Regardless of income or status… take the bus!!!


Assistant Prof. Ahmed Idris

What is your educational background?
After graduating from high school I studied Construction and Building Engineering at the Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT), in Alexandria, Egypt. During my undergraduate studies, I learned many useful subjects and started to build more interest in Transportation Engineering. I realized that transportation systems not only affect everyone on a daily basis, but also they are the lifelines of nations’ economies and the preconditions for progress and development. Right after getting my BSc with honours in 2002, I joined the same school as a teaching and research assistant, and got my MSc in Transportation Engineering in 2007. In 2008, I followed my passion and moved to Canada to pursue my studies and got my PhD in Transportation Engineering and Planning from the University of Toronto in 2013.

Why did you become an engineer—who or what inspired you?
Since I was a kid, I had a general interest in math and physics and always wanted to know how things work. I started to write computer codes when I was in elementary school using GW-BASIC. I liked the idea of following a set of steps identified by line numbers in order to solve a mathematical problem or to complete a process. I also remember those times when I had to break and fix my code after getting stuck in a loop. Moreover, I believe my fascination with Transportation Engineering dates back to the days when I was playing that video game where you build a transportation network to move people and goods on land, water, and air, and subsequently gain credits and establish a tycoon! To minimize the construction cost, I used to find the shortest distance between origin and destination points. Later on, I learnt that solving for the shortest path is fundamental to network modelling and transportation research. So, I would not say I became an engineer, but rather engineering was always my way of life!

What student experiences of your own do you count as a high points or challenges?
I cherish every moment of my student life. The lessons I have learned during my undergraduate studies at the AASTMT have shaped me into the individual I am today. On the other hand, I enjoyed being a graduate student at UofT. My daily schedule was fully occupied with research, meetings, appointments, events, and other commitments that usually kept me busy until the late night. Although everything was fast-paced, the friendships I have made and the memories I have created are enough to last a lifetime.

Speaking of challenges, I would say going through my comprehensive exam was a major challenge that I survived. The exam was two parts: a four-day open book exam in Transportation Engineering and Planning, followed by an oral examination. I received the questions on a Monday and submitted my answers on Friday, and had the oral exam on the following Monday. I remember that I cooked my food for the entire week and got every single book on Transportation Engineering and Planning from the library in preparation for the written exam—it was quite an experience!

Why did you choose to work at UBC’s Okanagan campus—what brought you here?
I could differentiate between two periods of time: before and after visiting UBC’s Okanagan campus. First, before visiting UBC Okanagan, I was intrigued by the idea of joining a young campus where I have the opportunity to establish my research program and contribute to the growth of the campus with my academic and industrial expertise. Second, after visiting UBC Okanagan for the interview, I fell in love with the School of Engineering, and I felt that this is such a great family that I want to belong to. To me, UBC Okanagan provides the perfect combination of a prestigious university, great family, wonderful nature, and lots of fishing!

What are your research interests and current projects?
I have a general interest in studying urban systems, with emphasis on promoting sustainable and active transportation (e.g. transit, cycling, and walking). For my long-term research plan, I envision a tool for designing transit routes/lines that maximize demand attraction and mode-shift towards public transit while maintaining a good balance between the economic viability, social equity, and environmental impacts.

I am currently investigating the impacts of urban densities and transportation on the City of Kelowna’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets. In this research, I am developing modelling and scenario-comparison tools to explore the impacts of various transportation and land use planning policies on changing travel behaviour. The developed models are intended to assist the City of Kelowna evaluate alternative policy scenarios and eventually select the one(s) that help the City meet its 2040 GHG emission targets.

What is the significance of your research? What are the implications?
My research is motivated by finding an answer to a very basic question: what is the purpose of transportation? If the answer is to move cars and trucks, then good luck with building more roads, encouraging more people to drive, increasing congestion, then building more roads and so on. But if the purpose of transportation is to move people and goods, then there should be more sustainable means for doing so. I am investigating what factors lead people to switch from single occupancy vehicles to high-occupancy vehicles (e.g. transit, carpool, etc.) or non-motorized transportation options (e.g. cycling, walking, etc.).

