Advancing Progress Side by Side: Transit Agencies Working Together Toward a Better Tomorrow

Sean Rousseau, P.E. (AECOM) moderated our January 28, 2021 ACEC/MW Transit & Rail in the DC Region Virtual Event.  He further explores the ideas put forth during the panel discussion.

Transit panelists from several local agencies shared a mutual vision for moving transit and rail forward in the DC region at ACEC/MW's recent virtual event.  From silver linings of the pandemic to the use of data and advancing transportation equity, Jennifer Mitchell (VPRA/DRPT), Jeffrey Ensor (Amtrak), Kevin Quinn (MDOT MTA), and Laura Mason (WMATA) openly discussed how their agencies are remaining agile and improving going into 2021 and beyond.
It was refreshing to experience a genuine comradery amongst the panelists. Throughout the event it was evident these agencies have a strong working relationship to advance common goals such as safety and customer satisfaction, and more specifically MARC run-through service, transit on the American Legion Bridge, Amtrak opportunities in Maryland and Virginia, and continued dedicated funding for Metro. A shared sentiment is important for making communication more transparent, internally and externally, and helps the agencies to rethink and evolve, especially as they learn lessons from the pandemic. Although the panelists were unequivocal that transit is clean and safe, they acknowledge that it remains an ongoing effort to attract riders as the pandemic continues. However, it was interesting to learn how they are building off of the pandemic to accelerate certain projects due to low ridership, analyze data, think about fare-free travel, and take a fresh look at off-peak times to explore ways to attract new customers. 
There was no denying that advancements in technology and the use of data are critical. Almost every conversation and topic was synergistic to technology and how the smarter use of tools and information have transformative effects for customers and workers alike. Jennifer Mitchel discussed the use of performance data to allocate funding and the use of commuter behavior data to support service planning efforts. Laura Mason and Kevin Quinn talked about using real-time data to improve service reliability, asset management and to provide crowding info at platforms so customers can make more informed travel decisions. Jeffrey Ensor said that Amtrak is personalizing information for customers and providing capacity and gate location to facilitate easier boarding, and later in 2021 the latest Acela trainset will be in service along the NEC and they will be announcing information on new intercity trainsets as well. Technology is also playing a role in agencies' efforts in combating climate change. DPRT, WMATA and MTA are taking steps towards zero-emission buses with several pilot studies underway. The panelists had consensus that the easy step is the electric bus itself, whereas the challenge lies in upgrading facilities and policy to accommodate this future fleet.
Important to all the panelists was taking action to do the right thing for the communities they serve, including essential workers. The agencies realize they have to do things differently to foster greater transportation equity. From this lens, providing service where needed, improving transit in low access areas, and even the creation of fare-free zones are part of their ongoing dialogue. It was also pleasantly surprising to hear that Amtrak and MTA are partnering to explore investments opportunities in Maryland. 
WMATA, Amtrak, MTA and VPRA/DRPT are clearly taking action today to improve transit and rail service for tomorrow. Despite the pandemic and current economic state, the panelists have an optimistic outlook that by focusing on equity, safety, modernization, and collaborating with their agency partners and communities, that transit and rail will continue to be a driver for Metropolitan Washington's growth and vitality.  

More info about the event, including a presentation about WMATA's upcoming opportunities HERE.

Sean Rousseau is an Associate Vice President with AECOM based in Arlington, Virginia. In this role, Sean is responsible for AECOM's integration and execution of transit and transportation planning and design across the metropolitan DC region.  He serves as a Co-Chair of ACEC/MW's Rail/Transit Subcommittee of the Transportation Committee and was a moderator for the Transit & Rail in the DC Region Virtual Event.


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