Students Give Green Light to Transportation Information Start-Up

By Buzz McClain

Transportation consultant Christine Sherman discovered the importance of developing public-private partnerships to leverage resources for the enhancement of real-time transportation information.

Civil engineer Darren Tucker learned the complexities of the public procurement process.

And Matt Caywood learned that his young firm will need to look harder into government procurement if his company is to expand its transportation information business from buildings onto city streets.

Sherman and Tucker, along with 14 others, were students in Jonathan Gifford’s Practicum in Transportation Policy, Operations and Logistics graduate course this spring at George Mason University’s School of Policy, Government and International Affairs. Their assignment: Research existing and possible transportation information technologies in seven cities and one state and apply critical thinking to make recommendations to the client, in this case Caywood’s Washington, D.C., start-up TransitScreen.

TransitScreen’s mission is to help municipalities—many of them considered “smart cities”—use real-time information to work more efficiently in all modes of transportation. The company installs and maintains sophisticated screens in 33 cities in five countries that display bus, subway, bikeshare, traffic and other data fed by municipal and private agencies.

“When commuters have better and faster information, they make more efficient and sustainable decisions,” Caywood said.

Caywood said his sales team is already using many of the recommendations made by the George Mason students, such as educating municipalities on the benefits of real-time information and developing creative partnership financing methods.

In doing the research, the students also made discoveries about themselves. For instance, Sherman said she gained a different perspective on her work with her own clients and their relationships with government and municipal agencies.

“There were procurement aspects of bringing this technology into public spaces that I never thought about,” she said.
Tucker, the project leader, discovered an aptitude for project management, thanks in part to specialized software recommended by Caywood, and is looking for opportunities to apply these new skills in the transportation field.

As for Caywood, “I think he perceived the public procurement process as a barrier to his growing business,” said Tucker.
Dealing with government agencies, particularly in so many cities and countries, is fraught with expensive and time-consuming obstacles.

“We tried to find innovative ways around those obstacles, but ultimately we recommended that small businesses such as TransitScreen find a way to work through the process,” Tucker said. “The process is there to protect the public interest.”

“That was bitter medicine compared to some of their recommendations for cities that we were pleased to hear,” concurred Caywood. “But I can take that to the rest of the leadership team and say this is the process, if we take our product to city streets, and now we need to find a way to do it like a start-up.”