- Course: MSc Transport Planning
- Year of graduation: 2013
- Nationality: British
- Job title: Active Travel Policy Officer
- Company: West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA)
What have you been doing since finishing your studies? What are you doing in terms of your career?
Since I finished my studies at Institute for Transport Studies (ITS), I’ve been working pretty steadily - although that hasn’t stopped me finding time to continue academia elsewhere As far as my career goes though, I’ve worked for both private consultancies and local government, working across all sorts of different fields, including Active Travel, Future Mobility, Sustainable Freight & Logistics, Urban Planning and Rail just to name a few!
What company are you working for, what is your role and what does it involve?
I’m comfortably ensconced at the West Yorkshire Combined Authority now, where I am the Active Travel Policy Officer. I’m heading up the Combined Authority’s approach to active travel and how we can achieve modal shift to more sustainable modes in order to meet ambitious decarbonisation targets. This involves all sorts of work, from infrastructure planning (and the ever-knotty issue of roadspace allocation) to co-ordinating with colleagues working in behaviour change to help support and embed change.
As we drive towards a more integrated transport plan for West Yorkshire, we’re working closely as a team across Mass Rapid Transit, Placemaking, Active Travel, Bus, Rail and Future Mobility to ensure that there is a real, coherent alternative to car use. It’s great fun, and I’m working in areas that I’m passionate about (liveability, sustainability, quality of life) and being able to implement some of the latest academic insights in concrete at ground level. In addition to that, I’ve been writing a lot of policies and strategies - framing the future and setting a context for sustainable future development.
What experiences at Leeds do you think have particularly helped with your career/will help with your future career?
Asking and researching questions. Keeping on top of academic research across all the areas you’re interested in helps you to build a body of knowledge that is not only unique to you (and therefore rather a useful asset) but also see links that nobody else can see. Then you can explain them clearly and effectively, and demonstrate how building more car parking spaces really isn’t going to save the town centre; they’re simply doubling down on a failed strategy.
Looking back, why did you choose to study your particular course and why did you choose the University of Leeds?
I came from a History background, and I realised that the answers for a lot of what I found frustrating about transport in the UK were a result of our historical legacy (cf. Beeching). However whilst the links ran that way, I also realised that I could use my historical knowledge to help prevent mistakes being repeated, and to demonstrate an appreciation of why and how things are the way they are. However, to work in Transport I needed to learn from the best, and ITS was up there in the world rankings - I would have been foolish not to apply.
What was the best aspect of the course/the University and why? Any highlights?
I think meeting all the people I met, going on field trips, sharing pints, culture and a passion for improving transport has to be one of the top reasons. Yes, the lectures were enjoyable (even those for which I lacked ability) but it was the camaraderie amongst the students and the great links with lecturers who were keen to talk to us that made it enjoyable.
What other activities outside of your studies were you involved in?
Well there was the field trip, of course, and captaining (terribly) the student cricket team for the staff/student cricket match. Dr Daniel Johnson is a crafty wicketkeeper, I’ll give him that. Otherwise, I mostly went to the pub or the gym - I still do the former. I’d recommend it, it’s an excellent way of building links to people, especially at ITS. I now know people across the world, working for all sorts of firms; and having shared a few pints with them in Old Bar over our year together, that bond is that much stronger. I still meet up with a lot of them!
What would you say to students thinking about studying the same course at Leeds/thinking about the same career?
Be prepared for a lot of effort, and a lot of frustration. That’s not to do it down, I love what I do, and I love what I did at the University of Leeds - but it’s not all the bits of work that you enjoy. If you’re a modeller you might not always be playing in VISSIM, if you’re into sustainable policy you’ll still have to write business cases for increasing capacity at motorway junctions. Similarly, great schemes into which you have invested hours of your life will be abandoned or never even be more than a binder on a council’s shelf.
Still, it’s all worth it. Leeds ITS for the learning and the colleagues, for landing that job offer and that understanding of how it works, and the career for when it does come off; and you stand in a town square or a rail freight terminal or a new cycle bridge over a railway and you can happily say “I made this happen.”