Alexandra Pan is a fifth-year doctoral student in transportation engineering at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB). After completing her undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering, Alexandra moved to Michigan to work at General Motors on car design. Living in the Michigan suburbs, she spent a great deal of time commuting to her job and experiencing congestion on the roadways. Growing up with transportation systems in Massachusetts and New York, Alexandra became more interested in transportation and how she could apply her background to find solutions.
“That experience of being stuck in traffic and more conversations around the climate crisis… This pushed me to change career paths and study these problems more,” said Alexandra. After researching programs, she found Susan Shaheen, PhD, and was interested Dr. Shaheen’s work in shared mobility and reducing congestion. Alexandra moved to California and is now a part of UCB’s student research team and works on NICR projects.
Alexandra works with Dr. Shaheen’s team on a multiphase project surrounding pooled rides and transportation network companies (TNCs). In the first year of the project, researchers faced the challenge of COVID-19 and shifted their research to a photovoice method. The qualitative photovoice method illustrates the lived experience by giving research subjects the ability to take photographs of their experience and document their emotions and experiences. The interactions with gender and pooled rides fueled the next two years of studies. Alexandra is now examining female drivers and TNC riders to learn more about their experiences. The literature review was completed in June and the group will conduct focus groups this summer.
Alexandra’s dissertation focuses on low-income transportation issues as a case study in the Bay Area. Her first projects geared toward her dissertation showed the displacement of people to areas outside the city center. Although housing may be less expensive, how does location shift affect transportation?
In her research, Alexandra discovered that many low-income populations cannot recover housing cost savings by moving away from the city due to transportation costs. These populations usually have older, sometimes unreliable vehicles, and there are no reliable alternative options.
The questions she hopes to address in the next steps of her dissertation: “What are some ways we can make transportation more resilient for lower-income households in suburban areas? How can transit be more flexible in suburban areas? How do we make transit better for everyone?”
In her spare time, Alexandra takes pottery classes and loves seeing her improvements from class to class. She is also taking Chinese language courses to connect with her family. After graduation, Alexandra wants to work in the public sector and planning for communities.