I was the Director of the Urban Transport Group for fifteen years.
The Urban Transport Group brings together the public sector transport authorities for the largest city regions. It represents them to government and other key stakeholders. It acts as a think tank on urban transport. And it is a professional network saving money for its members through learning from each other through joint procurement.
In my time there I:
- Acted as point man bringing together our members with government so that the wheels kept turning during COVID. It was intense but between us we kept the show on the road.
- Grew the network with London, Northern Ireland and Wales among those signing up (must have been doing something right!)
- Fought against powerful vested interests and institutional inertia to win the legislative powers that Mayors are now using to reverse the damage of bus deregulation and bring buses back under public control.
- Made Urban Transport group the place where the thinking happens on transport policy
- Devised and hosted the Urban Transport Next podcast (hyperlink to UTG website home for the podcast)
- Got approval ratings from external stakeholders of 87% as an effective advocate for the city regions on transport
- Saved members millions through joint procurement exercises on everything from a national bus model to concessionary travel reimbursement and from passenger surveys to an algorithm that can predict passenger journey lengths
- Provided the transport advice for the M10 group of city region Mayors
- ‘Train hard, fight easy’. You need your stats, your evidence, your best arguments in place before you start to engage in a policy debate.
- If you want to achieve policy change you need to be sharper, more relentless and be better at strategy than those who seek to defend the status quo because the incumbents always have the advantage and usually have greater resources.
- Get the right staff. When your resources are limited and everything you do should be better than the incumbents (see above!) you need to make sure you have the right staff – so we put the time and effort into recruitment and got the right staff.
- Press every button. It’s hard to know exactly why suddenly old policy consensus crumbles and new ones are established – so press every button available to you from reports, use of the media, stakeholder engagement – the lot.
- Don’t commission research as a displacement activity or leave whoever is writing it to their own devices. Or let it sit on the shelf when done. Go through the pain barrier with whoever is working on it to ensure it fits the bill and then use it as the bedrock for the work you do in that area for the next couple of years at least. And find ways to get people to read it once it’s published.
- Be helpful to those who can help but don’t be afraid to draw dividing lines with those that are on the other side.
- Don’t go on about transport too much. Transport people love transport detail. The rest of the world doesn’t care. They are interested in what transport does for them, their economy, their cities, their environment, their society, the world they live in. Focus on that.