Data modelling: Financial modelling to predict the implications for the industry of changes to Bus Service Operators Grant, and to assess the cost of extending concessionary fares to people with disabilities – both projects with sector-defining financial consequences, requiring high levels of accuracy from complex, sometimes unreliable data. Business case studies range from the development of techniques to assess local bus networks for First and Stagecoach, through critiquing Edinburgh Trams’ STAG appraisal on behalf of intending operators, to covert investigations in support of business takeovers.
Reporting and communication: Technical report writing, especially in consultancy, communicating research and recommendations to transport industry clients and specialists. Verbal and Powerpoint-style presentation at director-level (bus operators, civil service) meetings and specialist conferences – and recording feedback. Interview-based information gathering, such as to understand the human processes within Quality Bus Partnerships. Mainstream public internet/new media communication, especially in writing and maintaining one of the world’s most popular guides to fishing. Improved methods of communicating data patterns, most recently an interactive tool for visualising transport network connectivity.
Seeing the big picture: Combining data and observation to conceptualise strategic meta-patterns, especially around human processes and structures. At London Underground I showed how peak train availability was inherently variable, and perhaps not best managed as mechanised engineering. In Spain, I developed a model of internal competition to describe an unfamiliar public transport sector, reversed engineered operator Renfe’s performance data to show how its fare structure managed network inequities, assessed the financial and political vulnerabilities of rail infrastructure manager ADIF, and mapped railway connectivity onto regional demographics to quantify policy balances between actual and perceived service delivery.
Influencing and negotiation: Quality Bus Partnership research exemplified grand policy negotiation, balancing the infrastructure expectations of the Department for Transport, the franchising agenda of most metropolitan authorities, and the distinctly human relationships of the most local cases. A reconciliation rooted in evidence, influential enough to shift the emphasis of subsequent legalisation. Likewise, a negotiation within the project team, eschewing pressure to give the client what they wanted, and instead deliver what the client needed. Building personal trust in one another’s ability to conceptualise that evidence, resulting in a long-standing consultancy relationship serving topics the civil service needed to understand, rather than merely justify.
Management and capacity building: Consultancy roles all emphasised the self-management of processes within discrete projects. Wider project management includes that of a 3-year project that determined national policy toward Quality Bus Partnerships – organising a team of remote workers, shifting the workflow in reaction to findings, and day-to-day client liaison. Staff capacity building (especially within TAS) to develop training methods and offer subsequent support. Routine line management of one other professional.
Academic: 1st class degree in Transport (BSc), University of Plymouth (1997). Topics included transport economics and planning, statistics, data analysis, systems theory, policy, marketing, accounting, logistics management, port operations, and maritime history.
Dissertation, “The Use of Pipelines for the Urban Distribution of Goods”, researched the history of capsule pipelines and analysed their potential contribution to contemporary urban transport. Published in the journal Transport Policy (5, 1998, 61-72), and republished as a “classic” paper in logistics analysis (Transport Logistics, Alan McKinnon, Kenneth Button, Peter Nijkamp, 2002). Subsequent research within the archives of the British Library and Royal Society (London) was published online.
Professional: CMILT, Chartered Member of the Institute of Logistics and Transport (2001-2014, since lapsed).
School: A-levels in Economics, Geography and Physics (1994). 10 GCSEs, including English and Maths (1992).
Spreadsheet/Database: Excel/OpenOffice – including lookups, statistics, forecasting, basic VBA. Access – including data models, form design, ODBC, basic DAO. MySQL – including basic SQL, scripting via Python/PHP. Occasional work with SQLite and MSSQL. Dataset familiarities include UK demographics and public transport open data.
Geographic Information Systems: QGIS, previously MapInfo – primarily for spatial data analysis/visualisation (especially demographics) and boundary/route processing. Web mapping libraries – Leaflet, previously OpenLayers, Google and Bing. Geoserver/PostGIS – limited, including creation of bespoke tile server.
Digital Visualisation: Web – HTML 5-ish, core CSS, user interface, responsive/accessible design, writing, content management. Bitmap graphics – basic GIMP, previously Photoshop, including layers and CMYK plate production. Vector graphics – basic Inkscape, previously Freehand. Video – basic Vegas, plus Machinima-style animation.
