What Does a Transportation Planner Do? 8 Key Duties
Updated 22 February 2023
The transportation industry is an important field where professionals help move goods and people throughout the country and abroad. Its operation depends on the skills and dedication of professionals like transportation planners. Understanding what a transportation planner does, the skills they need and the work environment they work in can help you decide whether you want to pursue this career path. In this article, we answer the question "What does a transportation planner do?" and discuss key skills, a planner's work environment and provide salary information for the position.
What does a transportation planner do?
Transportation planners may perform the following tasks:
Develop unique solutions to public transportation challenges
Transportation planners use logistics skills, transportation management skills and planning skills to create unique solutions to public transportation challenges. For example, a transportation planner might create a solution to a congestion issue in a city's downtown roadways by recruiting an engineer to design a new tunnel. Planners bring creativity and extensive knowledge in transportation and logistics to create unique, effective solutions. Since regions and cities often differ in their transportation infrastructures, transportation planners understand how to work with the unique layout of an area for the best results.
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Work with government agencies to plan transportation budgets
Transportation planners also work with government agencies to help determine budgets for specific transportation projects. For example, if a city official wants to build a new bridge to alleviate traffic flow around a river, they might consult with a transportation planner to determine the needs of the project. The planner helps create an outline of the project's requirements, including the total cost of the new project. Planners might consult with other experts, like civil engineers, to provide more accurate budget estimates and determine the logistics of building large structures.
Interpret traffic pattern and transportation data
Planners collect, analyse and interpret important transportation data. This can include traffic flow information, statistical information and transportation logistics patterns. The planner collects data using specialised software and research and often generates a data report for their employer. They might also give presentations on the data they collect to city or provincial officials or engineers. Traffic data helps planners create effective transportation routes, identify transportation obstacles and add to historical traffic data for the city or province.
Prepare reports on transportation plans, budgets and regulations
Preparing reports is one of the key duties of a transportation planner because they gather data consistently and often present it to others. They draft documents like budgets or audits, transportation budgets or regulatory paperwork. Transportation planners might also be responsible for submitting reports and keeping records. For example, a transportation planner working for a city might keep a record of the city's historical traffic patterns in specialised software. Preparing reports can require good writing and reading skills and excellent research or information organisation skills.
Predict and model traffic patterns
Transportation planners predict future traffic patterns using historical data and often model that data in graphs or computer software. These visual models often accompany a presentation and help the planner to interpret the data for others. For example, if the planner wants to display a 60% increase in traffic patterns over a ten-year period, they might use a line graph to display a trend line to the audience. Visual models often help make data easier to understand and supplement the overall purpose of the report.
Design new or improved transportation infrastructures
Planners use data and their extensive knowledge in transportation management to design new transportation infrastructures or enhance existing systems. This might include planning new foot or vehicle traffic routes, adding a new bus line or rerouting subway traffic during peak hours. Planners focus on meeting budget requirements or requests from local governments and enhancing traffic flow. A city might hire a transportation planner to help minimise its midday traffic around the shopping district to prevent congestion following lunch hours.
Serve as an expert witness
An expert witness is a person that a judge considers to be an expert in a specific field or skill set. Transportation planners might serve as an expert witness in a public inquiry or on an experts panel. For example, a transportation planner might participate in a panel of experts discussing the future of transportation infrastructure. Or they might serve as an expert witness in a public trial defending a city's transportation budget. Expert witnesses typically only serve for a short period, though expert panels might be permanent or semi-permanent, depending on the purpose of the panel.
Design surveys to establish public opinion or concern
Transportation planners create surveys to establish public opinion or concern around transportation services and infrastructures. For example, the planner might create a survey to learn more about the safety concerns from citizens about a new railroad line. Planners create and distribute these surveys and collect feedback. They can use that feedback to help plan transportation projects or budgets and to design community-oriented transportation routes.
Transportation planners typically work in an office setting. Transportation planners also spend some time outdoors observing traffic patterns, structures like roads, bridges and railways. Planners often work full-time and work from a sitting or standing position and often walk for long periods. Planners might travel for long periods interstate or intrastate.
Transportation planner skills
Here are some key skills for transportation planners:
Transportation planners have extensive logistics skills that help them understand the details of moving people, traffic and goods using transportation services. This requires an understanding of the country's transportation infrastructure and all of its challenges and advantages. Planners also possess strong analytical skills, which help them analyse and interpret the data they collect on logistics. A firm understanding of logistics helps a planner use the data they collect to create solutions to transportation challenges and design new systems.
Transportation planners typically have strong mathematical skills. Planners collect data on traffic patterns, costs and historical trends. This requires knowledge in graph reading or creation, analysing numerical data and interpreting it for other people and basic math skills like multiplication and addition. Planners often help plan budgets, which also requires financial mathematical skills such as budget planning, money management and understanding the flow of money through the industry.
Planners typically have strong skills in transportation management, which is the oversight, planning and direct influence in the logistics of the transportation industry. Transportation management requires extensive knowledge of the industry, government regulations and requirements for transportation systems, modern transportation designs and the science of moving goods and people across land, sea or air. This can also include some urban planning skills, since planning transportation routes and infrastructures often requires an understanding of how designers plan urban areas.
Transportation managers often work on expansive projects or several projects simultaneously. This requires strong skills in information management, time management, teamwork and self-discipline. Planners master discipline to effectively manage their time and self-motivate to finish projects and meet deadlines. They also understand how to allocate blocks of time to specific concepts or project parts to meet deadlines and quality expectations.
Credentials for transport planners
Transport planners typically have credentials that allow them to work in the field. Here are some common examples:
A college degree: Transportation planners have at least a bachelor's degree in their field, but some planners have a master's or doctorate. Most employers require a bachelor's degree as the minimum employment requirement.
Transportation experience: Planners typically have extensive experience in the transportation industry. Experience can include any previous jobs in transportation like driving, internships or volunteer work.
Clean driving record: Transportation planners have a clean driving record with few to no infractions. Employers may ignore minor infractions like parking or speeding tickets, but this depends on the employer's preferences.
Transportation planner salary
Transportation planners typically earn a national average salary of around $105,671 per year. Salary figures may differ depending on the region you're working in and the size and importance of your projects. Some transportation planners also work as analysts or consultants for private transportation companies or government agencies. Working as an independent consultant can create additional income or provide an opportunity to become a full-time salaried consultant.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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