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Member Profiles

Member Profile: Leah Flax

Leah Flax (@ResilientLeah), Government Relations Specialist, Government and Community Relations, MTA

Leah Flax is an urban planner with expertise in public transportation, policy analysis, and partnership building. She currently works on bus and subway projects throughout Manhattan as a Government Relations Specialist at the MTA. Before joining the MTA, Leah worked at 100 Resilient Cities where she developed a suite of tools used by cities globally to apply resilience thinking in urban planning and project development. Leah previously held positions at the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Louis Berger Group (now WSP), and with the City of New York at the Department of Transportation and Taxi & Limousine Commission. Leah lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn where she serves on the board of the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project.

1. What is your favorite YPT-NYC event and why?  

Trivia – you do not want me on your team, I am terrible at it, but the competition is fun and I always learn new things.

2. If you could snap your fingers and make one change to regional transportation, what would it be? 

I would make local buses and subways free.

3. What sparked your passion to work in the transportation industry? 

The liberating feeling of taking the local bus to the YMCA as a middle schooler, and not having to rely on someone to drive me, sparked my passion for public transit. Shout out to Norwalk Transit District!

4. What are you working on that you’re most excited by? 

The 42 St Connection Project is going to completely modernize the 42 St Shuttle and give customers at Times Square and Grand Central Station greater accessibility, reliability, and more space to move around. The project also includes renovated entrances at Grand Central Station which are already complete, and have made a huge improvement to the traveler experience – when I use them it gives me a lot of pride and joy to have contributed to the project.

5. What career advice would you give to other YPT’ers interested in your career path?

Whether you know what your dream job is or not, with every position you take remember to learn and grow as much as you can and cherish the relationships you build along the way. 

6. What famous celebrity do you think should be given the opportunity to voice an NYCT Subway Announcement? 

BD Wong!

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Member Profiles

Member Profile: Dubary Brea

Dubary Brea, New York City Department of Transportation

Dubary Brea is currently the Deputy Director of Federal Transit Administration Grant programs at the NYC Department of Transportation, where over the past four years he has managed a team that oversees the financial and programmatic management of over $500M in federal and state funding for infrastructure projects across NYC. Previously, Dubary spent five years at the Port Authority of NY & NJ and PATH in various roles encompassing operating and capital budgeting and financial reporting, grants management along with two years as a rotational leadership fellow serving in multiple departments across the agency.

Mr. Brea’s varied professional background includes experiences in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, which have shaped his unique policy perspectives. Prior experiences include working at the Congressional Budget Office, KeySpan Energy (now National Grid), Congressman José E. Serrano’s Washington D.C. office, and Groundwork, Inc. He received a Master of Public Administration from the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) at Cornell University, focusing on government, politics and policy studies, and a Bachelor of Arts in international relations and economics from Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

1. What is your favorite YPT-NYC event and why? 

The YPT-NYC Holiday Party is always a fun joyous occasion. I enjoy getting together for the end of celebration and catching up with friends in the transportation sector.

2. If you could snap your fingers and make one change to regional transportation, what would it be?

I would consolidate all the regional transportation entities such as the MTA, NJ Transit, PANYNJ, and NYCDOT and their respective services, revenue streams under one regional entity. Grant it the independence and authority for all the regional planning, transit service decisions and capital project construction. Imagine using just one fare media on any of these systems, more efficient and smoother service integration amongst all the various modes.

3. What sparked your passion to work in the transportation industry? 

As a lifelong New Yorker and subway rider, I feel that our local transportation services are generally underappreciated. We love to point out what’s wrong but often overlook the marvel that allows all these services to run every day. I wanted to contribute and learn more about the industry since it is a very important part of our daily lives.

4. What are you working on that you’re most excited by? 

We are currently finalizing the construction and delivery of three new ferryboats for the Staten Island Ferry. The new storm-resilient vessels will be more capable of operating in a wide range of weather conditions and locations – and can also be used in emergency evacuations. My team at NYCDOT manages the federal funding, reporting and compliance for the project.

