Idaho Engineering Students Recognized at Transportation Conference

Attracting today’s youth to the transportation industry is recognized as critical given the number of baby boomers currently employed. The Transportation Research Board stated in 2003 that 50% of the transportation workforce would be eligible to retire by the year 2013 - a rate double the nation’s entire workforce. Given 2015 is upon us, and we’re amidst the boomer retirement challenge, it’s wonderful to see the University of Idaho’s National Institute of Advanced Technology for Transportation (NIATT) doing its part to attract students to the transportation industry. Three of NIATT’s students were recognized and awarded at the National Conference on Rural and Intercity Bus Transportation just this past October. 

Christopher Bacon, Riannon Heighes and Brett Seely, were recognized and awarded for their papers at the conference in Monterrey, California in October. Christopher Bacon won in the graduate student category, and Riannon Heighes and Brett Seely were awarded for their papers in the undergraduate category. Two of these student’s papers are highlighted in this article. 

NIATT professor of Civil Engineering, Kevin Chang, had modeled an assignment after the challenge presented in the conference student paper competition and the students had the opportunity to submit their paper afterwards. Each of the students won a cash award, as well as travel expenses to the conference in Monterrey, California at the end of October. The conference theme was “Setting Our Course for the Future” and students were asked to envision four alternative perspectives for our transportation future: a vision of continued growth, one of disciplined or constrained growth, a future of decline and collapse, or one of transformation. 

Christopher Bacon’s paper was entitled “Real-Time Information Projecting Towards the Future”, where he explored using a Global Positioning System (GPS) as a way to obtain real-time data to go beyond simply identifying a bus’ location. Bacon felt that more could be done with GPS to give riders greater information about the service and improve the rider’s experience by reducing the uncertainty associated with taking the bus.  Bacon concluded that potential future real-time information research could move to include passenger counting and broadcasting the volume capacity on a bus. Wouldn’t it be great to know well in advance, if the upcoming bus you planned to take was full?

Riannon Heighes’ paper was awarded in the undergraduate category, and entitled “A Future of Transformation for Public Transportation in Rural Communities”. Heighes suggested that for public transportation to flourish in rural communities’ long term, it needs to address several factors to increase ridership. These factors are the current negative perception regarding taking public transportation, the level of service of public transportation in rural areas, quality of service, and the current level of environmental benefits of taking public transportation. 

Using secondary research, Heighes found that successful rural public transportation services are doing one or more of the following activities:

Provide frequent service for individuals to find the service convenient to ride

Research locally applicable alternatives to determine the right offerings to gain ridership since quality of service varies from passenger to passenger

Invest in alternative power sources not only to save money and the environment, but also to attract riders that want to do the same

Heighes concluded that the key to the success of rural public transportation is increasing ridership and, for rural providers to increase ridership, they need to become market-oriented, transform perceptions about public transportation, and become more ecologically focused by using alternative power.

More About the Students

Christopher Bacon enjoys the real-world challenges and problem solving that Civil Engineering provides. As a graduate intern at NIATT, he recently completed a study on methods of alleviating holiday traffic on one of South Western Idaho’s busiest highways. Having just concluded school, Christopher is graduating this month.

Riannon Heighes wants to make a difference in people’s lives with her work, so she is pursuing a master’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Idaho with an emphasis in transportation. Heighes is also a research assistant for NIATT and graduated with her bachelor’s from the University of Idaho in civil engineering last May.


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