Ask anyone in the UK about transport and they will have a viewpoint. Whether it is the unreliability of public transport, the causes of congestion, the state of the footway, road humps, speed cameras or the cost of parking. Travel and transport are subjects in which we all have an interest, as we all have a need to travel to reach the places we want to visit or the activities in which we wish to participate. Similarly, the goods and services we want need to be transported in order to reach us.
The private car enables people to enjoy high levels of personal mobility. Average distances travelled have increased over the years and many people now live in places that would previously have been inaccessible to their main places of work, shopping and leisure.
As a result, for many there is no alternative to using the car. In the same way, the relatively low cost of transporting goods enables industry and manufacturing to take place more remotely from their point of delivery than would have been the case in the past.
The transition to a predominantly car-borne society has often been at the expense of other means of travel, which were largely ignored. In particular, public transport became a means of travel of last resort, and walking and cycling an option for a few. As a result, a significant proportion of the population has been growing up in a world in which public transport plays no part in their lives. Indeed, for many, public transport has a very poor image.
With climate change playing an increasingly important role in our lives, with social resistance to many new road schemes and austerity measures limiting funding for transport, there has been an increased emphasis on making the best possible use of our transport infrastructure and of the services that use it. This is coupled with measures to encourage people to make less use of their cars – to be smarter in their travel decisions. Individuals can no longer be simply categorised as motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, or public transport users.
In moving to making better decisions, knowledgeable about the alternatives to the car, much of transport planning is about behavioural change, recognising that travel decisions are based around people’s needs, perceptions and choices.
Potentially, someone can be a motorist, a pedestrian, a cyclist and a public transport user at different times, in the different circumstances they encounter. The challenge for transport planners is not just about transport systems and services, but also about understanding and influencing travel behaviour.
‘Accessibility’ rather than ‘transport’ is a key issue, and accessibility planning has developed into an important area of activity.
Access is a good concept, as it takes the focus away from transport. Whilst transport was seen as the domain of local authorities to sort out, accessibility implies shared interest on the part of a range of organisations. For example, health trusts are interested in how people access healthcare services and colleges are interested in how students access education. Thus, accessibility is something in which a range of organisations will share in the identification of problems and share in the development of the solutions.
Central to the formulation and delivery of accessibility strategies is strong and effective partnership working.
Providing good access is not just about improving transport services. It may be possible to consider ways of taking services to people. In all events it is important for service providers to think about access at each stage of the planning and delivery process. Central to achieving improved access will be the locating of facilities in places that are easy to reach by potential users and by different modes of travel, such that real choice exists and informed travel decisions can be made.
The transport planning profession
Transport planners play a key role in society – identifying needs and opportunities for improving travel by individuals and the transport of goods. They work across modal boundaries, cooperate with many different disciplines, and make use of the latest technology and behavioural thinking. They provide advice on how best to achieve local objectives, and ensure that projects are delivered efficiently and cost effectively. They present their case to stakeholders, the public, and Government, and at Public Inquiries and Examinations in Public.
They are involved in the development of major projects, such as HS2, as well in measures to reduce carbon emissions and to achieve behavioural change, reducing the use of cars, and in local traffic and environmental management schemes.
Transport planners need a broad range of skills, both technical and generic. This includes being:
- Good managers of projects and people
- Able to work easily with others, colleagues, stakeholders and other interested parties
- Very good communicators – both orally and in writing.
They need to understand both the demand for and supply of transport, whether it is the movement of people or goods, the decision-making process about how to travel and the different ways in which transport is delivered.
Most transport planners join the profession with at least a first degree from areas such as civil and environmental engineering, business studies, economics, environmental studies, geography, information technology marketing, maths, operations research, sociology, statistics, town planning and the behavioural sciences. Many employers provide graduate training, or professional development schemes, designed to help their staff gain the skills they need to in a structured way, and providing a pathway towards a professional qualification.
Transport planners work in the public and private sectors, as well as the academic, research, public interest and voluntary sectors. Many switch between sectors as their careers, and interests, develop. Most of those in the public sector work for local authorities – others work for government departments and agencies. Most private sector jobs are with consultants but some are with train and bus and coach operators, as well as with developers and financing companies. The range of consultants employing transport planners is wide, from large multi-disciplinary consultants operating around the world through medium-sized companies specialising in transport planning to small, niche companies with a particular focus.
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