2019 40 Under 40: Melissa Davidson Sather

Sept. 13, 2019
Melissa Davidson Sather, Project Manager, Transportation Management & Design, Inc. (TMD)
  • One word to describe yourself: Passionate
  • Alma Mater: Northwestern University, UCLA 
  • Favorite book: Don’t ask me to choose 
  • Favorite TV show: “Friends” 
  • Favorite movies: “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy 
  • Favorite hobbies: Playing piano/organ, singing, reading 
  • Fun fact about yourself: I’m part owner of BattleMage Brewing Company in San Diego, Calif. 
  • Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): Santa Monica Big Blue Bus Route Rapid 12. I rode it every day between my apartment and UCLA while in grad school. It’s fast, frequent, reliable and allowed me to enjoy my commute through Los Angeles traffic.

For the past six years, Melissa Davidson Sather has quickly advanced at Transportation Management and Design, Inc. (TMD), where she’s now one of the leaders of the transit planning practice. Since joining, she’s worked on projects in over 20 different cities across more than 10 states.

She’s involved in multiple aspects of the projects, including service analysis, concept visioning, transit service tier and network design, innovative mobility applications, stakeholder outreach, survey development, market and consumer research, financial planning and analysis and implementation support. She’s worked on projects such as: DART Forward 2035 Transit Services Plan Year 5 Update (Des Moines), WeGo Public Transit Better Bus Project (Nashville), MTS Transit Optimization Project and Program of Projects Initiative for a 2020 ballot measure (San Diego) and RTA Comprehensive Operations Analysis (Riverside).

She’s currently leading the network design effort as part of the Los Angeles Metro NextGen Bus Study, which is re-envisioning transit service in Los Angeles County. Her work has involved rethinking transit service characteristics to respond to new findings related to how people travel derived from location-based service and TAP card data. Technical analysis for this study has included rebuilding the system one corridor segment at a time to develop the core network spines and an in-depth review of the interaction between L.A. Metro’s Rapid and local service. The redesigned network considers all aspects of the customer experience to create a system that responds to rider needs and expectations. The draft plan will be shared with stakeholders and the public in early 2020. 

She holds a degree in history and economics from Northwestern University. She also received a master’s in urban and regional planning from UCLA. Her capstone project, “A New Model for Transit: Transit/TNC Partnerships in Western Riverside County”, earned the national 2019 Neville A. Parker Award in recognition of an Outstanding Non-Thesis Master’s Degree Paper in Policy and Planning from the Council of University Transportation Centers. 

“I think what pushed me into transportation was the contrast between growing up in Houston where we drove everywhere and going to college in Chicago where I was suddenly faced with the challenge of getting groceries, going shopping, traveling to work and exploring downtown without a car. I became completely dependent on transit and was fascinated by it.”

“Working in so many different places has given me invaluable insight into what makes each transit agency unique and what challenges are shared throughout the industry. Day to day, I really enjoy identifying opportunities to improve efficiency in service delivery so agencies can provide more service with their limited resources.”

“I love knowing that I can play a role in improving someone’s quality of life. A simple change in a bus schedule can mean the difference between a two-hour commute and making it home in time for family dinner. At one of my first public meetings I spoke with a woman who was overjoyed we were adding Sunday service to her route because she was paying $50 in cab fares every Sunday to get to work. Public transit is such a vital yet overlooked piece of the economy that makes so much else possible.”