"We are a public service not a for-profit company, so we don’t need to compete with others who have the same goals..."
Just two months into taking the helm as the new Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO, Philip Washington announced the creation of an Office of Extraordinary Innovation to champion new ideas to improve mobility in L.A. County. It’s the first office of its kind in an American transit agency and we are delighted to be able to today have as our 5 minutes with… Dr. Joshua L. Schank, who in October 2015 became the first-ever head of the office. Our Editor Luke Upton, recently gave Joshua an early morning transatlatic phone call to find out more about this unique role, is opportunities, challenges and of course his favourite ever rail journey…
Luke Upton (LU): Many thanks for the time today, so to begin, how did you get into the rail industry?
Joshua L. Schank (JLS) ( @ ): No problem. I’ve always been interested in transportation since I was a kid. I spent a year living in Paris when I was about ten years old, and used to roam the subways for hours on end and fell in love with it there! I studied Urban Studies at Columbia and City Planning at MIT, then began working at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority as a transportation planner before going onto work as a Congressional Transportation Fellow and Legislative Assistant in the United States Senate with Hilary Clinton. I then spent time at two major international transportation consulting firms and immediately before joining LA Metro, was President and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation in Washington, D.C., a nonpartisan transportation policy think tank. So several different perspectives on transport!
LU: You are still fairly new in the position, but what do you like most about your job?
JLS: We have problems to solve, and the challenge is implementing the solutions. I get to talk to people everyday, folks with new ideas and fresh approaches. We can all see the potential for gaining results, so it’s an exciting role!
LU: What’s the biggest challenge in your role?
JLS: Anytime you try to do something new, you can run into problems and opposition. People have entrenched views and ways of doing things and a big part of our role at the Office of Extraordinary Innovation is to help change these.
Let me give you an example, last month, the Metro's Expo Line extension opened, running from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. As part of the opening, we’ve worked with Uber, offering a discount on any trip that begins or ends at an Expo Line station. This drew some criticism from people who see Uber as not being an ally of public transit, and therefore we shouldn’t partner with them. Perhaps a typical transit agency thinks that their job is to get more riders, whereas we think our role is to improve mobility. We are a public service not a for-profit company, so we don’t need to compete with others who have the same goals.
LU: What will be some of the biggest differences between rail and metro now, and in 10 years’ time?
JLS: I think that it will become more accepting of new or irregular riders and make it easier for them to access the network. The most obvious example is perhaps ticketing. In most industries, the emphasis is with the seller to make it easier for the customer to buy from them. In transport there’s often too much pressure put on the buyer to figure out how to do this and it’s not always made easy. For example here in Los Angeles, we have a Transit Access Pass (TAP) contactless smart card which can be used on most public transport services. But you can’t buy one at a bus stop. So its areas like that where I think we see changes and real progress.
LU: And finally, what is your favourite rail journey?
JLS: Tough question! There’s a few I could think of but have to go for the G or the F train in New York, in particular the moment when it rises above ground on the way from Brooklyn into Manhattan, and gives you that stunning view across the water towards the City. That’s always been a very special view for me, so going to go for that one I think!
LU: That’s great, thanks very much for the time today and looking forward to hearing all about the
5 minutes with… You? Each Friday the team here at SmartRail World will bring you a great new 5 minutes with... interview. This fun, fast-paced feature will help you get to know more about personalities across the industry, their ideas and experiences and of course their own favourite rail journey! Want to take part? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Last week's 5 minutes with... Will Phillipson, Co-Founder & President of SilverRail Technologies.
Next week's 5 minutes with... Andrea Giuricin, CEO of TRA Consulting and head of the Studies Office and Strategic Consultant for Nuovo Transporto Viaggiatori (NTV), the first private High Speed rail operator in Europe.