Future transportation will be shaped by technologies as well as sustainability and social equity, says Sorath Shah

31 Mar 2023 Jana Sosnová

Sorath Shah at Faculty of Economics and Administration MU | Photo: Martin Indruch

A new expert on transport economics will be joining the Institute for Transport Economics, Geography and Policy (ITREGEP) thanks to ERA Fellowship. The prestigious grant was awarded to Sorath Shah who will work under the supervision of Zdeněk Tomeš. During her two-year stay at the Faculty of Economics and Administration, she will focus on European micromobility systems such as bike or e-scouter sharing.

What led you to applying for MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowship?

After completing my PhD in 2021, I was eager to further refine my research expertise, particularly in the field of urban transportation. However, I found that opportunities in this area were somewhat limited. Many available options seemed to be management-based services provided by private firms or government sector and were difficult to break into. I even tried applying to the World Bank's transportation sector as a young professional, but unfortunately was not successful in the interview process. This led me to consider pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship as the most effective way to further advance my expertise in the field. Naturally, the MSCA-PF stands out as the most reputable program for such an opportunity. With this in mind, I began reaching out to professors at different host institutions to explore potential collaborations.

And why did you choose Masaryk University?

After carefully considering my options, I ultimately decided to apply for the MSCA-PF in cooperation with the Faculty of Economics and Administration because I believe it offers the best opportunity for me to widen my research expertise and make valuable contributions to the field of urban transportation.

During your stay, you will be supervised by professor Zdeněk Tomeš, one of our experts in the field of transportation economics. What motivated you to collaborate with him?

I had the opportunity to interview with several professors as potential collaborators for my MSCA-PF project, and after careful consideration, I decided to work with professor Zdeněk Tomeš. As a transport economist, I believe that collaborating with him would be the best way to expand my research expertise beyond the social and sustainable aspects of urban transportation that I am already familiar with. I was impressed by his extensive knowledge and experience in the field, as well as his collaborative approach to research. From the beginning, professor Tomeš demonstrated a great deal of interest in my MSCA-PF application and was eager to support me in any way he could. He immediately began helping me to prepare my proposal by providing access to online MSCA workshops and other relevant information available at the faculty.

What really sealed the deal for me, however, was professor Tomeš's supportive nature and willingness to share his knowledge and expertise, which gave me the confidence that we would make an excellent team. He was always available to answer my questions and offer guidance throughout the application process. I am excited to collaborate with him and learn from his extensive experience.

At first you applied for MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowship, however, in the end you received support from ERA Fellowships. Could you tell a bit more about the process?

You are right, I applied for MSCA-PF, but my project was funded by ERA while I am on the reserve list for MSCA-PF. When the results were announced, I received two letters in response. The first letter indicated that my project received a favourable evaluation but did not score high enough in the ranking to be funded due to the budget limit of the MSCA-PF call. The second letter provided additional information about my participation in the call for proposals for the ERA Fellowship, which I was selected for.

What is your research focus?

I research smart and sustainable mobility, with an emphasis on car sharing, public bike sharing, and public transportation. I'm also interested in contemporary micromobility trends and their potential impact on urban transportation resilience. Overall, my goal is to advance our understanding of how these different modes of transportation can be optimized to promote sustainable and efficient mobility options in urban areas.

During my stay in Brno, I will focus on developing a comprehensive evaluation system for urban and transportation planners to assess the overall resilience of shared micromobility systems. I'll be analysing major shared micromobility programs such as station-based bike-sharing, free-floating bike-sharing, free-floating e-bike sharing, and free-floating e-scooter sharing in Europe to understand the mobility patterns of their users before, during, and after the pandemic. This research will help to improve governance and appropriate appraisal of sustainable urban transport alternatives.

Could you explain why are micromobility systems important in terms of contemporary transportation?

Micromobility systems, such as electric bikes and e-scooters, are important in contemporary transportation because they are efficient, sustainable, cost-effective, and offer health benefits to users. They also provide convenient and accessible options for short trips or last-mile connections in urban areas.

According to your opinion, what is the future of transportation?

In my opinion, the future of transportation will be shaped by ongoing technological advancements and a growing emphasis on sustainability and social equity. We are likely to see continued innovation in electric and autonomous vehicles, as well as the expansion of micromobility systems and shared transportation options.

However, transportation systems face significant challenges today, such as traffic congestion, air pollution, and the need to address climate change. Addressing these challenges will require a more holistic approach to transportation planning and continued innovation in technology and data-driven solutions to improve the safety, efficiency, and resilience of transportation networks.

What advice would you give to researchers who are considering applying for MSCA-PF or ERA Fellowships?

My advice is to thoroughly plan and articulate the research idea in the proposal. Don't underestimate any section of the proposal as each part is evaluated and impacts your score. Utilize all available resources such as online workshops, hackathons, and consultations. These resources can greatly aid in writing a promising proposal. I personally found attending the workshop organized by Jakub Zeman from the Masaryk University Rector’s Office and receiving individual consultations on my project proposal invaluable. Even if it's your first time applying, if you give it your all, you have a good chance of success.

What are you looking forward most in Brno?

I'm thrilled to be relocating to Brno and embarking on this new research journey. I'm particularly excited about the opportunity to work in a new environment and collaborate with professor Zdeněk Tomeš’s research team with diverse backgrounds. I'm also looking forward to expanding my skill set and learning new research techniques. After living in South Korea for six years during my Master and PhD studies, I can't wait to explore European and Czech culture and discover new places.

Sorath Shah is a transport economist from Pakistan. She completed her Bachelor's in City and Regional Planning in 2015, then pursued MS-Leading to PhD program in Urban and Regional Development from Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea in 2020. During her PhD, she worked on several research and development projects related to developing smart and sustainable transportation systems in urban areas. After completing her PhD, she continued her research journey as a postdoctoral researcher for a year. Now, she is excited to bring her knowledge and experience gained from these research opportunities to her new position at the Faculty of Economics and Administration, Masaryk University.

MSCA & ERA Fellowships

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) are a set of several grants and funding opportunities through which the European Commission supports science and research in the European Research Area (ERA). It is one of the most prestigious grant programmes designed to promote interdisciplinary research and international collaboration between scientists from European and non-European countries. One of its components is the MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Since the Czech Republic is one of the so-called Widening Countries, MSCA-PF candidates may also apply for funding from the ERA Fellowships programme. The ERA Fellowships scheme provides funding for proposals submitted to the MSCA-PF call with a beneficiary located in a Widening Country. The ERA-PF call and MSCA-PF call undergo a same centralized evaluation review procedure. Although ERA Fellows is not formally considered as MSCA fellows, the funding provided by ERA is nonetheless a valuable opportunity for postdoctoral researchers looking to engage in R&I projects.

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