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I am the Strauch Fellow in City and Regional Planning at Cornell University‘s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.  My research focuses on the interaction between transportation finance, travel behavior, and location choice.  Learn more about me and my research.

About Me

Education
Research Interests

Travel behavior, transportation policy, transportation finance, public transportation, urban mobility, travel demand management, disruptive housing and transportation technologies, transportation–land use connection, urban economics

Biography

I spent the latter fourteen years of my childhood in foster care, so was transit-dependent as a youth and young adult.  As a teenager, I voiced my experiences as a transit user and ideas for improving it to the governing board of my local transit provider, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).  These experiences exposed me to the interaction between politics and transit planning, and formed my initial career interest in transit planning.  In particular, I wanted to develop ways to plan and operate transit so that it could be competitive with the automobile and serve those who depend on it better.

As a graduate student, I was introduced to travel behavior and the fact that many costs of transportation are not paid by “consumers” of transportation.  Because of this disconnect between travel consumption and travel costs, the amount and dispersion of travel are inevitably induced to some degree, and any marginal improvements made to transportation – including transit – are necessarily less effective than they could otherwise be.  This learning broadened my work and study interests; in addition to figuring out ways to improve transit, I was drawn towards identifying and correcting the overall deficiencies of transportation finance practices.

At the same time, I observed that many current and future practitioners treated travel behavior as an exogenous factor in transportation planning and viewed pricing policies, like congestion pricing, and command-and-control regulations, like rationing, as tools for changing select travel behavior outcomes — for example, getting commuters out of cars and onto transit — without addressing underlying travel demand.  As this was in stark contrast to my evolved interest in correcting market failures that lead to inefficiently high levels of travel to begin with, I began to question if I could contribute more effectively to the field through research rather than practice.

After earning my master’s degree, I ran for public office and became the youngest person ever elected to the governing board of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART).  I served for four years, during which time I advocated applying objective data analyses and empirically tested solutions to planning and policy decisions, and was vocal about ensuring that long-term fiscal impacts of present-day decisions are considered in policy-making.  My experiences at BART validated the concerns I developed as a graduate student: If you don’t subscribe to the politics that influence the practice – which I do not and did not – finding a space in practice will be difficult.

Serving on the governing board of the principal regional transit service provider in the area also hindered my early career endeavors.  Firms that wanted to hire me claimed they could not because of conflict-of-interest concerns, whether legal or perceptional.  While I tried to navigate this barrier, I bridged my financial gap moonlighting as a riderhail — also known as a Transportation Network Company (TNC) — driver.  My ridehail driving experience afforded me hands-on exposure to a myriad of important transportation planning and research topics surrounding disruptive transportation technologies.  Are ridehail services a complement or substitute for transit use?  Who (socioeconomically) uses the services?  How does ridehailing as a travel mode choice effect access equity outcomes?  How do ridehail services contribute to congestion and vehicle-miles traveled?  How does the labor model of the industry impact the economic and labor sustainability of the companies, its front-line workers, and competing industries?  What are the consumer, worker, and public impacts of the companies’ pricing and incentive programs?  And how relevant are these queries in the long-run, given the companies’ historic reliance on venture capital to subsidize their product — a depleting resource now that the companies are publicly traded?

As an academic, today I enjoy the independence of my scholarship.  While I don’t have a direct role in implementation, I enjoy the freedom of not being politically limited in the types of analyses I do and methodologies I employ to do them.  You can learn more about my research in my research section.  I also honor the privilege of training future generations of scholars and practitioners through teaching — information about which is outlined in my teaching section.

Teaching

Below are summaries of the course I teach and courses that I plan or aspire to teach in future semesters.  Syllabi are provided, if available.

Transportation and Land Use Planning

In this course, I expose students to the transportation-land use connection — that is, the intrinsic relationship between travel behavior and the built environment — and the many policy interventions employed for addressing contemporary challenges related to travel and the built environment.  We refrain from discussing land use planning and policy, or transportation planning and policy, in isolation; we instead emphasize the impacts of land use planning and policy on transportation and vice versa.  We begin the course by introducing foundational theories in urban economics, travel behavior, equity, and efficiency that are pertinent to the transportation-land use connection.  We then explore empirical studies about the transportation-land use connection, analyze the successes and pitfalls of various policy intervention strategies, and investigate why other intervention strategies have been mostly avoided in public policy.

