U.S. Department of Transportation
June 4, 2010 (9:00 A.M.-5:00 P.M.)
Oklahoma City Room – Ground Level, West Building
Meeting called to order at 9:00 a.m.
Chair called everyone to order and asked for introductions.
Members, Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) staff, and visitors from the public introduced themselves.
Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) Administrator Peter Appel described RITA and its various program areas, including BTS. He stated his appreciation for ACTS members to be a part of the committee and provide input into the BTS program based on their expertise. Administrator Appel encouraged committee members to serve as a conduit for their communities of stakeholders opinions on the BTS program and stated that RITA needs to hear from them. Administrator Appel stated that he saw an optimistic future for BTS based on the Secretary and Administrations emphasis on making policy and decisions based on good science and rigorous analysis, that RITA leadership believes that BTS can be doing a lot more, and that RITA leadership is prepared to serve as an advocate for the kinds of resources BTS will need to accomplish an expanded role for BTS.
RITA Deputy Administrator Rob Bertini agreed with the Administrator that BTS is an incredible resource for RITA. He stressed that he is working to bring programs closer together within RITA—for example, Intelligent Transportation Systems and BTS—to help address issues in the transportation system. Bertini stated that a positive benefit of ACTS is that the members represent constituents with whom BTS already partners. He also stated that it has been exciting for BTS to take a leading role in the Departments www.data.gov initiative. Bertini closed his remarks by asking ACTS members to think about workforce needs in training in the use of transportation data to address the RITAs educational programs component.
BTS Director Steve Dillingham thanked RITA leadership for their support of BTS and advocacy within the Department and in the transportation community. He stated that much is being accomplished in BTS even though it is the smallest of 14 federal statistical agencies, but challenges lie ahead. Dillingham stated that he looked forward to knowledge sharing with and advice and assistance from the distinguished group of ACTS members. He closed by thanking ACTS members for participating.
ACTS Chair John-Paul Clarke introduced the agenda topic by asking each member to share quick thoughts on the DOT Draft Strategic Plan in the context of ACTS. Members were also asked to submit written comments to the Chair. The objective of the exercise is to provide the committees collective thoughts on where BTS should be positioned to respond best to the DOT strategy and transportation statistics needs in the future. Clarke identified one of his key themes for transportation statistics as understanding whats happening in the transportation system, particularly from the viewpoint of the passenger and freight moving through the system. This point is key from an energy usage, environment, geopolitical position of the country, and safety.
Thoughts on DOT Strategic Plan: John Gray – Chief Economist , Association of American Railroads
Clarke noted that because data and transportation are mainly a private endeavor, for example outside of air traffic control there is almost no public money involved in air transportation operations; most of the data are private. The issue that seems to be universal to all transportation domains is that there is a different perspective and look at the way projects are planned and analyses undertaken in the private environment versus what is possible to do in the public environment since the public data simply is not there. It is worth looking into how to make better use of public data by repurposing and working toward making some of the private data public.
Thoughts on DOT Strategic Plan: Bob Costello – Chief Economist and Vice President, American Trucking Associations
Costello expressed the concern that US would lose its competitive advantage in global environment if the transportation system was not improved. The US has some good data, but also lacks some. He thinks the real advantage of RITA and BTS is benchmarking data and identifying where transportation statistics needs to focus. Regarding the strategic plan, he does not want to lose the big picture. Though livability issues and initiatives are fantastic, the US economy does not run on livability. "How are we going to continue to move freight in the future?" is the important question. The transportation community needs data to help make important decisions
Thoughts on DOT Strategic Plan: Leanna Depue - Director, Highway Safety Division, Missouri DOT
Depues comments focused on the area of safety. She opined that public policy was a key element in addressing safety. The challenge from a state perspective is putting data in a format that is acceptable to decision-makers. One of the challenges is different agencies will produce different numbers in response to a question about the issue, which makes decision-makers see data as less credible. Regarding the strategic plan, she believes the term "data-driven" for decision-making is not preferred because it is a lagging indicator (e.g., a traffic accident has already occurred). She focuses on a leading indicator or "evidence-based" decision-making and getting policy makers to make good decisions based on data. Depue also stated that a very good aspect of the strategic plan recognized the importance of a safety culture and safety leadership.
