Why we are running a #transportskills week

Our members, the Government and transport users alike all have hopes and expectations for improved transport infrastructure both regionally and nationally. However engineering is just one dimension of the skills shortages that face the transport sector exacerbated by a workforce which is ageing and which does not reflect the diversity of wider society. Indeed the Department for Transport is predicting a 55,000 shortfall in skilled workers in transport infrastructure by 2020, which is a major threat to transport infrastructure development. One key reason why we supporting National Women in Engineering Day this Friday.

The Urban Transport Group has long supported initiatives designed to encourage and promote careers in transport and to enhance diversity in recruitment – we strongly believe there’s a need to make a career in the transport sector more appealing to a more diverse range of people not least because sorting out your cities transport challenges in creative and effective ways, or delivering that transport service, is an exciting and rewarding thing to do. Yet the image the sector projects is not cutting through.

In the run up to National Women in Engineering Day on Friday, 23 June we will be highlighting the many excellent initiatives and examples that are out not just on encouraging women into the engineering sector, and transport more widely, but also on many other aspects of skills and diversity. And there are some great initiatives out there – the Chartered Institute of Highways and Logistics (CIHT) has a toolkit to address the lack of diversity in the transport sector and deliver benefits such as recruitment from a wider talent pool, benefits to corporate reputation and improvements in creativity and innovation. The toolkit can be found here. There are a number of national schemes that help employees to go into schools and promote careers in their areas. These include STEMNET for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics based careers, the Royal Geographical Society’s Geography Ambassador scheme, for geography related careers, and Inspiring the Future, which is not sector or subject specific.

#Transportskills week forms part of our wider work on capabilities and capacities which includes creating the only guide – that we are aware of – that profiles the various national relevant skills and diversity initiatives which the transport sector could participate in or take advantage of.

UTG will continue to work in this area, and we have established a People and Skills Hub on our website for our members, in order to share information about national initiatives like those highlighted in the guide. In addition, our wider Capacities and Capabilities workstream (of which our people and skills work stream is part) seeks to improve the capabilities and capacities of our members, including through an ‘Insight’ hub for datasets and indicators and shared technical and transport planning tools.

If we want urban transport to meet the needs of our changing and growing cities then we need those who plan, deliver and provide urban transport systems to reflect the vibrancy, diversity and creativity of those who live there and we need urban transport organisations that offer careers that build skills, fit lifestyles and support peoples’ development. There’s plenty of great skills and diversity initiatives out there to help this process – and highlighting those is what our #transportskills week is all about.

Smart futures for urban transport: making it work for travellers and cities

Change isn’t coming – it is already here. Transformative technological change (allied with social change – the transition to a sharing economy in particular) is shifting the ground beneath our feet as big city transport authorities. Three areas in particular stand out. Firstly, the explosion of data which means that citizens can be far better informed as travellers about their options but also potentially have a greater say over decisions on transport. The planners evaluating the options for new services, infrastructure and facilities will also be far better informed about the implications of different options. Secondly, new vehicle technologies will mean that vehicles are smarter, greener and better connected. There is also the potential for them to become more autonomous. Thirdly, new means of paying for access to transport alongside new business models open up the potential for Mobility as a Service – where travellers can buy packages of mobility that can be used across all modes (including bike hire, car hire and taxis).

Better informed decision making, both individually and collectively, as well as transport systems which are smarter and cleaner, offers an exciting prospect. However, there’s more to getting the best from this smart future than just letting technology rip. For example the growth in the taxi market, fuelled by new business models, is bringing benefits to consumers but at the expense of growing traffic congestion. Who will ensure that those on the wrong side of the digital divide can still get around? How can we ensure that technology plays its full role in improving air quality and tackling carbon emissions?

Much of the debate on what we call ‘smart futures’ tends to be focussed on excitement around the technology itself. However, technology should not be an end in itself. It should be about making individual journeys easier whilst also serving wider public policy goals for cities – like cleaner air, inclusive growth and urban environments that people want to visit, invest in, live in and work in.

This is where the Urban Transport Group, and its members come in, and it’s what ‘Our Vision for Smart Futures’ that we launched today is all about.

A vision that commits us to recognising the pace of change and the benefits it can bring in the way that we work and operate; making sure that change makes travel simpler and easier whilst ensuring that change does not leave behind any sector of society or community or leads to unintended consequences that damage cities as a whole (such as more traffic congestion)

I hope that this vision statement will help remind national government, Transportation Network Companies and the tech sector that to get the best from smart futures we need a broader dialogue on smart futures on transport, one in which public sector transport authorities and wider city region government is integral.

Follow this link to download a copy of ‘Our Vision for Smart Futures‘.



Five things I learned from our bus franchising masterclass

We tried something different with the format for this event rather than the usual array of fifteen minute corporate presentations that most transport conferences rely on. Instead we gave much more time for a small number of speakers to really get into the detail of the topic through a series of masterclass sessions (in a way that over the course of the day everyone could attend all them). The sessions focused in detail on how our guest speakers had made franchising work in their own areas and ensured that everyone would go away with much more confidence that franchising can be done and done well. The day’s success also rested heavily on the great job that our speakers did in clearly explaining the context and the lessons learned.

Everyone will go away from the event with their own takeaways but here’s the five key things I learned.

1. Franchising can deliver better services with more innovation and at less cost in a wide range of diverse circumstances. From a city that loves its cars and low density housing (like Perth in Australia) to a prosperous island with high car ownership like Jersey as well as the  bicycle capital of the western world, Groningen, in the Netherlands.  The idea that’s sometimes put about in the UK that franchising is only for the largest cities is nonsense – it can work anywhere.

2. Planning and procuring bus services is not putting an astronaut on Mars. Buses run between obvious places and you determine the fares structure that people pay to use those services. Get it wrong and you can tweak it relatively quickly and easily (not so easy to move a rapid transit rail service if you put it in the wrong place). However you still need to apply intelligence and common sense on both the principles and the details. From depots to staffing and from IT systems to how you assess tender bids. It all requires careful thought and…

3. …you would also be well advised to learn from those who have done it. There is really no substitute for talking to people who have thought all this through in their own part of the world, learnt the hard way what to do and what not to do and have got a thriving bus service at the end of it. Which is what the event was all about of course.

4. Have the guts not to go for the lowest bid if the numbers and the quality don’t stack up. The maxim ‘if it looks too good to be true it is too good to be true’ applies to franchising like anything else. Not always easy for the public sector to reject the cheapest bid. But there are many instances around the world of authorities feeling good in the short term for driving a hard bargain but repenting at leisure over a much longer period of time as the cheap bid unravels in the form of poor service and an operator demanding more money to keep the show on the road.

5. Having an operator who, for whatever, reason really want the franchise to work helps a lot. It could be because they are hungry for it and building a reputation, it could be because they have the track record. Whatever the reason – it’s best to be confident that the people on the other side of the table care as much about a reputation building outcome as you do.

Follow this link to download all the presentations from the conference.