5. What career advice would you give to other YPT’ers interested in your career path?

If you see an opportunity that piques your interest, actively find out more information about it, network with your colleagues at work, school, or YPT. The information you can glean from your contacts will help you make a better-informed decision.

6. What famous celebrity do you think should be given the opportunity to voice a NYCT Subway Announcement?

Definitely Dwayne Johnson, especially if he voices it using his old “The Rock” wrestling moniker. I feel that many people would be surprised and happy that he would do it, and the announcement when it comes on would get many people’s attention.

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Member Profiles

Member Profile: Ben Rosen-Filardo

Ben Rosen-Filardo (they/them), Transportation Engineer, Sam Schwartz

Ben is an engineer with an interest in using data to improve transportation systems. They graduated from MIT in 2018 with a degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering. Ben has been at Sam Schwartz since starting as an intern in 2015. While not at work, they knit & crochet, rock climb, and volunteer as an operator at Trans Lifeline.

1. What is your favorite YPT-NYC event and why?

The tours! My favorite so far has been BookOps 📚

2. If you could snap your fingers and make one change to regional transportation, what would it be?

I was thinking of saying a true regional rail system, but Robert Joseph picked that one just a couple months ago 😛 At this point, I’d really like to see the subway return to 24-hour service.

3. What sparked your passion to work in the transportation industry?  

I was one of those kids who was obsessed with infrastructure and transportation from an early age. I loved my BRIO train set and could happily pass the time on a long drive with a game of Auto Bingo. In middle school, I was gifted Kate Ascher’s The Works. The whole book is incredible, but I found myself reading the transportation section over and over. It sounds kind of silly, but from then on, I knew I wanted to be a transportation engineer.

4. What are you working on that you’re most excited by?  

Right now, Sam Schwartz is gearing up to help a city transform a downtown thoroughfare to prioritize transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians. I’m excited to support this effort by giving stakeholders access to real-time traffic data to evaluate the impact of the project.

5. What career advice would you give to other YPT’ers interested in your career path?

Find opportunities to learn on the job! In my current position, I’ve been able to grow my coding and data analytics skills immensely. I now can work with transportation data on a scale that was previously quite intimidating. I’ve accessed these opportunities by being as forthcoming as possible with my supervisors about what excites me, and by finding mentors in the company who are supportive of my continued growth.

6. What famous celebrity do you think should be given the opportunity to voice a NYCT Subway Announcement?

Bernie Sanders 🧤

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Member Profiles

Member Profile: Chelsea Ramos

Chelsea Ramos

Technical Specialist in the Environmental, Energy, & Sustainability (EE&S) Department at NJ Transit

Hi! My name is Chelsea Ramos, I am currently a Technical Specialist within the Environment, Energy, & Sustainability (EE&S) Department within NJ TRANSIT.  I have worked for NJ Transit for approximately 7 years and my experiences have been very rewarding both personally and professionally. By education, I am an Environmental Scientist, having received both my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).  In addition, I am a 2-year member of YPT-NYC and currently hold the position of Vice-Chair of College Outreach for the Women Transportation Seminar (WTS) NJ Chapter.

1. What is your favorite YPT-NYC event and why?

My favorite YPT-NYC events are the facility tours and scavenger hunts. These events are great because they provide both an educational outlet while also building social connections with other members of YPT-NYC. Also, as a New Jerseyan, the scavenger hunts help me to explore, learn, and travel around NYC a lot better.


2. If you could snap your fingers and make one change to regional transportation, what would it be?

One change that I would make to regional transportation is relieving high traffic areas. Traffic is never fun to experience especially when you are heading to work or an important events. It is also difficult to pinpoint and remove traffic within an area because it often causes traffic in another location. If more direct pathways, public transportation, and highways are better utilized that may be able to provide some type of relief. But until then, I will continue to schedule extra travel time between destinations.

