METRANS Perspectives: The USC Mobility Lab

Tuesday, June 11, 2019 - 11:19am

By Micha Kempe, USC Class of 2019

Living in Los Angeles, there has always been an obligation to drive a personal vehicle to travel around the city. Although the Los Angeles Metro has a vast and robust service network, much of the public transportation is segmented and time-consuming. Many Millennials and Generation Xers feel that it is expensive to maintain a vehicle, so they choose to travel using alternative modes of transportation. I have the same mentality when it comes to personal vehicles. In this day and age, it is easy to hail a vehicle using your smartphone and get rides from others.

I first got interested in urban policy and transportation when I was in Israel for my gap year between high school and college. In Israel, I used an app called Moovit, which lets the user know the schedule of bus and train arrivals and departures. The information was accurate, and I enjoyed using the application traveling around the country. At the University of Southern California, I saw that the transportation system was based on a mobile web-based application that was hard to follow. I thought this process was inefficient and began thinking about how to fix it.

On Moovit’s website, I saw that they hosted a Mappathon at the University of Maryland, College Park. I instantly thought that we should host this event at the University of Southern California. I contacted METRANS and the Department of Transportation to see if this was possible. The Department of Transportation already has all of the data needed, so all they needed to do was create a new application for the students to use. But instead of having one event (the Mappathon), the Department wanted to create a longstanding relationship with the students and METRANS. This led to the creation of the Mobility Lab.

The USC Mobility Lab is collaboration with USC Transportation and METRANS Transportation Center to create a research center for students, alumni, and faculty in order to facilitate better mobility routes around the campus and the greater Los Angeles area. When the departments work in harmony with industry data, successful transportation planning is ensured, which will help save the university money, due to better efficiency practices.  The Mobility Lab works on eliminating redundancy by using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to find more efficient routes utilizing the bus resources that are available in the current infrastructure. Commuters can use that data to choose the less expensive USC Campus Cruiser or busses before choosing to hire expensive Ubers/Lyfts.

The goal of USC Mobility Lab is not to amass the largest amount of data, but rather to turn data into information, information into insight, and insight into action. Those insights will help inspire better planning and policy making for the entire department as a whole.

While attending the University of Southern California, I sought to make an impact on student life. I never imagined that a small Mappathon could turn into something bigger than that. The Mobility Lab has impacted my life in many ways because it allowed me to meet highly successful individuals in the industry and helped me gain new insights about where I live and what I want to do in life. I hope to continue this venture as a career. If it were not for METRANS, I would not be in this situation today. METRANS helped me put my dreams into action!

About the Author:

Micha Kempe earned a Bachelor's of Science in Real Estate Development with a minor in Business Administration from University of Southern California. Kempe founded the USC Mobility Lab, a collaboration with METRANS and USC Transportation focusing on analyzing mobility data and solving transportation problems and received the Order of the Laurel and the Palm upon graduation, the highest honor accorded to less than one percent of undergraduates completing their programs of study, recognizing leadership that touches multiple facets of university life.