Brett runs one of the nation’s most sophisticated mobility operations at Portland’s Oregon Health Sciences University complete with a gondola. He recently led the creation of OHSU’s TDM Plan featuring a move to daily parking and incentives. Paulo was a member of the team that put together the plan. Check out his conversation with Brett below. Find out the surprising nexus of TDM and snowy mountains.
Brett second from left celebrates OHSU's Bicycle Friendly University designation by the League of American Bicyclists.
WHAT’S YOUR ACTUAL TITLE?
Director of Transportation and Parking for OHSU.
SO HOW DID YOU FIND YOURSELF DOING THIS JOB?
I was running ski area in north Idaho that had several ski lifts and 3.2 mi gondola. When OHSU needed someone to run their Tram, I happened to have the experience that made sense to transfer from north Idaho to Portland.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW A GONDOLA?
Well, I grew up in the ski industry so it was probably pretty early.
DID YOU THINK THAT WAS GOING TO BE THE LIFT INTO YOUR ADULT CAREER?
No, not at all. That was for play and sliding up and down the hill. I never thought I would have a career running a tram or gondola.
HOW MUCH OF YOUR JOB IS MANAGING THE WHOLE MOBILITY THING? HOW MUCH IS GONDOLA.
It’s transitioned over the years. When I was first hired at OHSU it was 90% aerial tramway, 10% bike and walking access. Over the years I continued to add responsibility on the mobility side of things and now focus much more on overall access for the OHSU community. I’ve now got a team that runs the tramway and I only get involved if we’ve got issues. Which hardly ever happens because it runs so well.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU GUYS TO KICK OFF THE TDM PLAN
Over the years we’ve had 2-3 parking plans for OHSU done by different consultants that highlighted where to have garages and gates, how to manage our operations, who you should charge and how much, basically parking best practices. But as we started to look at expansion and constructing new buildings we began to ask if we should put in another parking garage. That led us to the conclusion that we need to take a step back and look beyond just parking. Access was our biggest challenge and we determined we need to get a TDM plan in place to see what we really needed to make this whole system work rather than just a parking plan.
THAT ASSUMES GREATER FOCUS ON ALTERNATIVES? HOW DID YOU MAKE THE CASE INTERNALLY FOR THE GREATER FOCUS ON MOBILITY? WAS IT PRESSURE OF DEVELOPMENT?
It was a couple of things: pressure of development and capacity of current solutions. We have neighborhood plans to meet in terms of access, and city caps on maximum parking that we can put in. In the past we made it work. But the only reason it really worked well was because we had the tram that got us out of the hole. But the tram was getting to capacity and we couldn’t leverage 5K more people on it. We had to have access for people to get here on different modes in order to make everything work together. As we worked on the TDM plan It became clear pretty quick that we needed to shift work times, expand carpooling and working from home, and other alternatives that had never been dealt with by our Transportation and Parking Department.
HOW DID YOU MAKE THE TRANSITION FROM BEING A PARKING DEPARTMENT TO DEALING WITH SCHEDULES, POLICIES OF WHO GETS TO WORK FROM HOME. HOW DID YOU BRIDGE THAT CONVERSATION?
The key to our success in the last 10 years was having main people from benefits, HR and other groups on our different steering committees including the TDM plan development. As these issues came up, they saw the need for alternative solutions. With their support, we were able to expand our department and bring some of those programs in and align them with the other things we offer. It’s given us the ability to have some input and control over things that transportation and parking traditionally don’t get involved in.
SPEAKING OF DATA YOU WERE PROBABLY THE MOST SOPHISTICATED USER OF THE MOBILITY PROJECTION TOOL. HOW DID YOU USE IT?
We loved it. The dashboard was great for looking at data and being able to do the ‘what if?’ What if we change the parking rate by this much. If we don’t build these spaces at this location the dashboard gave you the impact. Since we were able to enter our current situation into the tool everyone was able to visually see our current situation and understand the impacts of some of their decisions on the campus from a mobility stand point.
HOW DID YOU USE IT WITH DECISION MAKERS?
We took snippets from the model and turned it into powerpoint slides. It was super helpful when we were sitting with executives because you can say that the cost per stall is $60K or $70K and it doesn’t seem like that much but it changes the conversation when you throw it in the tool and show the impact at different mode shares and you can graphically see the costs of that and the impact on debt, the SOV rates or our parking to patient bed ratios.
We also used it live at meetings. Someone would throw out a growth rate for employees and the provost would say 3% growth for patients for example. And while they argued, I could punch it into the model and show people the impacts of these changes on our operations and different areas of the institution.
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR YOUR COUNTERPARTS AT OTHER ORGANIZATIONS WHO ARE THINKING THEY NEED A MOBILITY PLAN OR A TDM STRATEGY.
Don’t be afraid. The benefits outweigh all negatives. Now at OHSU we have a core group of 60% of employees that are using alternate modes at least one day a week. And the amount of community that we built up around commuting is huge. A biker is not a biker. There is no OHSU parker anymore because so often they are is riding transit one day, taking the tram two days and only parking two days a week. They are all just OHSU commuters.
HOW DID THE WHOLE TIGHTENING THE CABLE THING GO?
[The OHSU Tram had to be shut down for preventive maintenance this Summer.]
It was amazing. We’ve been planning for it since we opened. We knew that at the 12 year mark it had to be done. It’s been on the books for years and we’ve been able to adjust the budget through the years and see what it cost in other locations. Two years before we completed the work at OHSU we went to Jackson Hole and Snowbird and actually helped out with their track rope slipping project. This gave our team first-hand knowledge of what work had to be complete and during the track rope slipping process.
TELL ME ABOUT THE PLANNING FOR THE TRAM SHUTDOWN?
The last 18 months before we shut down was all focused on how we are going to move the 10K riders that use the tram daily between our 2 locations. Our focus was finding new and different options for people to get between work and home over the scheduled 5 week closure period. Improving bike lanes, better and easy access to bike parking, pedestrian bike crossings and obviously lots of shuttles were all key parts of our mitigation plans. We set up a couple of pilot programs with electric bikes so people could use them to ride up to the top of the hill and we then we shuttled their normal commute bike up the hill for them so they had it as the end of the day in order to ride home. They were a huge hit and several of our daily commuters have now purchased an electric bike because of our pilot programs.
SO HOW DID IT TURN OUT?
We were done early and under budget. We budgeted five weeks for it and ended up pulling it off in 2 ½. It exceeded everyone’s expectations. The team we brought in from Europe and North America were amazing and worked seamlessly with our local Tram staff in order to make the project such a success. It was a great project and lots of fun to get it done when we said and meet people’s everyday needs.
THERE MUST BE TWO PEOPLE, 1 ½ PEOPLE, WHO CAN DO THIS JOB IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY... WHO CAN RUN A GONDOLA, MANAGE THE WHOLE MOBILITY PROGRAM AND DEAL WITH PARKING, AND THE INTERNAL COMMUNICATION AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT.
Between my ski industry experience and my time in Europe operating productions facilities I’ve learned a lot about both private industry and public organizations and making the two work together. It’s an interesting combination that I enjoy. The experience of working at the only American company in Latvia and dealing with the local chamber of commerce, the prime minister and their cabinet have given me the tools to thrive in my current position.
But it’s Interesting that you mention the ski industry. Because there ARE some people there that have to have these skills. Because they operate on Forest Service land, they have ski lifts that go into the city centers now and they are being forced to deal with the ebbs and flows of traffic and parking especially in summer time. When I think of folks in Aspen and Park City there are people that are dealing with similar issues of balancing the modes and making it all work together.