(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 358: A National Perspective with Jannet Walker Ford

November 4, 2021

This week we’re joined by Jannet Walker-Ford, National Transit and Rail Lead at WSP. We chat about high speed rail around the country, the benefits of trade and research groups, escalating transit project costs, and our current transport policy environment.

To listen to this episode, you can find it on Streetsblog USA or at Libsyn.

For a full unedited transcript, check below the fold.

Jeff Wood (43s):
Jannet Walker Ford. Welcome to the talking head ways podcast.

Jannet Walker-Ford (1m 20s):
Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure. It’s a privilege to be with you today.

Jeff Wood (1m 24s):
Well, thanks for being here before we get started. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Jannet Walker-Ford (1m 28s):
Sure. I run the National Transit and Rail business for WSP USA. We are a global firm though, and provide services all over the world and we are infrastructure and engineering based in terms of our expertise and capabilities. And one might ask, what does it mean to run a Transit and Rail business? So my team and I focus on not just ensuring that we’re delivering for our current clients, and those are agencies that are transit agencies in the public sector, as well as those such as Amtrak and that sort of thing, but also thinking about the future. So we’re developing strategies around growth and innovation and especially areas, whether it be electrification or other signs of innovation like automation.

Jannet Walker-Ford (2m 14s):
So we focus on not just today, but the forward looking strategies to meet our client needs.

Jeff Wood (2m 20s):
How did you get into transportation? Like what was your first inkling that you wanted to focus on Transit focus on the topics that you do? Was it when you were a little kid or was it getting you got older? How did that happen?

Jannet Walker-Ford (2m 32s):
No, it’s really a great question. It’s something I think that we within the industry ask each other all the time. Did you plan to do this or did you fall into it? And I was the latter where I did not plan to get into this business. My background is information technology. I started out though as a poly psy major, a political science major going through school and then got into in looking at innovation. The future, I was exposed to information technology in a very interesting way, early age. That was actually my entree. I could go on through dot comes and it skills and you know, that kind of thing, programming project management, I was introduced to Transit specifically, and my days when living in Atlanta, Georgia, and I candidly had no idea that transportation systems were built on technology.

Jannet Walker-Ford (3m 20s):
They are the backbone of any of those systems, whether it’s train control systems or cat AVL systems, automated systems, that sort of thing. So I got in through it, through my it roots in Atlanta, I was a consulting. Initially I later became the chief information officer for that system in Atlanta, rapid metropolitan, Atlanta, rapid transit authority, and later the deputy CEO, but my entree was information technology. And that continues to be the foundation of the way that I’ve, let’s say maneuvered, my career is through it.

Jeff Wood (3m 53s):
Did you get to use any of those poly psy lessons as well?

Jannet Walker-Ford (3m 57s):
No. It’s yes, because you know, this already, this business is based on relationships and the understanding of the needs of the local community, and then being able to affect change through influence and building collaboration and consensus around decisions related to infrastructure related to public transportation. And one of the things that is often times most challenging in this space is priorities. You know, there are different priorities for different communities or different needs or, you know, one community which goes first in terms of which community gets a particular service first versus other, when you have some times limited funding or competing funds.

Jannet Walker-Ford (4m 39s):
So I think that the policy skills absolutely helped me as it relates to being able to kind of, to argue if you will, or advocate for a position that benefits the general public.

Jeff Wood (4m 51s):
You mentioned you’d worked for a number of firms. You worked for Marta, a number of transit agencies. I’m curious what your favorite project was in all those places that you’ve been.

Jannet Walker-Ford (5m 0s):
Oh, wow. Oh, I was just having to answer something very similar a little bit earlier today in terms of the favorite projects. But I would say my favorite project is back at Marta because I, you know, I was on the public sector side, as you know, and I’ve also been for the rest of my career the last 20 years in the private sector side, but Marta and the reason goes back to your question around policing my poly site experience. It was delivering us the chief information officer, and then later the deputy CEO, the first all smart card system in north America. And that’s the smart card fare payment system. We branded it, the breeze because we wanted to simulate the idea about breathing through the system, whether you were coming from a suburban area or moving around within the city of Atlanta and its jurisdictions.

