Urie Bezuidenhout, ITS alumni

Urie Bezuidenhout

I currently run my own consultancy specializing in transportation and traffic engineering.  I have built my niche market around taking on those difficult projects that often need solutions from first principles.  Many of my government department clients use me to find solutions to those tricky problems they encounter, such as developing new network performance metrics for the many non-technical managers that now run the departments traditionally led by engineering-based managers.

I also at times assist residents interest groups to provide them with pro-bono expertise on projects that appear flawed, but developers with deep pockets can overwhelm their own large team of experts.  I do not shy away from taking on large developers or government authorities if I believe the project has serious flaws.

In addition to running my consultancy during the past 8 years, it also included researching for my Doctorate that I completed last year, teaching postgraduates part-time, tutoring and also mentoring student teams involved in entrepreneurial challenge competitions at the University of Auckland. As a small business owner, I do everything, including all the admin and bookkeeping. From time to time I take on interns that have not managed to gain the requisite practical experience hours (600) needed for their BSc Eng degrees and thus enabling them to graduate with their fellow classmates.

Since graduating, my experience at ITS landed me a number of better opportunities but the most vital advantage was it made me internationally mobile, and I could “escape” from South Africa.  It stimulated me intellectually as well as culturally given the big international make-up of the classes.  The field trips were the best of those memories, and I could speak first hand of the many different transport solutions having either visited or used them.  (Dr Paul Firmin was an awesome field trip organizer).

The year I spent at ITS prepared me well for undertaking advanced research, and when I enrolled in my PhD in 2010, I was well set up.  Much of my motivation to further my understanding in human factors was due to the experience with the ITS that had combined staff from the various disciplines of Psychology, Engineering, Geography and Economics to find solutions to transport problems.  This motivated me to take a couple of post-graduate papers in psychology to deepen my understanding of how drivers perceive and interact with their environment.   It led to developing a novel video-based method using eye -tracking techniques and I am one of two organizations in New Zealand that actually use eye-tracking as a commercial tool to analyse driver behaviour.

I was part of a Rotary-sponsored Group Study Exchange team visiting Yorkshire in 1997 and fell in love with the people and Yorkshire.  Always wanting to further my studies, Leeds was an option, and when the opportunity to study under Dirck van Vliet arose, it was too good to pass up.  Advice from many of my other colleagues, who went to England or the USA for their Masters, said it would be a defining change, both on a personal and academic level.  The range of subject choices at ITS was far superior, about three times more, to those that I could choose from the South African Universities. During my time at ITS I took part in the Employers visits, and they are worth it, even if nothing materializes it’s worth making those industry contacts, you never know when you will run into them again.

My advice to students interested in this course and a career in transport is to get a broad selection of subjects to make you versatile and also pick a research topic with a supervisor that you can work well with.  Topic selection is vital to look at which way the transport filed is pointing and find a unique and niche topic that will define you later on.

I would say the highlight of my career so far is having the confidence in my knowledge to go out on my own, being asked to deliver expert testimony in consent hearings, and finishing my PhD last year (part-time). My further advice to other ITS international students who are seeking work in the transport sector is don’t give up, immigration rules that make it difficult often get changed, so it’s a matter of timing.  There are plenty of other places in the world that you would find nicer and more accommodating if it’s too difficult to find an opportunity in your first choice of country.