Core MS Office and similar. Various social media – including forum community moderation, mass public Twitter interaction, Youtube content creation.
Information Assistant, Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership (1995, 1996): Summer weekend south-west on-train customer support. Or keeping travellers happy in the absence of air conditioning.
Service Planning Assistant, London Underground (1995): Ad-hoc operational and strategic analysis. First to analytically demonstrate the importance of the inherent variability of rolling stock availability in service delivery.
Policy Officer, Birmingham City Council, Highways and Transportation (1997-98): Financial monitoring, bid preparation, scheme illustration, public consultation. Pioneered the use of Geographic Information Systems to manage bid proposals across the West Midlands.
Consultant, The TAS Partnership, Preston (1998-2004, including period as freelance): Analysis and research encompassing commercial local bus market development, national government policy on local passenger transport, and partnership working. Policy modelling, takeover advice, project management, client liaison, conference presentation, software tool development, staff mentoring. Lead practitioner-driven research that changed the way Whitehall legislated for Quality Bus Partnerships.
Consultant, DHC, Edinburgh (2005-2015, including substantial gaps and periods as freelance): Transport policy analysis and research, including web Application and Geographic Information System development, and production of official National Accessibility datasets. Won STAR award for research on rural Park and Ride.
Self-employment (2006-2015) included the creation and operation of the internet’s top-ranked guide to fishing, read by millions. Backend engineering at scale, data management, front-end design, content writing, web analytics, video animation, social media community engagement. Built annual turnover up to $10,000 from nothing.
Subsequently (2016-2019) in Spain, conducting private research to inform rail market entrants, and programming transport network visualisation software.
Passenger Flows on Northern Ireland Railways (analysis at pace, without much data)
Team had been contracted to develop market-orientated train service patterns for Northern Ireland Railways on behalf of its new management. NIR staff effectively declined to provide the expected patronage data. Draft proposals were due the following week, and a demotivated team was preparing to admit defeat. The task was to get the project back on track, inspire the delivery of something positive by offering a path through the roadblock, and to navigate the client’s internal politics.
That afternoon, I built a gravity model of the NIR network, primarily using published travel-to-work census data: A method made viable by the relatively constrained geography of Northern Ireland, and the monopoly status of its railway operator. Produced data showing indicative passenger flows. That let other members of the team focus on their strengths in relating patronage to operational provision, and developing conceptual proposals.
Proposals were duly delivered on time and based on sufficiently robust analysis to move the project forward. Those within the railway were forced to challenge proposals constructively, rather than obstinately. Personally, the process enhanced my respect for the Beechings and the Serpells – those who assess major structural or operational change in the context of recalcitrant railway organisations.
Fuel Duty Rebate (financial modelling of an existential threat)
Bus Service Operators Grant (formerly Fuel Duty Rebate) ostensibly supports the use of fuel, not specifically passenger service, nor wider environmental policy, but historic state intervention here distorted bus market structure and operator profitability. This makes for an especially challenging area of strategic policy, with the potential to undermine commercial business viability. The task was to develop and evaluate proposals that would better match funding to contemporary policy objectives, while carrying public and private stakeholders through the process.
I pooled historic mileage and passenger data returned by operating companies (extremely sensitive commercial data). Corrected or augmented for known errors. Related census demographics, administrative divisions, and company ownership. Built an Excel model to forecast the strategic impact of funding changes on service delivery by geography and ownership. Tested a range of scenarios proposed by stakeholders (industry, civil service, and academic), which primarily served as a “real world” means of describing the key drivers of changes to stakeholders, and in turn informed the quality of subsequent discussion and scenario development.
The prime beneficiaries of fuel subsidy consistently emerged as marginal rural services, so any significant change in government intervention would also imply either addressing rural transport policy more broadly, or shifting national support into local channels. The project served to confer gradual pragmatic policy management based on a better understanding of the status quo. A pragmatism that can still be seen over a decade later.