Jannet Walker-Ford (5m 46s):
So we rebranded the system, which in itself was really an activity that tried to promote ridership and all the things that are important, such as safety on time performance and those sort of things. But also it was a project that was multimodal, right? So other counties, other bus agencies had to participate in there, but it really provided a much more seamless way of traveling and paying to ride the system, using one we’re now talking about using apps and bone devices, but at that time it was using a smart card to go through the system, whether you’re riding in city of Atlanta or Cod county, or did have county. And that project, I went from a manual system where we were using, if you’ve used turnstiles going through, I think back in, you know, you probably have seen turnstiles back in your past, but going from turnstiles to gate that open when you approach them going away from tokens and token vending machines to again, using really cashless and credit card options though cash still exist, but having to go through that space.

Jannet Walker-Ford (6m 45s):
So it was a huge change management and the way that the writers use the system, the way that the agency managed the system and the way that we interacted with the customers in terms of customer service and their abilities to do some self-service options, that project was a complicated one because it was the first of its kind in turn the technology. So we learned a lot with that, but also it was transformational in the way that Marta was providing, you know, their services to the customer. And it brought in the regions in a much more efficient.

Jeff Wood (7m 14s):
It’s so advanced. Now I, I saw, I think it was yesterday or the day before on CNN, there was an article about, I think it was Austria who had created a climate card basically. And for two 50 or three 50 a day, you can buy an annual pass. It’s like 1300 Euro or something like that. So for three 50 a day, you can go anywhere in the country on any vehicle, whether it’s a inner city, train a bus, a subway, anything, and you can just have one pass and it’ll take care of everything. I hope we get to that. I mean, obviously starting out at Marta and, and with the breeze card and everything like that is very innovative at the time, but now we can do all this other stuff, which is amazing. I hope we hope we can get to that.

Jannet Walker-Ford (7m 51s):
Oh, you’re you’re spot on. And I am so jealous because of some of the other countries, cities that are able to advance a bit more. I mean, we are now though at the stage where we are using apps to pay for public transportation. So it’s the app that’s right in your hand, you know, we’re using that in a way that allows users to not only pay, but to understand what their options are for travel. So many of our clients and many of our cities and agencies are already utilizing technology, apple pay, and then we’re using Google all of that to be able to have payment options, but it’s using real time information. That’s available through these systems along with a payment platform, and then the options, there you go.

Jannet Walker-Ford (8m 31s):
You’ve got it with clipper, the options that we have before us, I think, and I have a little bit of history with clipper by the way. But I think that Faculty where we’ve been, you know, and so the next phase is not only being able to and clipper that app is available now as well. So we make sure that we’re addressing equity, everything that we do as well. So for the unbank, we have to have solutions, but where really at the forefront now is saying, let’s take all these disparate types of travel options available to us, whether it’s the TNCs with the Uber that started right there in San Francisco, Uber or Lyft, electric, scooter, public transportation, parking, and tolling.

Jannet Walker-Ford (9m 12s):
And we are working on providing them. When I say we, the industry a way of having all that seamless travel at the tips of a user. And I love the term mobility as a service mobility integration, because it absolutely looks at all those options, all those modes that our user might use to get to. And depending on what your preferences are, as well as your financial means, you may choose to do a trip. That’s the shortest route. It may be the most expensive, or you may choose to do two transfers. It’s, you know, maybe you’re a college student may take you a bit longer, but you’ve got that option at hand. So having the type of technology and innovation that sets your hands is really important at WSP. What I’m excited about is that we offer those modes of service within the transportation business line, whether it be tolling or this it’s highways and Transit, that we can put that all together for our clients.

Jannet Walker-Ford (10m 3s):
But I think that is really where we’re going in the future, what we’re working on now, and that will make a difference. And I think efficiency for clients, you mentioned earlier, post pandemic, what are they looking for? I think we’re looking for more options around ease of use efficiency and reliability and all these systems help us get there.

Jeff Wood (10m 23s):
For sure. You’re also on a number of boards, WTS, you know, apt to what’s the most beneficial thing these trade and research groups do for furthering the cause of Transit and active transportation. More general,

Jannet Walker-Ford (10m 34s):
I think in general, simple way of putting it is that they all provided voice for public transportation, different perspectives. That’s in terms of their slice of what they’re looking at, apps are looking at public transit primarily, but an email or weaker charm, but they all are about advocacy for public transportation, but you know, kind of advocacy for funding as well as, you know, support for those agencies. So they are a voice for industry. So I think that’s probably the most beneficial thing. Obviously they all have a big presence in DC, which is where legislators are and they’re making those decisions, but it’s an educated, I say advocacy, but didn’t have an educational process as well. Why is it important that you have abilities for transit agencies to send their bus rapid transit automation, autonomous vehicles, construction, or as it relates to, you know, w we know the infrastructure conversation as relates to if I go outside of Transit that holistic picture, but these agency, but, you know, casino focuses on, well, it’s TRB all modes of transportation, whereas apt is more focused on Transit, but all of them, I think have very similar objectives in advocating for the public transit agencies.

