Listening Session on Transit, and Active Transportation, and Mobility – A Recap

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

UMass Amherst faculty and UMTC Research Affiliates Dr. Song Gao and Dr. Eric Gonzales presented at the Governor’s Commission on the Future of Transportation listening session on transit, active transportation, and mobility.

From left: UMass Amherst Professors Eric Gonzales and Song Gao talk with Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack and members of the Commission on the Future of Transportation at the Commission’s listening session at UMass Lowell. (UMTC)

In June, Governor Baker’s Commission on the Future of Transportation in Massachusetts held a listening session to discuss transit, active transportation, and mobility in Massachusetts. This session, at UMass Lowell, was the third of the Commission’s five listening sessions around the state. Each session focused on different transportation topics as the Commission gathered ideas, information and public comment that it will then incorporate into a report with recommendations for transportation investments and policies in Massachusetts for the 2020-2040 period. The report will be sent to the Governor by December 2018.

As with the other listening sessions, this session included brief presentations by UMass researchers followed by an open comment period during which members of the public could offer their suggestions and feedback on the session topic or on future transportation in Massachusetts more generally. Recording of the listening sessions can be viewed on the Commission’s website (direct link to the third session here).

Two UMTC Research Affiliates, UMass Amherst professors Song Gao and Eric Gonzales, presented at this listening session. Gonzales opened his remarks by discussing that when thinking about transit services, it’s important to not only consider specific routes and schedules, but the larger picture of the benefits individuals and society can receive with transit services, including increased mobility and efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and reduced environmental impacts. He noted too that active transportation modes, such as walking and biking, can also achieve these same benefits. Gonzales then briefly reviewed the history of transportation infrastructure in Massachusetts, including highways and the MBTA subway system, noting how investments in infrastructure can have impacts long beyond the 20-year time horizon on which the Commission is focusing, and should be considered in that context.

Gonzales also spoke about transit’s important role as “a tool for social equity and for inclusion, providing mobility to people across the socioeconomic spectrum, age, and physical ability.” He mentioned challenges for transit, including providing bus access in spread-out rural and suburban areas, but also opportunities. These opportunities could include public-private partnerships, for example, between transit agencies and ridesharing companies such as Lyft and Uber. The MBTA is currently conducting a pilot project under which MBTA paratransit customers can take get rides through Uber or Lyft as an alternative to traditional paratransit vans, to help serve these customers’ needs better; Gonzales led a MassDOT-funded study to evaluate the pilot project. There are also opportunities for more integrated services with the use of technology, where the different travel modes for trips can be better connected and accessed, for example, through a smartphone app that integrates bus, ride-share, and bike-share access and user payments. Gonzales mentioned that Helsinki, Finland has been working on such an integrated transportation service system.  A recent Governing magazine article discussed the push for more seamless urban mobility in Helsinki, and similar efforts underway in the U.S.

Professor Gao’s presentation followed Gonzales’ and focused on the demand for transportation services and how this demand can be better managed. For someone traveling between an origin and a destination, Gao asked questions such as: are there alternatives to making this trip, is there flexibility on when the trip occurs – for example, what time of day – and what different travel modes are feasible for this trip and this particular traveler. Gao discussed how transportation policies and pricing can shape transportation demand and people’s decisions about when and how they travel, and if there are some trips they will not take at all. Some states are using higher pricing, also referred to as congestion pricing, to deter single-occupancy vehicles from traveling during the peak times. Gao said that one concern about congestion pricing is the equity impacts since low-income people are more adversely impacted by travel cost increases than are higher-income people.

Another approach for impacting travel demand is rewarding people who make more energy-efficient travel choices, for example, deciding to use transit or bicycle to work instead of driving, or who commute at off-peak hours. Gao mentioned a study from the Netherlands that provided participants with daily monetary and other (smartphone credits) rewards to encourage them to avoid driving during the morning rush hour. The study found that 30-40% of participants changed their behavior as a result of these incentives. Gao also discussed a study that she, and colleagues at UMass Amherst and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are conducting to develop a smartphone app to provide up-to-date travel information and incentivize people to change their travel choices to conserve energy. The app, for the Boston metro area, will use real and simulated personal travel data to reward people who change their departure times, routes, modes, or vehicles based on the app’s real-time data, and thereby reduce their energy consumption. The rewards based on energy savings will be able to be redeemed at local participating vendors. Data from preliminary testing of the app show positive results in terms of reducing energy use and travel times.

