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Queer Voices in Transit: Tomás Rossetti

Happy Pride Month! To celebrate, we’re proud to feature queer public transit professionals who are paving the way for innovative mobility.

Grace Kim •

Spotlight on: Tomás Rosetti, our very own Data Science and Transportation Planning Principal here at Via. He holds a Masters in Transportation Engineering from the Catholic University of Chile and a doctorate degree in Systems Engineering from Cornell University.

I’m sure you’ve heard of this Twitter/Tiktok phenomenon that gays love transit — what’s your take on that? 

TR: Totally true, and I’m all for it. LGBT people tend to live in cities where transit is more of a big deal. I have some gay numbers, actually. We don’t have good data on which modes LGBT people prefer compared to straight, but based on the American Community Survey we know that people who live in same-sex households use transit twice as much as those who live in opposite sex households so… gays really do love transit!

What about you? What does public transit mean to you?

TR: I think it’s vital for so many reasons, in terms of people being able to access more and better jobs, more and better entertainment, fun stuff to do. It’s also such a powerful tool in terms of social and equity objectives, and also environmental, so all around it’s huge to me.

Yeah, a win-win-win for sure. So is this why you started working in transit? What was that journey like?

TR: Oh man, it’s kind of a long story, but where I grew up, which is in Santiago, Chile, there was sort of a big network redesign — I mean, it was more than that. They also changed how providers worked, how to pay for the bus, and got different contracts with new transit providers. 

Everything was new, and it was all implemented in sort of a big bang approach. From day 0 to 1, everything changed, and it was… a mess. It was like a big meltdown. I remember I was in middle school and I thought it was so weird and so interesting because the city literally stopped since the buses weren’t working. So I think that’s when I became aware of why transit is such a big deal and got into this world, and more or less I’ve been dealing with public transportation all my life, really.

In that vein, what differences have you noticed between transit in the US and in other parts of the world?

TR: Yeah, I mean there’s so much car culture here in the US. It’s hard to fight against it. It also relates to land use. When your cities aren’t that dense and you have big suburbs, it’s not economically feasible to have fixed-route transit usually, so it’s a really steep hill to climb. I really appreciate everyone working in transit because it’s so important, but yeah, it’s so tough here.

Yeah, for sure, we do have a lot of land to cover. Can you tell us more about what you do and the impact of your job on the industry?

TR: Yeah, definitely. I work in Data Science here at Via. So what that means is I develop new tools, new methods, to try to answer complicated questions. Our findings are then either implemented into one of our products or we do some sort of analyses to either perform better service or to recommend new solutions to our partners to make transit work better for the community.

Cool! What’s one of the interesting questions you’ve come across?

TR: One interesting thing is related to what I told you before. Fixed route isn’t a winner everywhere, but on-demand isn’t a winner everywhere either. Sometimes it’s cheaper to provide a bus, so how can we identify the places where on-demand seems to make more sense? And we’d ideally identify those patterns and characteristics across the US, for instance, so that we can contact a prospective partner and say, “You know what? It seems like this works, tell me about your community and we can work out a solution.” So that’s one question I’ve been trying to solve. Another is measuring the environmental impact of our services. We can figure out what's the best way to improve access to transit, which is critical for equity, while keeping emissions in check. It’s a really cool thing to do.

Okay, so you’ve told us a little bit about the big questions you’re trying to answer, but what about a fun fact? Have you come across any standout data points or observations?

TR: I find it very interesting that the average cost per ride for transit in the US is around $13 according to the latest NTD data. That’s a lot of money. It’s money well spent, but it isn’t always as available as it should be.You know, post-Covid, the cost per ride went up for a lot of services because fewer people were traveling while labor and fuel costs went up, so I think it’s important to think about how we can adjust to that. It’s a very interesting question.

Let’s see… this is pretty speculative but where do you see the future of transit in, say, 50 years or so? Will we have flying cars?

TR: No, not at all. I think we might have some autonomous buses, but I don’t think the change will be so much in technology. I think we’ll see a lot more investment in transit as it becomes a more urgent need because of climate change. I do see fewer people driving alone, which is good, and I think active transportation is going to be more of a big deal. I think for a lot of people who live in cities, it just makes more sense to ride a bike or walk sometimes.

I’m also very excited about high speed trains. I think there’s some momentum there, and I’d love to see more of that because a car-free lifestyle traveling around the US would be so great.

Definitely, I’d love to hop on a train and see all the beautiful views. Okay, our final question is a bit silly, but if you could pick a mode of transportation to represent your personality, what would it be?

TR: You know, I’ve thought about this before, and I think I would be a bike, in the sense that I like to be free and independent, sort of playful, but I can also get serious. I think that represents me.

Grace Kim avatar
Grace Kim

Via Resource Editor