Jannet Walker-Ford (11m 45s):
What I like best about them is the fact that they are that common voice that understands the needs across the agency, whether it be a small, medium, or large agency, all those things are in mind as they’re advocating the thought leadership that comes in, we’ve got an app, the conference that’s happening just next week in Orlando, it’ll be the first app that expo it’s their annual conference transformed conference. And expo will be the first one since the dynamic in Orlando, starting in just about a week or so. And what I liked best besides the advocacy pieces of thought leadership that you see and hear at these conferences and the opportunity for public and private sector to come together and really explore ideas around advancing public transportation, where they’re having similar challenges, as well as where they’ve had great successes, these forms to share that information really important, as well as the networking that goes into it.

Jannet Walker-Ford (12m 36s):
So we’re saying, you know, the best of the best in terms of technical excellency, as well as leadership and innovation,

Jeff Wood (12m 45s):
How do you have time for all these boards? I doing my job is just hard enough, these boards and all this things

Jannet Walker-Ford (12m 53s):
Question being, but, you know, these boards play hand-in-hand with my role and our role in this industry. I mean, if I’m sitting behind a desk or sitting at home, something’s wrong, really the important part of being able to be successful in my role and in our roles is interfacing with our customers. And that’s the customers at every level. So our customers in terms of the agencies, but also with the users of the system, the riders of the system who are also part of these environments, the other thing that happens with these boards, if I get away from just the advocacy part of it and get away for a little bit around, away from the innovation thought leadership, there’s a significant amount of networking and mentoring and development of our future workforce is that had the workforce that happens at these conferences.

Jannet Walker-Ford (13m 37s):
If I pick on WTS and the women’s Transportation seminar, we’re all about advancing women and Transportation, very underrepresented in the industry, and we’ve got to do more. So this organization is very much focused on as I’m chair of the foundation board, that 12 to 18 age group and providing them with role mottos and, and really education around public transportation. And then the existing under the WTS international, those are the existing professionals, and we’re providing them with ongoing development and networking opportunities to further their careers. So these are very important roles that we have in these boards in terms of board roles and organizational roles. And I will say I’m the incoming chair for the WTS international organization, which I’m really excited about, but all of them, just to kind of close the loop on this, go back into our voice and advocacy for this industry from a funding perspective and a priority perspective, all of that matters in terms of packaging, the impact.

Jeff Wood (14m 35s):
Yeah, I think we’ve missed out on, on conferences over the last year and a half or so that we haven’t been able to attend live. I mean, we have the video conferences and we can talk to people as we are right now through our computers, but it’s just not quite the same. It’s not quite the same. Like you, you mentioned networking and all that stuff, and I’m looking forward to kind of back. I don’t think I’m going to be back this year, but maybe next year probably will. We’ll get back into the, to the groove of going to conferences and seeing people and all that stuff.

Jannet Walker-Ford (14m 60s):
Oh, you haven’t done that just yet? I

Jeff Wood (15m 1s):
Understand. No, no, I can’t. And airplanes, I don’t know yet. I don’t know about the airplanes yet. Well, let’s talk a little bit about the infrastructure bill and what I call the gang of 10 infrastructure bill. I’ve been frustrated by it generally, I think because we’re given such a high bar and then it kind of gets cut down over time and, you know, what’s been happening kind of this compromise as it were the centrism of it. I’m curious what your thoughts are on the bill and the process, and maybe what’s in it.

Jannet Walker-Ford (15m 33s):
You know, I’m really excited about the bill. I mean, I think I share with some enthusiasm that I’m hearing from you, but also a little bit of disappointment that we’re not able to say, yeah, we’re, we’re ready to go on this. And I’m so excited about what’s in the bill and it’s historical in terms of what’s being proposed from an equity and infrastructure perspective, much needed priorities. And perhaps, you know, in our lifetime, the most investment that we’ve seen put forward for our industry and infrastructure, I’m thrilled to see the conversation around equity and that’s everything from transportation of water and the environmental aspects of it. I think that’s really critical. And I think that the only way that we’ll get the investment in the priorities that we’re hearing about around equity, particularly if it is a funding incentive for it.