3. What sparked your passion to work in the transportation industry?

My passion within the transportation industry was sparked once I realized how diverse this field really is Individuals from all different educational and ethnic backgrounds have found a home within the transportation field. I have encountered individuals whom are engineers, scientists, lawyers, mechanics, planners, etc. whom all found a career within the transportation industry. To make this industry successful, it requires the collective input of many different backgrounds, experiences, and expertise to continue to be able to move daily.

4. What are you working on that you are most excited by?

Currently, I am working on two extensive railroad bridge replacement projects. These types of projects are always engaging because of the far reach of the project and the collaboration with other transit agencies. Specifically, within these projects I have been able to work with individuals from Conrail and Amtrak to help support the coordination of these projects. Also, as an environmental scientist, each project is unique within their permitting, environmental impacts, and mitigation techniques. These projects have allowed me to work with some experienced engineers, scientists, and designers from various levels and corporations whom broaden my understanding of different tasks. As a side perk, I get to make some new friends outside of my organization!

5. What career advice would you give to other YPTs interested in your career path?

I would say to use every opportunity as a learning experience. Starting off within a position or transitioning to a new position very task, opportunity, or assignment should be looked at as a productive action. Even small tasks such as drafting an email or letter for a supervisor should be constructive and build on your personal skills.


6. What famous celebrity do you think should be given the opportunity to voice a NYCT Subway Announcement?

Jennifer Lopez! Jennifer is a native Bronx resident and she often took the NYCT subway to get to her gigs and shows around the City. It would be awesome to have her say an announcement for the system!

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Member Profiles

Member Profile: Kyle Kirschling

Kyle Kirschling

Senior Director, Quality Assurance, New York City Transit

Kyle M. Kirschling is an urbanist who specializes in improving cities’ infrastructure. He is a licensed CPA and has a Master’s degree in Urban Planning from Columbia University. 

He is the author of “An Economic Analysis of Rapid Transit in New York, 1870-2010,” an evaluation of the impact of private, public, and hybrid institutions for transit ownership and operation.

As an advisor to the New York City Transit Authority, he sped up subway trains (reversing a 23-year trend) by conceiving a new operations strategy, saving one to four minutes per train trip and increasing on-time performance from 67% to 81% in 12 months, at zero cost (the “Save Safe Seconds” campaign and “SPEED Unit,” as reported in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and elsewhere).

He presently runs an internal management consulting group at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to improve infrastructure maintenance for the subway division.

  1. If you could snap your fingers and make one change to the NYC region’s transportation, what would it be?

Make it radically faster. Twice as fast, at least. And make the region a model of urban mobility for the world.  These are two changes, but it would only take one finger snapping.

Imagine if it took half the time to get anywhere in the region. Think of how your life could improve, especially after a year or two. I want speed because every second of travel time that can be reliably saved means, for instance, that we can reach a little bit better job, we can take classes at a school that is a bit more aligned with our life goals, we can find an apartment we like better, we can include more zip codes on dating apps and ultimately be better matched with a life partner.  Speed expands our “opportunity circle” and thereby makes the world a better place.

Here’s where the finger snapping comes in.  To do these two things, I would snap my fingers and open up our transportation market to competition and unleash our best minds on this problem.  For instance, make it legal for someone (such as the Alfred Beach types) to build and operate their own transit network in the desert of bedrock below the city.  Let them profit, too.  Create a framework that is always open to potential new competitors, and fares can be unregulated.  The Manhattan Elevated created the flat five cent fare in the 1880s as a volume-maximizing strategy to increase their profits.  With a trustworthy system of property rights, the region could become the world’s hub of urban transportation innovation, providing a double benefit to the region.

  1. What is the most common misconception the public has about the NYC Subway, and how would you debunk the myth?

Before I answer, you should know that the thoughts and opinions expressed in this Q&A are my own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).  

Now, three misconceptions immediately come to mind, but the one that interests me lately is the idea that the unions (and the collective bargaining agreements) are the biggest reason why the MTA cannot significantly reduce costs and cannot afford to expand the network much.  I think that this misconception is also shared by many of my good colleagues at the MTA, understandably so.

