COVID-19 transportation challenges and solutions explored at student competition

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As the COVID-19 pandemic raised awareness of inequities and challenges in transportation, the U of T Transportation Alumni Committee recognized a unique opportunity to focus their annual New Frontiers in Transportation student research competition on timely, relevant issues. They chose for this year’s theme “Transportation Network Resilience in the Age of COVID-19 and Beyond.”

Results of the student teams’ research projects under this theme were presented at a public online symposium on November 12, 2020.

The competition

The student competition symposium was the final stage of a process that began with a virtual launch event on June 9. Student team proposals on the topic “Transportation Network Resilience in the Age of COVID-19 and Beyond” were submitted later in June, and from those, short-listed teams were chosen and assigned mentors.

The student teams worked with mentors over a four-month period and submitted final reports mid-October.

Finally, at the symposium on November 12, twenty-one University of Toronto students in six interdisciplinary teams presented their research projects to a panel of judges in front of a live audience of over 90 attendees over Zoom. Following high-level presentations of ten minutes, each team responded to Q & A.

Interdisciplinary collaboration key

Competitors ranged from 2nd year undergraduate students to recent Master’s program graduates. Teams consisted of three or four students and were required to have participants from at least two different U of T departments. The resulting teams included students from a variety of programs of study including Commerce/Rotman, Urban Studies, Engineering, Architecture, and Geography and Planning. Several of the students’ programs include majors and minors spanning Political Science, Economics, Anthropology, Russian Literature, Environment, and Peace, Conflict and Justice.

A breakdown of programs of study for the 22 competitors at the New Frontiers in Transportation Student Competition Symposium November 12, 2020. There was an even split between graduate and undergraduate students, some of whom were 2020 graduates.

Mentors

Each student team worked on their research project and competition presentation with oversight from two volunteer mentors from the transportation profession. Twelve mentors participated:

  • Onkar Chander, Specialist, Operations Excellence, Purolator
  • Raphael Dumas, Project lead at City of Toronto Big Data Innovation
  • Antonio Gittens, Transportation Planner, IBI Group
  • Heidi Herget, Principal Transport Consultant, Move Consultants
  • San Kassiedass, On Demand Transit Expert
  • Ben Loucks, Highways and Roads Business Class Lead, HDR
  • Loui Pappas, Vice President, Business Development, Transportation, Morrison Hershfield
  • Matt Pinder, Transportation Engineer, Alta Planning
  • Malvika Rudra, Head of Corridor Management, Ministry of Transportation
  • Shahan Shaikh, Communications System Designer, Toronto Transit Commission
  • Katie Wittman, Transportation Service, City of Toronto
  • Patrick Yip, Transportation Engineer, HDR

Judging

Teams were scored based on their overall idea, research methods, written paper and presentation.

The judging team consisted of Michelle Berquist of City of Toronto, David Forsey of IBI Group and Tyrone Gan, Senior Vice President at HDR Corporation. Following the presentations, the judges met privately before returning to the event to announce the results.

Michelle Berquist acted as spokesperson for the judging team. In her remarks, she noted the high level of work demonstrated by all teams, saying:

“It’s very hard to judge these kind of competitions. The quality across the board is incredible … so much work and so much thought into very different projects, so they’re they’re hard to compare because they’re all great and because they’re all different. Everyone has achieved a lot tonight.”

Prize winning student team presentations

gold trophy with number 1First place of $550 per student: “Adapting Bikeshare Toronto to meet transportation needs in a COVID-19 era”

Team members:
  • Pooja Brahmbhatt (MUrbDes 2020), currently a proposal and marketing coordinator at Baird Sampson Neuert Architects
  • Drishya Nair (MEngCEM 2020), currently a Research Associate at U of T
  • Amy Protheroe (MScPl 2021)

Summary: This project seeks to increase transportation options and improve equity in access to Bike Share Toronto through investigating opportunities for network expansion and proposing options to address financial and structural barriers to use.

Mentors for this team were Matt Pinder, Transportation Engineer, Alta Planning and Katie Wittman, Transportation Services at the City of Toronto.

silver trophy with number 2Second place of $450 per student: “Sense and scalability: Up scaling neighborhood solutions to city-wide problems”

Team members:
  • David de Paiva (BA 2021) Majors: Urban Studies, Political Science; Minor: Russian Literature
  • Lewis Walker (BA 2021) Majors: Human Geography (focus in Planning), Urban Studies; Minor: Anthropology
  • Michelle Zhang (HonsBA 2021) Urban Studies specialist; Major: Peace, Conflict and Justice; Minor: Human Geography

Summary: Our approach is centred on creating system resiliency by building community engagement. We propose a two-step solution: adapt to meet COVID-related challenges in the short-term, and construct a cross-jurisdictional framework to handle challenges in the long-term.

Mentors for this team were Raphael Dumas, Project lead at City of Toronto Big Data Innovation Team and Heidi Herget, Principal Transport Consultant, Move Consultants.

bronze trophy with number 3Third place of $375 per student: “A framework for integrating on-demand transit into urban transit networks during disruption scenarios”

Team members:
  • Simon Faux (MEng 2020 Civil Engineering), currently Project Engineer at Ausenco
  • Colin Gibling (MEng 2020 Civil Engineering)
  • Omar Kabbani (MASc 2020 Civil Engineering)
  • Niki Van Vugt (MScPl 2020)

Summary: On-Demand Transit (ODT) could provide flexibility for a transit system experiencing a wide range of demand due to COVID-19. Our study will review ODT in Canada and develop an emergency ODT implementation framework that could be used in times of crisis to ensure safe and accessible access to transit.

