2022 40 Under 40: Ted Graves

Aug. 23, 2022
Ted Graves, Lead Solutions Engineer, Optibus

One word to describe yourself: Curious

Alma Mater: McGill University, B.A., UC Berkeley, M.C.P.

Fun fact about yourself: I used to buy foreign language grammar books with my allowance in high school and carry them around studying them. I was even written about in my school newspaper.

Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): Villa-Maria in Montreal, for its 1970s art and design flair.

Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): The J train in New York City because you get a perfect view of the Manhattan skyline as it travels over the East River.

Ted Graves has dedicated almost a decade to improving public transportation in both a professional, academic and volunteer capacity and encouraging young people to join and advance the industry. His unique professional background sits at the convergence of technology, data and public transit, and his work is dedicated to helping the industry advance by implementing data-driven transit planning and operations processes that improve services, connectivity and ridership numbers.

Following internships at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to support the update of the San Francisco Transportation Plan and at Fehr & Peers as a transportation planning and engineering intern supporting data collection, Graves went on to work as a bikeshare program manager at the National Association of City Transportation Officials. There, he analyzed bikeshare user behavior using GIS, Excel and Python, developed a specification for trip and membership data, constructed a toolkit to increase data quality and reduce costs and created reports on best practices for bikeshare network design, pricing and outreach.

Graves’ data analysis skills won him the role of transit data analyst at the New York MTA, coding new business approaches to meet passenger needs. He brought his public sector skills and data-driven approach to the e-scooter start-up Bird, where he helped to bridge public and private sector transit entities. He managed survey processes for collecting rider information, supported communication between internal Bird stakeholders and cities, wrote data-backed white papers explaining Bird’s positive impact on cities, analyzed large trip and spatial datasets using SQL, Excel and QGIS and produced external-facing maps and dashboards demonstrating spatial patterns of user behavior.

In his two years at Optibus, Graves has been promoted to manage a team of engineers that interact with transit agencies and support them in deploying data-driven processes, building intelligent transport systems (ITS) and delivering more efficient, equitable and sustainable services for all.

Graves has taken on several volunteer positions including serving on California DOT’s Integrated Technology Program to determine best practices for the public sector to shift to open data formats, providing needed expertise to enhance the vision of the working group. He is currently on APTA’s Research and Technology, as well as planning committees and is planning to take on more responsibilities within the association’s ranks as his understanding of the industry continues to grow. He is the head of the environmental committee within Optibus’ ESG steering group, helping to analyze the company’s carbon footprint and internal environmental policies and propose and execute strategies that will make the company more sustainable as a business. Graves is also a member of Optibus’ long-term strategic planning group, a team of futurists from around the globe that believe in making transit sustainable and successful.

In 2022, Graves was accepted into the APTA Emerging Leaders Program, class of 2023, which will allow him to further deepen his industry knowledge and advance in the field. Graves’ commitment to the industry is further demonstrated in his ongoing efforts to “bring everyone into the fold.” He regularly encourages employees to collaborate on special projects and supports their desires to join industry initiatives and committees, such as APTA and industry groups like Transportation Research Board, to grow deep lasting roots in the sector.

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

Moving to Montreal, a large city with excellent public transit, from a suburb of Los Angeles for college had a profound impact on my appreciation of urban space and transportation. The depth of contrast between the two places sensitized me to the different ways people can move about cities, particularly without cars. Not only did I fall in love with public transit, walking and biking as modes of travel, but it pushed me to ask what features of these different places produced the experience of being in them. It was this question that ultimately led me to urban planning and public transportation.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love having the opportunity to directly influence the development of our products to improve the lives of transit professionals. As part of my job, I collect and transmit feedback from our clients to our product team. It’s very rewarding to see how features that come to fruition not only make our users’ lives easier, but also produce better service and runcuts for riders and operators.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

At any software company, the desire for new and better features can feel endless, but the supply of developer resources is always finite. Trying to identify which features will deliver our clients the most value, especially when there are many competing priorities, can be a real difficulty. It’s particularly hard because my team has strong direct relationships with our clients, which means we feel their pains and want to help as much as possible.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

One of my proudest accomplishments is the team I and my boss have built at our company. I was the only person in my position in North America for a time and we’re now eight. Every person is exceptionally bright and brings unique skills to the table. We’ve been consistently recognized as a very successful group within the organization, and I look forward every day to working with them.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

Push your boundaries! Some of the things I’ve felt most proud of in my career and some of my most often-used skills came from taking on things I wasn’t sure I could do when I first set out to do them.

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