To be sure, the unions represent the interests of their members, not those of passengers.  That’s what the unions are for.  Nonetheless, we could improve the MTA’s financial position and still have a highly paid workforce with a growth strategy and if the productivity were correspondingly high.  In addition to growth strategies, I see lots of opportunities to increase productivity in ways that would simultaneously increase job satisfaction (and therefore be in the interests of the union members).  In some cases, increasing morale and job satisfaction would itself contribute to higher productivity.  For instance, discipline policies often discourage innovation.

I don’t yet know how to prove this, which is why it interests me.  I certainly think that a productivity strategy is far more doable than trying to get major cuts in wages and/or benefits, and it’s more sustainable than new subsidies from taxpayers.  Freight railroads in the United States and passenger railroads in Japan have well-paid unionized workforces, and they can afford it because management has figured out how to make them extremely productive.  Doing this at the MTA would be a tough job requiring a lot of unsexy changes that few people would appreciate, so there’s little incentive to do this at present.  I don’t think we can expect the MTA to take this on without paying much higher salaries to MTA executives.  We’d also need to rethink capital spending in a way that prioritizes investments that increase labor productivity.  Perhaps in future labor contracts, real wage growth could be linked to productivity growth, and this might even get the labor union interested in increasing productivity.  For the union to get on board, however, I think the MTA would need to simultaneously be growing its transportation business, in order to take advantage of the productivity gains without significantly reducing the workforce.

  1. What sparked your passion to write this paper?

I wrote this paper (“Engineering the New York City Subway: the Thinking Behind the World’s Fastest and Most Convenient Rapid Transit System”) to inspire greater ambition and better design in urban infrastructure.  I want big cities to keep getting bigger and better, so more people can enjoy life in the metropolis.

Planners often express despair and disappointment over projects that fall short of our hopes and dreams, like the Second Avenue Subway and AirTrain LaGuardia.  I’m sympathetic, because I want to raise, not lower, our standards and expectations.  Plus, it’s fun to complain sometimes.  However, to achieve our hopes and dreams, it’s super important to understand and celebrate our successes, and the subway is a magnificent example.  The engineers who designed it were facing extraordinary challenges and working in totally uncharted territory, they came up with a radical design that would depend on unproven technology, they faced heavy opposition from the public (including real estate interests), and yet they won the day.  How?  Through the excellence of their design and the soundness of their thinking.  If they could do that then (with fewer resources and 19th Century technology), think what we could do now.  

The subway is a symbol of New York City, but few seem to know why it has a subway in the first place.  Understanding the thinking behind the unusual design reveals the impressive logic and the great lengths to which these engineers went to see their design perfected and realized.  It is an amazing story, it makes me love this city, and it gives me emotional fuel to persevere and keep working for an even better future.

  1. Throughout your professional career, what is your proudest accomplishment?

I am definitely most proud of speeding up the subway.  I poured my soul into it, fighting an uphill battle for years.  Thus, it is deeply meaningful to me that I can report that trains are several minutes faster (in the range of 2 to 6 percent faster end-to-end running times), and service is more reliable (on-time performance).  For this, I am indebted to Andy Byford for taking me seriously and giving me the opportunity of a lifetime to see my ideas implemented and actually make the subway faster.  Governor Cuomo put his support behind the speed effort too–apparently the influence of “politics” is sometimes a good thing.  

The average passenger might not perceive the improvements, but whether they know it or not, their opportunity circle is a little bit bigger and they have a little bit better life within reach.  Happily, I do perceive the improvements, so I have the added benefit of getting a thrill up my spine every time I notice them on the subway.

  1. What career advice would you give to other YPT’ers interested in your career path?

Be a bureaucrat for a few years.  If you want intimate knowledge of mass transit in the United States today and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, there’s no place better than the public agencies that directly run big city transit systems.  That’s where all the action is.  Plus, you will be seriously popular at parties. I had no idea how many people I would encounter with such great interest in my job.

