Research Projects



Metro Chief Planning Officer Therese McMillan Talks Transportation

Friday, April 7, 2017

By Ellen Jisu Lee, MPL 2017


On Tuesday, March 21, 2017, METRANS hosted Therese McMillan, Chief Planning Officer of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (commonly known as Metro), who presented “Juggling Crystal Balls: Tackling LA County’s Transportation Future” as part of the METRANS Practitioner Speaker Series. McMillan provides executive leadership for Metro’s planning, grant funding, and real estate functions.

(Photo by Ling Feng)

Before she began her presentation, McMillan pointed out how planners need to formulate their long range transportation plan using the information available to them. McMillan shared that although the future of transportation is yet unknown, one way to open a window into the unknown, for example, is cohort analysis.  Planners can predict how age cohort group travel will change over time. She noted that, as a city, the people of Los Angeles specifically need to change the way we think of how people travel  -  the fabric of the car capital has changed drastically as compared to the 1960s and 70s when it was even more heavily car oriented.

In McMillan’s presentation, she outlined the process of LA’s Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). The four key objectives in this plan are to:

  1. Follow through on the transportation vision for the region,
  2. Work with both private and public sectors to bring good transit services to communities,
  3. Set critical investment priorities with funds with two different partners: (a) Partners that catalyze change (b) Partners that sustain transportation system, and
  4. Conduct the process with analytic discipline and transparency

McMillan divided the LRTP planning process into two parts. The first part involves planning for communities, partners, and outcomes. She emphasized the importance of focusing on demographics and socio-economic analysis because LA is so diverse. She argues that planners must include the equity element to address the real “opportunity gap” in Los Angeles County and to see how transportation can assist in bridging that gap[1]. To build a transportation system that is sound as well as innovative, McMillan encourages both private and public partnership to work to catalyze change and/or sustain critical activities. Any transportation project would fail if a city does not have a sound foundation, she noted. She shared that there have been several innovative transportation projects in this country that did not reach completion because they did not have sufficient partnership and/or funding. To avoid this situation, it is important to have some system performance metrics in place to measure and monitor these projects, she says.

The second part of the LRTP planning process is how to achieve system outcomes for today and in the future. This section focuses on how we should plan to manage, serve, build, and fund the system and outcomes. According to McMillan, transportation planners need to address how to operate and maintain systems, and to ensure safety and reliability while providing a sound foundation on which to operated. She also mentioned that transportation planners need to develop a Capital Investment Program that spans a period of 40 to 50 years and prioritize the investments for the entire plan.

McMillan closed her presentation by strongly encouraging we take advantage of the opportunity that meaningful public engagement provides.  “Both the stakeholders as well as the public need to understand the relationship between modular efforts and engage in the intersections,” she said1. She pointed out that seventy-one percent of the Los Angeles County votes received on the Measure M were “Yes,” which shows how much people care about the transportation system in this region and that they clearly see we have transportation issues which need to be fixed.

This event was also covered by The Daily Trojan, the official student news publication of USC.  The article, dated March 22, 2017, was written by Kate Cunningham, and was titled “Metro expert shares experiences and LA public transportation future.” Cunningham interviewed three students who attended the event: Yurida Ramos, Fahad Manzur, and Eric Tunell. We encourage you to follow this link to her article to read more about the event.


[1] McMillan (2017). “Juggling Crystal Balls: Tackling LA County’s Transportation Future”




Therese McMillan is Chief Planning Officer for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“LA Metro”). Prior to joining LA Metro, she served as the Acting Administrator for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) of the US Department of Transportation. She also served as Deputy Executive Director of Policy at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional planning and funding agency for the San Francisco Bay area.



Author Ellen Jisu Lee is a Master of Planning Candidate at the USC Price School. She is interested in the movement of people and goods within a city and what defines a characteristic of a city. She expects to complete her degree in May 2017. She can be reached at [email protected] or at [email protected].