METRANS celebrates 20 years of transportation research, collaboration and influence
By Matthew Kredell
The METRANS Transportation Center, a collaboration between USC and California State University, Long Beach, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a reception and dinner Oct. 4 at USC’s Town & Gown Ballroom.
As the first University Transportation Center in Southern California, METRANS started in 1998 with seven faculty and one small grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Randolph Hall, currently vice president of research at USC, served as the founding director. He recalls it being a difficult time for Los Angeles socially and economically, and he believes that thriving trade with Asia through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports helped the region persevere.
“Trade created jobs here and they spurred the economy, creating a resurgence in the region,” Hall said. “Los Angeles today succeeds because it’s a global economy, a global community. METRANS has been so important to that goal over that time, because to succeed in trade and globalism, we need to create the infrastructure to support it.”
From its modest beginnings, METRANS has grown to include 62 faculty and research affiliates across 15 universities and research institutes. From the get-go, METRANS was a unique collaboration among schools: the USC Price School of Public Policy and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and Cal State Long Beach’s College of Engineering and College of Continuing and Professional Education.
“At the beginning, we solidified a program that was highly interdisciplinary, where we linked work in the engineering school and policy school, and brought together those two elements because we saw the importance of them within transportation,” Hall said.
National Recognition and Impact
USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott cited METRANS as a key factor in USC Price’s ascension to No. 2 among the 282 public affairs schools nationwide, in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings.
“One of the big drivers of the high ranking of the school is METRANS and the transportation expertise we have, so we’re very thankful to METRANS for helping us reach this outstanding academic reputation,” Knott said.
Knott also commended the global reach of METRANS, which hosts the biennial International Urban Freight Conference and leads the international consortium MetroFreight.
He added that the center has provided numerous opportunities for student interns who have gone on to be transportation planners at architectural firms, transportation analysts at public transit agencies, professors at universities around the world, and, in one case, the founder of a company offering affordable transportation solutions to the community.
“These internships have helped sharpen their career focus, given them the development of leadership skills, and several of our graduate and PhD students have launched successful professional careers as a result of their experience working with METRANS,” Knott said. “So it’s a research center, it’s an outreach center that impacts policy and society, but it’s also had a tremendous impact on our students and our educational program at the Price School, and I think at the Viterbi School as well.”
METRANS is nationally and internationally recognized for its path-breaking research, innovative professional training and development programs, contributions to public policy at all levels of government, and strong partnerships with industry and government.
During the evening, METRANS was presented with four certificates of recognition for its 20th anniversary milestone. The U.S. House of Representatives, through the office of Congressman Alan Lowenthal, noted the transportation center’s exemplary role in providing public transit–related research. Fran Inman, chair of the California Transportation Commission, acknowledged METRANS’ leadership in raising awareness of and addressing urban freight transportation challenges with her mantra, “Every day is a freight day!” The City of Los Angeles recognized the impact of METRANS in training the next generation’s transportation workforce. From Sweden, the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations noted the contributions of MetroFreight — with its international partnership of universities and institutes from Europe, Asia and North America — in moving forward state-of-the-art urban freight research.
Meditations on METRANS
“None of these impressive accomplishments would be possible without the influence of Professor Genevieve Giuliano,” Knott said. “She is a professor in the Price School, she’s the Margaret and John Ferraro Chair in Effective Local Government, and she’s the METRANS director. She is not only a leading national expert in transportation, but she serves as a pioneer and role model for women in this field. We’re very proud to have Gen among our faculty, and grateful for her indelible work to inform policymakers to advance the scholarly field of transportation and to inspire our students.”
Randell Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa County Transportation Authority and METRANS Advisory Board member, is one of those policymakers noted for his leadership in advancing transportation technologies across modes throughout the industry. Iwasaki gave the keynote address, on “Innovating Mobility.”
Giuliano, who was one of the founding faculty of METRANS before becoming its director, credited the contributions of all the people who have helped build METRANS. Faculty create new knowledge, students take that knowledge into practice, staff manage the enterprise, and industry and government advisors, donors, grant funders and academic partners expand METRANS’ capacity. She emphasized Caltrans, which has contributed match funding to the center for 20 years.
“I am really grateful to have been part of the development of METRANS from its very humble beginnings to what it is today,” Giuliano said. “Success comes with the work and collaboration of many people. This is certainly the case for METRANS. We are the proverbial case of ‘it takes a village,’ and we’ve created a very wonderful village.”