The journey planner

Atkins | 06 Jun 2008 | Comments

With over one billion tube journeys a year, 8,000 buses and 580 kilometres of “red route” road network, planning London’s travel needs is extraordinarily complex. As managing director of planning at Transport for London – one of Atkins’ most valued clients – Michèle Dix gets to do it every day.

How do you try to address our transport needs today, while planning ahead for the future?

We work closely with the Greater London Authority and the Mayor’s Office to determine the capital’s transport priorities.

Transport modelling, using data on population and employment growth, is used in predicting future demand for transport. But stakeholder involvement is also very important in planning. We’re engaged with a wide range of stakeholders across London’s boroughs and who represent different groupings and particular modal interests.

It’s also very useful to look back at past experience and trends and ask what impact policies had and how effective they were. The emphasis is on making the transport strategy future-proof, and flexible enough to adapt to changing needs and new technologies as they come along.

 Is technology becoming more important in managing the traffic?

Absolutely. It’s exciting that so much technology is becoming available and is changing the way that we operate our transport systems. It allows us to communicate better and to get as much value as possible from the existing network.

For instance, technology has been vital in enabling us to provide the public with high levels of information. This means people can make real-time choices.

Our Smarter Travel Unit is at the leading edge in this area. For example, we’re keen to inform people in London about the walking times between stations. Not many people would realise that it’s actually quicker to walk from Bond Street to Piccadilly Circus than it is to catch the Underground.

The more people that we can encourage to walk, when it’s a viable option, the better – it’s healthier for them and it can put less pressure on the network. Information is incredibly important and technology is enabling that.

Tell me about “smarter travel”…

Our Smarter Travel Unit targets people, businesses and schools, and aims to get them thinking about how they travel, and whether they could do so in a more sustainable way. While there is a certain percentage of the population who take global warming, and the need to change, as a given, there’s also a hardcore sector who won’t change unless they have to. We need a range of measures to incentivise certain behaviours and discourage others.

Are there any transport initiatives in the UK or elsewhere that you are particularly excited about?

I’m excited to see how road pricing pilots develop in other cities. If they go well, it could signal to national government the need for wider national charging. That’s certainly something we’re keeping an eye on.

Also, I’ve just come back from Zermatt in Switzerland, which is a no car zone. All of the vehicles are electric – taxis, buses, delivery vehicles. I find it exciting and wonderful that you can do this in small areas, although there would be practicality issues in doing something like that in a city the size of London.

The most important thing is that transport and transport planning moves forward. That won’t necessarily be determined by technology or engineering. I think it will be more successful if we improve our communications and are able to explain to people what we need to do. Developing our social engineering skills will be important in bringing people with us. You should never rely on technology or engineering alone. There is a social change required. There’s a human dimension.

As managing director of planning at TfL, Michèle Dix works on a job-share basis with Malcolm Murray-Clark.

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