How to ‘sweat’ your transport project

High performing transport professionals need to adopt a mindset of squeezing more out of their projects, doing more for less.

Using this approach means your project is more likely to be supported (funded), at a time when transport agencies are facing significantly reduced budgets.

In 2010 the UK Highways Agency funding levels were reduced from £2.6B down to a projected £2B in 2014-15, a reduction of 23% over five years, in the face of increased demand and cost increases. Budget cuts are being experienced in other areas in Europe, in North America and Australia.

Efficiency savings are not enough to meet these budget cuts and uniform cuts across all programs result in reduced outcomes – achieving less with less!

In the private sector, there is a clear measure of success, return on investment – the focus is on projects delivering the highest returns.

But it is not so simple for the public sector, with multiple outcomes and requirements for accountability, transparency and equity. Penalties for getting it wrong are perceived to be of far greater concern than the benefits of getting it right.

So it is much harder for professionals in the public sector to be flexible, innovative or take risks. But this is what we must do to be successful.

Sweating a transport project can best be achieved by adopting the following principles.

Step 1. Focus priority

The first requirement is to focus on the key priority for your project, and how it contributes to the community’s desired transport outcomes (ie government priorities). Typically transport agencies focus areas are safety, mobility and access – see the latest corporate plan or business plan for your agency.

Step 2. Innovate

Step back and rethink what is required and how can it be delivered in a more cost-effective way – undertake an options analysis.

What are the different ways to deliver the required outcomes? Can the delivery of outcomes be staged? Instead of adding additional infrastructure are there quick, cheap fixes for bottlenecks or ‘pinch points’?

An example of innovation has been the provision of traveller information via smartphone apps, using sophisticated analytics and predictive capabilities, which has dramatically reduced cost and increased availability.

Step 3. Balance trade-offs

The budget required for a project is a trade-off between level of service, either transport services provided or infrastructure quality and capacity, and cost.

A key question to ask is: what level of service is appropriate and acceptable to users and the community? For example adjusting public transport services to match demand.

Understanding cost drivers of trade-offs is critical in making this assessment. Reducing services or deferring infrastructure is politically sensitive and needs to based on a clearly articulated set of policy priorities and decision criteria.

Step 4. Minimise costs

Having established why, what and how, the next challenge is to cut costs. This involves streamlining procurement and delivery to increase productivity. Build in incentives to manage risks and capture benefits.

Step 5. Clarify roles

The orchestration and alignment of deliverables is key to success. Efficient delivery requires clearly defined policy, regulation and operations functions, and roles assigned to the most appropriate delivery unit, including partner agencies and the private sector.

Step 6. Present case

Build and present a strong, evidence-based business case, using accepted appraisal frameworks to provide the argument for why your project is cost-effective solution to deliver results.

 You can achieve more with less, but it requires effort and an innovative mindset.

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