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Why Does the Institute of Transportation Engineers Exist? 10 Ideas for Big Changes - Mike on Traffic

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
following:

  • 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
committee.

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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?

Mike Spack

  • Mike says:

    Cost doesn’t just matter to those in developing countries. As an recent graduate unable to obtain full time engineering employment, I can’t afford ITE dues. I had to drop my ASCE membership as well. I’m an ITE “fellow” (cheaper in NC) and couldn’t afford to go to our NCSITE annual meeting this month. It cost too much, and too many members who’s employers pay their way to these conferences forget that those who are unemployed don’t have that kind of luxury.
    Until I gain fruitful employment in this field, I’m afraid I can’t afford the cost of this kind of networking. Which is a shame, because this type of networking is how many people find employment. But what am I supposed to do, take out a loan to pay my dues? Ridiculous.

  • John S says:

    Mike for President!! You brought up some great points, i.e., $$$ made each year, cost of obtaining trip generation data (FREE!!), and eliminating the hardcopy of the monthly journal. I also agree with your view on OTISS. Way overpriced. Use to use the TRIPGEN software. It was a pretty basic and relatively low cost product. I would interested in hearing the ITE’s response to you letter!

  • RW says:

    As a practicing Traffic Engineer and PTOE I agree 100% with all of your comments. My company really questions the value of my ITE membership when I go to renew it anually.
    I think ITE could vastly improve to better support their membership by doing many of the things you mention.
    Their website is outdated and painfully slow. When you renew your membership it takes weeks at times for them to mail you receipt of renewal. Why not automate this like all other organizations do?
    I have collected more data sets than I can count but have never submitted them to ITE for inclusion in the Trip Gen manuals as there is no incentive. I do agree that the submittal helps my fellow peers, but I have the opinion why provide something to ITE for free that they are in turn going to charge $400+ for.
    I tested OTISS and like you said its far to expensive for the benefit it provides. For the cost of it I can pay an intern to create a spreadsheet or Visual Basic program that will do the same thing.
    ITE needs to step into reality!

  • Scot says:

    I agree on essentially all points, ITE is falling behind as its old media bones are slow to adapt to modern needs and connectivity. Pre-internet there were few options for communication among peers other than ITE or direct contact, now there are many (and mostly free).
    One other area that may deserve another look is the Transportation Professional Certification Board, which has struck me as a big money maker. Yes, it may be worthwhile to have a national PTOE or PTP certification to supercede a jumble of states doing their own. However in application the actual standard met seems a very low bar (~97% passed on my PTOE test IIRC, it may have changed lately) that implies an excessive interest in people passing rather than making it an achievement. And we still have a jumble with AICP trying to have their own certs. I’ll spare you my rant on licensure in general 🙂

  • Jim says:

    Like Mike, I can’t justify the dues. Unlike Mike, I have 20 years in the field.

  • For the price of it I can pay an intern to make a worksheet or Visible Primary system that will do the same factor.

  • JF says:

    I agree with Mike completely. I cancelled my ITE membership when my company stopped paying for it. Anymore, it is just an overpriced magazine.

  • Andrew says:

    I also cannot justify the dues for ITE and ASCE so I stopped my memberships once I started working for a public agency that does not pay my dues. I am a local chapter member, but not with the national associations. I do not see the benefit for myself from paying the national dues.

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