Why Does the Institute of Transportation Engineers Exist? 10 Ideas for Big Changes
By Mike Spack, PE, PTOE
Without ITE, my career would not have evolved to the point it has. The knowledge and friends I’ve gained through my ITE activities have made all the difference.
I know a lot of people in the industry who would say the exact same thing. I’m very grateful for attending ITE meetings at every level, reading ITE publications, holding multiple committee chairmanships plus all board positions in the North Central section, and serving on the Midwestern District board. I believe every traffic engineer and transportation engineer should be heavily involved with ITE. I actually aspire to someday be on the International ITE board, with the big dream of running for International VP/President.
My recent discussions with ITE’s executive director (link) over posting my trip generation comparison spreadsheet have given me
pause. So I’ve read everything posted about the Institute at ite.org. A couple of highlights:
From ITE’s Strategic Plan Mission: To be the principal source of professional expertise, knowledge and ideas promoting transportation science and principles internationally.
From the Institute’s 1954 Articles of Association ( Article Two) – The purposes for which said corporation is formed are the
- The advancement of the art and science of traffic engineering
- The fostering of traffic engineering education
- The stimulation of original research in traffic engineering
- The professional improvement of its members
- The encouragement of intercourse between man with mutual interests in traffic engineering
- The establishment of a central point of reference and union for its members
Big prices aren’t part of our founding principles and detract from our international mission. Why are dues for ITE fellows more expensive than for members?
Why do many manuals cost more than $100? Why does the Trip Generation Manual cost $400?
Why do some webinars cost hundreds of dollars? These prices matter to engineers in developing countries where salaries and budgets are significantly lower than in the United States.
This was compounded when the executive director was lecturing me about my comparison spreadsheet and invoking the copyright of the Trip Generation Manual. He said, “We’ve invested millions in Trip Generation and we need to protect that investment.”
How? The data in the Manual is collected by volunteers (I’ve submitted several data sets for inclusion) and it’s put together by a volunteer
Is ITE’s operation getting in the way of delivering its mission?
I think ITE’s guiding principles and subsequent mission are fantastic. I hunted the ITE website and asked for a financial report twice – no response from staff. But here’s a quick estimate:
17,000 members x $220/year in dues plus publications, meetings, etc leads me to guess ITE’s annual revenue is +/- $4.5 million. I’m guessing a third to half of that goes to covering the 24 staff members and offices in Washington, DC.
Could revenue be shifted to better serve the mission and founding principles of ITE? I realize these ideas are radical and would immediately be thrown out as heresy by entrenched staff, but here are ten areas I think the ITE board should explore.
- Move. ITE is located in Washington, DC, which is the 7th most expensive American city according to Kiplinger’s.
Relocating headquarters to a different city with a lower cost of living and lower business operating expenses would lead to savings. Of course the city should have good international connectivity (Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago, etc). I can see the need for the executive director to spend significant time traveling to DC, but that doesn’t mean the whole staff needs to be there. And frankly, the executive director should spend more time abroad than in DC. A subset of this is moving to more modest, smaller office space (we’re engineers and planners, not architects). How about we implement the Travel Demand Management strategies we support by moving most employees virtual?
- Use Amazon’s CreateSpace to distribute all publications on demand (hard and electronic copies). This eliminates inventory holding costs as well as the labor associated with managing and shipping inventory. And for anyone who has ordered anything through ITE, Amazon is a huge step up in customer service. I’m sure the individuals are nice people, but this would eliminate the need to have jobs with titles of “mailroom clerk” and a “supervisor of publications order fulfillment & mailroom operations.” The profits from sales would be deposited
monthly in the Institute’s checking account – slick.
- Get rid of the “ITE Community” and use LinkedIn Groups. LinkedIn has the functionality of our ITE Community, it’s widely used by working folks, and it’s FREE.
- Eliminate the hardcopy of the ITE Journal. I was the NCITE newsletter co-editor in 1997. More than a decade ago, we eliminated sending out 400 hard copies of the newsletter and went to email distribution of the newsletter as a PDF. Not a single complaint. A lot of money and effort were saved with this move. No more printing/postage. We also dropped from two co-editors to a single editor when we didn’t have a quarterly
mailing to put together. This is a natural since ITE is already producing the journal as a PDF in addition to the hardcopy.
- Cut the cost of webinars and put recordings of them online for a low cost way to continue revenue generation ($25 per webinar?). I think this would be a boon in revenue PLUS it is much better customer service. Let people watch it when it’s convenient for them. Again,
technology makes this very easy.
- Scrap the Technical Conference. Travel budgets are being slashed and the internet is making these big meetings less relevant in all sectors of the economy. It’s my understanding attendance is dropping at our international meetings (conversely the local section and district meetings are doing better because folks are staying local). Everything at the Technical Conference could be easily done as a track of sessions within the TRB annual meeting and would take little ITE staff involvement.
- Less face to face meetings at international headquarters, more skype. And no need for five/six figure video conferencing systems that are obsolete in 18 months.
- Spread the ITE staff around the globe. I think this would end up cutting labor costs overall, but more importantly it would be a move towards expanding the international scope we aspire to.
- Every person on staff should have a traffic engineering or transportation planning background. Eliminate any position that has receptionist or assistant in the description. Sorry, but it’s the 21st century. Use contractors, virtual assistants, consultants, etc to perform any tasks that do not need a traffic engineering or transportation planning background.
- Scrap OTISS or lower the costs. The marketplace should drive this decision, but my hunch is that the pricing model is way out of line. I actually love the idea of trip generation being in a cloud application and posted about it here, but I can’t justify the cost of OTISS. I would like to see the dataset licensed out to programs like TEAPAC and Traffix so it can be imbedded in the software packages we already use. ITE should not be in the for profit business of developing software.
I think the above changes could free up more than a million dollars that then could be spent more directly serving our mission. Of course I would push ITE to be much more open source with all publications and endeavors (maybe the board is already discussing these things, but there’s nothing on the website about them), but that’s a different discussion than reallocating revenue. I do realize with the reimagining of how the Institute operates, a lot of effort would need to be spent thinking about the value the individual members get and how to increase that. Hopefully our global reach would expand and membership would increase.
So what other ideas are out there for furthering the mission and purpose of ITE?