Jannet Walker-Ford (16m 22s):
So I believe we will see funding investment. I’m excited about what’s happening with Amtrak, which is critical. We need that funding in Northeast quarter, but the funding that we’re seeing across the entire United States for the Amtrak hoarders, I think is really, really critical and much needed. And I’m excited about that. And I hope that that particular funding level continues to stay there as well as what we’re seeing for funding for Rail. I believe the number is still is around 66 billion. We want to see that dedicated funding as well, continue there and the funding for freight. So good stuff. I like the idea that we’re looking at, not just what we want to do from the start, but also going back, got to go back and see what inequities were there before, what projects were not put to the forefront and make sure those get considered.

Jannet Walker-Ford (17m 8s):
So I’m, I’m really excited about it and I’m optimistic that we will see a transit time and we will see an infrastructure bill come across very soon.

Jeff Wood (17m 16s):
Yeah, I think some of it’s good. I think some of the discussions are good. I think I might echo some of what one of my colleagues Beth Osborne says in that, you know, it’s frustrating from a standpoint of, of where we’d like to give out money. We’d like to write bills that write small pieces for some of these structural things that are going on. For example, there was $10 billion for the reconnecting neighborhoods initiative, which would reconnect neighborhoods that were cut apart by freeways historically. But now there’s only a billion dollars, but that’s just like a small part of the, of the bill. And it’s not kind of tied into the larger discussion of 350 or $250 billion for highways generally, or for roads generally.

Jeff Wood (17m 56s):
And so that kind of policy connection feels a little bit, I mean, it’s a big leap forward, but at the same time, as, as somebody who looks at the policy and the stuff every day, it feels like maybe it’s a baby step instead of maybe a big step.

Jannet Walker-Ford (18m 9s):
No, I totally agree with you. And it is. So we continue to see it slim down more and more, right. I guess limb down is a good word for it. You know, it’s a bit disappointed because we’re hoping to make a greater impact right away. But the point that you’re making around reconnecting communities, which is what’s what’s would say essential central part of this bill coming in, I think still elements there. I believe clearly that’s exactly what we need to do, whether it was a bridge or whether it was a railroad, you know, there are all these things historically that have segmented or fragmented our communities from past decision-making. So being able to go back and readdress those priorities is really important. The other thing is too, where there’s a communities. We saw that in San Francisco with the central subway expansion, how it kind of providing a rail alternative versus just bus in Chinatown.

Jannet Walker-Ford (18m 57s):
It’s an example, right? These are things that worked communities have been waiting for a long time for a more, an alternate type of transportation, alternative bus that perhaps was faster and more efficient. They’ve been waiting a long time, you know, and I know that their project still going on in bay area, but all around the country, there’s an equities as to decision-making about the type of transportation or Transit technologies that they get to see. So I would hope that we were able to see some of that monies go back to making good on those commitments in the permanent path.

Jeff Wood (19m 29s):
It’s interesting. You mentioned the central subway, cause that can be like a sore spot here from a Transit advocacy from the nerds, right. I guess I consider myself a nerd just the way it was constructed and the way it was put together and the expense of it, the $1.6 billion per mile, I think it’s a really necessary connection. And I appreciate the connection to Chinatown. It was also a political deal brokered between rose Pak and Willie Brown at the time after the earthquake, because the Chinatown merchants didn’t want the Embarcadero freeway to come down because that was their kind of their lifeline. They felt for transportation, but it also kind of gets into all the minutia of, of these projects. Like if we look at it from a 30,000 foot kind of vantage point, we can see that there’s all these projects that are going on in there and they seem very valuable.

Jeff Wood (20m 11s):
And, but then when you get down to the details of it, it took so long to build the project. The project might not be as good as we wanted it to be. It only, there’s only two car trains in the tunnel. It didn’t go down Gary, which was one of the initial discussions, one of our most frequent bus services on Geary, but also we’re looking for a subway in the future. And so that connection wasn’t made at the time. So it’s interesting that you brought that project up. Cause I have, I obviously have a lot of opinions on it here in the bay area, but it also gets to that project cost question. And I’m curious what your thoughts are on just general project. I know email working on this, but project costs, they’re kind of escalating and going up when in other countries we’re seeing costs maybe not as expensive to do, maybe similar.

Jannet Walker-Ford (20m 51s):
Yeah. As it relates to the details that you just mentioned, I’m not as familiar with those. I think I pick up on central subway. I go there for a second because of the equity part of it, thinking about 20, 21 and the equity piece and that intent to serve the community. I think in terms of project costs, you know, we’re seeing a variety of different types of project delivery methods and mechanisms in the United States. So I, you know, I think there is some accuracy in terms of a different model, the different models that we see and the different, let’s say labor costs and labor models here in the United States.

