APTA’s Emerging Leaders Program Class of 2024 is conducting group research projects to address a key issue or challenge facing the public transportation industry. The research methodology may include collecting survey data, interviewing industry leaders and stakeholders, or developing case studies. Their findings will be shared in a series of industry webinars, at their Capstone Session and Graduation, and with relevant APTA committees in April 2024.

See below for the project topics and descriptions. Thank you in advance for supporting their research.

Check back in March 2024 for links for free registration to attend the Capstone Project Webinars, planned for early April.

Group 1: Considerations and Recommendations for Implementing Zero-Fare Policies without Sacrificing Service

In recent years and especially since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, some transit agencies have implemented, piloted, or consider zero-fare on some or all of their routes and services. While there is a growing body of research on this topic, transit agencies and local political leaders may not be aware of the findings and lessons learned from other agencies, or how local characteristics might impact outcomes. This project intends to conduct a literature review and interviews of staff at agencies that have implemented or are considering zero-fare policies to consolidate findings. It will also develop a decision-making matrix that will help transit agencies consider the associated benefits and challenges. The matrix would consider factors such as agency size, service type, farebox recovery ratio, funding sources, local politics, rider feedback, and key goals and priorities.


  • Nadine Chalmers, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) Metro
  • Tricia Chastanet, Connecticut Department of Transportation
  • Elias Fischer, HNTB Corporation
  • Taylor Gill, Metro-North
  • Kaj Huddart, Transit app

Group 2: Strategies to Develop Equitable Transit Oriented Development (eTOD)

The proposed capstone project aims to explore and address the negative byproducts of Transit Oriented Development (TOD). TOD seeks to create vibrant sustainable and accessible neighborhoods around public transit. However, as it invites interest and investment, this often leads to increased property values, gentrification, and displacement of communities. The goal of this project is to bring attention to projects that have implemented effective anti-displacement policies and efforts, as well as highlight actionable solutions for developing more equitable TOD communities.


  • Liza Hoover, Susquehanna Regional Transportation Authority
  • Michael Panhuise, Amtrak
  • Zohreh Rashidi Moghaddam, Maryland Transit Administration
  • Dana Sedlik, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
  • Peter Valenzuela, Kimley-Horn

Group 3: Climate Resilience Strategies for Bus Stops

Transit agencies have the responsibility to ensure that public transportation continues to be a practical option for commuters, especially as the impact of climate change leads to more frequent extreme weather events. These events, including heat, cold, flooding, severe storms, and high winds, present a significant challenge to the millions of North Americans who depend on public transit to access various services. Public transit services play a crucial role in the lives of many marginalized groups and communities. These groups are often unable to afford personal vehicles and live farther away from their workplaces, making them reliant on public transit services like buses.

During extreme weather conditions, disruptions in bus services worsen the inequalities already experienced by marginalized groups and communities. This has led to discussions among transit agencies about investing in climate adaptation measures to improve the functionality and quality of new and existing bus shelters, with the goal of protecting riders from extreme weather events. This study aims to identify strategies that transit agencies can implement to protect bus riders from harsh weather conditions at bus stops.


  • Frank Adarkwa, Greater Richmond Transit Company
  • Caitlin Delaney, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.
  • Kessia Harris, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority
  • Peter Kersten, Regional Transportation Authority
  • Samantha Taylor, Pittsburgh Regional Transit

We invite individuals working in planning, transit amenities, project management, and facilities to complete this brief survey by December 29, 2023.

Group 4: Extreme Heat and Its Impacts on Transit Systems

Climate change is underway and extreme heat events are becoming increasingly frequent and severe. These events affect many aspects of transit systems, from infrastructure to worker safety, operating costs, and customer experience. Through research and interviews, this project will examine what transit agencies are doing today to cope with extreme heat events, and the plans and procedures they are developing to adapt to future events. Based on the information collected, the project will offer recommendations for transit agencies to consider as they prepare to meet their customers’ and workforces’ needs in a hotter future.


