UC Davis Goes to Washington: Researchers Bring Transportation Expertise to Capitol Hill

Every January, transportation researchers from across the globe descend on Washington, D.C. for the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting, the largest transportation research conference in the U.S. and possibly the world. The 13,000 attendees at TRB 2019 featured a significant contingent of researchers and staff from UC Davis who shared their insights and findings at meeting sessions.

This year, we wanted to do more than that, making sure that legislators and regulators in the area benefited from UC Davis expertise as well. To that end, representatives from the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis (ITS-Davis) and the Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy (Policy Institute) met with 15 congressional offices and held two briefings in the House and Senate buildings to share research findings with dozens of key policy leaders at federal agencies. Our goal was not to lobby for any particular policy outcome but rather to provide policymakers with insights that can inform decision-making. It’s all part of our mission to ensure that leading research and sound policy are made inseparable.

UC Davis Goes to Washington

Kelly Fleming joined fellow Policy Institute and ITS-Davis staff and researchers for meetings with members of the U.S. House of Representatives California delegation. She is pictured here (second and third from left, respectively) at meetings with Reps. Mark DeSaulnier and Allen Lowenthal. UC Davis transportation experts also spoke with Reps. Doris Matsui, Ami Bera, and John Garamendi.

Our first briefing, hosted by the 3 Revolutions Policy Initiative—held in the Rayburn House Office Building—was entitled Governance Needs and Opportunities and featured findings from a recent issue paper, “Federal, State, and Local Governance of Automated Vehicles.” Experts presented to a packed room on how vehicle automation will challenge the way we manage vehicles and transportation. The briefing included a discussion of options for integrating automated vehicles into transportation systems in ways that will yield widespread societal and environmental benefits. Speakers included Austin Brown and Mollie D’Agostino of UC Davis, Greg Rodriguez of Best Best & Krieger, Natasha Vidangos of the Alliance to Save Energy, and Scott Goldstein of Transportation for America (Tweet of briefing with pictures).

The National Center for Sustainable Transportation (NCST), a federally funded University Transportation Center based at UC Davis, held a second briefing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building to discuss recent research findings related to sustainable transportation and new transportation technologies, such as automation. The briefing was hosted by Colin Murphy of NCST, and featured UC Davis researcher Alan Jenn of the Plug-in Hybrid and Electric Vehicle (PHEV) Center, who addressed the effectiveness of electric vehicle incentives. NCST researcher Carol Vallett of the University of Vermont spoke about how state Departments of Transportation can build and maintain a workforce capable of meeting 21st-century transportation challenges (Tweet of briefing with pictures).

ITS-Davis researchers and Policy Institute staff also met separately with members of Congress and their staffs to discuss transportation topics that are likely to arise during this legislative session, discuss relevant research, and identify knowledge gaps that UC Davis can help fill to support smart transportation policy. UC Davis researchers spoke in person with Representatives Ami Bera, Mark DeSaulnier, John Garamendi, Allen Lowenthal, and Doris Matsui. Transportation and energy staff from another 10 offices also met with ITS-Davis representatives over the course of the week. Figuring out how to support the transition to electric vehicles was a common theme in these conversations, as was understanding how automation and e-commerce are changing how goods and people move. These topics will be explored in greater depth at the upcoming Three Revolutions Policy Conference in Davis on March 18–19th, to be keynoted by Rep. Matsui.

The rapid evolution of transportation systems and technologies in recent years has created new legislative opportunities and needs, such as electric-vehicle incentives and automated-vehicle regulation. Congress is expected to address many of these in the near future. Ensuring that policymakers are aware of and understand key insights from research on emerging transportation topics will do much to facilitate the success of future policies. ITS-Davis, the Policy Institute, and numerous other institutes and centers at UC Davis are well-positioned to help on this front.

UC Davis is home to some of the world’s leading experts on transportation, energy, and climate. By taking the time to build ongoing relationships with policymakers working on issues in these areas, UC Davis is supporting development and deployment of successful solutions to some of society’s most pressing needs.

Kelly Fleming is an energy and transportation analyst for the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy.