Collaborative Accessibility-Based Stakeholder Engagement for Public Transportation Planning

What is CoAXs?

CoAXs is an interactive planning tool developed by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that aims to enhance participation and creative problem-solving for planning public transport systems. CoAXs occupies a middle ground between detailed network editing and modeling software on the one hand, and presentation tools that use pre-calculated results for information delivery on the other.

CoAXs uses open data and free software to enable users to test new transportation scenarios in real time. Users can activate and deactivate selected hypothetical and existing transit routes; examine effects of changes such as in bus speeds or frequencies; and explore the impact of these changes on different locations in a region.

Central to the interface is a map which allows users to zoom in or out and focus on different areas of a city, helping to spatially understand the possible impacts (e.g., increased access to jobs) of potential public transport project features (e.g., dedicated bus lanes on a certain street). Customized versions of the tool have been tested in workshops in Boston, London, UK, and Santiago, Chile; and as an online version in Atlanta, San Francisco and New Orleans.  

How It Works


If you have never used CoAXs before, visit the New Orleans, San Francisco or Atlanta demos for a video tutorial

New Orleans

In partnership with Ride New Orleans 


In partnership with Advance Atlanta

San Francisco

In partnership with Walk SF


In partnership with LivableStreets


In partnership with Transport for London


In partnership with the University of Pretoria

Coming soon...


In partnership with the Gestión y Desarrollo Urbanos program at the Universidad del Rosario

Coming soon...



Livable Streets - Demo




Santiago (Chile) - Demo



Concepción (Chile) - Demo

Pretoria (South Africa) - Demo




London (England) - Blog post

Advance Atlanta - Demo

Ride New Orleans - Demo

Walk San Francisco - Demo



Coming soon...

Bogotá (Colombia)

Research findings to date 

Barr Foundation: Boston BRT Workshops

Six workshops held in October 2015 in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood tested community members’ reaction to bus rapid transit (BRT) concepts as part of the Barr Foundation’s Boston BRT initiative. Findings suggest:

· The workshops helped participants learn about the features of bus rapid transit.

· Participants viewed CoAXs as a relevant tool that generated credible results.

· CoAXs supported dialogue between participants, and the dialogue quality indicated some likelihood that participants would revisit fundamental goals, values and objectives (i.e., “double-loop” learning).

· Interaction with CoAXs, conversing with others, and questioning the tool and its assumptions facilitated learning amongst participants.

Read more: Report, Dissertation, Thesis

MISTI/MIT-Chile: Santiago Workshops

Two workshops –one with governmental officials and one with other stakeholders– were held in Santiago (in June 2017) to test CoAXs in a Latin-American context. The results suggest:

· CoAXs helped users better understand public transport projects and their impacts.

· CoAXs supported relevant transport planning conversations, generating collaboration and trust among participants.

· CoAXs enhanced users’ perception of transit project impacts at the metropolitan scale, rather than the local or municipal scale.

Read more: Thesis, Article

TransitCenter: Boston Workshops

In-person workshops (in October 2016), with members of LivableStreets Alliance in Boston, tested participants’ reactions to bus priority scenarios on certain corridors. Two different ways of showing project impacts were tested, travel time versus accessibility (to jobs). Findings suggest:

· Users considered the travel-time version easier to use.

· The accessibility version tended to induce broader discussions (e.g., regional-scale discussions such as housing affordability).

· Participants’ enthusiasm about potential bus priority improvements did not differ significantly between the accessibility and travel time versions of the tool.

· Group dialogue played a more important role in fostering enthusiasm for those using the accessibility version than the travel-time version.

· The accessibility version seemed more conducive to mitigating negative predispositions towards the transit projects.

Read more: Report, Dissertation

TransitCenter: Remote Applications

A series of “remote” applications (i.e., with individuals logging in, on their own, via the web) was conducted in June 2017 in partnership with three transportation advocacy organizations – Advance Atlanta, Ride New Orleans and Walk San Francisco. Findings suggest:

· Users found the tool useful (e.g., for training advocates or utilizing results in advocacy) and usable.

· The use of CoAXs changed users’ perceived impacts of public transport system improvements.

· The user experience and incentives must be further improved for successful remote implementations; of those invited, few used the tool and they used it for relatively short periods of time (9 minutes on average).

Read more: Report, Thesis

Lessons learned for implementation

Interested in partnering with us?

Technical and organizational lessons learned from our experiences to date.

Think and Strategize First

Adapting CoAXs to a specific context is time consuming. Before starting to gather data, organizations should clearly define their vision and objectives for their stakeholder engagement campaign, use of the CoAXs tool, the transit projects of interest, and the types of “accessibility” (e.g., to job opportunities, healthcare facilities) to be analyzed.


In theory, CoAXs can be used to assess a number of different public transport scenarios and variations to them. In practice, the number of scenarios should be limited. Technical and time constraints naturally limit the scope of what can be considered in any practical application. The specifics should closely follow a strategic vision and objectives.

Prepare the Technical Requirements

CoAXs has four basic inputs: 1) General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) files for the area’s public transit system, 2) geo-referenced data of the variables representing “opportunities” of interest to access (e.g., jobs), 3) technical details about the public transport projects of interest , and 4) shapefiles representing any proposed services and lines. An implementation team needs: proficiency in GIS and familiarity with GTFS, web development capabilities, and access to Conveyal's open-source software.