Thoughts on DOT Strategic Plan: Tina Casgar – Manager of Goods Movement Policy, San Diego Association of Governments/ San Diego Port Authority
Casgar noted that she spent the bulk of her time looking at Economic Competitiveness aspect of the strategic plan because it relates to all other areas in strategic planning. The plan addressed the outputs of the system well, but does not address the inputs well. The investment needs are where the US transportation system is falling short.
Thoughts on DOT Strategic Plan: George Donohoue – Professor of Systems Engineering, George Mason University
Donohue restricted his comments to his area of expertise – aviation.
Thoughts on DOT Strategic Plan: Tony Kane – Director, Engineering and Technical Services, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
Kane stated that AASHTO had concerns about capacity side of the equation for freight and passenger travel in all modes, and that he believed that BTS can do more in terms of mapping. BTS can show things like significant freight corridors, connection needs, and port access needs from a national perspective, which would show areas for economic growth in the nation. The Department can be much more aggressive in highway safety. All the states have been called upon to address this area. The measures for highway safety in the strategic plan are narrow in AASTHOs view and very unaggressive. BTS could enhance mapping techniques and benchmarking, which enhances US competitiveness in the process.
Thoughts on DOT Strategic Plan: Michael Replogle – Director, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy
Replogle affirmed the fresh and important change in direction represented by this USDOT strategic plan, and made the following points. Livability, economic competitiveness, safety are the right emphasis and direction for the Department. The transportation community needs to be thinking about strategic investments to relieve bottlenecks in certain places where better operations cannot do the job. He agrees with the focus on performance measures listed in the strategic plan. He looks forward to discussing those in depth in future meetings.
One opportunity not in the strategic plan is to use strategic authority in SAFETEA-LU planning provision – purpose is to improve economic development and mobility while minimizing fuel use and emissions. That description of the purpose of the planning system is mentioned later as something that USDOT should be monitoring and ensuring states and MPOs are following. Department can issue guidance and issue performance criteria to measure success of each activity. It could be done now through executive action and does not need to go back to Congress for authority.
Replogle also stated there is a need to cut black carbon pollution, which is a GHG-forcing compound. It is more potent than carbon dioxide. There are strategies in which DOT can regulate black carbon reduction better by accelerating the retirement of older trucks. It is important to look at strategies in the strategic plan to reduce VMT per household and per job while improving accessibility. The US transportation system needs to grow smarter without reducing mobility while also reducing noise from air transportation and traffic, particularly in cities.
Thoughts on DOT Strategic Plan: Elizabeth Deakin – Director of the University of California Transportation Research Center and Professor of City and Regional Planning, university of California Berkeley
From recent trips to China and Paris, Deakin observed emphasis on new technologies affecting traffic management and transforming transportation systems in 20 or 30 years. She noted that the DOT strategic plan is quiet on exactly how technologies might transform what is being discussed as transportation systems in the long-term, not just the 6 years of the strategic plan. Thinking strategically over the longer term gives transportation professionals opportunities to think about new multimodal combinations of systems, doing so would mean a very different way of doing business than the mode-by-mode approach taken in the past. Deakin also emphasized the need for equity analysis in air transportation issues raised by George Donohue. Current management of airports raises serious equity issues. Some valuable exercise BTS could play a role in are making implicit airport management practices explicit and examining how high speed rail affects air transportation.
Thoughts on DOT Strategic Plan: Kara Kockelman - Professor, University of Texas / Austin
Kockelman noted that the strategic plan is an important document, but tricky to comment on. She feels that the Plans repair, economic competitiveness, and environmental sustainability goals are rather critical. She is surprised that safety is articulated as the USDOTs "top priority" because, so much of that is in the hands of the driver and she is unsure how much responsibility DOTs really have to take in improving safety (with the exception of design-deficient locations). She does worry about the safety of non-motorized users. She is glad that USDOT is starting to articulate issues around livability, such as land use management. Kockelman feels that Plan criticisms by those wanting greater focus on network capacity may be too simplistic. She feels that the USDOTs economic competiveness goal (via strategic investments) may well cover any necessary capacity additions.
