Pop-Up Buses, Cell-Phone Data are Big Winners at Transit Tech Competition

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on June 25, 2013]

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Above, Josephine Kressner and Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton

One might expect the future of transportation to involve teleportation machines, but, at the recent “Outside the Box” competition, presenters were less “Back to the Future”-style flying skateboards than real-world innovations that could be actually implemented to solve transportation problems.

The George Mason School of Public Policy hosted the event for students and young professionals in the field of transportation policy. Thirty-eight proposals were submitted in February and narrowed down to three finalists who presented their transportation innovations June 12 at George Mason Founder’s Hall in Arlington, Virginia.

The first-place, $10,000 winner of the competition was Josephine Kressner, a Ph.D. student from Georgia Tech whose entry involved innovative use of targeted marketing and cell-phone data as a replacement for Household Travel Surveys. The existing surveys are periodically performed by federal and regional transportation officials at great cost and could be replaced, according to Kressner’s concept, by existing cell-phone records and marketing data for a fraction of the cost. (Editor’s note: There might be shortcomings such as capturing data for number of people in each vehicle and trip purposes, but there could also be a lot of positives, including capturing bicycle and pedestrian data.)

Further, Kressner’s surveys could be performed more frequently, providing transportation planners with more accurate and timely data with which to create transportation policy. Privacy concerns of the judges notwithstanding, Kressner’s proposal was lauded for the incredible cost savings that could result, given that this data is being collected constantly for everyone with a smartphone.

The second-place, $5,000 winner of the competition was presented by a group of Georgia Tech students as well, whose idea was hatched at Mobility Lab’s own Transportation Camp, held this past January. The presenters referred to their concept as a “Capital Bikeshare for bus rapid transit (BRT)” and called their entry “Pop Transit.”

The team’s innovation was a pop-up BRT system emphasizing a cool and modern bus design. The entrants felt their system’s ability to be deployed relatively quickly in a select city would serve as a proof of concept to other jurisdictions, and would improve the general public’s perception of buses as a viable form of transportation. The team was Aaron Gooze, Landon Reed, James Wong, and Margaret Carragher.

This was the inaugural Outside the Box competition for innovative transportation and transportation policy ideas, and was funded by the family of deceased George Mason graduate Cameron Rian Hays.

Judges of the event were Sean Connaughton, Virginia Secretary of Transportation; Hooks Johnston of venture capital firm Valhalla Partners; and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff.

Photo by George Mason University

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