Explaining Local Transport Connectivity (to non-economists)
Transport connectivity modelling’s data complexity is high so risks error, but the results traditionally preclude logical or visual inspection, inhibiting trust – especially among non-expert decision-makers. Work (at DHC) on just such a “black box” model, that producing the National Accessibility Indicators, led to various attempts to present the results in a format more accessible to potential users, for example by programming web-hosted mapping visualisations of results. However the complex nature of the modelling made it impossible to explain to users why a particular area had given accessibility score, and so prevented users from conceptualising local issues or testing service changes.
I thus shifted the entire modelling approach to one that first empowered users to explore public transport networks – to understand the public transport links available from any area of interest, and display that information geographically, not merely as a number.
Distilled network data down to contain the most important facets – frequency-based links between station/stop nodes. This traded some detail for computational immediacy, but still expressed the general availability of travel options. Kept logic client-side for speed and reduced operating cost, and internet browser-based to broaden availability. Deployed a standard mapping library to eliminate redundant front-end development. Augmented logic for edge cases such as dividing trains, figure-of-8 loops, and cabotage. Coded a tool to import agency open data and merge sources into compound networks. Created various network test cases and sought feedback through social media and observation of user behaviour.
The new model emphasised the spatial over the temporal, and local network perception over the utility of specific destinations. Both challenged established econometric norms, but also opened new forms of analysis, the conclusions of which could always be explored visually.
Café Para Todos (exposing an unfamiliar society)
European liberalisation agendas theoretically created opportunities in Spain for global market entrants, especially in rail, not least because Spain had built one of most under-utilised high speed railway networks in the world. However domestic cultural models of transport organisation predominated, as did traditional strategic expectations of transport networks. Unfamiliar structures which foreigners would have to navigate.
I traced the history of taxi liberalisation, the policy oscillation between societal groups, the gradual evolution of the EU Services Directive into near-feudal models of control. Studied the workings of the internally counter-balancing local models of competition in the bus sector, and the role of government in regulating such cartels. Exposed the philosophical flaw in imposing a singular regulator onto a state structure with no tradition of absolute power. Deconstructed the paradoxes of using an imported rational economic toolbox to regulate railway infrastructure whose prime user is often a national perception, and that of international capital debt sought to bind a nation.
Then more practically, primarily in rail, identified cross-subsidisations with State Aid implications, disassembled fare structures to understand their role in the management of network inequities, assessed the motivation of industry agents, and quantified skews in network connectivity between regions. The latter deployed an unconventional methodology that assessed links between people, not the value of their time – a policy model, not an economic model, designed to reveal differences in how “the same” railway was perceived in different parts of Spain. Such modelling did not just, for example, identify (worst connected) Teruel as a political vulnerability versus neighbouring (best connected) Zaragoza, but allowed counter-balancing service proposals to be rapidly tested.
While Spain is extreme (that was quantified too versus Britain), many of her patterns recur elsewhere: Skewed strategic investment priorities, regional differences in service patterns, or stations maintained for no passengers – national railways offer more than the uniform utility they portray. To analyse railways strategically, especially railways in a social or political context, one must be prepared to work outside of formal analytic economic method. Personally, I consider this work some of my most insightful because it juxtaposed different cultural understandings, and forced me to reassess how I thought I knew.
Shaping Policy on Quality Bus Partnerships (an influential negotiation)
Selective local councils and commercial bus operators had started collaborating on projects to improve local bus routes. The approach had broad application in local policy delivery, but challenged aspects of competition policy. Central government needed to understand these Quality Bus Partnerships, not least so they can be placed in a more robust legislative and policy context.
I led the original research into Quality Bus Partnerships for the Department for Transport over 3 years, coordinating the core policy workstream with parallel academic competition modelling research. Surveyed councils and operators to summarise the extent of use of the approach locally, and from that analysis selected a range of case studies for detailed investigation. Organised face-to-face interviews with practitioners, and managed the team of remote investigators who undertook interviews and associated project site visits. Compiled their findings and observations into written reports. Kept the client informed of progress, reacting to developments as required. Organised consultative conferences. Briefed civil servants. Wrote practitioner guidance. Informed, and to a degree arbitrated, regulatory discussions with the Office of Fair Trading.
