Shifting Gears: Toward a More Sustainable Transportation Future

Murat OmayMurat Omay

Principal Transportation Engineer, Battelle

After spending nearly 15 years working in traffic engineering and transportation planning, Murat Omay was burnt out on business as usual. He reflected on the industry's narrow focus on vehicular mobility and felt that a shift was needed. So he began searching for healthier strategies for moving people and goods, and this led him to the Master of Sustainable Transportation program at the University of Washington.

"It's a one-of-a-kind program," said Murat, a 2014 graduate. "For a long time, transportation was considered an issue of mobility and satisfying the demand that's out there, without considering the management of the demand. Demand management includes factoring in different ways to change the distribution of demand, instead of simply finding ways to increase roadway capacity when demand increases. This program brings those other perspectives."

Here Murat talks about how the comprehensive scope of the UW master's program prepared him for a future where he can help shift the transportation industry — and his career — in a more sustainable direction.

Can you tell us about where you work and what you do?
I'm a principal transportation engineer in the Critical Infrastructure Transportation Operations Division at Battelle. Battelle is the largest nonprofit federal contractor, providing support for research, planning and evaluation of the nation's major transportation systems, technologies and operations.

My team works on transportation policy, technology research and evaluation projects for the U.S. Department of Transportation. We help shape the future of transportation because the projects involve research and analyses to support transportation policy decisions.

Why did you choose the UW program?
I was impressed, because there is no other transportation program that focuses on the true sustainability aspect of transportation from planning, economic, health, environmental and systems perspectives. It sounded interesting and, being online, it was very convenient for working professionals like me.

The instructors were also an important factor for me. They were all well-known academics or practitioners with a lot of experience in the transportation field. The quality of the instructors is reflected very well in the quality of the program.

What was the online experience like?
The readings, assignments, and projects integrated very well with my schedule. The technology that we used to collaborate, communicate and follow the live online lectures was superb. The online format makes the lectures more interactive, and I enjoyed exchanging knowledge with my peers.

How did earning this degree help you change your career trajectory?
In my case, I had done a lot of engineering and operational analyses. The program is geared more toward planning. That was a valuable shift for me. Quite honestly, when you do a lateral shift you usually take a hit in salary or position, but the comprehensiveness of the program actually helped me to make that shift without any significant setbacks to either one of them.

The program also gave me the knowledge and confidence to continue my education. Right now I'm a doctoral candidate focusing on transportation planning and policy at the University of Maryland.

In what ways do sustainability issues impact your job?
I work on assignments at Battelle that involve climate change and transportation operations; performance measurements to assess the resilience levels of transportation systems; and evaluation of transportation system capacity from multi-modal perspectives. These are all related to sustainable transportation from multiple angles, because they don't target mobility as the first priority – they target what can be done using the existing capacity to serve the demand that's out there. They also target how the transportation system as a whole can serve current and future demands without deteriorating the environment.

How do you think sustainability will influence the field going forward?
There's an ever-growing demand for sustainability in the transportation and planning industries. The MST program is very comprehensive, and I think the degree will be very useful for my long-term career goals. It gives me a broad perspective and a variety of tools for working on development of transportation solutions that are also sustainable. We all need to think seven generations down the road.