Thoughts on DOT Strategic Plan: John-Paul Clarke - Chairman: Associate Professor, School of Aerospace Engineering/ Director, Air Transportation Laboratory
The Chair agreed with many of the comments made about the strategic plan. One additional item that he did not see explicitly detailed in the plan is use of transportation data. He argues that the community is in a better position in terms of understanding usage statistics to make informed decisions about what kind of things we can do and what economic development we have related to transportation. The transportation community needs to start collecting not only mean statistics, but distribution statistics.
Presentation by Joel Szabat – Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy
Szabat noted that a lot of the decisions made for reauthorization are going to shape research. The challenge facing everyone is what funding will be provided for USDOT. This affects the federal role. The estimate for a healthy transportation program over the next six years is in the $400-500 million dollar range. Under the current authorization, the Department is funded at $250 million. An existing question is where to find the additional $150M over the next six years to keep doing what were doing and improve the transportation system.
New frontiers and priorities for USDOT regardless of authorization include:
Office of the Undersecretary for Policy has about $3M per year for research and have recently partnered with RITA to combine projects. Snapshot examples are: (a) a longitudinal analysis of TIGER grant program; (b) a review of HSR; (c) corridor-specific measurements; (d) a study of impact of maritime changes on US freight flows with MARAD; (e) a study of ICM expansion with RITA and FTA; (f) a pilot project on household survey data; (g) a state smart-transportation initiative to indentify sustainability measures and best practices; and (h) study of new research on what a few large carriers mean for air industry – an analysis of the impact on air industry.
There is still a problem of determining what can be measured in a reasonable period of time on projects. What is it that we want to measure that is worthwhile and, once funded, what data do we need to collect to determine the project is successful?
Discussion focused on funding for surface transportation. A suggested action item for BTS is publishing spending and expenditures for air and highway trust fund monies.
Presentation by Brodi Fontenot – Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget
Fontenot explained that he served two roles at USDOT: (1) preparing Departments annual budgets with the Chief Financial Officer and (2) serving as the Performance Improvement Officer, in which he is charged with fostering innovative and proactive ways to increase the performance of the agency's program. The major issue his office is grappling with is operationalizing performance. A lot of it has to do with making performance measures already developed more useful and accessible to administrators and decision-makers. Also, how can this information be presented in an interpretive manner?
The PART process is a good idea that started with the Bush Administration, but may have been focused too broadly. The Administrations current approach is to focus on a few key areas over the short- and medium-term. The Department has a performance management council (PMC) where focus on performance issues across the Department. An example topic is: Do you make performance metrics contingent on funding? The PMC has established a performance scorecard for each modal administration to track key performance measures on a quarterly basis. The objective is to look for underlying trends in system performance. Currently, PMC is in the second quarter of operation. Measures on the scorecard had to be long-standing measures, not new measures in order to raise program-level performance to the Department-level.
The discretionary grant program is one of the more innovative initiatives at the Department. One of the hallmarks of the TIGER program was individual performance components to each grant awarded. This is hopefully a model for all grants moving forward. Department needs to establish standards for recipients of federal funds. The idea is not only to tie internal performance to top Departmental management, but to tie system performance to which they are charged, whether it be aviation, water, rail, etc., to top management.
Leanna Depue cautioned that system performance often depends on factors that agencies dont manage, such as the legislative process. When you start totally linking performance to incentive programs, grants, performance may be difficult for highway programs to manage.
George Donohue cautioned that measures on the air safety are hard to use appropriately without detailed understanding. Year-to-year safety data may not be best way to determine performance. Fontenot understands and hears the same thing from FAA regularly. This issue is being discussed.
Tony Kane commented that for performance measures in general, AASHTO is working on collecting comparable data across modes. Appel noted that USDOT has formed a Safety Council and injury definition has been brought up as a cross-cutting issue.
Presentation by Steven K. Smith – Bureau Transportation Statistics Deputy Director
See presentation for information presented during this segment.