The work embodied its own negotiations, its own form of partnership building:
- That of grand policy, here balancing the infrastructure expectations of DfT, the franchising agenda of most metropolitan authorities, and the distinctly human relationships of the most local cases. A reconciliation rooted in evidence, based on a comprehensive understanding that had been formed by conceiving the issues from multiple analytic and human perspectives. Herein the defining essence of public policy negotiation – that nobody entirely wins, but everyone can live with the outcome. The result substantially enhanced the breadth and robustness of provisions within the Transport Act 2000.
- That within the project team, since my director was under pressure to give the client what they wanted, rather than what they needed. Again rooted in evidence, but here building personal trust in one another’s ability to conceptualise that evidence. The result was the birth of a long-standing consultancy relationship serving topics the civil service actually needed to understand, rather than those they simply needed to justify. That led me to analyse various strategic transport policy initiatives, for example, giving DfT a much stronger hand when negotiating the funding of national concessionary fares, by providing better modelling, analysis and arguments than the Local Government Association.
Expanding a Consultancy (by growing a team)
TAS, a consultancy business, was growing rapidly, with new recruits joining with different skills and backgrounds to those who had founded the business. The business needed a structured workflow to efficiently deliver projects with a high degree of recurrence of method. New staff needed to be inducted into this structure, while retaining enough flexibility for people to develop onto projects featuring less recurrent methodologies.
I established and documented a standard set of software tools, with readily accessible datasets, to serve the most common processes. Trained newer staff in their use. Thereafter offered ad-hoc mentoring and problem-solving support. That served to resolve immediate problems, to provide feedback by which to further optimise the process itself, and to monitor personal development and aptitudes. In practice these actions were as reactive as they were planned. And it was often those reactive – caring – moments that built genuine long-term team cohesion, not just capability.
Within a few years the core workforce had doubled, but with proportionately less increase in management, suggestive of a more efficient business. The approach allowed staff to find their natural role within the business, be that mundane number-crunching, or progressing from ex-bus driver to (ultimately) company director. Personally, I learnt that some work is best done by people in what I might myself consider a restrictive formal procedure, and in turn that my own strengths lay at the more abstract end of the team’s function.
Career In Detail
Educated at Caterham School. Obtained 10 GCSEs (grades A-C), including English and Maths, and A-levels in Economics, Geography and Physics. Studied at the University of Plymouth: Transport economics, policy, planning, systems theory, statistics, data analysis, marketing, accounting, logistics management, port operations, and maritime history. Also wrote and laid-out the student magazine “Fly”, using desktop publishing (Pagemaker), vector (Freehand) and bitmap (Photoshop) graphics software. Awarded 1st class BSc degree in Transport.
Dissertation, The Use of Pipelines for the Urban Distribution of Goods, researched the history of capsule pipelines and analysed their potential contribution to contemporary urban transport. Published in the journal Transport Policy (5, 1998, 61-72), and republished as a “classic” paper in logistics analysis (Transport Logistics, Alan McKinnon, Kenneth Button, Peter Nijkamp, 2002). Subsequent research within the archives of the British Library and Royal Society (London) was published online. That website grew to become the main non-technical reference on capsule pipelines – well regarded by those within the industry as an introduction for potential clients.
As a student, provided on-train customer support and travel information to passengers of Intercity Cross-Country and Regional Railways, via the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership. And as a Service Planning Assistant for London Underground, produced ad-hoc analysis of network-wide service delivery and planning issues: Analysed (primarily using Excel) rolling stock maintenance regimes to reveal the impact of variability, highlighting a previously ignored determinant of a key performance metric (trains in peak service). Redesigned sub-surface (Circle/District/Met) railway patterns to better match passenger usage, including changes that were eventually implemented. Assessed the (lack of) feasibility of creating a physical scale model of the network to test and visualise operational scenarios.