Once you have an understanding of how things work, fight the good fight, if you’re inclined.  I’m a troublemaker, in the noblest sense of the word (as used by Charlan Nemeth).  If that’s you, and if you have good-but-unpopular ideas, I say “do it.”  

Try to understand why your good ideas are unpopular.  This will help make sure that your ideas are, in fact, good.  If, for instance, your idea would require your boss to have a lot of difficult conversations, solve that problem too.  If you think you deserve it, take the moral high ground.  Not to put down others, but rather to show how your idea would truly make the city a better place.  That can have a very powerful impact.

Public agencies are not well-suited for innovation, but you can still have a real, positive impact.  There are a lot of good people who will help you, if you first take the initiative.  People will go above and beyond if they can clearly see the virtue, the justice, and the benefits of your idea.  Even if you don’t succeed, just by trying you’ll build an inner pride and learn a ton of practical skills along the way.

  1. What would you want to learn more about or write about next?

Since snapping my fingers won’t do it, I’m doing research for a paper on how you might design a legal framework that enables homesteading of the city’s underground desert (the soil and bedrock beneath the city that presently serves no human purpose), and thereby attract entrepreneurs and investors to develop faster, cheaper, and better transit networks.  This requires expertise in finance, and I’m excited to have Raymond Niles as my co-author, who is an economics professor, an expert on utility infrastructure finance and regulation, and a former Wall Street stock analyst.

Presently, I’m trying to come up with important infrastructure projects that could be built today were such a homesteading framework enacted.  That is, projects that would (1) bring major, visible improvements to the transportation system, (2) be profitable with today’s technology, and (3) occupy the underground desert.  If you have ideas, please let me know.  

If you think for-profit transportation is impractical, immoral, or im-whatever, I’d like to hear from you too.  Help me make sure I’ve addressed any and all potential downsides.

 

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Member Profiles

Member Profile: Robert Joseph

Robert Joseph

Bus Planner, MTA

After growing up just outside NYC and attending college at Tufts near Boston, Robert returned to New York to pursue his planning degree at NYU. Since coming back to New York, Robert has worked for Kevin Dwarka Economic Consulting making plans in communities across the region, the Municipal Art Society of New York analyzing and advocating for sensible planning policies, and currently the MTA as a bus planner. Outside the office, you’ll probably find Robert running or biking in Central Park, at a museum, or seeing a Broadway show (when they reopen).  

We asked Robert some questions:

1. What is your favorite YPT-NYC event and why? 

Transportation Trivia is my favorite because it brings out my competitive and nerdy sides. Plus, trivia is one of the best ways to keep learning new things.  

2. If you could snap your fingers and make one change to regional transportation, what would it be? 

While I’d be tempted to extend the W train to LaGuardia or will a second rail tunnel under the Hudson into existence, I would want Paris RER-style through-running commuter rail trains. The ultimate convenience of fast, frequent trains that cross the city and serve multiple stations rather than one large hub is not to be underestimated. Although Paris is geographically much smaller than New York, the mobility and accessibility gains might be even greater here if there were, for example, rail connections between Newark and Jamaica, or Coney Island and White Plains.  

3. What sparked your passion to work in the transportation industry? 

I have a long story about how in high school my dream of becoming an astronaut fell apart (seriously) and that I was subsequently inspired by a page of my AP history textbook showing how train routes connected cities across the country in the 1830s. The more I found out about the environmental benefits, economic opportunities, and public health impacts of transportation planning, the more I loved it. Friends and family got me books to support my interests and I’ve followed them ever since.  

4. What are you working on that you’re most excited by? 

I have recently done a lot of work on improving overnight bus service, specifically helping launch and monitor the Bx99 route. Although the task of transporting essential workers overnight without subway service and a limited budget was daunting at first, I’ve been pleased with how well customers have taken to expanded bus service. Despite not being the best of circumstances, I’ve found it to be rather instructive for our network redesign efforts.   

5. What career advice would you give to other YPT’ers interested in your career path? 

Beyond putting yourself out there as much as possible with networking opportunities, the most important thing is to never stop learning. It’s relatively easy to pick up new skills online or to at least show an interest and willingness to learn the tools of the trade. As long as you keep learning in every role, and use one role as a stepping stone to the next, you’ll find your career heading in a direction that pleases you. 

6. What famous celebrity do you think should be given the opportunity to voice a NYCT Subway Announcement? 

Samuel L Jackson spent years in New York City as a stage actor and he even worked as a security guard in Hell’s Kitchen at a time when the neighborhood and the city as a whole were struggling a lot. If there’s someone who I want to assure me that the upcoming service change won’t be so bad, it’s him. Plus, his voice is exactly the iconic and authoritative presence we need…to actually be able to hear the announcement over the train’s speaker system that is.  

 

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Member Profiles

Member Profile: Casey Barrett

Casey Barrett, EIT, ENV SP
Civil Associate II in Michael Baker’s Civil-Highway Department

I earned my BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Manhattan College in 2015. I went on to work for Michael Baker in their Civil-Highway department, where I worked on a variety of projects from streetscape improvements to bridge replacements. My project tasks include Maintenance and Protection of Traffic designs, and Traffic Control and staging plans, which is how traffic patterns are maintained during construction. In addition to being an active YPT member, I’m also involved with Women in Transportation Seminar (WTS) and I’m co-chair of the college outreach committee. In my spare time I enjoy gardening, hiking, doing puzzle, and baking/cooking.

What do you most enjoy about YPT? I’ve really enjoyed the virtual tour series, specifically the old NYC subway lines aerial imagery tour by Rayn Riel. I find it fascinating to see how New York’s mobility has changed (or has not changed) over time. I joined YPT in February 2020 and was looking forward to all the upcoming events. I have enjoyed the topics about NYC’s infrastructure and the networking opportunities YPT has hosted while in quarantine, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s your preferred transport mode and why?

At the moment, my preferred mode of transport is walking. I’m still working from home, so I take walks around my neighborhood in order to get some fresh air. I take a different route so I’m constantly seeing something new every day.

What are you working on that you’re most passionate or proud about (transit-related)?

I’m still waiting on that passion project, but it would be some type of sustainable infrastructure project using the Envision framework.

What is the biggest transit-related problem that you’d like to help solve?

Carbon-Neutral Transportation. The transportation sector generates the largest portion of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The solution to get to a carbon- neutral transportation sector is multifaceted issue, but I will only touch on a couple topics here. In order to cut carbon, we need to get people to drive less. That means getting people out of their personal vehicles and on to mass transit. This would require a reliable multi-modal mass transit system serving all communities. The mass transit fleet would need to be fueled by clean, renewable energy sources. Best management practices in sustainable transit will require research and development, and knowledge sharing across the industry. Another factor to consider in achieving carbon neutral transportation is the physical infrastructure: highways, roads, bridges, airports, etc. Our nation’s infrastructure is built out of concrete which contributes to 8% of global carbon emissions. Therefore, future infrastructure improvement projects will need to be sourced from sustainable resources with a low carbon output. 

Do you have any tips (career advice) for YPT’ers interested in your career path?

Young professionals should join YPT (or any professional society) because it allows you to grow your network outside of the people you work with. Sometimes professional societies offer opportunities, such as tours or training, that your employer doesn’t offer. 

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Member Profiles

Member Profile: Rebecca (Ray) Noble

 

Rebecca (Ray) Noble works at New York City Emergency Management as a Transportation and Infrastructure Specialist. She hails from the Midwest and relocated to NYC to pursue a graduate degree in Urban Planning at Columbia University. When she’s not nerding out about transit, you can probably find her running around Prospect Park, reading, or playing board games.

What do you enjoy most about YPT?

The Transportation group at my office is very small, so I enjoy YPT because I get to meet people with shared interests who I would not encounter directly through my job.

What’s your preferred transport mode and why?

