Q&A: talking research and analytics at TransLink

Q&A: talking research and analytics at TransLink

Maria Su is TransLink’s director of research and analytics
Maria Su is TransLink’s Director of Research and Analytics

TransLink has a unique mandate as Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority.

Not only are we responsible for managing and operating the regional transportation network, which includes transit, major roads, bridges, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, TransLink is responsible for planning strategically for the future.

What does that mean? TransLink is responsible for the Regional Transportation Strategy—or RTS for short! The RTS sets the course for how to accommodate the growing and changing demand on the transportation system over the next 30 years.

So, how does TransLink go about accomplishing such a seemingly herculean task?  I mean, after all, the future isn’t here yet. No, unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball that allows us to see into the future. Much of the work relies on data and insights from the research and analytics that our planners undertake.

The Buzzer blog decided to chat with Maria Su, Director of Research and Analytics at TransLink, to find out more!

I think when most people think of planning, they think of people that create plans—hence the name, planners. But an important part of planning is research and analytics—the tools that enable planners—can you explain to me what is research and analytics?

There needs to be an in-depth understanding of the current situation beforehand to develop a plan for the future. We monitor and evaluate transportation performance; collect, analyze and interpret data; develop and apply predicative and evaluation tools; and support development of policies, strategies and plans.

What are the prevailing trends? What are the region’s objectives or aspirations? What are areas for improvements? How will investments or policies impact the transportation outcomes? These are just some of the complex questions and topics we grapple with. Being able to quantify these as much as possible allows for a systematic and evidence-based approach to planning and decision-making both for us and our partner agencies.

Why is research and analytics important?

Most planning and business decisions require understanding of current and projections of future travel behaviour such as how much, how far, where, when and mode. This informs directions on capacity, network design and pricing.

It is important that we have our finger on the pulse of the transportation system so we know where it is performing well and where we should make improvements. Customer-centric and efficient service requires regular feedback on system performance.

What’s an example of a research and analytics program your team is doing?

We’re responsible for ongoing measurement of transit ridership, traffic volumes, measuring the customer experience as well as how the public sees us.

A major project happening on right now is the Regional Trip Diary, which is a very large scale survey we do every five years or so in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. The Trip Diary is the most comprehensive source of information on overall travel patterns in the region and is used by all public and private sector planning organizations. It is like the transportation version of the Census.

The transportation version of the Census—that’s interesting. How can I participate?

We randomly invite households across the region to participate in the Regional Trip Diary to ensure that we obtain an unbiased and statistically representative sample. If you, your family, friends, or neighbours receive an invitation to participate, encourage them to complete the survey. This is a very important dataset that is the cornerstone of transportation planning and analytics in the region. It informs the many decisions involved in delivering a better transportation system for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

You’ve been at TransLink for 20 years now. Is it the ever-changing nature of your work what inspires you?

Absolutely, the pace of change in the world of transportation analytics is so rapid, I learn something new every day. Right now we are enjoying a bit of an analytical renaissance as people realize the value that data, information and insights hold. Innovations in data and analytics are making it possible for us to find answers to questions we couldn’t before! There is never a dull moment.

You say that you love working here, what makes TransLink such a great place to work at?

I would say the integrated, multi-modal mandate that TransLink has and the dedicated and wonderful people who work here.

What has been your highlight so far from your career?  

That I was actually part of the team that created TransLink back in the 1990s.

What’s your piece of advice for someone looking to get into planning, specifically research and analytics?

If you like solving mind-bending problems, this is the place for you!!

Thanks for the interview Maria!

Author: Allen Tung