June 8, 2018
Reflecting on the 2018 Eno Future Leaders Development Conference
With the support of the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium (PacTrans), I recently attended the Eno Center For Transportation (Eno) 2018 Future Leaders Development Conference (LDC) as the University of Washington College of Civil and Environmental Engineering representative. Eno is a D.C.-based, non-profit foundation which supports its mission of “cultivating creative and visionary leadership for the [transportation] sector” in part by providing professional development programs such as the LDC.
Since 1992, the LDC has accepted 20 fellows each year for a four-day deep-dive into domestic transportation policy. Through a series of panel sessions and site visits throughout D.C., we were exposed to industry leaders, planners, advocates, and policy makers on both sides of the aisle and across all transportation sectors. Panel sessions were consistently lively as these passionate leaders shared their thoughts and experiences in a series of dynamic Q&A sessions on topics such as emerging transportation technologies, metropolitan and statewide planning, and happenings on the Hill.
Beyond presenting fellows with information, the LDC heavily emphasizes networking as well, both with current transportation leaders and within the cohort of fellows. The current leaders we met were uniformly thoughtful and candid, providing us with insights not only into every stage of the transportation policy process, but also into their personal career development. The cohort of fellows consisted of individuals from diverse personal and professional backgrounds who were both passionate and knowledgeable about their topic area within transportation.
As a result, the week was filled with fascinating discussions about a variety of transportation topics and issues not only during panel sessions, but also throughout the day between sessions, over lunch, and into the evenings as we shared time over dinner and drinks. Many of us joked that it was the longest sustained period of wonky transportation talk that we had ever experienced (or been allowed), so much so that by the end of the week, the other fellows and I had begun to refer to it as the nerdiest, fanciest summer camp we had ever attended.
While the panels contained a broad range of speakers and covered a variety of transportation topics, a few common themes emerged:
Funding – namely the need for new transportation funding mechanisms. The gas tax (or the roadway user free depending on who you ask) was referenced and discussed within the panel sessions daily. We heard speakers argue passionately for and against it, but there was ultimately consensus that little to no political will exists to increase taxes for transportation funding at a federal level. There were, however, multiple references to the recent successes of local ballot measures and how they indicate voters’ willingness to tax themselves when they understand where their money is going. The need for more intelligent, predictive maintenance schemes was also discussed as a means to decrease total costs, especially as public assets age.
Communication – this was the single-most discussed topic, with panelists emphasizing the importance of (and providing tips on how to develop) the broad range of communication skills needed to effectively relate to the variety of stakeholders engaged in transportation. Specifically, they emphasized the need to find new and better ways to communicate with the traveling public, especially regarding funding. Recommendations included the use of short-form media such as blogs and newsbriefs as well as translating findings into useable, interactive tools whenever possible.
Relationships – while networking was a central theme and goal for the week, panelists emphasized the professional need for a few specific types of deeper relationships. Specifically, they highlighted the critical role of advocates (a predominantly professional relationship with someone who will fight for your career advancement) and mentors (a predominantly personal relationship with someone who will support and guide you throughout your career), noting that women are often over-mentored and under-advocated whereas men often face the opposite issue. Additionally, the concept of a “Kitchen Cabinet” was introduced i.e. a core collection of peers within the field to serve as confidants and allies.
Regulating for Disruption – while much of these conversations centered around the topic of safety regulations for autonomous vehicles (in the form of passenger vehicles, trucks, and drones), how to manage the disruptive potential of all new mobility services (such as Uber and Lyft) was also discussed at length. Depending on the panel, regulation recommendations ranged from land use to fee-based demand management to limit sprawl and ensure protections for high-capacity modes (such as buses and trains). Generally speaking, the concept of performance metric-based (rather than technology-based) regulations was emphasized as a way to harness both the innovative potential of the private sector while serving the traveling public safely and equitably.
Ultimately the week exceeded my expectations; I left with a much clearer and more nuanced understanding of domestic transportation policy, a range of contacts, and a Kitchen Cabinet.