  • Frank Alarcon, Metro Transit
  • Pierre-Yves Ponsonnet, Kiewit
  • Betty Seifu, Gannett Fleming
  • Bryce Shields, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority
  • Sarah Stentz, Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation

We invite individuals who are working to address the effects of extreme heat on transit systems, workers, and customers to complete a brief survey by December 31, 2023.

Group 5: Addressing Passenger-Facing Transit Cleanliness as a Barrier to Post-Pandemic Ridership Recovery

As agencies work to gain riders in a post-pandemic era, one barrier is cleanliness and customer perception of cleanliness on transit. This project aims to provide transit agencies and industry stakeholders with well-researched, technology-driven strategies for improving cleanliness and post-pandemic passenger experience on public transit. This capstone project focuses on developing strategies and recommendations for improving system cleanliness and passenger perception given limited funds for operation. We will talk to industry experts, synthesize existing research, and gather additional information to provide insights for the transit industry.


  • Todd Bateman, TriMet
  • Anna Geannopoulos, Cambridge Systematics
  • Monica Ghosh, Washington State Department of Transportation
  • Presley Morrissey, Sound Transit
  • Mathew Olson, HDR Inc.

We invite individuals who work in operations, managing daily cleaning, and individuals in administration, who create and update policies related to cleaning, to complete this brief survey by December 20, 2023

Please contact Monica Ghosh by January 8, 2024 if your agency is willing to share survey data, research, agency policies, or practices around passenger-facing transit cleanliness from March 2020 to present. The group is particularly interested in hearing from mid- and small-size agencies.

Group 6: Strategies to Better Serve Customers with Vision Impairments

Improving service delivery and rider experience for passengers with disabilities, particularly those with vision impairment, is not only a legal and ethical obligation in public transportation, but can also lead to further reducing barriers to entry and increasing ridership among this population that greatly relies on public transportation as a primary means for mobility.  Passengers with visual impairments have diverse needs and preferences, which often lead to challenges when using public transportation. Transit agencies have an opportunity to make enhancements that create a positive impact on the customer experience for these individuals by providing thoughtful and targeted actions to improve wayfinding, information sharing, and operator interactions.

This capstone project will focus on how transit agencies currently design, fund, train, and operate service for this population and actions agencies can take to reduce barriers to entry and improve customer experience for people with vision impairments. Through a literature review, interviews of agency staff, and interviews with those with visual impairments–both riders and non-riders– the team will present findings on the current rider experience, existing barriers to entry, current best practices, and recommendations for improvements that could be made within the industry.


  • Edgar Sanchez Larios, Swiftly, Inc.
  • Ken Hendricks, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District
  • Natalie Chavez, VTA
  • Patrick Ryan, DB E.C.O. North America Inc.
  • Sarah Kerber, Sacramento Regional Transit

We invite transit agency staff to complete a short 10-minute survey on current agency practices, programs, and services offered for riders who are blind or are visually impaired. Responses will be aggregated with other survey results. Your agency’s insights into this topic are important to us. The survey period will close on December 15, 2023. Click on the link to access the agency-focused survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MGLYZ9H

We have also created a short 10-minute survey for individuals who are blind or visually impaired to provide insights from our target rider group. The survey period will close on December 15, 2023. We are available to conduct this survey over the phone at (408) 759-0345, if you prefer. Click on the link to access the individual-focused survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LCT2SCQ

Group 7: The Microtransit Playbook

In our capstone project, we will analyze microtransit services and their impacts on how agencies plan for fixed route service. Microtransit can be used as a more cost-effective service delivery method in areas where fixed route demand is low. Increased usage and demand of microtransit services can also indicate that more frequent, scheduled service is needed. Our group will look to find the “sweet spot” to determine what type of service is most effective based on financial factors, operational environments, as well as overall customer satisfaction and expectations.


  • Lynn Feng, AECOM
  • Riley Koehler, Orange County Transportation Authority
  • Rose Lisska, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority
  • Jorge Quintana, Foothill Transit
  • Kevin Sliger, Ben Franklin Transit

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