I really love all transport modes for different reasons, but biking is special to me. Biking around Chicago as a young adult drastically changed the way I experienced the city, and getting involved in bicycling advocacy propelled me into thinking about mobility justice from a structural perspective.

What are you working on that you’re most passionate or proud about (transit/COVID-related)?

I’m really proud of the work I’ve gotten to help out with behind the scenes at Emergency Management during the COVID-19 response. There’s a lot of planning that we do year-round to prepare for power disruptions, building vacates, and evacuations, for example, and we had to rapidly adapt a lot of our planning assumptions. I’m proud of the inventive solutions we developed, especially since we produced them in the midst of a global crisis.

What is the biggest transit-related problem that you’d like to help solve?

I would love to eliminate private automobile ownership (except as a reasonable accommodation). I know there’s a lot of ways this could be done wrong, but wouldn’t it be amazing if we got it done right?

Do you have any tips (career advice) for YPT’ers interested in your career path?

Emergency managers have to be able to toggle back and forth between a lot of different roles (at our agency, we each have a day-to-day job, and a “grey sky” role during emergencies). We also collaborate with a lot of external partners during planning and response. A calm temperament is an asset; if you can encounter novel or high-pressure situations without getting riled up, this career might be a good fit for you.

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Member Profiles

Member Profile: Sunny Zheng

Sunny graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 2017, during which time he spent two summers at the MTA, one at LIRR and one at NYCT Operations Planning. In 2018, he joined the NYCT Data Research & Development unit, where he was part of the team that built the Bus Performance Dashboard, and is now at LIRR focused on improving the customer experience through new technologies as a Process Improvement Specialist in the President’s Office.

What do you enjoy most about YPT?

TransportationCamp and YPT allows those in the field to connect with like-minded people in the industry and learn from each other in a casual, non-judgmental atmosphere. Transportation is a relatively small sector compared to some of the other career paths that young adults can choose, and it’s littered with traps due to the politicized nature of the business. With the audience predominately students and those with a few years of experience in the field, YPT serves as a place to discuss your latest career advancement, back-of-envelope analysis, or wild design with people who have their own stories to share.

What’s your preffered transport mode and why?

No mode exists in a vacuum. Light rail, if built right with dedicated rights of way downtown and TSP outside (think Seattle Central Link), probably provides the best combination of efficiency, capacity, and performance for all but the densest of locales.

What are you working on that you’re most passionate or proud about (transit-related)?

In the current environment, providing customer access to crowding information is on the minds of every transit agency around the world. At the LIRR, we have been fortunate in that my team has started on this initiative a couple years ago, and it was only a matter of speeding up the process to get it into the public’s hands as soon as possible. This month, we launched a totally-rewritten TrainTime mobile app as well as new signage at Jamaica station which represent a major leap forward in customer communications for the MTA. Now, users can see car-by-car loading information and where trains will stop, so they can best position themselves to avoid crowded conditions. This project means a lot to me, as I worked on the current version in my first internship six years ago, fixing bugs and adding new features to the then-nascent application. Never had I expected that I would be the one to decommission it and launch the next generation.

What is the biggest transit-related problem that you’d like to help solve?

As the nation’s fixed guideway assets remain largely static, each generation confronts the challenge of trying to squeeze yet another drop out of capacity out of it. Whether this is done merely by scheduling more trips or through technological innovations, the math is clear – for each service hour added, a maintenance hour is removed. With more service and the passage of time also comes increased wear and tear on the physical plant, thus requiring more maintenance. Track access is the issue that I believe will dominate our industry over the next few decades.

Do you have any tips (career advice) for YPT’ers interested in your career path?