Joined Birmingham City Council as a transport policy officer specialising in Transport Policies and Programmes – finance. Designed and implemented a Geographic Information System to coordinate proposed transport infrastructure schemes across the West Midlands, replacing the traditional pinboard with a MapInfo frontend and Access backend, in a networked structure capable of being shared across all the metropolitan area’s transport authorities. This management system allowed duplicate geographic proposals to be quickly identified and resolved, and fed the associated financial costs into the Package funding bid to central government, easing decision-making on the core annual funding settlement.
Also prepared non-TPP funding bids, including those for European Regional Development Funding – notably for Birmingham coach station. Contributed to the development of the proposed Frankley railway line, including route and operational planning, organising land ownership searches, liaising with infrastructure manager Railtrack, and supporting directors in public consultations with residents. Undertook on-street public consultation for the Birmingham city centre tram extension. Managed the policy client role for Birmingham’s Urban Traffic Control system – monitoring service delivery, coordinating with highway engineering consultancy, and maintaining an awareness of new and upcoming UTMC best practice. Completed (via Nottingham Trent University) a course on traffic signal design.
Became a Consultant with The TAS Partnership, a title which expanded with the business. The core role provided analysis and research in three areas: Local market development for commercial bus businesses, national government policy on local passenger transport, and partnership working between public and private sectors. Further responsibilities were gradually taken on in support of the consultancy business itself: The creation of new software tools and the provision of associated staff training, the line management and mentoring of junior staff, and writing and costing proposals to secure future contracts.
Piloted the local bus network market development techniques subsequently deployed nationwide by First and Stagecoach: Built census-based geographic models using MapInfo and Access, with some script automation, which allowed route demographics to be rapidly analysed. Processed Electronic Ticket Machine data using Q-data to expose current performance. Comparison identified opportunities for growth. Structured and reported the results to allow local operating units to justify investment from their parent groups. ETM was proto “Big Data”, each dataset consisting up to a million revenue transactions per day.
Built a gravity model of Northern Ireland Railways – primarily from Census travel-to-work data – when the expected passenger data did not materialise, keeping the project to develop NIR’s business “on track” and forcing the railway to challenge proposals constructively. Processed surveyor-captured performance data from across Greater Manchester, to reveal the causes of variability in bus services: Substantial statistical analysis had to be communicated to non-statisticians, including bus company managers and politicians.
Coordinated and analysed patient transport surveys at Northallerton hospital, using the results to propose and schedule new bus services which were subsequently contracted by North Yorkshire County Council. Converted the Dengie’s fixed bus services into Demand Responsive Transport, surveying user behaviour and analysing existing bus usage to deliver a more operationally efficient network that retained prior accessibility. Contributed to establishing new Community Transport organisations, such as cross-community Moving People Together in Belfast, costing depot space and sourcing funding.
Modelled the cost of extending Britain’s national concessionary (bus) fares scheme to people with disabilities: The cost of shifting a non-statutory local government provision into a single scheme. Included elasticity calculations, both in existing scheme arrangements (which required operators to be “no better or worse”) and in predicting demand changes. Assessed the prevalence of relevant disabilities in local populations. The Local Government Association’s own information was inferior, which allowed the Department for Transport to dominate negotiation regarding funding allocations.
Similar projects were not so visible. For example, same-day Cabinet Office requests to assess the national impact (on costs and mode shift) of changes to statutory education transport, or an increase in the minimum driving licence age. Both policies were capable of shifting long-term transport behaviours dramatically. Such requests required both prior immersion in, and rapid rearrangement of, related data sources.
Led primarily qualitative research into Quality Bus Partnerships – local public-private agreements that were consequently formalised in the Transport Act 2000. Managed a team of remote investigators, produced case studies, briefed civil servants, organised consultative conferences, and wrote official practitioner guidance. The Department for Transport had expected an infrastructure-driven conclusion, but instead the results emphasised the importance of local, often quite personal, structures and relationships in delivering successful joint-working. Consequently the final legislation consisted more process than engineering.
That legislation spawned an opt-out from competition law, which itself entailed a “partnership”: Office of Fair Trading economists and bus industry managers, each understanding the same market differently through their own experiences and training. All while the OFT were investigating the other for unrelated anti-competitive practices. I provided the breadth and experience to understand, and thus arbitrate, both positions.
