A Proposal to Improve Transportation Data While Protecting Individual Privacy Wins Competition

July 1, 2013
Josephine Kressner wins $10,000 from George Mason University’s School of Public Policy for her “outside the box” research.

George Mason University’s School of Public Policy awarded a $10,000 prize for an innovative proposal to improve data for transportation decision makers while protecting individual privacy.

The prize was one of three selected from 38 proposals for “outside the box” innovations in transportation policy and business submitted in a competition sponsored by the School.

Virginia transportation secretary Sean Connaughton chaired the blue ribbon panel that selected the winners. The panel included Peter Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration and venture capitalist Hooks Johnston of Valhalla Partners.

The winning proposal was the work of Josephine Kressner, a doctoral student at Georgia Tech. Kressner’s proposal tackles a classic problem for transportation policy makers: collecting data about household travel is expensive – about $200 per household – it isn’t collected very often or in great quantities. The result is that decisions about multi-billion-dollar investments are often based on data that are not very good. Kressner’s proposal is to fuse cell phone data and marketing data collected from credit and debit card purchases. The proposed method would protect individual privacy at the same time it would provide decision makers with virtually real time data about individual travel.

The Outside the Box Competition honors the legacy of Mason Policy graduate Cameron Rian Hays. The 2014 competition will be announced in the fall.

The first runner up prize of $5000 was for a proposal to demonstrate the benefits of bus rapid transit in six cities across the U.S. Deploying new transit systems typically takes a decade or more, and the rapid deployment feature of the proposal drew particular praise from the Blue Ribbon Panel. Margaret Carragher, Aaron Gooze, Landon Reed, and James Wong authored that proposal, entitled “Pop Transit.”

The second runner up prize of $2500 was awarded to William Bacon for a proposal to create a reward program for transit riders that could be used to pay for highway tolls. The proposal’s concept of using rewards akin to frequent flyer miles and credit card rewards in the context of public transit and road tolls was an outstanding feature.