Transportation Finance and Economics

This course is an advanced elective course that investigates the equity and efficiency implications of different approaches to financing the provision of transportation.  We begin with an overview of supply- and demand-side economics of transportation, including the network economies and allocation efficiency in the supply of transportation, the idea of travel being a derived demand, and competing theories about equity in the provision and financing of transportation.  We then explore how different transportation financing strategies — flat user fees (e.g., flat tolls, flat-rate transit fares), mileage-based user fees (e.g., vehicle-miles traveled, mileage-based transit fares), gas taxes, congestion pricing, demand pricing, sales taxes, and property taxes, to name a few — impact the efficiency and equity of transportation supply, financing burdens, and accessibility.  We survey both theoretical and empirical findings across various modes and sectors of transport.  Both domestic (i.e., United States) and international case studies are explored.

Transportation Policy and Planning

In this course, I focus specifically on how transportation policy and planning practices effect travel behavior and its general impacts.  Travel generates many negative impacts (i.e., externalities) like congestion and pollution, and access equity varies greatly with socioeconomic status.  Transportation-based planning and policy practices that seek to offset these negative impacts and inequalities are wide-ranging with varying levels of effectiveness.  We investigate these governance, planning, and policy practices; their effectiveness; and any secondary or unintended consequences they produce.  We explore international and yet-to-be-implemented alternative transportation planning and policy practices relative to those common in the United States.

Urban Mass Transit

In this course, I introduce students to various considerations in capital and operations planning of transit in the United States.  We begin with a survey of the role(s) of transit, its evolution as a transport mode in the United States, and the distribution of transit mode share and demographics of its use throughout the country.  We then evaluate various issues surrounding capital investment planning, such as cost versus cost-effectiveness evaluation criteria, typical scenarios under which different transit modes are more or less cost-effective, core system and operational impacts of capital projects, principal-agent problems with construction, and the costs and benefits of different financing methods; as well as considerations for operations planning, including performance- versus coverage-based service planning, equity and efficiency of fare policies, equity and efficiency of service delivery, labor costs and contracts, contracting in versus contracting out of services, spatial and temporal cost variability of service, and the impacts that reliance on secondary revenue sources have on how services are provided.  We also evaluate whether the transit industry’s economic structure is explained by economies or diseconomies of scale and the implications this has on optimal agency size, the spatial and modal organization of transit operators, and the degree to which transit warrants being subsidized; as well as the influence that different governance structures have on decision-making.

What I do in five words:
Pricing and technology land-travel dynamics

Research

Overview

The location people choose to live and how they choose to travel between home and work or play is a bundled decision; they choose where they will live after accounting for the size, type, and cost of housing, neighborhood attributes, and projected costs of travel – both monetary and time.  My research is principally focused on the latter part of this bundle – in particular, identifying the subsidies given to travel, unpaid externalities generated by travel, and how these influence where people and firms choose to locate, the amount and mode(s) of travel they consume, and the aggregate effect this has on urban form.  Similarly, I focus on developing ways to internalize these costs and estimating the effects this would have on travel behavior, location choice, and urban form.

Selected Writings and Publications

Refereed Articles and Research Reports

2022

Mallett, Zakhary. “Spatial and Temporal Variability of Rail Transit Costs and Cost Effectiveness.” Transportation Research Record (2022)

Previous research has evaluated the temporal variability of bus transit costs and shown that peak period service costs more to operate in both gross and net terms. However, research on spatial variability of transit costs broadly, and for rail transit in particular, is quite limited. Using transit agency data on labor and train allocations, I develop a cost model that allocates labor and semi-fixed capital costs to times-of-day and each link and station of two regional rapid rail transit networks in order to evaluate temporal and spatial variability of costs and costs-per-rider…

2020

Boarnet, Marlon G., Zakhary Mallett, and Clemens A. Pilgram. “Dockless Scooter Travel: A Land Use Model with Implications for California.” METRANS Transportation Center, 2020

This research builds a land use regression model to explain dockless scooter trip generations. We use publicly available scooter trip generation data for Louisville, KY and Minneapolis, MN and publicly available data on land use characteristics. The model shows that scooter trip generations are associated with higher employment densities, higher densities of entertainment land uses (bars and clubs), and in some specifications higher densities of eating establishments and university buildings…

Other Research Reports

2020

Giuliano, Genevieve, Sang-O Kim, and Zakhary Mallett. “Regional Planning and Climate Change Mitigation in California.” Joint Clean Climate Transport Research Partnership (JCCTRP), May 2020

This working paper presents an overview of regional planning and climate change mitigation in California. This paper is motivated by the unique success of California in developing and implementing a comprehensive program of policies to address global climate change. It traces the history of environmental regulation in California and shows how climate change policy is the outgrowth of decades of increasingly stringent and broad environmental policy…

Book Chapters

2021

Mallett, Zakhary and Marlon G. Boarnet. “Transit Planning and Management.” International Encyclopedia of Transportation 10477 (2021)

This chapter provides a high-level overview of the operations, planning, and governance of transit systems in western societies.  It begins with an overview of transit in the context of transportation history, and relies on this to explain contemporary transit planning and management practices. Specific topics covered include travel mode choice and how transit’s mode share has changed over time; operations and capital project planning in the transit sector; transit finance; the relationship between municipalities, states, federal governments, and transit agencies in defining their authority; and the effects board structures have on public oversight. The chapter closes by highlighting the uncertainties of transit’s future in light of disruptive transportation technologies, like ridehail services and dockless mobility, and relating this to transit’s history.