Jeff Wood (21m 23s):
I find it interesting. Have you been following kind of what he knows has been doing? I know they had a conference last week about the project cost stuff. I hope that at some point we’ll get to talk with them in more detail about it, but I’m curious if you’ve been following along with the more general discussion about the project costs and how to lower them. There’s a number of different organizations. It feels like they’re trying to tackle this, this question.

Jannet Walker-Ford (21m 41s):
Sure. And I, and I am on the, you know, board, I’m proud to say I did not have a chance to participate in the great sessions that they had last week, but always a thought leader. And they do a terrific job. And after does the same thing about looking at different delivery, construction models, the project costs, which ones are more cost-effective the procurement strategies and that sort of thing. So I think it’s absolutely great new that we’re looking at it from that lens that we’ve got great organizations like that that can kind of do better research and do some comparisons for the industry and then help us, you know, where need be help the industry be able to deliver, you know, you’re always striving to get to a better on-time delivery model and better and improve costs.

Jannet Walker-Ford (22m 25s):
You know, it’s, decision-making, it’s funding, it’s timing, a whole host of things.

Jeff Wood (22m 29s):
What do you think the larger construction companies like WSP, what do you think their role is? And trying to lower construction costs and trying to maybe lower construction costs so we can get more projects.

Jannet Walker-Ford (22m 39s):
You know, I, that’s a really rank question and it’s, there’s many answers to that, but our role, one of the roles clearly is serving as that trusted advisor to our clients, which I think we do incredibly well and being in early and then identifying what the needs of the customer are with region. I say, the region, what the, what are those needs? And being able to help define those early on. I mean, we know that the longer you wait sometimes to deliver projects, that process pipe, the costs go up. So being able to understand what those needs are early on, we do, I think an excellent job of being able to work closely with our customers, whether it be in a trusted advisor capacity or working with them, with them, you know, early on with our expertise and defining those requirements and being part of that design process.

Jannet Walker-Ford (23m 24s):
So we enjoy a relationship with our customers in doing just that. And I think being able to get that right, as it relates to the procurement, the RFP, the types of procurement methods and methodologies that are used, we spend a lot of time with our clients talking about the pros and cons of the different methods that are available to them. So I think that where we can be most impactful is early on and then making sure that we’ve got the right team, the right team partners that are assembled, able to deliver the project and the ways that we really communicate and satisfy the customer throughout the entire project. It’s important to ensure that we’ve got timing and decision-making the funding is in place. I mean, it’s all those things that, you know, that go into being able to deliver a project at a timeline it’s been committed is having the right people at the table at the right time.

Jannet Walker-Ford (24m 9s):
And the right buy-in particularly the community is always a critical part of it. And the more they can be upfront in the process, the better the results are as well.

Jeff Wood (24m 18s):
Yeah. I think that that’s part of it too, is I guess I’ll conclude myself in the community more generally, because I think a lot of the projects that we’ve built in the last couple of decades and maybe even the last 30 years or so after, you know, I guess after the San Diego light rail line in 1981 and the admin of the new starts process and all that, I feel like we’ve done kind of a bad job at Planning, corridors, and lines and those types of things. And so I guess it’s on us to a certain extent, but then it’s interesting to think about what the roles of all the companies, what the roles are for the cities and the decision makers that, and even the community that, that wants the line not to go through a certain part of town or wants it to go through another part or whether it’s a subway or above ground, those types of things.

Jeff Wood (24m 58s):
And it can get frustrating. I think from an activist standpoint, I wrote my master’s thesis on the politics of light rail in Austin, going back to 1975. And it’s very, very frustrating, you know, voting in 2000, going back to voters in 2004 for a completely different line that did a whole different thing and connected a whole different part of town, which has now been rectified by the most recent election. But it’s just in that process is, is multilayered. It’s very complicated. And then you have companies like yours that are in the mix. And it’s interesting to think about all the things that have to go into planning and thinking about projects.

Jannet Walker-Ford (25m 34s):
And that’s really true. And I think the other thing, and it related to what you’re saying too, is, you know, sometimes you go in thinking in the past, you know, pretty much it’s like it might be as a country. We went in with the solution already in first, you knew what you wanted. And then you try to go back into defining the requirements. Now we’ve got so much intimate innovation that we realize and options. I mentioned Rail alternatives. So whether it’s BRT or whether it’s a light rail or whether it’s Rail or whether it’s micro transit, you know, there’s not one size fits all. And you know, you don’t need a 40 foot bus necessarily in every corridor. So being able to look holistically, the various options to provide first mile last mile transportation solution is really important.

