Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Allie Thomas

Dr. Allie Thomas
Assistant Professor, UNC at Chapel Hill
Dr. Allie Thomas
Assistant Professor, UNC at Chapel Hill

Dr. Allie Thomas is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently a co-PI working on STRIDE Project E2 titled “Establishing a Dual Generational Modality Dataset: Comparing the Ride-Sharing Adoption Trends and Perspectives of Consumers from Two Generational Cohorts, Millennials and Gen X’ers”. The project is led by Dr. Abhinav Alakshendra of the University of Florida.

Dr. Thomas became interested in transportation by chance and is now focusing on how cities adapt best practices to their transportation systems. She also wants to learn how cities address transportation equity as they adapt these practices.

“I became interested in my field by accident,” she said. “I never considered how central transportation was to people’s lives, particularly those who use means other than car to get to work, until I lived in China.”

While in China, Dr. Thomas worked at the Energy Foundation in Beijing. She used to bike to work every day and noticed that street space was being lost to vehicles. Her interest in transportation was further inspired by the visionary efforts of Brazilian and Colombian politicians Jaime Lerner and Enrique Peñalosa for their work on cities with considerations for the environment, transportation, design and equity. Through these experiences and more, she began focusing her work on transportation policy.

As for Dr. Thomas’ role in STRIDE Project E2, her work involves a series of surveys and interviews, and while the project is far from over, she has found that freight is becoming a major issue in urban areas across the United States as it relates to delivery services, curbside space, congestion, the technology used to solicit these services, and by who.

“As there are several hubs in the Southeast, it will be important to understand how this may affect travel as well as congestion in these areas,” she said. “We are incorporating questions about delivery services in the survey.” 

However, she believes that the southeastern region of the US is no different from others in the nation in the use of technology for ride hailing or delivery services.

“They may only be restricted by the availability of these technologies,” she said. “For example, Amazon has multiple types of delivery services, one that allows for deliveries in an hour. Some cities in Florida and North Carolina may have this, others may not.”

As for implications to transportation and planning, she says city planners are going to need to think about curb regulations for delivery services and how Lyft and Uber may be contributing to congestion in denser, urban areas and airports.  She also said that air quality is going to be a big concern as delivery services increase for those residents living close to distribution centers.