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Notes from the Field

Rail~Volution Rides into Pittsburgh

The 2018 Rail~Volution conference brought together 1,000 transportation stakeholders to discuss transportation challenges and solutions. Increasing access and integrating technology were two areas of focus this year.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

The 2018 Rail~Volution conference was held in Pittsburgh on October 21–24, and 1,100 transportation stakeholders from across the country discussed transportation challenges and how to create effective transportation networks that increase access to jobs and promote opportunities for economic mobility.

Contrary to its name, the Rail~Volution conference covers more than only rail transportation; the conference explores all modes of transportation and looks for solutions to increase ridership and access to it. This year’s conference emphasized developing and integrating technology to improve transportation networks, increasing the availability and responsible use of transportation data, promoting transit-oriented development, integrating ride-hailing services into existing transportation services, developing first- and last-mile transit options, and continuing to increase equity and economic mobility in public transit. Presentations included those about current research and projects underway in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, such as Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic 21: A Smart Transportation Research Institute and Metro 21: Smart Cities Institute.

Some speakers at the conference noted the advantage Pittsburgh has over many other cities with public transportation: Most of Pittsburgh was developed before the car, so the city was designed in a way that is conducive to walking, biking, busing, and rail services. In addition, many of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are still connected, unlike some of the post-car cities built with the idea that residents would get around via cars. However, other speakers claimed that in spite of Pittsburgh’s transit assets, public capital may not be sufficient to meet the needs of the city’s future transportation plans. One sentiment among presenters was that more has to be done to combine public with private investment. Others remarked that, if transit is to thrive, existing riders must have good experiences. Components of a successful regional transportation network, some suggested, included a city’s willingness to try new, innovative transportation solutions by first employing a cost-effective pilot and analyzing the data before moving forward with a larger-scale transportation solution.

For many cities, finding transportation solutions that increase both access to jobs and economic mobility is a complex task. However, as Katharine Eagan Kelleman, CEO of the Port Authority of Allegheny County says, “Transit is a human right and it’s a civil right. Everything in our city and everything in our region is dependent on…access [to] it.”1 Responsibilities must be shared among many partners, and solutions will be as varied as the riders and the neighborhoods the transit serves.