Jannet Walker-Ford (26m 17s):
And being able to educate the community, the advocates about the pros and cons of them. So they don’t feel like they got shortchanged is something that’s really important to do. And that’s something that as we talk about what our roles are early on, we’re able to do that. We’ve got us outstanding planning, a group of folks with expertise that really spend the time in this space that you’re just talking about doing just that, looking at what those alternatives are and making sure that not only are we designing for need right now to your point, but what is the meat going to be in five years and 10 years, as we’re talking about, you know, autonomous vehicles and, you know, we’re electrification and those sort of things. So we, we really have, I think our responsibility WSP and the industry to help educate our customers and with leadership and being out front and looking at the future, you know, one of the things that if we can stay in California, you just mentioned, you know, some projects back in, I believe you were St.

Jannet Walker-Ford (27m 11s):
Los Angeles. One of the things that, you know, it, it really embodies what I’m describing in terms of our role is the project that we are working with LA Metro. I mean, not LA Metro, but California high-speed rail. And I’m sure you’re pretty familiar with that, but we are the Rail delivery partner for that. We’re excited about this, but the first high-speed rail system plan for implementation in the U S and it’s developed new standards for high-speed rail in the country. And we’re proud to have been part of that with the high speed rail. Our role specifically there is for moving the California high-speed rail project on the really early phases of design to future operation. And so we’ve been involved as early as the feasibility studies and preliminary engineering to develop information that was beneficial in the passage of the $10 billion statewide bond and establishing the state’s first high-speed technical Rail requirements and standards.

Jannet Walker-Ford (28m 4s):
So these are know, that’s just an, a specific example that I wanted to provide you that I think answers your question about the kinds of ways that we interact, or we support our customers and advancing projects.

Jeff Wood (28m 15s):
Yeah. We had forests Lipkin of the high-speed rail authority on recently to talk about the EIS for the segment between San Jose and the central valley, which is a really important segment for us, obviously to get bit on between those mountain ranges between the central valley and the bay area. So we can get it into San Francisco so that I can take the train to visit my sister and maker’s field. You know, it’s an interesting discussion about, you know, how we get there, but also, you know, the politics of it, the legislators in Los Angeles who are kind of sandbagging a little bit on it, because they want more of the money to go to local operations. And I know that’s not in your wheelhouse necessarily, but there’s a lot of discussion about the line and, and how it works. And I’m curious if w what your thoughts are on kind of the general state of high-speed rail in the country.

Jeff Wood (28m 57s):
I mean, we know that it’s kind of got its fits and starts because of different administration changes. And obviously the previous administration didn’t like these types of investments, the conservative central valley and Republicans kind of wanted to block it as much as possible, even though it went through their neighborhoods and would probably benefit them a lot. It’s interesting to think about it from a political standpoint, but I’m curious what your thoughts are generally on the state of, of high-speed rail. What’s going on in Texas, what’s going on in California, the Northeast corridor, et cetera.

Jannet Walker-Ford (29m 24s):
I’m more excited than ever optimistically about high-speed rail in our country. And you’ve referenced a few minute, a little bit ago about what you’ve seen in other countries and whether it’s how they pay the fairs. And I’m sure you applied how the system views, I’m jealous envious of the fact that we have more than that. It’s not like, you know, it’s not just like breathing. I do believe that we are now at a time where that recognition is. They’re very excited about what’s happening in California. We’re going to get there. And obviously Texas has made great headway. You know, we’re seeing more private and public partnerships as it relates to these projects. And you can look at Florida for what we’re doing, what’s happening in Florida, as it relates to commuter rail or high-speed rail hybrid with all aboard Florida that has gone from already from Miami plan opening in Orlando, that will get folks quickly swiftly whether you’re getting off a cruise ship and you want to go to Walt Disney world for the day, or you just going to Orlando today, suddenly you’re going to have very, very soon an opportunity to do that.

Jannet Walker-Ford (30m 20s):
And there’s just no discussions about expanding beyond that. So that whether it’s the private sector in partnership with the public sector, that’s making that happen because there’s a connectivity. That’s a mind for that. Same thing is happening on the west coast when it’s Los Angeles to Las Vegas, I believe it’s that look, see all of those as long as well as the state run high speed rail projects are part of the solution. And I believe that continued investment and priorities. And let’s just say the C word collaboration at the state and local federal level. That’s starting to gel more and more, and it’s happening. And I’m optimistic that we’re going to see that continue. And we’re excited to be part of those projects that you’re calling off, whether it be Texas high-speed rail, or whether it be in California.

