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Alumni Spotlight: Emily Castor Warren, MPA '10

December 6, 2017

Emily Castor Warren, ‘10, currently works with transportation and environmental agencies at the federal, state, and local levels as Lyft’s Senior Director of Transportation Policy, encouraging ridesharing as an environmentally conscious and community-based alternative to car ownership. In this interview, Emily discusses her time at Fels as well as her professional experiences after graduation.

What inspired you to attend Fels?

As an undergrad, I was interested in politics and interned with Congresswoman Susan Davis and Senator Barbara Boxer. After graduation, I worked for Rep. Davis on Capitol Hill and then went to work on a political campaign in the Philadelphia area. At that point I was ready to go to graduate school, but I’d already been exposed to a lot of policy work in the real world. I wanted more practical public sector management experience in budgeting and public finance, and I knew there were Fels faculty particularly focused on working in that area.

Why did you switch gears and get into the ridesharing field?  

I had been working as a financial advisor for municipal infrastructure projects. While public finance was something I found interesting and important, it didn’t align with my passion for engaging in rapid innovation. And I was looking to be part of something that was addressing longstanding challenges in transportation.

Peer-to-peer marketplaces like Airbnb and TaskRabbit were just beginning to emerge as a tech startup trend around that time, and the concept captured my imagination. I started participating actively and trying out different platforms in San Francisco, where I was living. I just knew I wanted to find a way to work in that field. I networked like crazy and also hosted an event series on topics related to the sharing economy. That’s how I met Lyft’s founders just a few months before Lyft launched in 2012. It was one of the luckiest things that’s happened to me.

How would you describe your current role at Lyft?

My job is to work with transportation agencies and experts around the country who are interested in Lyft as a new mode of transportation. This can include working with government agencies and policymakers trying to figure out how to adapt the design of streets, or ways of providing public transit, or other areas of interest related to ridesharing. I also work with environmental organizations and regulators interested in the sustainability impacts of Lyft. My work is focused on Lyft’s long-term impact on cities and broader outcomes in the transportation ecosystem. Right now, we are especially liaising with government around the arrival of autonomous vehicles.

As an ambassador for Lyft, I’ve done around 300 speaking engagements over the last five-plus years, including panels and keynotes at large transportation conferences. I’ve put a lot of miles on my frequent flier account! I also give interviews to the media and write blog posts on Medium, sharing our view on issues related to transportation, the environment, and urban design.

How are you applying what you learned at Fels?

At Fels, we did a number of group projects; the most intense was creating and presenting a comprehensive municipal budget for an imaginary city. I think the experience of doing something I’d never done before on a short timeline, and producing a polished result, prepared me for the high-pressure environment of working with small teams at Lyft. Also, I was able to develop presentation skills and a comfort with public speaking that has served me very well in this job.

Beyond that, what has been so useful about the Fels education is the focus on how government agencies make decisions and operate on a day-to-day basis. Lyft is at the crux of transformation in transportation policies affecting revenue generation and infrastructure development. It’s helpful to know the timelines and processes that government agencies use, so I can engage with them effectively. Especially because we may be challenging them to do something they’ve never done before.

You received the Fels Institutional Service Award in 2011 for outstanding dedication to Fels and the University of Pennsylvania. How have you stayed involved in the Fels community?

Fels has connected me with students in the Bay Area interested in working in this field. People are moving into the technology field from government, and companies are hiring people who can bridge those two worlds. There’s a growing market for people who have the skills Fels develops, such as insight into policy and municipal operations. Fels’ focus on cities is a great strength in preparing people to work in technology companies doing civic innovation.

Also, I met my husband at Fels. We had a class together in treasury management. We are forever in Fels’ debt!

 

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu