Momentum: Issue #65

February 16, 2021

Ramin Massoumi on Making Transportation More Accessible, Equitable and Data-Driven

Ramin Massoumi, Senior Vice President and General Manager at Iteris, began his term as ITS America Board Chair at a very interesting – and many would say challenging – time.

“The importance of mobility and transportation to people’s health and wellbeing has always been part of the conversation,” he said, “but the importance of providing that transportation, particularly in economically challenged neighborhoods, is even more critical now because of COVID”.

“In my view, there are three key themes ITS America should focus on to help ensure that all road users can benefit from the big advances in transportation technology and no one is left behind. In light of the current post-pandemic environment, transportation must be more accessible, equitable, and data driven if we are to truly support communities at a time when people are in even greater need of more efficient mobility.”

Ramin talked about transportation being at the core of projects like Smart Cities in Columbus, focusing on connecting people with healthcare, education, and work. He went on to say that agencies will have a much harder time, due to revenue losses, providing vital transportation needs.

Improving accessibility for all

“Transit agencies across the country are suffering financially at a time when public transportation has to play an even bigger role in improving accessibility to essential services.

“We don’t know what the long-term health implications will be for people who recover from COVID, so getting them to healthcare will become even more vital, as will getting students back to school – public transportation is critical to this goal and technology’s role in these efforts is bigger than ever,” he continued.  

Ramin believes ITS America should continue to support efforts to secure funding for public agencies. “One of our roles is to be sure agencies can quickly deploy technology to address changing needs.” He also believes the association should continue to reinforce the important role transit plays and help spread the word that it is safe to get back on trains and buses.

A data-driven approach

Technology and the use of data will figure prominently as the country moves through and beyond COVID. What will traffic volumes look like? What are the new trouble spots? VMT are down, but crashes are up.

“We are in somewhat uncharted territory,” Ramin said. “Intersections are still unsafe, but not because of high volume – so what is causing the crashes? Now the big data piece comes into play by helping us identify the trouble spots and figure out solutions.

“There is a positive impact – we’re seeing more people outside and walking, and bike sales are up, which adds up to fewer SOV trips,” he said, adding that these changes are good for long-term health outcomes as well as reducing greenhouse gases.  

This ties back to transit: technologies like touchless payment and access will make it easier to rebuild public confidence and combining a transit resurgence with reimagined use of curb space could result in a “complete revitalization of streets to be more pedestrian, bicycle and transit friendly and not so focused on vehicles.”

“The biggest challenge will be convincing people to get out of their cars for more than just recreational purposes,” he said.

The transportation network, he continued, has been focused on moving people from the outskirts into downtown business districts, but that pattern has been disrupted. People who can work from home are making different geographic and lifestyle choices, and Ramin thinks it will take a while to get back to a more predictable state.

Adaptive to a changing environment

“What does the future downtown office environment look like if there isn’t a massive influx of traffic in the mornings and back out again in the afternoon?” he asked. “We know the dynamics will be very different, but we don’t yet know what it will look like.

“Until then, we will be in a constant transition. During this period, the transportation network still needs to serve people, but right now, it’s not structured to serve their changing needs.”