- Course: MSc Transportation Engineering
- Year of graduation: 1973
- Nationality: Australian
- Job title: Transport Planning Consultant
- Company: Audus
After more than 40 years working in England and Australia as an engineer and planner in all aspects of land transport, I am now in semi-retirement, only taking short contracts as a sole trader if they suit my particular current interests in sustainable transport policy and planning in cities.
My most recent project was a six-week advisory position with Translink, Queensland’s over-arching public transport agency (at State government level). My tasks were to advise on the adoption of suitable performance measures for the bus network in south-east Queensland and major cities in Queensland; write a consultants’ brief for conducting a major review of the bus network in Brisbane, and write a brief on the proposed project for the Minister of Transport.
The course at ITS gave me an excellent grounding across the transport spectrum, from detailed traffic analysis and highway engineering to transport modelling and economics. I have used and built on just about every aspect of that course as my career developed, working for local governments in England and Australia, in State government in Australia, and most of all as a consultant.
When I was at school, the Buchanan Report on planning for the future transport networks in the UK was presented to the government, supported by a big, glossy coffee-table book called Traffic In Towns. I was most impressed by this book, to the extent that it got me interested in wanting to study transport. Of course, it was only many years later, and after the needless destruction of many of the UK’s best urban features, that I realized that the report and the book were illustrations of how not to do transport planning.
To get into traffic and transport required a degree in civil engineering. Other ways were possible, but engineering was by far the most common. My UCCA list placed Imperial College, London, Leeds and then other redbricks. I received offers from them all following interviews, but Leeds looked like it would be a lot of fun, as well as an excellent institution for learning, and so it turned out.
Transport studies are its own discipline, falling somewhere between engineering and town planning. Traditionally it has been lumped with civil engineering, which is fine if you want to be a traffic engineer or highway engineer. If you want to design transport systems that contribute to better cities and communities, however, other avenues leading to this specialised field would be more useful: town planning, in particular, geography and environmental studies, for example.
There was a time when the primary objective of traffic and transport studies was to find ways of reducing traffic congestion. That context focused the work very much on engineering matters with the aim of building infrastructure to facilitate the movement of traffic comprising cars, service vehicles and freight. Now, even traffic engineers should acknowledge that their work is part of a grander strategy involving the betterment of our communities and natural environment; and planners and transport economists should not neglect – in fact, must prioritise – what used to be called externalities: the social and environmental factors that were given only fleeting consideration in the cost-benefit analysis.
So my advice to students interested in a career in transport – be sure of your leanings. Do you want to be an engineer, involved with the minutiae of traffic analysis and design, or a planner at a more strategic level, with fingers in the economic, social, environmental and urbanist pies? Or, indeed, a mix of all these? ITS gave me a taste of all these sub-disciplines.
When I arrived in Australia, broke and jobless after bumming for six months in Greece, Egypt and Asia, I was prepared to take on any job. It was a time of only moderate economic vitality, and my early applications for the few transport jobs bore no fruit. Fortunately, an Australian company gave me a position on the contract to carry out a task which neither of us knew much about (actually nothing, in my case). The company (a medium-sized civil, structural and mechanical engineering consultancy) had cornered the market for planning and designing seaports for the export of coal. They needed someone to construct a computer simulation model of the operations of such a port so that they could be analysed and potential bottlenecks could be identified. I was candid about my ignorance in this field (Fortran programming being the only useful skill I could associate with the job), but they were impressed enough by my transportation (ships are transport, aren’t they?) credentials and perhaps my forthright manner to offer me a six-month trial. This developed into another year, several times over, by which time I had rapidly scaled the learning curve to become one of the few experts in the computer simulation of port operations for bulk materials in Australia. My program became an indispensable monster, to the extent that it predicted some unpalatable phenomena that, by being neglected, actually eventuated.
Later, I returned to mainstream highway planning and traffic engineering, and later still I moved into strategic transport planning, where my interest now resides. My point is, though, that sometimes circumstances may force you, or you may have chosen, to take a fork in the road, away from the safe journey. Go for it! You will find that your adventurousness and what you learn from it, and your hunger, will help to open new opportunities, to broaden your options, and give you confidence.
ITS congratulate Harry on his recognition by the Worldwide Branding for Excellence in Transportation Planning.