2015 Top 40 Under 40: Christopher A. Pangilinan, P.E.

Sept. 18, 2015
Christopher A. Pangilinan, P.E., Principal Transportation Planner, MTA New York City Transit

Christopher A. Pangilinan, P.E.

Principal Transportation Planner

MTA New York City Transit

  • Alma mater: Portland State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Fun Fact: New York City is the 6th city he has lived in since 2004 (following Oakland/San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago and Portland)
  • Favorite Book: “The Best and the Brightest” by David Halberstam
  • Favorite TV Show: “The Wire”
  • Favorite Movie: “Ghostbusters”
  • Favorite Hobbies: Flying and exploring cities

Fascinated with the way data and technology could improve public transportation, Christopher Pangilinan began his work in transportation during his undergrad when he was a researcher in the Intelligent Transportation Systems Laboratory. During this time he published a paper analyzing the impacts of bus stop placement on transit performance using simulation, which he presented at a Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting.

For graduate school he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his thesis was dedicated to improving bus service reliability through better bus supervision strategies. He was frustrated with why buses bunch, why they are not on time, why one has to wait so long sometimes, so he wanted to set out and solve that problem and improve bus reliability using different techniques.

Pangilinan held internships at the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), where he was an advocate for open transportation data and worked on several important initiatives, including performance management and data visualization. At the FTA he evaluated New Starts projects for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) where he developed methods for improving bus operations.

Prior to coming to New York City Transit he was in San Francisco working on the transit engineering side, working to make buses more reliable. He managed a team of 13 engineers and planners at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), developing the Muni Forward Travel Time Reduction proposals, aiming to improve the speed and reliability of the bus system.

As a principal transportation planner at MTA New York City Transit, he enjoys that what he’s doing has an almost immediate impact among people that ride the system and the effect is has on the community and the city. Being patient and learning how to work within the confines of the system and changing the confines when appropriate is one of the things that drives him.

Pangilnan is a registered professional engineer, a licensed private pilot and played a founding role within the Young Professionals in Transportation’s San Francisco chapter. While working in D.C. he met some folks at the DOT, it was suggested he get involved with the board. With his work with the organization, when he moved to San Francisco he helped start that chapter.

Pangilnan has been successfully working on research projects for years and has been published and asked to speak for various organizations and associations, including the TRB, the American Planning Association (APA) and several colleges.

“I enjoy the idea that the work that we’re doing … has an almost immediate impact among people that ride the system, the cities and that effects your own life and your community. You can be any place where the decisions you make and the projects you work on have a positive impact on your community …”

“I really love transit and really want it to improve but the challenges of learning how to work within the structure of the city, the structure of the agency and being able to understand that things don’t change overnight and that’s ok -- the work that we do is measured in progress, not instant changes.”

 “I think being able to be patient and understanding with how things are done, it is something you have to learn throughout your career and I think it doesn’t mean that those challenges and hurdles that you have to lose your vision of what it should be like.”

“I like being in the public transportation industry … I really can’t imagine myself in a different industry … I would be taking the bus and wondering why I can’t make it better.”

“It’s this life experience that you want to make better and I like to zero in on things where I know there’s a way to improve it and public transit has that gravity that affects not just me but the whole city. If we make public transportation better we can make cities better which is really the ultimate goal.”

“I think the future is very rich for transit – it can be. I think we in the industry need to look at how we really harnesses technology and data and not just acknowledging the hardware but the culture around it to make our industry better. We have buses and trains out there collecting data 24 hours a day, we have people using smart cards and cellphones to pay their fares and I think that we have to get out of the pencil and paper mode of collecting data and realize we have all this digital information available to us and if we can just pivot the way we do our work we can optimize our systems, make it cheaper to run, make it more sustainable … and expand as much as we can to accommodate all this new interest in cities. I think there’s pockets of that going on around the country but it would be great for that to become an industry standard.”

“Three years ago I started flying – single-engine airplanes. It’s a lot of fun, a childhood thing I always wanted to do. It’s a fun hobby because people weren’t meant to fly so when you’re flying an airplane, it’s this amazing feeling. You can go anywhere you want in the sky, look down at the city … get a different perspective.”