Lifting Communities Through Improved Public Transit: UF part of USDOT-funded Research in Equitable Transportation

The University of Florida (UF) and four other institutions were selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to create a consortium  to study equitable transit-oriented communities. Led by the University of New Orleans—the group, which also includes the Florida Atlantic University, the University of Utah and the University of Colorado Denver—was awarded a five-year, $10 million grant to the Center for Equitable Transit-Oriented Communities (CETOC). 

Building a transit-oriented center will lead to economic opportunities, environmental preservation, and equity among communities.  

Xilei Zhao, Ph.D., an assistant professor in civil engineering and lead researcher for UF’s portion of the gran, said she plans to collaborate with researchers in the consortium by using artificial intelligence and data science to develop the center.  

“I aim to contribute to the center’s mission by improving the design of multimodal transportation systems, developing AI-assisted, decision-support tools, and building climate-resilient transit systems, in order to better serve all individuals in coastal communities,” she said. The multimodal transportation systems that are predominantly used on the university’s campus include pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation. 

Focusing on public transportation will support USDOT’s sustainability initiative of decreasing carbon emissions, helping to preserve the environment. 

 Xiang “Jacob” Yan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in civil engineering, said the next step in the research project is developing collaborative relationships with communities and transit agencies in Florida.  

“We want to conduct practice-oriented research and to ensure the research products generated from CETOC can have significant real-life impacts,” he said. 

This research will positively impact equitable transportation access for low socioeconomic and urban communities. According to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center, lower-income communities, immigrants, and Black or Hispanic populations are more likely to use public transit routinely. Dr. Yan said the team plans to involve these communities to “understand residents’ travel needs, the transportation challenges they face, and how transportation barriers impede their access to essential opportunities or resources such as employment, education, and healthcare.” The team will develop strategies with transit agencies across the country based on the study’s findings to enhance public transit systems to better serve these communities. 

CETOC is the only USDOT-funded University Transportation Center (UTC) with a primary focus on public transit. Drs. Zhao and Yan stated that public transit has not historically been a priority in national and state transportation decision-making, so post-secondary intuitions have not offered courses or training to adapt to multimodal campuses.     

Since 1988, the USDOT has supported UTCs through a federal initiative that aims to advance transportation research, which extends to education and technology transfer. This consortium branches from the USDOT’s selection of 34 UTCs. 


By Reba Liddy, 

Marketing and Communications Specialist