Director-Policy Development & Research
What are the job elements you focus on the most (your primary responsibilities)?
I manage APTA’s research connected to the Research, Communications, and Advocacy program and direct the Transit Cooperative Research Program’s J-11 research program, Quick-Response Research on Long-Term Strategic Issues. Those are the two main research programs at APTA.
APTA also collects statistics on the public transit industry that can advance the industry’s policy objectives. We’ve published reports on ridership, fare collection and fare levels, infrastructure, and management compensation. The primary focus of all these efforts is to help our members promote their role in driving economic development and access to jobs in communities around the nation.
Our research is both for public consumption and for internal industry intelligence. It helps public transit agencies ask stakeholders for resources that can put enhanced service on the street.
Do you have direct contact with APTA members? If so, please talk about the most recent times you’ve helped out a member.
Indeed. In fact, a recent APTA member survey showed that information and research are important to members because they help make the case for public transit. I would like to find a way to magnify that impact.
For example, one large agency asked us for feedback on the uses of some innovative financing mechanisms for both operating and capital expenditures.
Public transit agencies are looking for opportunities to highlight their good work and show the benefits that future investments can provide to their communities. APTA research can help them make that case.
What initiatives, projects, or programs have you worked on at APTA that you have taken particular pride in completing?
One was our recent report titled The New Real Estate Mantra: Location Near Transit. We conceived this research project to show that communities located near public transit stations fared 41.6 percent better during the last recession than those located further away.
APTA developed a partnership with the National Association of Realtors to show the impact we can have on their members’ ability to serve their customers. The report shows that investment can lead to positive results for communities around the country. Our plan is to reach out to additional constituencies, such as retailers and commercial property owners, to show that APTA members are important to their efforts.
I was also excited to help develop a new online center for funding revenue issues: a member resource offering a one-stop location. The website will be the core of the center, but we also plan to present webinars and feature other benefits.
How did you “land” at APTA? How long have you worked here?
I’ve worked here since November 2011.
I grew up in a working-class family and was raised by my grandmother for a number of years. Public transportation was our lifeline. As I grew older, I realized that public transit also could provide a tool to bridge racially and economically divided communities and promote economic growth.
Both as an undergraduate and a graduate student, I focused my college studies on the connection between that kind of growth and investment in public transit.
Have you held other jobs in the public transportation industry (besides working at APTA)?
Prior to joining APTA, I worked as a legislative staffer in California for the chairman of the state Assembly Transportation Committee. I then became a lobbyist for the insurance industry and also worked for a think tank that promoted transit-oriented development.
What professional affiliations do you have?
I’m a member of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials and Young Professionals in Transportation.
Could you tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?
I love weightlifting and nutrition. I think the interplay between the two elements is the “fountain of youth.” I don’t compete as a weightlifter, but it’s something I spend a lot of my personal time doing. I also love chatting about it. I started in college as a sophomore and, by the beginning of my senior year, my weight increased from 150 pounds to 200 pounds.
Make sure you see Darnell Grisby's video, now that you've read this!