Portrait of Robert Johns
Senior Fellow (Retired)
Areas of Expertise
leadership; strategy; and management of public sector organizations; management of complex public sector projects; transportation policy and planning; transportation research; innovation; and technology.

    Robert Johns served as senior fellow at the University of Minnesota from January 2016 to December 2019. He taught in the leadership and management area of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and supported transportation-related research in the School's urban and regional planning area. He also served as senior strategy adviser for the School's science, technology, and environmental policy area, supporting the leadership of multi-year National Science Foundation grants on smart and sustainable cities.

    Prior to joining the University, Johns served as director of the U.S. Department of Transportation's John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, a fee-for-service federal organization that conducts approximately $300 million in annual research for its sponsors, including DOT modal administrations and other federal agencies. Approximately 570 federal employees and 500 on-site contractors carry out these research programs at Volpe.

    In his role as Volpe director, Johns worked with Volpe clients to expand sponsored research programs, including analysis and modeling for improving the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, technical assistance and oversight for high-speed rail projects, evaluation of automated and connected vehicle technologies, and expanded research for the NextGen air traffic control system.

    Johns also led high-profile priorities for the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, including the writing of Beyond Traffic 2045, Secretary Foxx's 30-year framework for transportation, and strategic planning activities for Secretary LaHood's transformation of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He received the Secretary's Partnership in Excellence Award in 2012 and in 2015.

    Nationally, Johns was active in the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies. From 2008 to 2011, he chaired the TRB Technical Activities Council, which oversees the research and outreach activities of 200 technical committees. In honor of his leadership for TRB, he was named a National Associate by the National Academies and an Emeritus Member of TRB's Policy and Organization Group Executive Board.

    Prior to joining Volpe in 2009, Johns served as director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota. He led major interdisciplinary research programs on transportation and community design, access to destinations, and transportation and regional growth. Before joining the University in 1988, he held research and management positions with the Santa Fe Railway, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities.

    Johns earned a BS degree in engineering operations from Iowa State University, and an MBA and an MA in English from the University of Iowa.