Michele Dix, CBE

Michele Dix, CBE

In this interview for the Universities’ Transport Partnership in April 2012, Dr Dix talks about her former role as Managing Director of Planning at Transport for London.

After gaining a civil engineering degree from Leeds, Michele completed a PhD at ITS, examining the relationship between land use planning and transport. She joined Greater London Council’s graduate training scheme as a transport planning specialist, and qualified as a Chartered Civil Engineer. After six years working on transport policy and road schemes, she joined Halcrow where she stayed for 15 years, becoming board director for urban transport planning. She left in 2000 to join TfL as director of congestion charging, job sharing with Malcolm Murray-Clark. Michele was promoted to her current role in 2007 and is responsible for leading TfL’s strategic thinking on future transport needs.

How has the economic environment affected TfL’s transport planning resource and skills requirements?

Changes to TfL’s business plan mean we are doing more technical work in house, modelling work in particular. Previously, we would have commissioned many more pieces of work and our staff would have been writing briefs and managing contracts, whereas now they do the work themselves. We have started skilling up staff through in-house training and sharing expertise, but it is not a large programme. It’s more about allowing people to apply skills they already had and sharing expertise, and, in particular, making sure we don’t work in silos. Although we continue to need specialists, we want those people to develop their skills so they could work on policy development too, or softer issues, or get involved in the operations side. In terms of resources, we have 500 transport planners, but TfL is having to reduce non-operational staff. We are seeking to make some changes in numbers but in a way that does not affect operations or longer term plans.

How are you working differently as an organisation?

The old way was for planners to produce ideas and pass them to other sections for implementation, which could then lead to operations staff saying this can’t be done. So we looked at different ways the organisation could be taken forward, for example whether to extract all planners out and place them in different departments or consolidate them in a single team. What we decided was to continue with teams in associated operating businesses and to have a smaller central team able to pull people together to work on projects from different departments with different skill sets, so we have an integrated matrix approach with project teams.

What has the impact been?

It’s more efficient and gives better results because people are developing solutions as a team, and because they are responsible for their own work. What it means is using fewer people through matrix working because people are working across LUL, rail and surface transport, which is more efficient. We are also lighter on our feet and can give quicker answers to project teams and operations. It’s more satisfying for staff as well because they develop and run models rather than just writing briefs. We do still use consultants where resource is required that we do not have in-house.

Is there a good example of how the new approach has been successful?

The best is the cable car work. We needed to pull together a team including the former London Development Agency, which was interested in the land we wanted to use, and the GLA. We did much of the analytical work for the feasibility study in terms of capacity and the economic case, but used consultants by exception for the detailed engineering design. When the project was obviously going to go forward, we formed a matrix team, bringing in people with consent skills, operations skills and design skills. Ownership of the scheme moved from my area – planning – to operations under the head of the Docklands Light Railway, but some of my team continued to work on the project to ensure it would go ahead as planned.

Are the changes making transport planners’ roles more demanding?

If people are working together more effectively, there is less need for duplication and checking, so it shouldn’t make roles more demanding, but should make them more interesting. How to bring the right people together is the issue.

Have there been changes to TfL’s graduate recruitment programme?

In the past we might have taken people at entry level with geography, maths and economics degrees, but now we are interested in project management skills and softer people skills too. We recognise the importance of continuing with the graduate programme and take about five graduates each year. Over the past four years, we have structured the programme so it is aligned with TPS’s qualifications, with particular emphasis on graduates having analytical modelling skills.

How do university courses need to adapt?

I think they are taking on the need for softer skills which is good, but there is also a wider need for stronger analytical skills which are important in the policy development process. People must have analytical skills as well as ideas.

How may TfL’s approach to sponsoring transport planners on Masters courses change in light of rises in fees?

At present we are sponsoring one or two people, but our ability to do so is more limited. It’s a big investment and we have to be careful to get value from it. When there are tight financial constraints, the business needs and individuals’ development needs have to be more closely aligned. In the past, we could invest in people but that does not benefit the business if they leave. We need to carefully consider how to retain talent as well as developing talent. Talent management is a big issue, and we are going through a process of assessing and developing people to nurture talent.

How should the UTP Employers’ Forum develop?

The Forum is useful for sharing ideas between the public and private sector, but could play a larger role. The suggestion is for relationships to be established to provide placements for staff development purposes. We would then need to see how that could be embedded in qualifications.

April 2012

This profile is reproduced from an interview in ‘The Right Lines’ the newsletter of the Universities’ Transport partnership (UTP). With thanks to Martin Richards and James Dark.     

Michèle has been presented with a lifetime achievement award recognising her outstanding contribution to transport planning in the capital. The award was presented by Daniel Parker-Klein, Director PTRC Education & Research Services Ltd, at the 12th PRTC conference at the Emirates Stadium in July 2014. The award is presented to leading figures in the transport world recognising their long term commitment and contribution to the transport planning profession. - Read More

Michèle has also been recognised with a CBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours list for services to transport in London; and on February 5th 2015 moves to the new post of Managing Director of Crossrail 2, to make the case for, and implement, the next new rail scheme for London's growth.CBE in New Years Honours list. - Read More