With the improvement and sustainability of transport systems high on the political agenda there is a demand for talented transport planners. Learn more about transport planning courses and the qualifications you'll need to succeed

What is transport planning?

At its heart transport planning is all about managing and improving transportation systems. Working at a local, regional, national or international level, transport planners work on policies and projects that help to address complex transport problems.

'Transport affects all aspects of our lives. It is important for us to go to work, visit friends and family, enjoy a day out among other things,' explains Dr Dimitris Potoglou, reader and programme director of MSc Transport and Planning at Cardiff University. 'Transport planning plays a crucial role in better understanding how and why people travel to different destinations, forecasting how travel patterns would change under different 'what if' scenarios including population change, physical interventions (e.g., new tunnels, bridges), deployment of public transport infrastructure, as well as policies such as road pricing, fuel taxes, etc.'

'Transport planning involves the analysis of travel behaviours and the planning of transport systems,' says Robin Hickman, professor in transport and city planning at University College London (UCL). 'It aims to understand, plan and implement transport systems that have sustainable impacts, e.g. have positive environmental, social and economic impacts.'

'Transport planning is critical to the development of sustainable cities and behaviours, hence is critical to many important public policy goals,' explains Robin. 'For example, transport systems can encourage low carbon and socially equitable travel.'

Do I need a degree?

The short answer is yes.

The slightly longer answer is that most transport planners have a degree. There are plenty of transport-related programmes available at undergraduate level, but it can be hard to find specific transport planning courses. Often the subject is combined with another discipline, for example the BA Geography with Transport Studies at the University of Leeds.

This three-year course explores the essential contribution transport makes to quality of life and also how to solve the problems it causes for society. Particularly relevant to those who’d like a career in transport planning, compulsory modules include:

  • challenges in transport and mobility
  • transport policy in action
  • key challenges in transport and society
  • travel activity analysis.

Useful optional units include transport land use and development, transport economics and public transport policy and practice. You'll need AAB at A-level for entry onto the course.

However, not all transport planners have a specific transport planning qualification. Many enter the profession with a related degree such as:

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

It is also possible to complete a Level 6 transport planning degree apprenticeship, meaning you can earn while you learn. If you take this route, you'll work full time as an apprentice and have days or weeks set aside for university study.

The BSc Transport Planning Degree Apprenticeship at Aston University is aimed at school leavers and/or those on the Level 3 Transport Planning Technician apprenticeship. Taking five years to complete you'll finish the scheme with an undergraduate degree in transport planning.

Learn more about transport apprenticeships and how to apply for an apprenticeship.

Should I do a transport planning Masters?

A postgraduate qualification isn't required, but Robin points out 'most transport planners in consultancy, public authorities or civil society have MSc-level degrees.'

A qualification of this nature will increase your industry knowledge, enable you to explore an area of interest in more depth and furnish you with useful industry contacts. Also, in a field where a lot of other candidates possess a Masters, it could help you stay competitive.

Consider the MSc Transport and City Planning course at University College London (UCL). The course takes one year to complete full time and equips students with the skills they need to work as transport and planning practitioners in urban contexts in either the public or third sector. The programme draws on several theories and perspectives. Compulsory modules include:

  • sustainable urban development: key themes
  • transport planning and the city
  • transport and wellbeing
  • international case studies in transport and city planning.

'The MSc Transport and City Planning examines the transport systems required to support the sustainable city,' says Robin. 'It is an MSc transport course taught from an urban planning school, hence it gives a social science perspective on how and why transport planning should be developed.'

You'll need a 2:1 in a related degree such as urban planning, geography or engineering for entry and in the 2023/24 academic year UK tuition fees stand at £16,100.

Or how about the one-year MSc Transport and Planning course at Cardiff University? This industry-accredited Masters will enable you to acquire the knowledge and understanding you need to make a significant contribution to the development, scrutiny and management of transport and urban systems. Core modules include:

  • principles of transport economics
  • researching transport
  • transport and the city
  • transport analysis
  • sustainable transport policies.

The programme accepts those with a 2:2 in a relevant subject such as geography, architecture, planning, transport engineering, science or social science. In 2023/24 UK fees cost £9,700, international students pay £21,200.

'The Course is accredited by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT),' says Dr Potoglou. 'Modules involve both skills development and critical thinking on transport planning. Development of skills includes learning statistical and transport planning modelling software and, through the assessments, report writing and presentation skills. One module offers the opportunity for a field study visit and previous visits have focused on the study of public transport systems and how public transport facilitates growth in terms of housing and jobs.'

Search for postgraduate courses in transport planning.

Part-time transport planning Masters are also available and these prove popular with those who wish to combine work with study. If you can prove that the course will enhance your knowledge and benefit your organisation, employer sponsorship might be an option.

Find out more about funding postgraduate study.

What are my career options?

Upon graduation employment prospects are vast. You could choose to specialise in a particular area of transport planning, such as transport modelling or sustainable transport, or opt to work across a range of transport planning activities.

Opportunities exist in the public, private, academic and voluntary sectors. You could work for local authorities, government departments, consultancies, specific train, bus or coach operators or universities.

'UCL Transport and City Planning graduates go onto many varied careers, including working for Transport for London, the Department for Transport, Network Rail, major international consultancies, such as Arup, Aecom and Atkins, major funding banks and civil society or environmental groups, such as Sustrans,' adds Robin.

While graduates of the MSc at Cardiff 'are employed by global consultancies, local authorities, and transport organisations. Some of them have continued onto pursuing a PhD degree,' adds Dr Potoglou.

To help you secure your first transport planning job you could join a graduate scheme, for example the Transport Planning and Consultancy scheme at Atkins, or the Transport Modelling and Analysis programme at Transport for London (TfL).

Most transport planners aspire to management roles where they can lead projects and make big decisions. These jobs often come with experience, but professional qualifications can help you move up the career ladder.

  • Professional qualifications include:
  • Transport Planning Technician (TPTech)
  • Incorporated Transport Planner (IncTP)
  • Transport Planning Professional (TPP)
  • Chartered Transport Planning Professional (CTPP). 

The Transport Planning Society (TPS) run a Professional Development Scheme (PDS), which once completed gives you the skills and experience to take the TPP qualification - awarded jointly by the TPS and the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT). After you’ve achieved the TPP qualification you can then set your sights on chartered status.

Search for graduate jobs in transport and logistics.

Find out more

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