Jeff Wood (31m 4s):
I have a larger policy discussion question for you. What are we missing from our national conversation? We talked about the instructor, bill and all that stuff, but from a policy perspective, as it relates to Transit and Rail new starts, all those things. I’m curious, what do you think we’re missing?

Jannet Walker-Ford (31m 18s):
Well, I like this question. I’m a bit opinionated about this particular question about what that’s good, what you want outside of the funding discussion and the policy, the perspectives that you were putting aside for a moment. This is still, it is a, it’s a funding and policy related response, and that is stepping back and looking holistically across all the modes. I feel like right now we’ve got funding that comes up for each mode. And so you almost are in a situation where there’s a competition starting to emerge more and more at the lines, get blurred between what’s considered age Transit or transitive Rail funding need, and what say highway need.

Jannet Walker-Ford (31m 58s):
And what’s a, you know, let’s say, you know, any of the needs. And I think that there has to be, and I think it should be at the federal level and incentive for there to be more collaboration across modes at the state and local level that say, let’s look at a project that connects, like you described a few minutes ago. How do you connect though? All the pieces that you need to, to ultimately make it an end-to-end type of commute or get you your last mile for as long. So that means to me, if I use an example, looking at congestion and congestion management and mitigation, we’re all trying to solve that, but it looks like it’s being solved by one mode at a time we’re going to build either, listen, I’m all for building more highways and roadways, or we’re going to build or try to extend our transit line.

Jannet Walker-Ford (32m 43s):
But at the end of the day, we have to understand what creates congestion on our roads and our highways. And then you can take a look and you just do an inventory. You say, okay, we’ve got freight, which we want to move, but freight that oftentimes we’ll move through corridors and move through cities states and gets right in the middle of the same traffic is a automobile and public transit. So you have to say, how do you look at what’s creating congestion and then incentivize behaviors a bit differently. And that means that, and it goes to funding them, right? But that means when freight comes into port and then it leaves the ports, whether it be through Rail or whether it be through a trucking mechanism, understanding how that flows and how long it takes to get through eighth particular city or state, and then say, well, okay, that’s causing congestion.

Jannet Walker-Ford (33m 30s):
One person per vehicle is causing to Justin. Even our TNCs, they’re adding one person per vehicle. It’s adding to congestion in certain way. So if we look at then again, having people travel at different times to go to the football game, when there’s, you know, it seems like we do really well when there is an Olympics, you know, and sometimes a crisis, we get our heads together and we collaborate about how to, you know, move people around. That should be a permanent, sustainable solution in my mind. So if there is a congestion management strategy or a platform that is real time, so that Jeff, before you leave your house, you can look at your app and your phone. And, you know, if I leave right now, it will take me an hour to leave. I waited. If I wait 30 minutes, it will take me 15 minutes to get there.

Jannet Walker-Ford (34m 13s):
And so you’re able to change your travel patterns or your travel patterns are altered real time because you’ve got that information at your fingertips. So I think creating a mechanism, a platform for sharing of data, big data, this is intelligence across all modes, again, freight transport and Rail, the roads. So that’s the deity, that sort of thing. I think that’s, what’s missing is an integrated conversation around the transportation industry. And I think conversation, tool, platform,

Jeff Wood (34m 45s):
Do you think it’s missing because we don’t really have a national goal of any kind. It’s more like it feels like, and I’ve talked about this in the show a number of times, but it feels like we’re just in the business of giving out money for formula funds, right? There’s no real goal or larger end game to reach. I mean, you’ve mentioned congestion, you know, the Fazio in the invest act mentioned access. There’s a discussion about that going on, but it seems like we’ve never really been able to write into policy those overarching goals that might lead to a more integrated system that you’re talking about.

Jannet Walker-Ford (35m 16s):
Yeah. You know, I, you know, I actually start to see more of that language and, and chairman DeFazio’s some of his most recent markups I’ve seen more focus on if you’ve looked at it and I read it too. This is my interpretation, more focused on that congestion management component that does get to the end game, because I think it recognizes, it takes a nod to recognize what I just described. And that’s even going, if you think about even the rural areas that may not have the same type of congestion or issues, I mean, there ultimately is a piece of this discussion for everyone, but I do think it takes a look at incentivizing, right? Not penalizing, but incentivizing solutions across modes to address this.

