When I grow up, I want to be like Dick John.

I wish more people who claim the innovator moniker in mobility could meet Dr. Richard R. John. Known as Dick to those who know him—and I’m fortunate to be one of those people—Dick is pushing 90 but he approaches challenges like a 25-year-old PhD candidate. Simply put, he’s amazing.

Dr. Richard John

Dr. Richard John (Photo: DOT)

His latest passion is the security of cyber-physical systems – and his thinking on the subject is extraordinary.  Among numerous examples: his seminal 2001 paper on GPS vulnerability.

He has forgotten more about the operation of each and every mode than I will ever know but he’s not living in the past at all. He maintains an insatiable thirst for knowing as much as possible about advancements in innovation-not just in transportation but across industries and institutions—and mashes this knowledge up in ways that allow him to identify trends and possibilities long before they enter the mainstream.

When I was confirmed as a DOT administrator with oversight of the organization’s research, innovation and technology activities, he and I connected and were in complete alignment—usually after he challenged me to think more broadly and deeply about a subject.  Many meetings on major policy would begin like a dissertation defense, where I played the candidate. He would ask questions and was able to quickly identify weaknesses in the position and work with me to develop my thinking.

He pushed me to stay true to a more holistic and integrated vision of the transportation system, which is a system of systems that has to work in concert. Because despite modal stovepipes that often define transportation bureaucracies—a highway department here, an aviation department there—people and goods don’t that way. They blend multiple modes, often at the same time. (Ever taken a shuttle bus to a tram to the gate where your plane is parked?)

Dick is a lifelong student of how policy can accelerate—or delay—developing, testing and deployment of innovations directly impacting the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.  We collaborated on a number of products when I was at U.S. DOT from Transportation Vision 2030 to a 2008 study that examined transportation energy and fuels in response to the dramatic increase in fuel prices over the summer of 2008.

Dick just thought differently about how we could develop and consider policy options that would reduce our dependency on foreign sources of fuel and drive the U.S. toward energy independence.  This publication includes a recommendation to consider “cash for clunkers” that the Obama Administration ultimately made part of its economic stimulus program.

Dick is retiring this month, but I suspect he will stay engaged in the conversation; he’s got way too much to offer in shaping the future of mobility.

Happy retirement Dick. We’ll talk soon.

–Paul Brubaker, Founder & CEO, ATI21