2016 Top 40 Under 40: Jacob Simmons, M.S.TM

Sept. 6, 2016
Jacob Simmons, M.S.TM, Senior Transit Operations Planner, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada

Jacob Simmons, M.S.TM

Senior Transit Operations Planner

Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada

  • Alma Mater: University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University
  • Favorite Book: “Human Transit” by Jarrett Walker
  • Favorite TV Show: “The Simpsons” 
  • Favorite Movie: “The Martian” 
  • Favorite Hobby: Travel, exploration and competitive video games
  • Fun Fact: Developed an intense interest in street maps around the age of 6
  • Favorite Transit System (other than one they work at): Valley Metro, Phoenix, Arizona, because of its strong and simple grid network

Jacob Simmons said he’s doing today, what basically was his hobby growing up. Since he was little he was fascinated with roads, streets, maps and to this day he enjoys traveling and seeing other urban areas, transit systems.

“I’ve never quite understood it myself but from about the age of 6 or 7 I started developing a really strong fascination with maps and streets and roads and by the time I reached 7 or 8, I was starting to give adults directions,” he said.

Growing up it was just him and his mother and as they moved around, they eventually couldn’t afford to own a car anymore. When he was about 10 years old, they became transit dependent and at that point, “My interest kind of shifted to transit,” he said. While he still had an interest in geography and roadways, he said, “From a transit dependent user’s perspective, the transit system is what you can do and where you can go. It has such control over your life, I guess I just always wanted to know as much as I could about it.”

At age 17, Simmons was invited to meet with RTC management to discuss his innovative ideas and observations. He was hired as a summer intern, then a part-time employee, and four years later became a transit operations planner.

Simmons knew exactly what he wanted to do – transit route design, scheduling and resource allocation. He earned an undergraduate degree in public administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Master of Science in transportation management from the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University. Research regarding the ridership impacts of bus route span of service changes that he conducted for the capstone of his Master’s degree will be published later this year in the Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, #2539.

A nearly 12-year employee at the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), Simmons was recognized in 2015 with a promotion to senior transit operations planner, a role with responsibility to recommend service changes to a system that serves more than two million residents, 41 million annual visitors and 55,000 businesses round-the clock.

During the “Great Recession,” Southern Nevada was hit particularly hard, forcing reduced service outside the famous Strip, commonly referred to as the Resort Corridor. Simmons helped minimize those impacts, making “surgical” reductions throughout much of the network. His detailed knowledge of the system, allowed the RTC to make reductions while minimizing the impact on the community and better position the RTC to enhance its return on investment when the opportunity arose to increase service. As the region recovered and started growing again, Simmons introduced new routes and increased service frequency.

A major route restructuring package that he helped take the lead on back in 2007 eliminated a lot of one-way loops, indirect service and replaced it with more straight, two-way service, direct routes and reducing travel times. They introduced a new, continuous East-West route across the entire service area and the entire restructuring, changed a lot of the geography of the routes.

Before he even began working at the RTC, Simmons had the vision for a new North-South route in the western valley that would grow the transit grid. One of his proudest days was the launch of Route 120 in March 2014, which averaged about 1,600 boardings per weekday. Simmons took the inaugural trip on the new route at 5 a.m. on its opening day. “It was a big breakthrough to finally get a new route in that area,” he said.

When talking about how he uses the data from the operation to perform statistics, he said a lot of agencies have a lot of data available, but it’s about knowing what data to use, how to make it in to something useful, and, most importantly, having a strong understanding of your service to know if something doesn’t look right in terms of the data. “If you know what the ballpark should be, you’ll be able to identify something that doesn’t look quite right.

“The more you know about your system, the more you’ll understand it, the more you will be able to make sure that you’re using data properly and that you’re able to find out if there are problems with your data so you can reconcile it.”

Reflecting on growing up transit dependent, Simmons said, “It helps me always keep track and never lose sight of the direct impacts the decisions we make have on so many people and to always look for opportunities to make improvements.”

Important for transit planning, he said, “Focus on frequencies. Focus on all-day frequencies.

“With few exceptions, your customers are often not working the same schedule as we are as transit planners, 8-5, Monday through Friday. Those frequencies matter seven days a week, throughout the day. That’s really important for a lot of folks in our position to think about.

“Never let the importance of what we do and the impact it has on our customers, try to never let that be lost on you. When we make these decisions, recognize how much of an impact that has for some folks.”