Jannet Walker-Ford (35m 59s):
So I, I think it is there. And I think that the, the other thing is where you say you don’t think there’s a goal. I think there are goals, but they are silo goals. In my opinion, they’re trying to get to commitments and promises that have made to the taxpayers oftentimes through referendums or through right. Or commitments to sales tax or property tax. But knitting that together for a cohesive solution is still what I think is missing

Jeff Wood (36m 25s):
A bit of a more lighthearted question. What’s your favorite transit line?

Jannet Walker-Ford (36m 29s):
Oh gosh, that you’re going to get me in trouble with no, I cannot answer that question.

Jeff Wood (36m 38s):
Do you have a collection of transit lines that you like?

Jannet Walker-Ford (36m 43s):
I have a collection of transit lines, you know, I lead a national business for WSP USA. I got, I

Jeff Wood (36m 50s):
Got to give you a hard time. You know,

Jannet Walker-Ford (36m 52s):
All of their lines are my favorite lines,

Jeff Wood (36m 56s):
Not even one from when you’re younger or I used to take the number one bus in Austin from my apartment to the university of Texas. And that might be, you know, just from a memory standpoint, maybe that’s probably my favorite. So I’m curious if you have something like that.

Jannet Walker-Ford (37m 10s):
Oh, and then that’s such a great experience. I think I would tip my hand if I tell you my favorite one, because it happens to be something that’s in my recent past as well. So I am excited about what’s happening in Austin very much so. And as we talk about what a plan looks like and the goals that they have there for commitment to a longer term, sustainable transportation strategy, it’s pretty fascinating, pretty excited, very happy for the folks over at cap Metro and ATP,

Jeff Wood (37m 40s):
I guess as my last question. And it’s a little bit more complicated. So recently there was a Washington post article about Asheville and they’re awarding a highway, project and award for livability and for sustainability, which I think got a lot of folks up on my end of the pond, a little bit frustrated and upset. And then in the article, it had kind of a versus discussion between NACTA, which is the national association of city transportation officials and Ash toe, which is national road Association. Basically. I can’t remember the exact acronyms there’s too many of them in our business. Maybe we can cut that down in some form or fashion, but I’m curious, you know, th the framing around the article was about kind of a next generation coming up, changing the discussion about transportation.

Jeff Wood (38m 22s):
I’m curious what your thoughts are on the next generation and what they’ll be expecting out of their transportation experience.

Jannet Walker-Ford (38m 29s):
Well, you know, that, and I actually happened to be at the conference as we speak. I’m very excited about the incoming chair, secretary, Shawn Wilson from Louisiana. So I think he takes the gadol tomorrow. Very exciting in terms of answering your question about the future. You know, this generation is, as we all know it was in, in certainly before the pandemic. It’s, it’s probably that way now as well. It’s just amazing that they weren’t racing to get the driver’s license. Like we did. You know, we had our permit at the teen and by 16, we had that driver’s license. This generation wants public transportation. They want to be in cities where they’re walkable accessible, it’s having options, multiple options.

Jannet Walker-Ford (39m 10s):
So one size does not fit all. They are embracing technology and innovation. So whether that’s the autonomous vehicles, which we know in different forms is happening, as we speak, they will want to have, and not too different from what we’re looking for now, but they expect it versus, you know, we want it, they expect it, right. They’re expecting to have versatility and type of transportation options that they have. They’re wanting it to be on time. They want it to be clean and available. I mean, not too different from what we want, but they do want that. And they want to get to that first small, last slot mile and they want options to do that. So I think the future is very bright. And what they’re expecting is not to, you know, in some ways different from what we’re looking, except that the path that they wanted, they want it when it’s most convenient for them.

Jeff Wood (39m 54s):
Janet, where can folks find more information about your work online?

Jannet Walker-Ford (39m 58s):
Sure. I would begin by referring folks to go to www dot WSP dot com I’m listed there it’s that our USA businesses listed there. And then the types of, obviously I’m going to start with the Transit and rail business. There is a full listing of the type of services and capabilities that we have there along with our client base. And then the full breadth of our transportation businesses also laid out there. My email address is there along with my colleagues that run the other parts of the business, whether it be the highway bridge, the tolling business and others, you can find that all there. And then if you want to know more about WSP USA and our breadth of responsibilities across our business lines, that information is there.

Jannet Walker-Ford (40m 39s):
And of course, you know, we’re a global business. So where we were operating throughout the world and, you know, exciting projects, our customers are also outlined

Jeff Wood (40m 47s):
There. Awesome. Well, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

Jannet Walker-Ford (40m 50s):
Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure getting to know you.


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