Every January here in Washington, the transportation research and consultant community throws itself a four-day party known as the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. It’s a major event on the transportation calendar with upwards of 14,000 attendees and hundreds of sessions, committee meetings, poster presentations and more.
The TRB annual meeting is often accompanied by snow storms and this year was no different as up to a foot of snow fell on the DC region right at the conference’s outset. That’s normal. Having large parts of the federal government closed (due to a lack of appropriations and not weather!) and thus little to no presence from the Federal Transit Administration at TRB made the transit meetings strikingly atypical.
I’ve learned, over the years, to take advantage of having such a major transportation conference here in CTAA’s backyard. Besides all sorts of members and friends coming to town, the conference offers a chance to sample new transit ideas, innovations and applied research. But with so many sessions and topics on the agenda, you have to choose wisely.
I participated in two lengthy sessions on rural transit — a meeting of the rural and intercity bus transportation committee and the other seeking to develop a rural transportation research roadmap. A highlight from these sessions is the development of a national intercity bus atlas (thanks to the work of KFH Group’s Fred Fravel). I was able to discuss the need for expedited research on the real impact of Medicaid NEMT investment on coordinated rural transportation systems around the nation — both as local share and as vital coordination contributor.
Two sessions I took in were particularly noteworthy. In a session on electric bus implementation, Kelly Blynn presented a highly useful analysis of the many factors influencing electric bus implementation on the part of public transit providers. I found the discussion around total cost of ownership of a variety of vehicle types particularly interesting.
Though largely focused on major metropolitan areas, the research on evaluating the impact of customer service amenities on transit ridership, performed by the Public Transport Research Group in Australia, was certainly thought-provoking. The research found that transit systems will get more bang for their buck on cleaning contracts, signage and shelters rather than, say, wi-fi service on their vehicles.
Because I’m a frustrated policy wonk, I attended a large session on FAST Act Reauthorization led by the transportation secretaries of Utah, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, Idaho and Nebraska. I went, hoping to get some intel on how highway advocates were approaching reauthorization — and the idea of developing what these leaders called “a compelling national vision” for tomorrow’s transportation network was energizing. What I didn’t expect, however, was to hear Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness point to “small, rural transit programs” across Idaho as a priority in his state. Soon, each state DOT leader was asked about smaller transit programs and it was as if a rural transit session had suddenly broken out amidst a highway discussion. Quite enjoyable!
TRB isn’t for everyone. There’s a lot to wade through to find the nuggets of what I like to call applied research — research that’s useful to CTAA members as opposed to that pointed only to other researchers and consultants. But if you choose wisely, it can be time well spent.
The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.