METRANS Celebrates 20 Years of Research
This article is part of an ongoing series that describes research accomplishments and achievements of the METRANS Transportation Center in recognition of its 20th Anniversary. The author is Dr. Thomas O’Brien, Executive Director of the Center for International Trade and Transportation (CITT) at California State University, Long Beach and the Associate Director of Long Beach Programs for the METRANS Transportation Center, a partnership between CSULB and the University of Southern California. He also serves as the director of the FHWA Southwest Regional Surface Transportation Workforce Center (SWTWC). His teaching and research focus on logistics, supply chain management, and goods movement policy.
METRANS Extends Reach Through Signature Events
Throughout its 20 year history, METRANS has made its mark with quality research and the kind of educational programs that stand out among its peers. Graduates of the USC and LBSU transportation programs can be found among the leading ranks of government agencies and private firms across the globe. Research findings and policy analysis have contributed to our understanding of everything from the relationship between transportation and land use to the way we move goods through metropolitan areas.
But METRANS has also taken seriously its responsibility as a university transportation center to engage an audience of academics, practitioners and communities in an ongoing dialogue about the changing role of transportation in cities. Sometimes this happens within the walls of the university, sometimes in the “field,” and sometimes virtually. The discussions find their way into the design of research projects, new course material or initiatives that combine both.
While METRANS has had many successful engagement activities over the years, two signature events help define its mission: the Annual State of the Trade and Transportation Town Hall and the International Urban Freight Conference. The Town Hall, organized through the Center for International Trade and Transportation at LBSU, began life in 1999 as an educational program targeted at the rank and file of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). It was a bold move in general to reach out to the dockworkers’ union at a time when few industry programs included both management and labor. It was particularly audacious for the university to be the one to make the invitation.
Since that time, the Town Hall has expanded its reach beyond labor to include all those with an interest in global trade and what it means for the health and well-being of our economy and the environment. Town Halls have tackled topics as diverse as port security and the impacts of an expanded Panama Canal on Southern California goods movement. METRANS support ensures that this unique forum continues, one that brings the university to the docks and the docks to the university.
If the Town Hall established METRANS with the Southern California goods movement community, then the International Urban Freight Conference extended that reach globally. In 2006, when METRANS sponsored its first National Urban Freight Conference (NUF), urban freight was at best an underdeveloped discipline of study with a lot of good questions about the way logistics operates in an urban setting but without a lot of research dedicated to answering those questions. In the twelve years since, and with the community of scholars and practitioners interested in the topic growing in all areas of the world, the National Urban Freight Conference has become the International Urban Freight Conference; and the now bi-annual conference has become THE leading gathering of urban freight experts. INUF plays host to not only research presentations, but also discussions of freight education, committee meetings of partner organizations, and highly valued site visits to see urban freight in action. It has spurred the development of a sister conference held in Europe and contributed to the professional development of many young urban freight specialists now moving into leadership positions in academia, government and private practice in places all over the world.
As METRANS closes out its 20th anniversary year, attention turns to the next 20. While many new and exciting research projects and initiatives are on the horizon, we’re also sticking with what works. Our 21st year will see the 8th International Urban Freight Conference and the 18th edition of the Town Hall. And what’s particularly fitting given how closely tied each is to the METRANS identity, 2019 will mark the first time that the two are being offered jointly as part of a Smart Freight City week in October. This will give the Town Hall attendees some insight into the broader METRANS reach into goods movement and the INUF attendees, particularly those from other parts of the world, a glimpse into the unique METRANS approach to community engagement.