What is a Transport Planner?

“So what do you do?”

“I work for XXXX.”

“Oh.” And sometimes the conversation ends there.

But sometimes it doesn’t. “Doing what?”

“I’m a transport planner.”

“Oh.” And sometimes the conversation ends there.

But sometimes it doesn’t. “So what do you do?”

When people ask me what I do for a living, the only short answer is a tautology: I plan transport. It is unsatisfactory, yet I don’t want to bore a new friend, an old cousin, or my husband’s work colleague with tedious detail, so I waffle, “You know, walking, cycling, buses, road layouts, road safety.” I cannot even come up with a complete sentence.

It can be easier to understand what I don’t do. I don’t design or build roads or bridges, I don’t drive buses or trains, I don’t repair bicycles or even fill potholes. Sometimes I mention a specific project I am working on when I think it will capture my interrogator’s imagination. Yet for those many times when I could not provide an example, this is what I would have liked to say:

I develop policy and strategy on any topic that involves or is related to moving around in public spaces and sometimes in private outdoor spaces too. I guide such policies through the democratic process, both public and political. I bid for funding to implement those strategies. I procure and manage contracts and services, model and monitor outcomes. Sometimes I even get to draw that first line on a map before it gets to the engineer or architect to design. The results of my work are often long term, but they are tangible. The reward is making a positive social difference. How many others in office-based careers spending their days writing reports, crunching spreadsheets and attending meetings can say that?

And what would I say to our vocal detractors who believe that they’d be better off if things weren’t planned? If there were no parking restrictions and no traffic lights. If public transport were completely controlled by market forces and all road users, including pedestrians and cyclists were left to sort out their own differences?

I would say that they have answered their own question. Who else but transport planners have the responsibility to consider all road users and balance their needs within the limited resources of space and distance to best achieve mobility and access for all over the long term? Whether we achieve that balance is another question, but who else has the job of looking at the bigger moving picture?

One thought on “What is a Transport Planner?

  1. Pingback: Writing Out of the Closet | hdbudnitz

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