During the comment period following the presentations, a number of the commenters talked about the importance of having good infrastructure for biking and walking and better connections between modes. There was also discussion about the need to provide transportation options for the “last mile” section of trips, between where fixed-route transit services end and people’s final destinations. Ridesharing companies, also known as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) can help with those gaps.  A number of the speakers encouraged the creation of more public-private partnerships to help with last-mile service and for addressing the transportation needs of those populations, such as the elderly, disabled, and low-income, who are often underserved by current transportation options and infrastructure. Professor Gao raised the point that there are great opportunities for partnership between public transit and TNCs, but that the goals of TNCs may not always be aligned with public goals since private companies are usually seeking to maximize their profits.

Safety for Older Drivers

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

AAA has estimated that by 2030, there will be more than 60 million people in the U.S. age 65 & over licensed to drive. (Photo source:, credit

Most people outlive their ability to drive by seven to ten years. This important statistic from the American Automobile Association (AAA) was cited by Michele Ellicks of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) at the April 2018 MassDOT Innovation and Mobility Exchange, at a session on Safe Driving for Seniors and People with Disabilities.

There were more than 40 million drivers age 65 years and older in the U.S. in 2015, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). This population is expected to increase significantly in coming decades. AAA has estimated that by 2030, there will be more than 70 million people in the U.S. in this age group with approximately 85-90% of them licensed to drive. In 2016, 18% of all traffic-related fatalities in the U.S. involved people age 65 and older. In Massachusetts, 16% (133) of all traffic fatalities in the state involved people age 65 and older. Over half (54%) of those fatalities were for those age 65 to 74; the other 46% were for those age 75 and older.

Nationally, the fatality rates per 100,000 people are higher for males than females and generally higher for people age 80 and over than for those 65-79 (see chart below). The death rates increase with age because older people have more physically frail and are more likely to die from injury, as found in this study from John Hopkins School of Medicine. Older drivers are also more likely to be involved in at-fault crashes as a result of physical or cognitive impairments. The fatality rates for females fall slightly from age 80-84 to age 85 and older because females limit or cease their driving in their upper 80s more often than males.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Analysis of National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) FARS (Fatality Analysis Reporting System) 2016 data, released December 2017. Viewed at

Intersections can be especially difficult for older drivers to navigate. Extensive research conducted at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on driving simulators and on-road has shown that older drivers do not look as often as other drivers towards their turning direction or other vehicles when turning at T-intersections or four-way intersections. As a result, older drivers may be more likely to be involved in traffic crashes.

UMass Amherst researchers working under the supervision of Dr. Michael Knodler are currently investigating older drivers’ crashes during left-turns at signalized intersections; using data gathered from their vehicles and the drivers themselves as part of the SHRP2 (Strategic Highway Research Program 2) project to collect naturalistic driving data on over 2,300 drivers at six cities around the country. The researchers hope this study will help with understanding why and how left turns across path crashes at intersections are more likely for older drivers.

In previous older driver research conducted at UMass Amherst, Dr. Matthew Romoser conducted one study on drivers age 72 to 87 and a comparison group of drivers age 25 to 55 for his dissertation, and then a follow-up study with the older drivers as a post-doctoral researcher. Romoser’s first study, conducted with his advisor, Dr. Donald Fisher, UMass Transportation Center (UMTC) Research Affiliate and UMass Amherst Human Performance Laboratory (HPL) Director, found that the older drivers took fewer roadway glances towards potential hazards than younger drivers while turning. Romoser also found that providing active training and customized feedback regarding their driving to the older participants led to significant improvements in their glances both in a driving simulator and on-road, towards potential hazards as they approached and went through intersections. Romoser’s follow-up study, conducted two years after the first study with the same older drivers, found that those drivers who received active training in the first study still made 50% more glances towards potential hazards than they did before training two years earlier.

The benefits of training programs to help older drivers stay safe at intersections was further examined in a study by past HPL researchers Dr. Siby Samuel and Dr. Yusuke Yamani, with Dr. Fisher. This research found that training programs, such as Dr. Romoser’s, which help improve older drivers’ glance behaviors at intersections, can be effective even though they don’t address underlying declines in cognitive, visual, and motor functions for these drivers as they age. The researchers found some evidence that these training programs are effective because, through the training, drivers learn to decouple their hand, foot, and head movements at intersections, and that doing so may help reduce the impacts of cognitive, motor, and visual declines on their driving.