George Donohue noted that the flat program dollars for BTS are essentially decreases in real dollars every year. Air Trust Fund funding for the Office of Airline Information was also clarified.
Presentation by Steven Dillingham – Bureau Transportation Statistics Director
See presentation for information presented during this segment.
Environmental data and the Household Travel Survey were items not included on the 10 data priorities for BTS that committee members felt should have been included.
Michael Replogle asked to what degree is the Department looking at opportunities to use data mining and information capture ideas to support a number of these priorities? ITS presents an area that could provide streams of data that could be useful to the other 9 priorities. There may be some room for cross-fertilization and, given budgets, using existing data in new ways. It would be valuable for BTS to develop new tools perhaps in partnership with states, MPs, and private sector, telecommunications industry
George Donohue noted a lack of analysis in public-private partnership in air transportation (which would address environment, e.g., larger aircraft, and capacity growth, e.g., more efficient engines), as well as looking at microeconomics and its effects on public policy
Bob Costello expressed his pleasure with the fact that VIUS is on the list. He noted that much has changed in the trucking environment and how trucks are used since last VIUS. This is a key missing component.
John-Paul Clarke asked whether energy is part of economic competitiveness and livability data priorities. He noted that people need to be more efficient with the energy we use. While BTS participates in the USDOT Climate Change Center, Clarke stated that it would be helpful to get the big companies like Wal-Mart to provide data. Sharp indicated that with the Commodity Flow Survey (CFS), BTS has confidentiality legislation that protects who survey participants are. The CFS only covers a sample of activities that makes carriers are far more willing provide data. Clarke noted that there are only two reasons that freight companies really collect data: (a) the data is needed to manage commercial transaction or (b) data serves some internal function that supports the commercial transaction (e.g., maintenance or investment) and/or it is required for some type of legal or regulatory purposes. He knows of no data collection for planning. In some cases, it is impossible to get performance or planning data for legal or competitiveness reasons.
Michael Replogle encouraged BTS staff to reach out to Japanese organizations working on freight management and logistics and supply chain management to get ideas on public-private partnerships to get data needed. John-Paul Clarke cautions that Replogle is correct that other parts of the world are successful in data collection. However, none of those have American anti-trust structures, which is the foundation for a lot of things that cannot be shared in the United States. John-Paul Clarke confirmed that the air industry uses BTS data for planning for many of the reasons John mentioned.
Leanna Depue asked if any of the BTS surveys capture the affects of packaging on freight tonnage. Bob Costello does not know of any instrument capturing this data. His analyses have found that reduction in freight volumes does not coincide with a growing economy. The hypothesis is that electronics are getting smaller and packaging changes emphasized by the trucking industry are the cause of overall freight volume reduction. This is an area that should be studied. John-Paul Clarke noted that a lot of work has been done on less-than-truckload shipping and ways to optimize use of packaging. Tony Kane suggested that total logistics cost compared to GDP study would be valuable for BTS to investigate.
Presentation by Amanda J. Wilson, Director- National Transportation Library and Thomas Bolle, Governmental Affairs Specialist
See presentation for information presented during this segment.
Discussion clarified the ultimate goal of a national transportation knowledge network is the development of a transportation information portal that would serve as a "one-stop shop" for transportation information.
Presentation by Ronald Duych, Senior Transportation Specialist and Rolf Schmitt, Transportation Specialist
See presentation for information presented during this segment.
John-Paul Clarke gave an example of a scenario where we would need to know items are picked up and tracked from their origin, even if outside of the country. Johnson responded that BTSs Transborder data (provided through partnership with US Customs and Border Control) and the International Freight Data System (IFDS) projects are working toward getting manifest data accessible to the modes at the transaction level of detail. This will ultimately be monthly and weekly extracts of data added to the databases.
Tony Kane noted that state DOTs have an interest in travel time and speed in freight transportation corridors. Schmitt responded that through the Freight Analysis Framework (FAF) website, speed data may be accessed.
