Michael Wooley-Ousdahl (MCRP ’11)
Transportation Operations Manager for Google and a 2018 Leadership Mountain View graduate
Tell us where you live, work, and attended school.
I earned dual masters degrees in public administration and city and regional planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a bachelor of arts in psychology and social behavior from the University of California, Irvine. My wife and I reside in San Francisco.
Let’s talk about your current job.
Our team’s mission is to plan, implement, and operate solutions to make commuting and campus mobility a stress-free, efficient part of a Googler’s day. We promote commuting via other modes besides driving alone in order to reduce single occupancy vehicles (SOV) coming to campus. My specific role supports the planning and operations of the Google shuttle program, including managing the daily operations, supervising outsourced vendors, and providing service planning for the system. We constantly use data to drive our decision-making, to see where capacity can be expanded, and to optimize service.
How long has this program been around?
It was a grassroots, organic effort from Googlers themselves. In 2004 there was a single vanpool in SF. The vanpool grew into a more formal program from there, incorporating shuttles. Since those days, we have octupled the program.
Based on what you’ve been studying, what kind of impact does the transit program have?
We have about 900 daily departures serving the nine Bay Area counties. 10K riders each day to and from work. 20K daily trips. This means 6500 cars off the road every day. 95M vehicle miles. That is a huge impact on regional congestion.
What do you do with these numbers?
It’s all about looking to the future. We are constantly adjusting our shuttle network. It is a true planning exercise.
I am also involved with regional transportation planning work as it impacts the shuttles and the broader community. The shuttle travel time impacts how people get to work. Publicly available reports are released every year that look across our entire organization at where it stands in terms of sustainability. Data is critical to this exercise. I love my job so much because I have a strong personal commitment to sustainability, and can combine this with my love of data to help Google communicate these positive impacts as an organization.
How do you decide where to put new routes?
We are constantly looking to make data-driven decisions. Planning is such a great field because data underscores so much of our decision making. Planning is about making better decisions vital to the livability of a community. So with data tracking, we make service changes weekly based on our daily tracking of delays, ridership, capacity, etc. Qualitative data matters as well, and we are responsive to the feedback from riders, which also influences the service changes that we make.
Clearly these efforts involve a number of people to plan and implement successfully. What do you appreciate most about your team?
Our team is very nimble and focused on making positive impacts. We all have a mindset of achieving our sustainability and business goals together. They are connected. Our mission is to reduce single occupancy vehicles. That supports business growth.
Sustainability has always been a cornerstone of our work here at Google. We all have many roles and there’s a culture to be creative and think of new ways of doing something. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. That is what makes great planning and programming.
Your experiences prior to this role?
I started at Google in October 2015. I began my career at HDR Engineering doing transit consulting up and down the east coast. The work was about getting into the details of transit service planning and seeing it from a variety of municipalities’ point of view. I went on to NC State University as a transportation planner, to help with a variety of programs led by the transportation department: TDM, bike-pedestrian facilities, transit programs, facilities operations, and planning future transportation infrastructure. I was then promoted to assistant director, where I managed staff in our planning and operations group. Google was a great opportunity to return to California and continue meaningful work in transit planning.
Your path to planning?
I went to planning school because I wanted to work in transit. I have been interested in public transit since I was a child in Orange County, California. I used to ride around on buses and trains, wondering how it all worked. I absolutely love public transit more than just about anything, though I don’t forget my priorities: my wife Megan, the Los Angeles Dodgers, then transit!
Tell us about a favorite project.
There are so many but some really stand out. At NC State University, I was responsible for overseeing the Wolfline transit contract on behalf of the University, which ranged from overseeing vendor staff to ensuring accountability in the program objectives. I had spent so much of my early career analyzing service planning and operations as a transit consultant for others; this offered the first opportunity to really own a program, dig in professionally, and to make sure it was responsive and actually reducing SOV trips to the campus. It laid the groundwork for where I am today and the scale of my current work.
What good advice have you applied to get great results?
Several key people have influenced me. My supervisor at HDR Engineering helped me to develop a habit of double- and triple-checking everything and to emphasize always being detailed oriented in my work — so vitally important in our profession. A manager at NC State once told me it’s always better to be bold in how you approach your work. Push forward and don’t let roadblocks stop you from pushing a great idea. Then there’s my wife, who tells me each morning to do good, try hard, and have fun! It puts me in a good place when I think, be detailed, be bold, be creative.
Northern News, APA California – Northern
Interviewer Catarina Kidd, AICP, is Northern News’ associate editor.