Design the Engagement Method(s)

In-person workshops tend to encourage enriching deliberations, where people can share experiences and doubts, question assumptions, and develop mutual understandings. That said, online engagement has the potential to engage a large number of people, in a low cost, low hassle way. A hybrid in-person/online engagement approach might also be worth exploring.

Provide Adequate Project Information

Even if the intended audience consists of people familiar with transportation planning, background information on the public transportation projects should be shared. This should include general information about the types of changes that can be explored in CoAXs and definitions of terms (e.g., headways, BRT, dwell times).

Capitalize on the Learning Opportunity

CoAXs is only one type of tool that can be used for enhancing engagement. Any organization should consider how CoAXs might fit within its broader suite of approaches and ultimate objectives. Once deciding that CoAXs (or a similar tool) might be right, the organization should consider using the experience as an experiment – to understand the impacts on its members, the organization itself, and its objectives.


Kelly Blynn


Facilitation, partner liaison, and scenario development lead

Kelly Blynn is pursuing a Master of Science in Transportation and Master of City Planning at MIT. Prior to MIT, she worked as a transit and smart growth advocate for the Coalition for Smarter Growth in the DC area, and a climate campaigner with She's currently writing her thesis about how to accelerate transportation electrification as a strategy to reduce carbon emissions from the transport sector, with a particular focus on electric buses.

Peter Damrosch

MCP-JD Candidate

Facilitation, scenario development, and partner liaison

Peter Damrosch is pursuing a joint-degree in law and urban planning between Yale Law School and MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Before coming to MIT, he taught high school history and was involved public transportation advocacy in Amman, Jordan.

Jonathan Leape


Jonathan is a master's candidate in the dual program in transportation and city planning at MIT. He has worked as a transportation planning consultant in China, Brazil, Bogotá and the U.S., focusing on developing tools to inform policy decisions and large investments.

Xinhui Li

MCP Candidate, DUSP-MIT

Analysis and report design

Xinhui Li is a Master in City Planning student at MIT. She holds Master in Landscape Architecture from Harvard Graduate School of Design, and Bachelor of Engineering in Urban Planning from Sun Yat-sen University, China. She has worked on projects ranging from interactive map-based data visualization, using sensors to measure public spaces, to computational prototyping of urban blocks. In general, she is interested in the intersection of urban information system, quantitative analytics, and the design of urban form and public spaces.

Ceasar McDowell

Professor of the Practice of Civic Design, DUSP-MIT


Ceasar is an expert in the design of civic processes and infrastructure, as well as the use of mass media and technology in promoting democracy and community-building and use of empathy in community work. He was a lead in the public engagement process for GoBoston 2030, the mobility component of the City of Boston’s first general plan in decades, including an innovative participatory visioning process.

Cristian Navas Duk


Analysis and scenario development

Cristian Navas finished his Masters of Science in Urban Studies and Planning from DUSP-MIT in 2017. Cristian has more than 10 years of experience working at the public and private sector in Chile, with focus on transportation planning, non-motorized transport and traffic safety.

Ricardo Sanchez Lang

MCP Candidate, DUSP-MIT

Analysis, scenario development, and partner liaison

Ricardo is a candidate to the Master in City Planning at DUSP. Ricardo’s research has been focus on bicycle transportation, and accessibility in Latin American cities. Prior to coming to MIT he worked at the Office of Public Investment at the Nicaraguan Ministry of Finance in planning of transportation and energy projects. 

Ayesha Shahid


Analysis and survey design

Ayesha Shahid completed her Masters in City Planning from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning in 2017. Ayesha has previously worked in Pakistan exploring different careers from journalism to governance. She hopes to build on this experience to focus on urban planning and study how land development and transportation behaviors affect each other and the quality of life of citizens in the developing context.

Thiago Sobral

PhD Candidate in Transportation Systems - University of Porto, Portugal

MIT Portugal Visiting Student

Thiago Sobral is a Ph.D. Candidate in Transportation Systems at the University of Porto, and a visiting student at MIT at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He holds a B.Sc. in Applied Mathematics from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and a M.Sc. in Industrial Engineering and Management from the University of Porto. His research focuses on the development of Visualization Recommender Systems for mobility data.

Anson Stewart


Technical lead

Anson Stewart is the analysis and research lead at Conveyal.  He helped develop and evaluate early versions of CoAXs as part of his research in the MIT doctoral program in transportation.  He has also worked with transit agencies in Los Angeles, London, and Santiago de Chile.

P. Christopher Zegras

Associate Professor, DUSP-MIT

Informal ringleader

Chris has been teaching at MIT since 2005. Prior to academia he worked on transportation energy efficiency for an international NGO in Washington DC and Santiago de Chile. His favorite way to get around is by bicycle and with CoAXs he mostly tries to stay out of the way and let the team do its magic.

Xin Zheng

MST Candidate, CEE-MIT

Software development lead

Xin Zheng is a Master student in transportation at MIT. He is responsible for the software development of the CoAXs. He is interested in using new technology to tackle transportation problems. He also worked in the Department of Planning in San Francisco and Facebook.


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Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Urban Studies and Planning
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

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Copyright 2017