For MTC’s David Ory, People & Community are Key to Transportation Planning

By Alicia Nguyen

As a principal planner and head of the Analytical Services team at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), David Ory—Ph. D. in Civil Engineering, UC Davis, 2007—finds the human behavior aspect of transportation particularly rewarding.

MTC is the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. Its primary responsibilities include distributing federal and state transportation funds, such as for highways and public transportation, and coordinating and leading long-term transportation planning for the region. Ory, who has been working with MTC since 2009, leads a team of eleven data scientists and urban planners.

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“The big project we’re working on right now is an update to our regional transportation plan. Every four years, one of the requirements of the MPO is to make an outline for the investment plan for the region. In California, the long-range plan is also the ‘sustainable communities strategy’, which is a coordinated transportation and land use plan that strives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Ory said. “We also do a big project assessment effort as part of the plan in which we rank each project presented to us in terms of cost-benefit and whether or not it’s consistent with the plan’s adopted goals.”

Ory is particularly invested in the way his work interacts with people and the community. “When you get into engineering, you do a lot of modeling of physical systems,” Ory said. “If you have a building you have to think about ‘how can I make this building not collapse.’ In transportation planning and travel behavior, you get to use a lot of math and statistics, but instead of working with buildings, you work with people. So I really like the aspect that works with human behavior and human happiness.”

Ory finds his career particularly rewarding, and sees it as a way to give back to the community. True to his passion, Ory also encourages ITS-Davis students to take advantage of the university’s resources in order to do research that benefits people.

“[Some students] might research what just seems more interesting or what their advisor thinks is more interesting. I think it’s always good to step back and see which topic is more useful to humanity—and that one may be more interesting in the end. Once you get into the academic wheel it’s difficult to keep the big picture in perspective. In the long run, it’s hard, but it’s always good to do what’s good for society.”

As a person who enjoys a challenge, Ory found that ITS-Davis’ curriculum in engineering and statistics allowed him to test his skills and knowledge. In addition, he noted that the array of disciplines that ITS-Davis offered was particularly unique and allowed him to branch out and exchange ideas with colleagues who were in differing, but related, fields. He stays in contact with and gets different points of views and new insight from other alumni as their careers progress and he encourages current students to embrace the opportunities that UC Davis provides.

“I think one thing that’s really great about UC Davis is the very diverse set of career paths laid out in front of you. Take advantage of that, get to know people, and try to understand what they do because that can help you. The students and faculty have a really diverse set of interests and I think that’s unique to Davis.”

The #AggiesAtWork series is done in partnership with the UC Davis Cal Aggie Alumni Association.
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