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July 28, 2020 1:45 PM, EDT

TRB Annual Meeting Goes Virtual for 2021

Neil PedersenTRB Executive Director Neil Pedersen at the 2019 meeting. (Transportation Research Board via Twitter)

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The Transportation Research Board’s 100th annual meeting will be held virtually this winter due to concerns over COVID-19.

The meeting, which assembles transportation officials, experts and academics from around the world, was slated to take place in Washington in late January. TRB recently announced plans for a virtual meeting, which will take place over a series of dates throughout January.

According to TRB’s announcement, the in-person annual meeting brings together more than 14,000 transportation professionals. Attendees will be able to participate in the virtual meeting from anywhere in the world through an online platform.

TRB logo

“We certainly recognize that this TRB annual meeting is going to be a different experience for those who participate, but we’re hoping that it will give us the opportunity to actually have greater participation by people who have not been able to participate in the past,” TRB Executive Director Neil Pedersen told Transport Topics. “From a content standpoint, I’m quite confident that we’ll still have the same quality and level of content that we always have.”

Pedersen noted the timing of the announcement partly was rooted in the Aug. 1 deadline for paper submissions, which pertains to those who are seeking to present their subjects at the meeting. He said his team felt it owed it to the paper authors to let them know it would be a virtual meeting before the deadline.

Another contributing factor Pedersen identified was a survey TRB conducted of transportation industry representatives. He said TRB received more than 1,000 responses, the majority of which indicated people would not be able to travel to an in-person meeting but would be able to participate in a virtual meeting.

Pedersen said he hopes more people than usual can participate, especially if they are unburdened by costs associated with airplane tickets and hotels. In particular, he said he hopes more people from field offices can attend, in addition to the typical cadre of those representing headquarters offices.

“I think that’ll particularly be the case, for example, for state departments of transportation and other government agencies,” Pedersen said.

The virtual meeting’s program, like the in-person format, will cover all modes of transportation and will include material geared toward policymakers, technical experts, industry leaders, government officials and researchers. The theme for the 2021 meeting is “Launching a New Century of Mobility and Quality of Life.”

The components of the event that characterize the in-person meeting, including keynote addresses, exhibits and networking opportunities, as well as plenary, breakout and poster sessions, will be available virtually to full-registration participants.

Elaine Chao

Chao announced a number of initiatives involving connected vehicle technologies at TRB's meeting in January. (Transportation Research Board)

Officials from various levels of government have participated in TRB’s annual meeting in the past. Representatives of agencies such as the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration delivered updates during TRB’s 2020 annual meeting in January. During her keynote remarks at the event, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced several initiatives relating to connected vehicle technologies and advanced driver assistance systems.

“All the state departments of transportation will have representation at [the annual meeting], as will many federal, state and local agencies, private sector companies and academic institutions,” said Carlos Braceras, chair of TRB’s executive committee and executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation. “There will be many experts interacting in meaningful discussions with conference attendees, in group as well as one-on-one discussions, and we are looking forward to their participation.”

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According to TRB, registration fees, which will be announced prior to registration opening in September, will be reduced. TRB has yet to determine exact dates for the event.

“The annual meeting is a critical event for transportation researchers all over the world,” said Susan Shaheen, vice chair of TRB’s executive committee and professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. “As TRB turns to its next 100 years, this community of volunteers, whether in-person or virtually, will continue leading impartial research, facilitating objective dialogues and fostering innovative strategies.”

TRB is one of several transportation-related events to move online due to the coronavirus pandemic. FMCSA, the Women In Trucking Association and the Technology & Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations also have announced plans for virtual events.

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