I am a strong believer in public transit as an effective travel alternative that is capable of addressing many traffic and environmental problems given the high capacity, energy efficient, and low emission mobility it provides. Imagine if more people take transit, roads would not be as clogged, travel costs (time and money) would not be as high, and emissions would not become as much of a problem. Promoting public transit, which is my main research interest, has substantial impacts on economy, society, and the environment.

A livable community is where people use public transit irrespective of their income or status… Take the bus!

What engineering compound, materials, or equipment do you find most fascinating, and why?
I am fascinated by the application of new and emerging technologies to the field of Transportation Engineering. The accelerating urban growth and continuing need for mobility are placing more demands on transportation systems. Some of the current systems are old and in need of upgrading and/or expansion to serve the increasing demands. However, the lack of funds and/or space to build more infrastructure coupled with climate change concerns require transportation planners and engineers to rethinking urban transportation. Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) are intended to address such challenges by increasing the transportation system’s throughput and performance without adding new lanes, saving billions in future infrastructure expansion and making the transportation system safer for everyone. Through V2X communication (vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P), and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I)), ITS will dramatically change how vehicles operate and provide information and capabilities for real-time system management. ITS applications span form seamless data collection using smartphones, passing through traffic signals that can learn, up to connected and autonomous vehicles.

Tell me about your laboratory facilities—the kind of research you do there, the students, the equipment and their capabilities.
Transportation Engineering is an interdisciplinary field drawing on other established disciplines (e.g. economics, geography, operation research, sociology, psychology, probability and statistics, etc.) to provide its basic framework. I can classify transportation research into: “hard” physical sciences that mainly deal with the design of transportation facilities (e.g., pavement mix design), and “soft” sciences that deal with transportation planning and demand modelling. As a behaviour modeller, my research is focused on the latter and my lab is mainly a computer lab equipped with different software packages and traffic simulators. Given information on the transportation network and activity locations, I model the total number of trips generated, distribute those trips among zones, and forecast the mode of transportation used and the chosen route. Once I develop a good replica of the transportation system, I can evaluate different transport and land use policy scenarios to support decision making. My research group includes both graduate and undergraduate research assistants working on their theses or research projects. My students are the foundation of every paper that I publish and every grant that I submit.

What most excites you about the future of applied sciences? And about the School of Engineering?
What excites me the most about the future of applied sciences is the interaction between science, technology, and society. Both science and technology serve to inform and extend each other and work together for the benefit of society. Obviously, discovering innovative and practical applications has no boundaries. It will be interesting to see what the future of applied sciences brings.

The year 2015 marks UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering 10th anniversary. Over the past 10 years, the school has been commitment to growth and shaping the future of the region by fostering the education of students and conducting top-notch research to find practical solutions of direct benefits to the society. Given what it has been able to accomplish in its first 10 years, I am very positive about the future of the School of Engineering and proud to be part of it.

What do you like about living in the Okanagan?
The natural beauty of interior British Columbia and the Okanagan in specific strikes me. The mild climate, the mountains, and the large number of lakes make the Okanagan a fishing paradise for me. Oh, I did not tell you, I am a fisherman! To me, fishing is a sort of meditation and a way to finding good research ideas. So, if I am not at work, you will find me somewhere fishing. I used to fish the Mediterranean since I was seven years old and have explored different fishing locations, carrying my heavy fishing gear for long distances and miles looking for a good catch. I can speak fish language too! Once I strike and set the hook, a special conversation starts between the fish and me via the fishing line. During this conversation I always try to convince the fish to come outside the water while it always has a different point of view. Recently and together with two other super-excited fishers, we founded the UBC Fly Fishers (UBCFF) Club for faculty and staff members. You should join us if you have not already done so, it is lots of fun.



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