John-Paul Clarke asked if the CFS captures multimodal shipments, i.e., rail to truck and truck to rail. Duych responded that the shipper knows if shipment is multimodal and CFS questionnaire asks shippers to detail multimodal transactions. The data for this question came back unusable because shippers just did not know specifics. Its a challenge BTS has tried to address in the past CFS and continues to deal with moving forward.
Clarke then asked if there is any effort to merge CFS/FAF with estimates of GHG emissions, materials movements, and spatial locations as shipments move through the freight system (i.e., emissions rates per unit of travel). This requires data such as what freight it is, what equipment is being used to transport, what are the port strategies for "greening" operations, etc. How do we track and report the environmental performance of the US freight system? Schmitt responded that the FAF team is working with Caltrans to use FAF as input into their air quality analysis. This gets into how local data supplements large area data. Also, VIUS is on many peoples priority list to get brought back. When that happens, this data can be with FAF to answer this question. Are there ways that we can use smart tags on containers and shipments within the system to complement the existing measurement systems and fill the gaps?
Clarke also asked if there are plans to include rail in the shipper survey since shippers dont know details of multimodal transportation of freight. Ron Duych responded that there are currently no plans to include carriers and shippers to produce CFS, because it would result in double-counting. Even within modes, double-counting happens. Bob Costello stated that it would be interesting to get the rail and trucking industries together to brainstorm ways to answer this question. What do you think the coverage of the retail sector for CFS is? Duych responded that coverage is selective and CFS captures distribution centers of major retailers (e.g., Wal-Mart, Sears, etc).
Kara Kockelman asked how much of a loss the VIUS is and what is the cost-benefit analysis of bringing it back. Schmitt responded that one of the key things that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) loses from VIUS is turning tonnage to truck freight loads moving over the network. By the end of next month (July 2010, FHWA will be receiving cost estimates of bringing VIUS back fully for all vehicle types or in a scaled-back version for just trucks. Automobiles are used in business, so covering all vehicles is important. It is used in so many places that the benefits far outweighs the cost. Examples include EPA MOVES project model, its essential to energy policy, understanding truck VMT, and understanding economic activity served by trucks.
Kockelman also asked if the CFS or FAF provides county-to-county data. She understands that data is presented at a higher level of resolution because of confidentiality. Schmitt responded that the FAF reports in 123 regions of the country (which is the same as CFS). Freight is hard to analyze at the county level because the data are very lumpy and heterogeneous.
Presentation by Anne Suissa, Director, Office of Airline Information
See presentation for information presented during this segment.
George Donohue stated that airfares used to be a good source for analysis, but with move to increasing baggage fees and food charges, its becoming more difficult to measure true cost of airfares for research. Is OAI capturing this? Suissa responded that the GAO just released a report on this phenomenon. Stankus noted that total revenue of airlines is currently reported in BTS press releases. Discussion continued on the challenges and opportunities for capturing accurate air fare data and efforts from the Secretary and President to set and enforce standards for airfare data. Suissa reported that BTS will be releasing a special report on predicting financial health of air carriers.
John-Paul Clarke and George Donohoue noted that quality of service data is something important for BTS to capture. Discussion continued around obstacles to capturing this type of data, e.g., changing requirements for reporting, airlines unwilling to share data, and best methods to capture data. Committee members noted that passenger delay is significantly worse than flight delay due to load factors, etc.
Tony Kane asked if airlines provide customer response/feedback in a real sense and if there is any indication that air passengers will change carriers based on on-time performance? Suissa responded that on-time reporting leveled the playing field in airline provision of customer service. Clarke continued and stated that airline passengers largely make decisions based on price. Tony Kane then questioned why would anyone want to capture this knowledge? George Donohoue responded that researchers believe that if passengers see both price and probability of arriving on time, may impact choice.
George Donohoue suggested that BTS could do a better job with airline databases by merging some of them.
Presentation by Peg Young, Senior Mathematical Statistician, Office of Advanced Studies
See presentation for information presented during this segment.
Leanna Depue noted that economics play a factor in safety initiatives.