This research is promising and suggests that some types of training may help older adults safely continue to drive longer than they would be able to otherwise. In Massachusetts, various measures have been taken to promote older driver safety. Under state law, for drivers age 75 and over driver license renewals must be done in person and they include an eye exam. The RMV holds free workshops around the state on issues facing older drivers, including if and when an older person should give up driving.

For adults who do stop driving for safety reasons, MassMobility is a state initiative to improve the transportation options for adults who don’t have a car. The options include both traditional transportation providers such as buses and paratransit and also newer alternatives such as Uber, Lyft, and other Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). A number of sessions at this year’s Innovative and Mobility Exchange discussed alternatives for meeting transportation needs for this population. Options included using TNCs to provide rides outside of regular bus service hours and TNCs partnering with senior centers and other agencies to offer rides to people who otherwise might not be able to access (because they don’t have a smartphone or credit card) services from companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Dr. Nina Silverstein, UMTC Affiliate and Professor of Gerontology at UMass-Boston, recently co-authored a book, Introduction to Senior Transportation: Enhancing Community Mobility and Transportation Services (2018). The book provides an overview of the mobility needs of older adults and the “transportation methods that do and do not currently meet the needs and wants of senior passengers.”

The Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

First Meeting of Governor Baker Administration’s Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth (photo: Jacquelyn Goddard, Communication Director, MassDOT)

Governor Baker recently established a new Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth.  In addition to providing advice on future transportation needs and challenges, the Commission is tasked with developing a range of scenarios anticipated between 2020 and 2040.  The UMTC Research Affiliate Network of over 120 leading researchers across the Commonwealth, has been asked to help generate must-read research findings to the Commission.

The Governor has appointed 18 transportation professionals, from around Massachusetts, with diverse backgrounds, and a range of expertise, to serve on this Commission.  Tasked with advising the administration on the future of transportation in Massachusetts, their focus will be on at least these five areas:

  • Climate and resiliency
  • Transportation electrification
  • Autonomous and connected vehicles, including ride-sharing services
  • Transit and mobility services
  • Land use and demographic trends

“This is going to be a serious effort, with a broad range of experts who will seek to better understand and evaluate how technology and other forces in society will affect transportation in the decades ahead,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack

The Chair of this Commission will be Governor Baker’s former Chief of Staff, Steven Kadish. The Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Secretary and CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will serve as ex officio members.

The other members making up the Commission included:

  • Rebecca Davis, Deputy Director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council
  • Daniel Dolan, President of the New England Power Generators Association
  • Gretchen Effgen, Vice President of the Global Partnerships and Business Team at Nutonomy
  • José Gómez-Ibáñez, Derek C. Bok Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy at Harvard University
  • Kenneth Kimmell, President of the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Carol Lee Rawn, Director of Transportation for CERES
  • Timothy McGourthy, Executive Director for the Worcester Regional Research Bureau
  • Mark Melnik Ph.D, Director of Economic and Public Policy Research at the UMASS Donahue Institute
  • Colleen Quinn, Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy for ChargePoint
  • Karen Sawyer Conard, Executive Director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission
  • Sandra Sheehan, Chief Executive Officer for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority
  • Stephen Silveira, Senior Vice President at ML Strategies
  • Navjot Singh, Managing Partner for the McKinsey Boston Office
  • Kirk Sykes, Urban Strategy America Fund, L.P

Over the next 10 months, the Commission will be meeting on a monthly basis and will have developed recommendations by December 1, 2018.

MassDOT Research on Options for ADA Paratransit Services

by Eric Gonzales, Assistant Professor, UMass Amherst, and Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Governor Baker (right) at the Ride, Uber and Lyft ADA Paratransit partnership press conference (MassLive)

One of MassDOT’s research project titled “Optimizing ADA Paratransit Operations with Taxi and Ride Share Programs”, had its kick-off meeting in December 2017 and is well underway.  This $152k research project began in December with the project kickoff meeting scheduled for December 14th at MassDOT.   This project is Championed by Ben Schutzman, Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s (MBTA) and will be aimed at optimizing programs to serve some paratransit trips by taxi or other mobility services in order to minimize overall system costs.

Rising ridership on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit services, such as MBTA’s “The Ride”, pose a challenge due to the high costs of operating this required service.  The objective of this project is to optimize programs to serve some paratransit trips by taxi or other mobility services in order to minimize system cost. The benefits to MBTA will be to lower the cost of providing service in order to accommodate the anticipated increase in ridership.  The challenge of managing a demand-response transportation service, for people with disabilities, is the system operation depends on the demand of the traveler behavior and supply structure and costs.  As of March 1, 2017, a pilot program now allows eligible ADA paratransit customers on “The Ride” were able to use taxicabs, Uber, or Lyft for a subsidized trip.  The goal is to provide insights about how the operation and use of the system is changing under the pilot program and then to provide guidance about how to manage a multimodal ADA program that provides users with a greater range of choices than they have had in the past.  Although the scope is tied closely to an analysis of the MBTA system, the insights are likely to have implications for the ADA paratransit systems elsewhere in Massachusetts.  A recent Boston Globe article provides an update to March 2017 pilot study, the increase in demand and some initial cost per ride numbers.

Eric Gonzales, UMass Amherst, the project’s Principal Investigator states “the project will allow us to use modeling tools to analyze how coordinating ADA paratransit services with taxis is changing the experience for customers and costs of the agency.  Our goal is to identify ways to provide cost-effective and high-quality service for customers with disabilities as part of an equitable and sustainable transit system for the Boston region.”

Uber, Lyft…Impacting Traffic and Economic Development

by Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator



People are taking Uber, Lyft or Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) more these days and often to avoid both parking and drinking and driving.  Although the majority of users are urban base, demand has been increasing in suburbia for Ubering.  TNCs have changed the way people get around and have impacted traffic in many cities.  If these types of rides are a pre-cursor to autonomous vehicles, the additional passenger trips will continue to increase and will also impact economic development.

A recent U.C. Davis study that included 4,000 users in seven major metro areas—Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., between 2014 and 2016 – points to cities increasing in passenger trips and in population, but transit rides and taxi trips decreasing.  The TNCs are the main source that are accommodating the increase in trips and in-turn causing more urban traffic congestion.

This study also found that around 50% of these trips would not have happened at all or would have been done some other way, via transit, walking etc…This coupled with the dead head time, when no passengers are in the vehicle, the TNCs are having a dramatic impact on vehicle miles traveled and congestion.

Currently New York City is the only major metropolitan city that mandates TNCs to report their travel data.  Other cities are able to obtain data but TNCs are not required to share it.  Being able to access and analyze this data can be the key to determining current and future traffic impacts.

Massachusetts passed legislation in 2016, creating a regulatory framework for TNCs. Speaking with Katie Gronendyke, Press Secretary, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the MA Department of Public Utilities Transportation Network Companies Division  does require some TNC travel data to be reported:

274.12: Reporting Requirements

(2) Annually, a TNC shall report to the Division the following: (a) By February 1st of each calendar year, a TNC shall submit a report for the number of Rides from the previous calendar year, including: 1. City or town where each Ride originated; 2. City or town where each Ride ended; 3. Aggregated and anonymized trip route and length (miles and minutes); and 4. Location of Vehicle accidents;

(b) By March 31st of each calendar year, a TNC shall report its intrastate operating revenues for the previous calendar year. If a TNC fails to report its intrastate operating revenues to the Division by March 31st of any calendar year, the Division may estimate a TNC’s intrastate operating revenues. A TNC’s intrastate operating revenue shall include but not be limited to any Rider picked up at the following: 1. Airport; 2. Train station; 3. Bus terminal; or 4. Any other kind of port.

BTS Releases Pocket Guide to Transportation Mobile App


The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2018

“Tuesday, January 9, 2018 – The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) has released a new dynamic mobile app for the Pocket Guide to Transportation 2018 – a quick reference guide to transportation statistics. This popular guide provides the latest transportation statistics at your fingertips in mobile app and printed formats.  The app covers data on major trends, moving people and goods, system use and performance, the economy, safety, infrastructure, and the environment. Download the app now to access all the features of the classic Pocket Guide plus enhanced navigation, sharable graphics to social media and email, and dynamic data updates to highlight the most recent up-to-date statistics. The app is available on the App Store and on Google Play (keyword: BTS Pocket Guide). To access the Pocket Guide, go to BTS Pocket Guide to Transportation or text USDOT BTSPG to 468311. This publication can also be obtained by ordering online, by contacting BTS by phone at 202-366-DATA or by e-mail at For inquiries other than placing orders contact Dave Smallen: or 202-366-5568. ”

Mom, I missed the bus… you didn’t

by Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator


Chilly mornings can be dangerous to kids that wait for the school bus.  Until now, parents and students just assumed that if they weren’t at the bus stop in time, they had missed the bus.  Now there’s an app that tracks the location of the school bus and can also track when a child has boarded the bus and when they have gotten off.

