I am a transportation professional with a passion for public transportation and passenger rail. Originally from Australia, I have lived and worked in the United States since early 2012.
Picture: Presenting a bus rapid transit (BRT) project to Falls Church City Council in Virginia (November 2022)
Xavier Harmony is a transportation professional with specialist expertise in public transportation and rail. Recognizing the multidisciplinary nature of transportation, he uses his diverse educational background, including engineering, business, policy, and planning, to develop cross-disciplinary approaches to complicated transportation problems.
Xavier is currently completing his PhD at Virginia Tech where his research focuses on the politics of transportation decision-making. Leveraging his work experience, Xavier’s research particularly focuses on applied work (how can this work be used?) and threads equity in all he does (for whom do we design and manage our transportation systems?). While completing his PhD, Xavier has been working as a practicing transit planner and program manager.
Xavier’s contribution to the industry has been recognized through awards and scholarships from the American Public Transportation Foundation, Transportation Research Forum, and the Institute of Transportation Engineers. More recently, the Eno Center for Transportation honored Xavier as an Eno Centennial Scholar for his essay on prioritizing the bus.
Xavier Harmony is a transportation professional with specialist experience in public transportation and rail. His expertise includes urban policy and politics, transit planning, and transportation funding and finance. Xavier is currently completing his PhD at Virginia Tech while working as a practicing transit planner and program manager.
I was born in Ipswich, Queensland, just west of Brisbane (about a 10 hour drive north of Sydney). Growing up my career interests changed a lot. From a police officer at age 7, to a veterinarian at age 12, to a scientist at age 15. When I was 16, an influential maths teacher introduced me to engineering.
In 2007 I started a double degree program in engineering and business at Queensland University of Technology. Although I started in mechanical engineering, I switched to civil after my first semester as I realized I was more interested in infrastructure than machines. As I completed my degree I considered working in geotechnical engineering and water engineering before planning a career in construction. First field work, and then infrastructure advisory. My internships really helped me figure out what I did and did not like. I was also very interested in traveling and working overseas. This influenced the kinds of companies I pursued.
I was in my last year of undergrad and my transportation professor mentioned a transportation consulting firm in the United States was looking for a summer intern. Here was my first real chance to work overseas! I received an interview but, when the firm learned I was in my final year of university, the internship interview turned into a full-time job interview. After an intense 2-day interviewing process, the firm made me a job offer in the U.S. They would sponsor my visa and fly me over. I was over the moon!
In early 2012 I moved to the U.S. to work for Kittelson. Originally I thought this would be a two, maybe four, year experience but it's turned into a permanent decision. Although I had not originally considered transportation as a career, I soon realized it was my true professional calling. I love working in transportation. It is a field that affects everyone's lives. I especially became passionate about public transportation. The efficiency of transit appealed to the engineering side of me while the social benefits appealed to my personal values. It is critical to the existence of cities, it is critical to social justice and equity, it is critical to the future of transportation. Now that I know where I want to focus my career, I am working on becoming a leader in my field.
But my life isn't just work. Outside of work I like to travel (I have visited many states and cities since moving to the United States), visit the mountains, hike, and camp. Most importantly, I like to spend quality time with my wife and daughter.
Vision for the Future of Mobility
My vision of future mobility is summed by one word: access. Access encompasses many ideas while being specific to the goals and values of my vision. Here are the key ways I see access defining my vision for the future of mobility:
Access to choices: When I step outside my front door to meet friends for dinner I will have access to different mobility options. Bus, scooter, even a car on occasion. Access means money is not a barrier to these options, it means choices are ubiquitous, and it means they are easy to use.
Access to opportunity: Mobility will not limit where I want to work or go to school or live. Living in a certain neighborhood does not mean I have inequitable bus service or fewer scooters, or jobs.
Access to information: When I make a trip, I will know what option is faster, what option is cheaper, and what option I would prefer. Is it more scenic? Less environmentally impactful? Does it allow me to pick up my kid from school? I will know all of this.
Access for all: In my vision for a future mobility landscape, the access to choices, opportunity, and information is for all people, regardless of income, gender, race, disability, or any other personal characteristic. While to some this may be obvious, it is not what our system looks like today.
While technological advances are obviously integral to many parts of this vision, they are merely a tool to help us get there and are certainly not the end goal. This means my vision is not autonomous vehicles (AVs), smart cities, or big data. Technologies like AVs can help with access to choices, or opportunity, for example, however, if AVs are not accessible to all, like for people with disabilities, then they cannot contribute to my vision of accessibility.
Of course, the real challenge is how to realize this vision. While much could be considered, I will focus on two opportunities.
First, advancing technology is required but we need the people who are advancing technology to understand what question they are trying to address and why. As Ben Green wrote in his book The Smart Enough City: “Technologists need to ground themselves in the needs of city governments and urban residents.” Consequently, instead of technology companies proposing solutions to cities, we need to focus more on collaboration where each side works together to advance mobility.
Second, many public institutions responsible for mobility are bureaucratic, often described as large ships slow to turn. These risk-adverse institutions need room to fail, to work across traditional silos, and to include people in decision-making who are often left out of the conversation. Access for all, the most important part of my vision, means having people in the room where it happens. Consequently, reform requires involving underrepresented groups in decision-making, funding risk, and encouraging cross-cutting groups that can bring new ideas across silos, like the LA Metro Office of Extraordinary Innovation, for example.
My Life in a Map
Blue house: places I've lived; Green briefcase: places I've worked; Purple hat: places I've studied
Yellow bag: places I've traveled