Popular Press

2020

Mallett, Zakhary. “Vote no on Prop. 22: No free rides for Uber and Lyft.” San Francisco Chronicle, 07 Oct 2020

Voters should reject Proposition 22 because no industry deserves to free-ride at public expense. Lyft’s and Uber’s steadfast refusal to comply with Assembly Bill 5 — a law that unequivocally defines their drivers as employees entitled to basic wage and benefit protections — and threat to end operations if they’re forced to are blatant illustrations of their rapacious culture. So, too, is their attempt to buy exemption from the law by expending greater than $50 million each (and counting) on Proposition 22, making it the most expensive initiative in state history. These desperate efforts to evade regulation elucidate that the companies have yet to demonstrate a path to becoming sustainable without leaving destruction behind them.

2019

Mallett, Zakhary. “The Distorted Economics of Ride Hailing Must be Fixed by California Law.” San Francisco Chronicle, 19 Jun 2019

Gig companies like Lyft, Uber, GrubHub and Amazon Flex need to become financially solvent — both for themselves and for the public. These companies’ models are financially unsustainable because customers do not pay the full cost of the services provided — which means someone else picks up the tab. In many cases, that’s the broader public and economy. By relying on a system of subsidies to operate, the companies harm other industries that are self-sufficient, exploit a vulnerable workforce, and increase travel and traffic.

2017

Are you a frequent rideshare rider who has noticed an increase or decrease in the intensity and frequency of demand pricing in the locations you travel from most? If so, it may be related to surge and prime pricing’s insider counterpart: so-called ‘driver incentives.’

Mallett, Zakhary. “Capitol Corridor Stop in Hercules Is Not a Simple Fix at All.” East Bay Times, 9 Jun 2017

…the city of Hercules has worked to garner public support for adding a Capitol Corridor train stop in Hercules by proclaiming that doing so will “Get I-80 Moving.” Such claims are misleading, at best.  If West Contra Costa County leaders want to offer a meaningful driving alternative to travelers on the region’s most-congested travel corridor, they must get behind investments that will truly do that. The solution is a BART extension.

2015

Mallett, Zakhary. “OK, We Need a Second BART Transbay Tube.  Where Would it Go?” San Francisco Chronicle, 7 Feb 2015

There is little disagreement that a second BART transbay tube is essential for serving an ever-growing regional population and travel demand. The devil is in the details: Where does the second tube take off from the East Bay and land in San Francisco? Where does the second set of tracks go from there?  In the interest of being able to run trains around service disruptions, eventually accommodate 24-hour service and sustain BART as a regional service provider, I favor a route that mirrors existing service between downtown Oakland and San Francisco’s Market Street and a western extension via Fulton Street and 19th Avenue.

2014

Mallett, Zakhary. “VTA Should Switch BART Route to Follow Highways to North San Jose.” San Jose Mercury News, 24 Nov 2014

The BART to San Jose project, including the selected alignment for the extension, has always been about local politics rather than what is in the best interest of the traveling public. Now, with the financial soundness of the second phase of the project being questioned by federal agencies, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is considering scrapping two stations from the project to save $1.3 billion.  While this move may well constitute betrayal to local communities who have planned for the service, it will also result in the project failing to meet its stated goals and is further demonstrative of the project’s value being questionable to begin with.

Mallett, Zakhary. “2nd Transbay Tube Needed to Help Keep BART on Track.” San Francisco Chronicle, 7 Sep 2014

It typically takes but a single mechanical or track problem in West Oakland, in the Transbay Tube or along BART’s San Francisco corridor to shut down the entire BART transit system. Even without such problems, BART is at capacity for running trains under the bay during commute periods. The system can barely meet existing travel demand, let alone serve future transbay demand. That’s why the Bay Area must invest in a second Transbay Tube and why BART, in partnership with other agencies, is expected to commission in the coming several months a study that looks at increasing transbay transit capacity. It’s also why, in my view, a second tube must duplicate service through the heart of the BART system.

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