August 24


Why I took the Professional Traffic Operations Engineer (PTOE) Exam by Mike Spack, PTOE

By Mike Spack

August 24, 2010

Mike Spack, PE, PTOE Professional Traffic Operations Engineer Traffic Studies

Ptoe A couple of years ago I explained here what the PTOE certification is.  I have been resisting taking the certification exam because I don't think the certification means a great deal.  It means you could pass a 150 question exam where you had to memorize a fair amount of details (when in reality, most of us engineers grab our reference books to look up those details).  I don't think it makes a seasoned traffic engineer more qualified to do their work.

This year I heard about one consultant trying to discredit another traffic engineer because they didn't have the PTOE certification.  That was the tipping point for me.  I make my living preparing traffic studies and representing my clients in front of city council's.  It's easier to say I'm a PTOE too instead of trying to explain why the certification doesn't really prove that much.

I signed up for the exam in May.  Looked through the refresher course manual.  Wrote up about 50 flash cards with equations and standard values to memorize.  Showed up in June for the exam and went through the 150 questions in about two and a half hours.  Out of the 46 traffic engineers who took the exam in June, I was one of the 33 who passed.

So, in addition to being a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) I am now a PTOE.  I guess I'll put that on my business cards when I'm due for a new batch.  I don't think I'll raise my billing rate though.

  • Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’ve been going through similar thoughts ever since the PTOE came in, and I’ve so far resisted, though I think it is partly because the profile is not so high here in Canada. I do expect to be dragged into it within a few years though.
    What really troubles me is that some organizations will leap to assume that if you do have the designation then you are competent, which is no more true than the lack of the designation indicating incompetence. In the end, if it becomes mandatory in order to work anywhere, then everyone will get it and it won’t distinguish anyone. Eventually someone will come up with some other new “foolproof” way to select the best consultants, and the cycle repeats.

  • There is no surprise there are still many traffic engineers resisted to PTOE.
    In my opinion, ITE, the organization, is not doing a very good job to promote PTOE certification or help PTOE members. It is actually the existing ITE members who are making PTOE become more popular.

  • I have had similar thoughts, Mike. I got my PTOE several years ago because I had a California TE (Traffic Engineer) license and there was comity. I left engineering for a few years, didn’t keep up my PTOE, and now I find that I will have to re-take the test.
    Before that, I never found that the PTOE had any relevancy because there was no licensure requirements (i.e. I didn’t need it to stamp a set of traffic signal plans, etc.). I think it is largely a superfulous thing and it should just go away.

  • Hi Mike,
    I just got my ptoe result and I failed again and this is my 4th time. Can you please guide me how to study as I am now totally frustrated.


  • Hi Rama,

    I am very sorry to hear about your situation. I did several things to prep for the exam. A couple of years before, I took a one day class taught by Bob Seyfried from Northwestern through my local ITE section. Then I sat through the PTOE Refresher webinar series from ITE. And then I bought the study book from ITE and took the online practice exam. Key for me was going through the study manual from ITE and making flash cards of all of the things I couldn’t recall. The exam was very dependent on having formulas and default values memorized when I took it – the flash cards helped me get all of those things memorized. I’ve shared this process with others who have successfully passed.

    Here are links:

    Good luck!


  • I took the PTOE in 2012 and passed the first time with a nominal amount of studying. I transitioned into traffic engineering from roadway engineering around 10 years ago (24 year career total so far). I’ve always been interested in traffic engineering, and I thought that being in a more specialized area than general roadway engineering would lead to more pay. It’s not the case. I am going to transition back into roadway engineering. The PTOE is worthless and nobody cares that you’re a PTOE. I will probably let it expire. It does NOT lead to any increases in pay in my experience. It is basically a “feather in the cap” personally. The 45 PDH every three years requirement is too much when firms do not want to send employees to training courses, and you wind up paying for courses to meet the PDH requirement out of pocket. Roadway project management is more lucrative and I plan to go back (I can do both equally well- to me, traffic engineering and roadway engineering are two peas in the same pod).

  • I just recently took the PTOE exam and am anxiously awaiting my results! For what it is worth, one of the main reasons I decided to pursue certification was to establish some credibility with new clients and with the public (i.e. public presentations) to provide some assurance that I’m not just a PE that picked up traffic engineering as a hobby. Having the certification demonstrates that you met the minimum requirements of experience and have acquired a certain amount of specialized knowledge. Also, during the exam prep. I was exposed to other areas of transportation engineering that I don’t normally deal with, so that was helpful as well.

  • Hi I have taken the PTOE in June but missed the pass percentage by 2%. I am planning to appear again but was wondering, not knowing where I would have gone wrong and how should my approach be different this time around. Any suggestions would be very helpful. Apart from the refreshing course, where can I practice more questions for the exam.

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    Mike Spack

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