Analysed the trends and patterns in costs across the entire bus industry for three separate clients – industry, civil service and policy commission – to enable each to understand the impact of proposed changes to Fuel Duty Rebate (now BSOG). The underlying “Stats 100” dataset was commercially sensitive and required bespoke industry permission to work upon. The output described scenarios, many of which evolved with discussion, breaking down the financial impact into different geographies and ownerships. That repeatedly informed decision-making, albeit conferring pragmatic policy management, not revolution.
Much analysis was performed using Excel (lookups, statistics, scripting), with MapInfo deployed for geographic patterns, and Access or Paradox for large relational datasets. Most consultancy projects required report-writing (in Word), client liaison, and sometimes personal presentation (using Powerpoint). Audiences ranged in diversity and background from academics and senior civil servants, to operational managers and community volunteers – requiring different approaches to style and structure. I learnt to address conferences full of senior local government officers, and to be unfazed when holding court with directors of multinational public transport companies.
As TAS expanded, staff were recruited who needed training, guidance and structured workflow. I developed and documented software tools and processes for this, constantly adjusting for the needs of each new employee. That allowed the business to earn more work, and ultimately helped one person – who I initially managed – rise from ex-bus driver to company director.
Joined Derek Halden (DHC) as a full time Consultant, later working on an ad-hoc freelance basis. Initially a similar role to TAS but with greater emphasis on Scottish transport policy: Reviewed alternative methods of assessing eligibility for concessionary fares. Evaluated local transport provision in north-western Skye to rationalise overlaps across education, dial-a-ride and post bus contracts. Analysed the price premium of multi-operator public transport ticketing schemes. Quantified the socio-economic impact of the Skye Bridge, including analysis of trends for competing modes. Assessed access to healthcare at Glasgow’s hospitals, specifically aimed at integrating Traveline journey planning information into the patient appointment booking process.
Managed user surveys at Ellon’s Park and Ride, combining the results with analysis of performance data to provide recommendations for improvement and expansion. Promoted the concept as a policy tool for public transport development in rural hinterlands, winning a Scottish Transport Applications and Research award for the work.
Attained Chartered Membership of the Institute of Logistics and Transport (CMILT). Organised IoLT‘s Scottish “young professional” conference – arranging speakers, program and venue.
Developed (in Access) an internal time management and accounting system, to better monitor the financial management of consultancy projects. Crafted a consistent image for DHC’s external reports, both designing graphics and programming Word templates/macros. Implemented and maintained several (MySQL) database-driven websites, primarily on WordPress, writing PHP and CSS code to create custom features and visuals, and scripting (in Python) backup processes.
Active in Edinburgh’s tech entrepreneurship community, advising several startups on the availability and potential use of public transport data, most notably Skyscanner – part of a market subsequently labelled “Mobility as a Service”.
Researched, created, and for a decade maintained one of the world’s most popular guides to fishing. The guide distilled down statistical (probabilistic) patterns into simple, but reliable, answers to questions such as how or when to catch specific fish. The novelty, that the world the guide described was (at the time) the most complex virtual environment ever operated. The underlying human societal structure therein placed particular importance on accurate, immediately digestible information: Success demonstrated how authoritative information can be fostered within large internet communities. Information was presented as a narrative, the supposed author inhabiting the world she described: The use of storytelling to humanise data patterns.
The success of the guide – read by millions, with hour-peaks exceeding ten thousand – posed potentially fatal technical and commercial challenges: Traffic exceeded that of most corporations, with servers routinely targeted by hackers intent on stealing and reselling user accounts with a grey-market value exceeding stolen credit cards – yet with no formal legal model of ownership and thus no way of obviously extracting revenue. In response, I rapidly learnt the business of affiliate marketing, generating up to $10,000 annually. That allowed deployment of (then) cutting edge technology – from server virtualisation to early Cloud deployments – all while simultaneously re-engineering the backend to minimise computation and make design assets more inherently distributable.
The work spawned related social research projects: Used survey data to correlate the behaviour of virtual and physical anglers, suggesting behavioural transferability. Documented virtual “feudalism” in teen worlds and the role of virtual property in online societies, actively contributing to legal and policy discussions.