The ‘Here Comes the Bus’ app is currently being discussed by many more School Boards.  This locator would prevent kids from waiting out in the elements for the bus that could have come early or might be delayed.  This app would provide parents and kids the location of the bus and allow them to meet it just as it arrives at the bus stop.

Another feature, which is optional, is the app can also alert parents when their child has gotten on and off the bus; assuring that they got on the right bus and that they are en-route.  This feature is up to the school boards to decide if they want it.

Using Advanced Science and Technology to Detect Marijuana Use

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

Massachusetts is one of twenty-nine U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, that now legally allow marijuana for recreational or broad medical uses or both (full list of these states available here). The Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) recently launched a public safety campaign, Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over, to warn and inform the public about the impairments that marijuana causes in drivers and the increased driving danger when alcohol and marijuana are combined. Marijuana is proven to impact the brain’s ability to function properly. Marijuana’s primary psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been shown to slow reaction times, impair coordination, and decrease decision-making ability.

One challenge for enforcement regarding marijuana use and driving is that impairment from marijuana is more difficult to measure than impairment from alcohol. There is currently no proven equivalent to an alcohol type breathalyzer test that measures blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to assess drunk driving. Unlike alcohol that dissolves in water, THC dissolves in fat. As toxicologist Marilyn Huestis discussed in an NPR story, this means that that the length of time that THC lingers in the body varies more than with alcohol, and is influenced by factors such as amount of body fat, type of cannabis product consumed, and frequency of use. It also means that a person’s blood THC levels may not directly correlate to when they are most impaired.  Some states such as Colorado, Washington, Montana and Pennsylvania, define marijuana impairment using blood THC levels to legally define when someone is too impaired to drive. The state regulations in Ohio and Nevada determine impairment by blood tests and urine tests.

The San Diego Police department, and other enforcement agencies in New York, Arizona, and Nevada, have been screening drivers for THC using a mouth-swabbing testing device (the Dräger DrugTest 5000), which can test for the presence of seven drugs, including marijuana. The marijuana test is for delta-9 THC, the active THC compound which creates the high from marijuana. Unlike other components of THC, delta-9 THC typically only stays in a person’s system for a few hours and not days or weeks.  Stanford University researchers have been developing a saliva-based test for THC using magnetic nanotechnology.  Recently, police departments have been pilot testing a handheld breathalyzer for marijuana detection from Hound Labs. The device measures delta-9 THC levels and is able to detect marijuana from either inhaling or edibles. Cannabis Technologies is also developing a marijuana breathalyzer.  These THC detection methods are often used in conjunction with other field sobriety and impairment testing.

In Massachusetts, Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) are specially trained to detect impairment from drug use.  A full DRE exam takes about an hour and includes physiological measures (blood pressure, pulse, eye exams), and performance measures (balance, coordination). As described in a 2016 article Massachusetts and other states are now offering a less intensive training, Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE), which is still a step above typical field sobriety training.

In a September 2017 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision, the Court found that police cannot use standard field sobriety tests to determine definitively that a driver is too high to drive. The court determined that the standard sobriety tests were developed to evaluate alcohol intoxication and there is not yet sufficient evidence that they are indicative of marijuana intoxication.  Under the ruling, police officers can still conduct field sobriety tests and testify about their observations regarding a driver’s demeanor and ability to perform physical coordination and mental tasks.

Dr. Michael Millburn, a Psychology professor at UMass Boston, has been developing a smart device app to assess driver impairment called DRUID.  This app has been designed to measure cognitive and behavior impairment from marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs and other brain-based contributors to impairment, such as fatigue. It contains a series of four different tests for reaction time, errors in decision making, motor tracking, and time estimation and balance. The app then integrates the results of each of the individual tests into an overall impairment score. The tests are completed in 5 minutes total.  The app was developed to help people assess their own impairment, but could also be adapted for police use.  The app is currently being tested at Brown Medical School.  Research shows that some types of marijuana have non-linear patterns of impairment following consumption. Apps such as this could be useful for supporting driver safety and important complements to other tools and tests for measuring THC, alcohol, and other substances that can impair driver performance.

Cambridge police officer Jason Callinan, a drug recognition expert, or DRE, performs the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) on Jeremy Warnick, the department's spokesman, as part of a demonstration. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Cambridge police officer, Jason Callinan, a drug recognition expert, or DRE, performs a demo of a field sobriety test.   (Source: Jesse Costa, WBUR)

Written by Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow