Transport planners work on policies, projects and plans relating to all kinds of transport systems. This includes:

  • roads and the use of cars, lorries and buses;
  • rail networks;
  • pedestrian systems for walking or cycling;
  • air travel.

Transport planners look at ways to improve these systems or how new systems can be implemented in certain areas. They will take into consideration issues such as climate change, the economy and the environment.

The work of transport planners is often related to government policies and initiatives, such as encouraging people to reduce their car use and take up walking, cycling or public transport.

Responsibilities

Work can be carried out at different levels from local to international and may include tasks from initial ideas through to design, completion and reviews.

Specific tasks often depend on the level of the job and the size and type of the employer, but can typically include:

  • designing and interpreting transport and travel surveys;
  • writing clear reports and presenting options and recommendations on transport systems to clients;
  • using statistical analysis to examine travel data or accident records;
  • forming potential solutions to transport problems;
  • developing initial design ideas for new or improved transport infrastructure, e.g. junction improvements or pedestrian priority schemes;
  • using mathematical and computer simulation models to forecast the effects of road improvements, policy changes and/or public transport schemes;
  • evaluating the benefits and costs of different strategies;
  • participating in public consultation initiatives, including designing leaflets or questionnaires and attending scheme exhibitions;
  • managing studies and projects, often within tight time and budget limits;
  • assessing infrastructure requirements (access, car parking, bus stops, cycle parking, etc) of new developments to support
  • planning applications or to inform local authority development plans;
  • liaising and negotiating with different parties, e.g. planning and highways authorities, residents' groups, councillors and politicians, developers and transport providers;
  • acting as an expert witness at public inquiries and planning appeals;
  • writing bids for the funding of projects.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for transport planners range from £20,000 to £30,000, depending on the employer, type of role and location.
  • With experience and the right combination of skills, salaries can be in the region of £25,000 to £40,000.
  • Senior or principal town planners can earn £34,000 to £57,000, depending on location and employer.
  • Directors in consultancies may receive salaries of £60,000 to £100,000+, while departmental directors in local authorities may earn £70,000 to £80,000.

Additional benefits can include a pension, health insurance and a car allowance.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Although work is generally 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, flexible working may be necessary, for example when conducting surveys during peak-period travel conditions. Regular evening work may be required when attending council or residents' group meetings. Public consultation exhibitions of new projects can also involve occasional evening and weekend work.

Part-time work and career breaks are more likely to be offered within the public sector, although consultancies are becoming more flexible in order to attract and retain staff.

What to expect

  • Although largely office based, visiting sites and attending meetings are also part of the job.
  • Self-employment may be possible for experienced transport planners with specific skills and experience. It is possible to work for consultancies or local authorities on a contract basis.
  • Jobs in both the private and public sectors are available nationwide, but the larger consultancy offices tend to be located in, or near to, major cities.
  • Work is usually carried out in small teams but may also involve liaising with colleagues from a range of disciplines, such as town planning, architecture and landscape architecture.
  • The working environment is often stimulating, but the need to meet deadlines can put team members under pressure.
  • Major consultancies often have overseas contracts and there may be opportunities for international travel for those with experience. Elsewhere, travel is likely to be local or regional.

Qualifications

You can become a transport planner with a degree in any discipline, but the following subjects are particularly valued:

  • civil engineering;
  • economics;
  • environmental sciences/studies;
  • geography;
  • mathematics;
  • social science;
  • town/urban planning.

There are a limited amount of undergraduate degrees, which include transport management. Some combined courses are also available, such as geography and transport studies.

Although it is possible to enter the career without a degree, most transport planners do have one. If you don't have a degree, you may need to start as a transport planning assistant and then gain the relevant skills through experience, short courses and private study to progress to a transport planner.

It is not essential to have a postgraduate qualification but they are desired by many employers so it can help with competition. There are a number of postgraduate courses relating to transport planning in the UK and details can be found at Transport Planning Society (TPS): Masters Courses.

Most of these Masters are approved for the Transport Planning Professional qualification, which can be achieved later in your career and shows that you have reached a certain professional standard. Some employers will encourage you to study for a Masters and allow part-time work or offer financial support.

Skills

You need to show evidence of the following:

  • numeracy skills and the ability to interpret data;
  • written and oral communication skills;
  • good problem-solving and analytical skills - finding a range of solutions, understanding their effects and making recommendations;
  • confidence in dealing with a range of people including clients, councillors, local groups and the general public;
  • the ability to communicate complex ideas and issues clearly and accurately, often to a non-technical audience;
  • project management skills;
  • the ability to work as part of a team;
  • computer literacy;
  • an interest in transport and urban planning issues and political awareness.

Work experience

Although pre-entry experience is not essential, relevant work experience or paid employment in an associated part of the profession is useful. Try approaching consultants directly to find opportunities. Also, try to build contacts in the transport planning field for networking opportunities and to find out more about what the job is like.

Employers

Transport planners can work in a variety of areas, both in the public and private sectors.

Consultancies are the biggest employers of transport planners in the private sector. Some are specialists in transport planning, while others have a broad transport, environmental or engineering remit. They have a range of clients, including schools, hospitals, developers and industrial firms.

Other employers in the private sector include train and bus operators or other firms with transport interests, such as finance companies.

In the public sector, most of the work is found with local authority departments. They produce local transport plans and assess the implications of developments, often in consultation with residents and developers.

Government departments such as the Department for Transport (DfT) and transport executives, which oversee public transport in major cities, such as Transport for London and The Highways Agency (HA), also employ transport planners.

Universities and research organisations recruit transport planners for teaching and research roles.

Look for job vacancies at:

Speculative applications can be productive in the private sector, whereas public sector positions are generally advertised.

Recruitment agencies occasionally handle vacancies for new graduates. Small and medium-sized consultancies are more likely to use agencies than larger firms.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Many employers provide their own on-the-job training. This varies depending on the employer and the size of the company. Some offer formal graduate training schemes, which provide the opportunity to acquire a wide body of knowledge and experience with a variety of clients.

The Transport Planning Society supports training and development and offers the Professional Development Scheme (PDS). This is designed to give you the relevant level of competence in the technical and generic skills required for transport planning roles.

The PDS is made up of 18 units, which cover management and communication skills, policies and regulations and transport planning techniques, such as data collection and public consultation. There are mandatory as well as optional units and you need to meet the objectives of each one in order to progress.

If you are new to transport planning, it is likely to take you around five years to complete the PDS. Those with previous experience may be able to progress quicker. Find out more at Transport Planning Society (TPS): Professional Development .

After you have completed the PDS, it is likely you will have the necessary skills and experience required for the Transport Planning Professional (TPP) qualification. This is provided by the society and the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) and shows that you have reached a recognised professional standard.

There are other routes available for professional recognition depending on the area in which you work:

It is important to keep up to date with developments in technologies, techniques, policies and legislation. Details of short training courses, opportunities to network and meet fellow planners and a list of training providers are available via the TPS.

Career prospects

There are various career development opportunities open to transport planners. You may choose to specialise in a certain area of transport planning, such as sustainable transport or transport modelling, or you could continue to work across a range of transport planning activities.

It is likely you will move on to manage projects, which can also lead into wider management roles. Promotion usually involves taking on increased responsibilities, starting with the technical aspects of larger-scale projects and then staff and project management.

It may be necessary to move to a post in a different public sector body or consultancy to achieve promotion. Movement between the public and private sectors does occur.

A structured professional development scheme is offered to members of the TPS to help provide a broad range of expertise and knowledge. Employers may also operate their own career development planning.

A relevant Masters degree helps career progression, and some employers sponsor employees through qualifications on a part-time basis. See the TPS website for a list of recognised courses.

Achieving the TPP qualification or gaining chartered status with a relevant professional body can aid career development.

It is also possible to move into different areas such as town planning or work on policy development. Consultancy work is another option, which can allow greater flexibility as well as give experience of working on various projects.