2021 YPT Excellence in Innovation / Research Award

If you have questions about the awards process, please do not hesitate to contact us at admin@yptransportation.org.

An award that will go to a product, paper, invention, etc. in the transportation industry where young professionals played a significant role.


A team of nine UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies researchers undertook a rapid-response research project entitled “Monitoring and Adjusting Transit Service during a Pandemic” in Summer 2020. This project, funded by the University of California Statewide Transportation Research Program, was open-ended to allow for responsiveness to changing conditions. Over a period of only three months, the team navigated through rapidly changing conditions to capture and examine how public transportation was changing in the midst of the pandemic and as transit operators adjusted to it.

The team included seven young professionals: UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Urban Planning doctoral students Hao Ding, Julene Paul and Sam Speroni, Urban Planning masters students Eric Dasmalchi and Yu Hong Hwang, as well as undergraduate students Tianxing Dai and Maya Desai. They worked alongside UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies staff project manager John Gahbauer and principal investigator Brian D. Taylor, Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy and director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies.

The COVID-19 pandemic created immense challenges and uncertainty for public transportation. With strong support from the University of California Statewide Transportation Research Program, our team developed an innovative multi-pronged approach to determining how, why, and for whom transit was changing. Corresponding to the complexity of the issue, the research included a combination of interviews, surveys, and a geospatial analysis of mobility trends using mobile phone data. The output of this research was extensive, including three policy briefs, one report, a white paper, an open-data spreadsheet, two web-based visualizations of transit changes, and a book chapter.

The project addressed a sudden and urgent need to understand how the transit industry as a whole and peer agencies were responding. The project also documented for the record and for future research, changes in transit operations (and rationales for those changes) through geographic analysis, interviews, surveys, and an ongoing review of literature and news.

At a time when “social distancing” on transit had no defined standard, our research identified the emerging transit safety protocols through surveys and interviews, and compared definitions of crowding across transit operations and vehicle types. We also explored how crowding data was communicated to riders using novel technologies such as General Transit Feed Specification Realtime (GTFS Realtime), and how those implementations varied widely in absence of a predetermined standard. Our white papers gave transit practitioners urgently needed information on “what’s out there” and what other peer agencies and the industry were doing, while informing legislators and the general public.

Our review of research conducted outside the US (much of it written in Chinese) made accessible valuable information regarding the spread of past infectious diseases (H1N1, SARS and MERS) on transit systems. Our review revealed something scarcely covered in US research: with precautions taken, such as masking, distancing, and having windows open, the spread of disease was unlikely to occur on public transportation to any significant degree; however, public transportation itself was instrumental in spreading disease across areas, as sick passengers infected not other passengers en route but other people at their destination. This evidence-based and timely research that we made accessible to US researchers and practitioners provided practical guidance as well as grounds for further research in a US context.

Using GTFS Schedule and GTFS Realtime data, YPT member Eric Dasmalchi developed online tools showcasing how transit service has changed in select areas, as well as where transit vehicle crowding may be occurring. These visualizations both informed the research team’s work and demonstrated this data-tracking method to other researchers and practitioners. This work also created a partial archive of real-time vehicle position and crowding data that could support additional research.

Hao Ding and Brian Taylor reviewed extensive research on disease transmission on transit based on studies on SARS, MERS, and H1N1, to produce information that was immediately useful to the transit industry, as described above.

Sam Speroni and Yu Hong Hwang interviewed 13 and surveyed 72 practitioners to understand organizational inputs into service changes. Julene Paul used the spatial analysis of changes in transit supply and demand to evaluate the equity implications of service changes. Tianxing Dai wrote a white paper comparing “crowding” definitions (which vary widely). Maya Desai tracked news and industry updates to keep the team abreast of changes in the transit industry’s pandemic response, and contributed to the literature review. 

Project Websites and Open Data:


Dai, T., Taylor, B. D. (2020). When is Public Transit Too Crowded, and How Has This Changed During the Pandemic? UC Office of the President: University of California Institute of Transportation Studies. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/9t99d6bb 

Dasmalchi, E. (2020). Using Real-Time Crowding Data as a Rider Communication Strategy in the COVID-19 Pandemic. UC Office of the President: University of California Institute of Transportation Studies. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8rh7b2pt

Ding, H., Taylor, B. D., & Hwang Y. H.  (2020). What Does Public Health Research Tell Us About the Risks of Riding Public Transit During the COVID-19 Pandemic? UC Office of the President: University of California Institute of Transportation Studies. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/1s59g67d 

Speroni, S., Taylor, B. D., & Hwang, Y. (forthcoming). Pandemic Transit: A National Look at the Shock, Adaptation, and Prospects for Recovery. In Loukaitou-Sideris, A, Bayen, A., Circella, G., and Jayacrishnan, R. (Eds.). Pandemic in the Metropolis: Transportation Impacts and Recovery. Springer.  

Taylor, B. D, & Ding, H. (2021). Making Transit Safe to Ride During a Pandemic: What Are The Risks and What Can Be Done in Response? UC Office of the President: University of California Institute of Transportation Studies. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/2zh811x8