Michael Replogle the Transportation Services Index (TSI) is useful. If you add to VMT, a more complete picture of transportation consumption is presented. He suggested that it would be useful for BTS to think about how we measure output of transportation consumption in terms of access (to employment and transportation). Discussion continued on BTS involvement in Departmental and other related initiatives on access generally and in terms of livability.
Strategic Planning discussion
This discussion is placed on hold until the next meeting.
There were no comments from members of the public in attendance at the meeting.
John-Paul Clarke opined that the next ACTS meeting could be a lengthy discussion on how ACTS may provide advice to BTS. He said that he hadnt heard from any of the programs a clear-cut explanation of what the markets are for each of the programs. What data is being pulled off of the BTS site, frequency, and how data is being used? This strikes him as an important understanding. If there is data available that only serves a limited market, maybe funds need to be reallocated. What is clear is the $27M budget. To expand BTSs role, something may have to give. Technologies will need to be improved.
Bob Costello: He was excited and encouraged by what he heard. For next time, more in-depth discussions of resources and priorities, as well as specific programs, may be good topics.
Leanna Depue: Information presented was helpful. Sometimes tough choices must be made considering users and funding. She hopes there will be some time in the next meeting to discuss products and even statutes. Are they even relevant? She will try to get insigne from users and practitioners perspective to give guidance.
Tina Casgar: This meeting more than ever reminded her of what a big job is set before BTS. She would like to see like inputs on the transportation system, demographics of users of transportation systems, GDP and relationships to transportation collected by BTS. For the next meeting, it might be helpful to line up data products along the strategic goals of the Department and gap analysis. Sustainability and the environment are new areas that will likely have gaps. Also, it could be helpful to have some other folks come in (e.g., from NASA or other areas) that can present on new ways and technologies to collect data.
George Donohoue: The BTS budget is shrinking in real dollars. He does not see where that is going to change. BTSs role is important in the context of Administrations emphases. The role of committee is to help establish priorities based on new realities.
Tony Kane: Now is the opportunity to define from scratch what is important and where BTS wants to go. Economic, environmental, and social sustainability measures will be increasingly important. Good forecasts of financial sustainability would be a favorable product from BTS and the Department. He volunteered to survey state DOTs. He suggested this as an action that all members can survey their stakeholders. The budget environment is an opportunity for BTS to redefine and affirm its position.
Michael Replogle: ACTS should not only be looking at ways to make BTS more efficient and productive within existing budget, but to also help BTS make a compelling case for growing its resources. He believes that biggest gains in transportation system come from operations. If you dont measure it, it cant be improved. If we look at the role of transportation and the economy, transportation is about to undergo the same transformation as telecommunications over the last 20-30 years. Replogle thinks that transportation is also about to make the shift toward being a regulated public utility with new governance and management structures. The charge before ACTS is to help BTS create a vision for commanding more resources, develop measures of how monitor the system through voluntary and regulatory approaches, and in partnership with states.
Next meeting topic could be looking at performance measures under discussion at the Department and give BTS guidance on best ways to get data, develop newer, fresher approaches to use remote sensing data, access and use National Security and CIA data, etc. How can ACTS help BTS gain access to some of that data and learn from other countries models?
Elizabeth Deakin: The performance measures discussion was on target. She is very concerned about benchmarking. DOT has a strategic plan that is focused on outcomes. ACTS can help BTS move forward on making data a part of that.
Clarke: Is there an equivalent of Pascals quadrant for data? Who needs it? How critical is it to national and state problems? ACTS should figure out a framework to use in order to help establish priorities for BTS. Homework for committee: Think about ways to classify data in terms of importance, relevance, number of users, and timeliness. That will be the first item at the next meeting.
Energy and environmental efficiency are of growing importance. There is a system optimization problem. We need data on these two factors to help address these issues.
How effectively are we collecting data itself? ACTS is here because members are experts and have own stakeholder communities. Primary focus is not on DOT strategic plan and how BTS fits into it. Focus on what things BTS should do to help members and their stakeholders jobs better?
For the next meeting: start by looking at customer needs; look at some BTS products in detail (will need to hash out what those products should be); measures and performance measures.
Meeting adjourned at 4.15p.