On October 29-30 the MIT Transit Group hosted its sixth Transit Leaders Roundtable. The two-day event — co-sponsored by Transport for London, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in Boston, and the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) in Hong Kong — brought together 25 executive-level managers and transportation experts from 13 major urban transit agencies, including New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Paris, in addition to the three sponsoring agencies.
MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Professor Nigel Wilson, director of the MIT Transit Group, launched the roundtable with an energetic description of the meeting as “an excellent opportunity for participants to exchange ideas, thoughts, and experiences in dealing with transit management, planning and operations, strategies, as well as the current challenges and opportunities facing public transit systems worldwide.” Moreover, the roundtable provided a venue for the MIT Transit Lab research team to present relevant research findings to an audience of large-city transit agency leaders.
Following Wilson’s introduction was a welcoming speech from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Secretary Stephanie Pollack — with a brief elucidation of the current technology issues facing the new management of the MBTA in Boston — and a keynote presentation from MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics Professor Emilio Frazzoli, director of the Transportation at MIT Initiative on the “Autonomy and the Future of Urban Mobility.”
Held on MIT campus, the roundtable involved a myriad of interesting discussions. Shadowing the initial presentations were a series of themed open discussions:
- New services and systems: CEE Research Associate John Attanucci ’74 served as the moderator for this first session, focusing on the transit industry’s response and potential collaboration with Uber — and similar new urban mobility services — including a variety of ways these new services might complement conventional transit service. Agencies from Seattle, Dallas, Montreal, and Motivate, Inc. (a private company that provides urban mobility services) provided their recent experiences in dealing with a range of new mobility services.
- Near-capacity operations: With Northeastern University Professor Haris Koutsopoulos filling the role as moderator, this session emphasized specific operational strategies to increase capacity, as well as the roles of decision support systems and technology in increasing capacity and relieving peak period crowding on many of the assembled systems. Agency strategies were outlined by participants from New York, Hong Kong, and Boston.
- Building political support for financing improvement: CEE Senior Lecturer Fred Salvucci opened a discussion in this session on transit benefits, costs, and financing sources, and more efficient ways to create political support for transit improvement. Presentations were given by agencies from Boston, Chicago, and London, and most of the participants added their unique perspectives on this most critical issue.
- Customer behavior: Moderated by Department of Urban Studies and Planning Assistant Professor Jinhua Zhao, this session focused on current behavior research in transportation. With a lively introduction on behavioral economics theories, Zhao discussed the importance of agency understanding of customer behavior and how it is clearly tied to each of the other workshop topics. Representatives of Paris RATP and Motivate presented their respective approaches to customer research and most of the other agency participants chimed in with their own perspectives.
- Data Analytics: CEE Research Associate Gabriel Sanchez-Martinez, the moderator, used this session to address issues such as data sources, data analysis technology, and impact and benefits of data analytics in a forward-thinking transit organization. Presentations were given by agencies from London, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and New York. Retired MIT senior lecturer George Kocur also presented an example of using analytics for strategic management based on work he did in the private sector.
At the event’s conclusion, one staff member and three students in the MIT Transit Lab presented brief graduate student research summaries on the following topics: Sanchez-Martinez on schedule-free high-frequency transit; CEE graduate student Cecilia Viggiano SM ’13 on using automatically collected data to inform network planning; CEE graduate student Anson Stewart SM '14 on collaborative, accessibility-based stakeholder engagement for transit projects; and CEE alumna Yiwn Zhu SM '14 on a modeling framework for passengers assignment to trains based on automated data under near capacity operation.