him for his current role, which links his interests in transportation and land use with train-station-area planning.

Besides transportation and land use issues, Ben is passionate about his family. He has been married for 10 years and is the father of three young boys.

He will receive his award, along with a check for $1,000, at the CUTC banquet in Washington DC on January 9. 

Information and Technology Transfer

Cybersecurity: Protecting public services

Rail traffic control center

Rail traffic control systems can be hacked if they are not sufficiently secure.

Frances Edwards, PhD, deputy director of MTI’s National Transportation Safety and Security Center, and MTI research associate Dan Goodrich presented a webinar on Cybersecurity and Emergency Management. They emphasized that the Internet wasn’t originally designed for security; the priority was simply to have it work reliably. 

About 95 percent of cybersecurity problems are physical, they said. Physical vulnerabilities include passwords that are easily hacked, shared passwords, or thumb drives contaminated with spyware. 

Once hackers gain control, they can conduct industrial espionage or government spying. They can even bring down public infrastructure. A spokesman for the British railway said, “We know that the risk [of a cyber-attack] will increase as we continue to roll out digital technology across the network”

InfoSec Institute reported that 40 US cities and nine other countries had vulnerable controllers for traffic lights and signs. In Montana, a hacker accessed the Emergency Alert System, warning of an in-progress zombie attack. The US Department of Homeland Security reported several recent hacks into public utility systems.  

But vulnerability goes beyond computers. The “Internet of things” passes information about the locations of critical equipment and personnel. The data can be transmitted through any device with an online connection, including phones, wristwatches – even automobiles and fitness trackers.

Edwards and Goodrich advised organizations to plug vulnerabilities, have a backup plan, ensure redundancy, avoid single points of failure, and expect attacks and compromises. They said if something can be hacked, don’t leave it vulnerable.


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