Operational understanding is crucial to any role that you do in transport.
Understanding your mode and how it works, breaks, recovers and keeps people moving is vital. How it is built, maintained, repaired and renewed is an obvious focus when undertaking major change projects.
Start though by understanding how it works on a day to day basis. Use it as a passenger, work shadow people in operational roles, see it in use and speak to operators.
A cab ride chatting with a train driver gives you a perspective that’s hard to write into an induction manual. Bus drivers understand passenger personas with more depth and insight than you will find in a marketing book.
There are nuances that you won’t see by looking at designs or performance statistics. How operators iron out glitches, solve day to running issues, manage the people impact of perturbation and focus on moving people around are all areas you should understand before you set out to change any of it. I have yet to meet a member of an operation team who isn’t happy to share their knowledge in order to achieve better outcomes in transport projects.
Look at the behaviours to predict project success
As Head of Sponsorship at Network Rail 3 of us annually reviewed the £34bn rail portfolio against likelihood of success on cost, schedule & benefits. Affectionately (or not) known as the Hendy 2 and Hendy 3 reviews it was an enormous exercise. Crossing the country carrying out intensive audits and reviews over 8 weeks, interviewing hundreds of staff and correlating data. Predicting success and risk is assumed to be a data driven exercise in these days of sophisticated management information tools.
On the team we had the best project controls leader I have ever met. Management information was the bedrock of our findings but not the final output. The data was turned into information to give us knowledge.
That only became powerful when combined with our collective intuition. What we knew about people, how we saw teams react to questions and answers in each other’s presence, body language, openness to challenge & questions, what people did & didn’t say and crucially the team dynamics. In person reviews are vital in understanding the health of a project as that is hugely determined by the people delivering that project.
Transport is the lifeblood of communities
Prior to transport I had been working in programmes to regenerate communities through housing, infrastructure, education, employment, increased social values and integration of disenfranchised subgroups in inner city Glasgow. I was accustomed to looking at the role of transport at a micro level in cities. It did not prepare me for what I would see sponsoring the reopening of the railways between Airdrie -Bathgate and Borders Railway.
The detrimental impact of losing transport options to communities is colossal. It’s obvious that travel to work and education would be more difficult but imagine living only miles from major cities with no public transport that lets you arrive before 915 am or gets you home after 6pm. How do you inspire a generation to achieve when most opportunities rely on infrequent, deregulated bus services or cars which may are out of financial reach? Those communities had been economically & socially devastated and two generations isolated by lack of transport. If ever there was a purposeful work, it was delivering railways which reconnected the towns on those routes.