  • Network wisely. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with at a networking event – try to seek out a few people who do something that you would enjoy playing a part in. A few good contacts is better than dozens of people you barely remember the next day.
  • Find a role model, preferably one who was once in a similar position as the one you are in.
  • Data and planning do not exist in a vacuum. Go out and observe what conditions are like on the ground, both during normal conditions and perturbed situations. Make sure the data you get matches your observations. Think twice before taking broad statements at face value.
  • If you see a place where your expertise could be used, even outside your group, don’t be afraid to make some suggestions (but don’t make it too formal). The worst you can be told is no. If your ideas are deemed worthy of consideration, this can open doors quickly.
  • Understand the data pipeline at least one step upstream, one step downstream, and all steps between the levels you are using.
  • Always keep the customer in mind, even if you are doing something that is unpalatable. Look at each situation from three angles: “God” (planning), the employee (operational feasibility) and the customer (passenger experience)
  • Think carefully about edge cases and what is *possible*, not just what is routinely done. It’s totally fine to make a conscious decision that those situations are rare enough, but don’t get caught flat-footed when the folks on the ground decide to make full use of what they have.
  • Finally, remember that no matter how many levels removed you are from the Operating Department, you are playing a part in the daily miracle that is the delivery of a safe, reliable service for millions of New Yorkers.
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Member Profiles

Member Profile: Max Diamond

Max graduated from the CUNY City College of New York with a bachelor’s degree in Economics. He spent 3 years as a College Aide at MTA New York City Transit, spending a half year at the Division of Operations Planning, and the balance at the Department of Subways Performance Analysis Unit. Since June 2019, he has been a conductor on the B division (letter lines) of the subway system, and mainly works on the lines that run out of Queens. He also spends time volunteering at the Shore Line Trolley Museum in Connecticut, and serves on the board of trustees there.

What’s your preferred transport mode and why?

My most preferred mode of transport is heavy rail metro/subway, mostly because of its sheer capacity. Heavy rail urban transit systems can transport an immense amount of people at quite high speeds. Very few other modes can compare in this regard.

What are you working on that you’re most passionate or proud about (transit-related)?

I am most passionate about working on and supporting MTA NYCT’s museum train program. NYCT has a beautiful fleet of vintage subway cars of various types that are used for both public special events and paid excursions. These trains bring a massive amount of positive publicity to the MTA and the New York Transit Museum. Performing conductor’s duties on museum trains is incredibly rewarding, as it is an opportunity to learn a lot of “railroading” knowledge and skills that cannot be learned anywhere else. A railroad is very evolutionary in nature. Understanding how the older trains work provides a lot of critical operational knowledge needed to understand the nuances of how modern day operations at NYCT work.

What is the biggest transit-related problem that you’d like to help solve?

I feel that some of the biggest problems in the transit industry are brain drain and loss of institutional knowledge. Every time a senior worker retires, a massive amount of knowledge leaves with them. This has critical implications for transit systems where in some cases one can find operational rules that date back decades, if not over a century. If nobody knows why a rule was implemented decades ago, how can one properly evaluate policy changes that impact that rule? In one extreme example, an incorrect definition of an acronym for a type of train control/braking system was essentially made up and repeated for several years in some training booklets. Why? Because nobody remembered the actual definition from when it was established in the 1940s. Fortunately this has since been corrected.

Similarly, it is not uncommon for information about some of the more obscure technical aspects of railroading to only be found on decades-old instruction booklets and on the occasional enthusiast blog.
I believe that it’s incredibly important to implement effective knowledge transfer and aggregation initiatives at transit agencies to provide easy access to information for new employees. There is so much that a person can “not know that they don’t know” in the transit industry. Reducing the steepness of that learning curve is critical to ensuring that transit agencies follow best practices.

Do you have any tips (career advice) for YPT’ers interested in your career path?

My advice is to try to get out in the field as much as possible and try to get experience in a variety of departments. The more one understands how transit operations actually play out in the field, the more effectively somebody can then plan or manage aspects of a transit system. Similarly, working in different departments allows one to learn so much more about how a transit system operates, and it builds a lot of professional connections. As a conductor, I can say that I am considerably more effective with the knowledge I gained when I was a College Aide. Likewise, the in-depth field experience I am obtaining as a conductor would be invaluable should I go back to working in an office setting in the future.