Mentors for this team were Antonio Gittens, Transportation Planner, IBI Group and San Kassiedass, On Demand Transit Expert.

More presentations from student teams

“Equitable transportation in the age of COVID-19”

Team members:
  • Maria Demitiry (BASc 2021 Engineering Science)
  • Calvin Kwan (BASc 2021 Civil Engineering)
  • Vincent Lai (BASc 2022 Civil Engineering), currently Transportation Engineering Intern at IBI Group
  • Dorothy (Yuxin) Liu (BASc 2021 Civil Engineering), currently Transit Technology Analyst intern at IBI Group

Summary: This study will leverage transit data and public health and safety measures to inform policy changes that will promote transportation equity in the post COVID-19 Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Mentors for this team were Malvika Rudra, Head of Corridor Management, Ministry of Transportation and Patrick Yip, Transportation Engineer, HDR.

“Towards a resilient airport: Implementing COVID-19 testing at Pearson Airport”

Team members:
  • Yash Kulshreshtha (MEng 2021 Civil Engineering), currently PEY Co-op Peer Coach at Engineering Career Centre (Work Study)
  • Michael Liu (MScPl 2022)
  • Andrew Yin (HonsBA 2022) Majors: Urban Studies and Economics

Summary: Our research aims to examine safety challenges of passenger terminal operations at Pearson Airport during COVID-19, identify bottleneck areas and rooms for improvement, and propose solutions to enhance the safety of airport travellers and staff members during a pandemic.

Mentors for this team were Onkar Chander, Purolator and Ben Loucks, Highways and Roads Business Class Lead, HDR.

“Improving the TTC’s congestion problem through a sustainability, equity and rider experience approach”

  • Lovely Juson, HBA (2021) Majors Economics and Human Geography; minor Urban Studies
  • Isabel Lee (HonsBA 2021) Geography and Planning
  • Sabrina Poinen (HonsBA 2021) Geography and Planning & School of the Environment
  • Jessica Zhang (BComm 2021) Rotman

Summary: Transit overcrowding is a long-standing issue that has been aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis. This study will tackle transit congestion and present recommendations for improvement through three lenses: equity, sustainability, and enjoyability.

Mentors for this team were Loui Pappa, Vice President, Business Development, Transportation, Morrison Hershfield and Shahan Shaikh, Toronto Transit Commission.

Feedback

Wow, fantastic presentations! During the pandemic, there have been many webinars springing up with various experts. These student presentations were of such high quality and someof the best seminars I’ve seen. The future of transportation is so bright! – Bruce Mori, Chair, Transportation Alumni Committee and Director and Sr. Practice Lead, Transportation Planning, IBI Group

I thoroughly enjoyed being a mentor for the “Sustainability, Equity and Rider Experience” team. Congratulations to all the teams for all your hard work! – Loui Pappas, competition mentor and Vice President, Business Development, Transportation, Morrison Hershfield

Great job to all six teams, very interesting topics and fantastic presentations! – Anthony Sgro, Membership and Fundraising, Transportation Alumni Committee and Systems Engineer, IBI Group

These were each and all incredible bodies of work – Michelle Berquist, competition judge and Area Transportation Planning at City of Toronto

I would like to thank UTTAN committee for coming up with an interesting project to work on during this pandemic. This competition really helped us to engage and network with various industry professionals.  – Yash Kulshreshtha, competitor

Congratulations to all the teams! Absolutely amazing work! – Onkar Chander, mentor and Specialist, Operations Excellence, Purolator

Well done everyone. You should all be proud of what you have accomplished! – Tyrone Gan, competition judge and Senior Vice President, HDR Corporation

This entire experience was so informative and enjoyable – Jessica Zhang, competitor

All the presentations were truly excellent. Great work! – competition attendee

Watch the symposium videorecording

The 2020 New Frontiers in Transportation Student Competition Symposium was recorded and is posted (with timings) on UTTRI’s YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/CtNIorgVRvU.

Sponsors

The event and prize awards were sponsored by Mazen Hassounah, CIMA+, HDR, IBI, Parsons, Steer, Morrison Hershfield, Stantec, and the Masters’ Program Class of ’88.

About New Frontiers in Transportation

The New Frontiers in Transportation Student Competition is an initiative hosted annually since 2019 by the University of Toronto Transportation Alumni Network with the goal of connecting current students interested in transportation with alumni who currently work in the field. It is open to all University of Toronto students.

About the U of T Transportation Alumni Network

The U of T Transportation Alumni Network (UTTAN) was established in 2018 to bring together generations of U of T graduates who work in transportation. In addition to being a community for alumni, UTTAN plans events and programs for current students to foster their interest in the transportation field and connect them to the wealth of knowledge in the U of T alumni community.

U of T grad in any field? Working in transportation?

Contact us at uttri@utoronto.ca if you’d like to get involved by attending meetings or volunteering.


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