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Insights How transport planners are shaping sustainable cities

Transport planners are responsible for developing innovative and eco-friendly transport solutions that focus on reducing congestion, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Meet one of our talented professionals, Rachel Evans, Travel Demand Management technical lead at AtkinsRéalis, to learn more about how she is shaping sustainable cities. 

During her 20 years in Transport Planning Consultancy, Rachel has focused on delivering travel behaviour change projects to a huge range of clients from local authorities to combined authorities, event organizing committees, developers and public transport operators. 

“I'm passionate about transforming travel demand to deliver carbon reduction, decongestion, health, economic and customer experience benefits. I'm also committed to making active travel safer and more enjoyable for all user groups, particularly women.” 

Image of Rachel next to the mascot for the commonwealth games 2022

Tell us a bit about Travel Demand Management (TDM) and how it helps build future cities we want to be a part of?

“Travel Demand Management is all about the '4Rs' – Reducing, Retiming, Remoding and Re-routing. So it's enabling and encouraging people to make journeys in a more sustainable and lower carbon way - switching away from driving, making journeys at less congested times or not even travelling at all. It's all about travel behavioural change.

The COVID-19 pandemic was the world's largest forced travel behavioural change event. Literally overnight, people stayed at home and travel demand plummeted. Daily exercising sparked a massive increase in cycling and walking. Now is the time to capitalize on this and support smart mobility. That's about planning urban areas to encourage active travel (the 15-minute neighbourhood concept) and creating mobility solutions that appeal to individual journeys (the mobility hub concept).” 

At the heart of all our projects is driving a sustainable future for both society and the economy, on a global and local scale. 

How did you get into TDM?

“At the start of my career, I was committed to the idea that the transport community should put user-friendly, sustainable transport networks at the centre of what we do. 

During my final university year, I'd become very frustrated that the public transport and active travel network were letting customers down. We battled through the lack of integrated bus and rail ticketing, poor wayfinding and overcrowded trains at peak times. These created big barriers to changing travel behaviour. In TDM, I'm actually solving these issues!”

Working at the AtkinsRéalis is an opportunity to work on global projects that take on today’s most pressing challenges such as overcrowding and increasing transportation needs. 

Are policymakers integrating TDM philosophy into their vision for the future, or is it still a niche area?

“I honestly believe that TDM has become mainstream in government policy and funding. The National Planning Policy Framework has a presumption in favour of sustainable development. Gear Change, the government's ambitious investment plan for walking and cycling, is injecting over £ 2 billion into walking and cycling investment. 

The Government's Transport Decarbonisation Plan set out commitments and actions needed to decarbonize the entire transport system in the UK. I firmly believe that companies will not survive if they don't embed net-zero carbon into their everyday behaviours and delivery.”

Part of our mission is to help lead the industry in achieving Net Zero as rapidly as possible. Our global cross-sector experience and broad heritage of engineering excellence puts us in a unique position to address the challenges and identify the opportunities in pursuit of Net Zero. 

We know TDM is good for the planet, but why is it good for business?

“TDM is a win-win for the planet and businesses bottom line. Every UK road user loses an average of 178 hours in congestion per year. In a society where we value personal time, that is a ridiculous statistic. There's evidence that companies with a physically active workforce have 30% fewer sick days. The sustainable transport sector itself generates loads of jobs and economic returns. The cycling industry, for example, is estimated to contribute £5.4 billion to the economy per annum.”

What difference can TDM make to social value? Can you tell us about some of your projects and initiatives that exemplify this?

“I'm championing the 'Getting Home Safely' initiative to encourage safe by design by and for women in public areas. The murder of Sarah Everard last year shocked us so much that I developed the Getting Home Safely thought piece with two female Transport Planning colleagues. 

We've supported this by developing the Getting Home Safely toolkit. It helps Local Authorities, developers and landowners to assess their streetscapes against factors that make a real difference to safety for women. 

It's not just about infrastructure such as lighting, but about the 'feel' of the street, in terms of community spirit ('love my street') and digital connectivity. So that safety apps on personal mobile phones are reliable and offer maximum peace of mind.”

Learn more about how our Getting Home Safely Initiative is looking at how urban and transport planning and design can help women to have a more comfortable commute, without feeling intimidated or harassed.

How can we accelerate and increase accessibility for diverse and vulnerable groups in the pandemic?

“The pandemic turned our town centres into ghost towns. The lack of human activity with commerce and retail closures decimated 'eyes on the street.' So, walking became less attractive due to safety concerns. 

At the same time, people avoided public transport, flocking to their cars for risk of infection. Although public transport kept on running with emergency timetables, nearly two years from the start of the pandemic, services and reliability are not back up to pre-Covid levels. Future funding for public transport needs to rebuild a safe, attractive and affordable service to ensure the transport network is inclusive and accessible to all. Everyone's Journey Matters”.

As a woman in Construction/Engineering, how does this year's IWD theme #BreakTheBias resonate with you? 

“AtkinsRéalis' gender equality journey started a long time ago. I believe we've been very pioneering in the industry in supporting and enabling gender diversity across all technical disciplines within our business. 

Our gender diversity is 38:62%, female/male in UK Transport Planning which is hugely commendable. We offer great flexibility in our working patterns and recognize that every employee is different in their needs and motivations inside and out of work. 

There's more to do in gender equality, but we see this as a marathon and not a sprint. We have tangible actions to deliver gender diversity, from our corporate ED&I programme to how individual employees include ED&I commitments in their Performance Development Review targets. We have great support networks for our people, including empower, parent net menopause and fertility. We are trailblazing in this network of support. 

I've been very fortunate not to experience bias in my career. However, I know that this is not the universal position across the industry.”

Every day, we’re striving to be more inclusive, more collaborative and more innovative in how we drive change. Internally, we're removing barriers in every region and at every level – spearheading change through trusted and inclusive leaders, increasing female representation across our whole organization, and broadening our talent pipeline to include all under-represented groups.

What have been some of your career-defining projects?

“The London 2012 Travel Advice to Businesses Programme. This programme for London's 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games was the world's largest event-based travel behavioural change project. I was super proud to be appointed to the expert panel to advise businesses on keeping their business moving during the Games. The challenge was getting their workforce to and from the workplace when London's transport network would be the busiest.

I worked with 20 businesses to develop solutions for Reducing, Retiming, Remoding and Rerouting journeys. The programme was a great success, we reduced travel demand in London by 30% during the Games. The success in London's host role was most likely a once-in-a-career opportunity for me.”

Transport Hub Integration Plans for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games

“Again, the opportunity to deliver a successful transport solution for a Commonwealth Games in my home region, the West Midlands, is most likely a once-in-a-career opportunity. I'm leading the development of Transport Hub Integration Plans for 15 public transport interchanges which will play a major role in getting spectators to sporting venues.

Getting a reliable operational plan in place has required strong collaboration with diverse stakeholders, including station owners, train operators, Network Rail, British Transport Police, Transport for West Midlands... and many more. This has pushed my communication and negotiation skills to the max.

I can't wait to see the operations being put into practice in July and August this year when the eyes of the world are on the West Midlands for a brilliant sporting extravaganza.”

Stations as Places Programme for West Midlands Trains

“This was an exciting and pioneering project and the first of its kind by a train operator. We developed prospectuses for 50 stations which identified opportunities to make them great assets to the community – far more than just a place to board and alight a train.

I engaged with passionate community groups to identify how stations could be better connected to local developments. We looked at creating and improving facilities for community hubs, social enterprises and customers without spending big money.

This has been a brilliant milestone in my career for demonstrating how transport planners can make a difference to the community without significant capital investment.”

Find your next job in the Transport Sector with AtkinsRéalis

Rachel is just one of our many talented female leaders who are helping us to engineer a better future. Discover how we are attracting, retaining and promoting more women into senior roles.

We are looking for talented candidates, like Rachel, to fill vacancies across the UK, in Transport Planning, Environmental Planning, Project Scheduling and Traffic Engineering. Are you looking for your next big career move? 

Explore Transport careers at AtkinsRéalis today.