We talked to Richard Isted, Western Australian Branch President and Board Member
I have mainly been a consultant for 17 years in the transport infrastructure industry (although I did have a four-year stint with the City of Perth), working predominantly in Western Australia, although I have at times done work in most other states of Australia, as well as New Zealand, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. My academic background is in mathematics and Operations Research, and I have been heavily involved in transport modelling across my career.
What is your current role? I have just recently taken on the role of WA Manager Transport Planning and Advisory with SMEC, after a stint as SMEC’s Roads and Highways Manager in the same state.
What first attracted you to get involved in the transport industry? I had two job offers coming out of university; one was in financial modelling and one was in transport modelling. The financial modelling company was very kind to me and suggested I do a trial week with them to see if I liked it; that trial convinced me to take up the transport modelling job.
Could you explain some key opportunities in your career and how they contributed to your development? From a technical perspective, in that first job, I didn’t have a senior transport modeller to support me but we did have outstanding modelling jobs that needed doing. As such, I was thrown in the deep end in terms of working with models, model concepts and with software packages that I had no previous knowledge of. That experience probably defined a lot of my technical strengths (For example, problem solving in areas that I am not familiar with) but also a number of my weaknesses (For example; sometimes I expect too much on a junior planner / engineer as to what they can work out on their own). I was lucky that Frank Bryant used to challenge me on everything I did, to the point where I became fairly adept at defending myself from a technical standpoint fairly early on. He also encouraged me to always have an idea of all the related things going on alongside from the transport planning context, which has probably contributed a lot to the way I frame problems.
My career probably changed direction a little in 2015 when an opportunity came up to apply for a role as a manager of a transport planning section. Rhiannon Longville challenged me pre-application to ask myself if I was really ready to take up that position; I was very unsure whether I was ready for that but in the end I chose to apply, and I was successful in getting that job which fundamentally changed the way I work. I would encourage people that are in that position to go for jobs that require you to step up; you won’t always succeed (I have had job interviews where I haven’t been successful) but I think the benefit of going through the process and self-reflection of where you truly are and what you are trying to achieve can be worth it in itself.
What has been involvement with AITPM to date? My involvement with AITPM started when I presented at the National Conference in Adelaide in 2009 on Transport Assessment Guidelines for a Sustainable Future. I flew into Adelaide at close to 11:30pm the day before I was to present, and I was very tired and nervous when I came to present the next day. I was grateful for some encouraging comments afterwards, but I was intimidated by Ryan Falconer’s comment that my paper’s recommendations were probably better dealt with within the realm of statutory planning rather than by the more “modelling” approach I had suggested. On deeper reflection, I think Ryan’s comment was probably a keen insight from a direction that I had not considered.
In 2013 through the encouragement of Peter Kartsidimas (now with Infrastructure Victoria), I became involved in with the formation of what became the Transport Modelling Network (TMN); this coincided with the Perth 2013 National Conference which I was also involved in the planning of and I joined the WA Branch committee at that time as well. I continued helping both of those groups and in 2016 I became the Chair of the TMN, passing that baton onto David Keenan in 2019. I also presented at a number of conferences across that time on a range of topics, as well as helping out with a number of events both national and local over that time. This year, I have taken up the position of WA President, after being secretary from 2021.
If people are wondering whether to be involved with AITPM, I would highly recommend it. AITPM is a great bunch of people and the institution has allowed me to make some amazing connections both in Australia and internationally which have been a massive help in lifting me up in a range of areas but also challenging me on what I thought I knew (like Ryan did in that first conference).
What are your aspirations for your contribution to the AITPM? Over the next 4 years, our key strategic pillars revolve around growing our community, collaborate with the industry and grow its capability. Hopefully through my own connections, I can assist AITPM with connecting to related areas such as the data science and digital engineering movements, as well as more traditional connections into road engineering, project management and the like; doing so will help us grow our capability to meet a fast changing industry.
From a WA President perspective, I am conscious that the National Conference is coming up in 2024 in Perth, so (as a previous conference organizer) assisting in getting this setup as best as possible and reducing the burden on everyone and also contribute to it being an awesome conference.
As a board member, I bring previous board member experience from working in with NFP in the arts areas, so hopefully this can bring a range of different perspectives and knowledge.
What has been a memorable moment in your career? There are lots of memorable moments, but as a manager, the ones that are particularly meaningful have been those where people that I have worked with (and particularly younger team members) have grown to take on new positions and new challenges. Of course, the credit for their own success is theirs alone, but if I helped facilitate them achieve their goals in any way, then I feel like I have achieved something too.
Is there a challenge/problem that you have experienced in your career and how did you overcome it? In transport planning, one of the biggest but also most common challenges that regularly comes up is having a range of interested parties with hugely divergent viewpoints, principles and beliefs that we have to fully align behind a single decision. Worse still, I tend to see that (unfortunately) transport modelling and economic methods of decision influencing often divide groups of people more often than they bring them together. These techniques also ignore the fact that there is as much an existential component to planning; planning is as much an art of trying to come up with something that people can buy into that recognizes each party’s history, values and ambitions for the future, as it is a mathematical optimization to select the option which provides the greatest benefit cost ratio.
To this end I often try and overcome needless issues by removing (where possible) the necessity of falling back to an analytical solution to “inform” a decision, where all parties can get agreement on a point – I often challenge people on whether they actually need to do transport modelling. Additionally, avoiding being overly prescriptive about the future and acknowledging the limitations in what we are doing, particularly when there is so much uncertainty, can also allow us to avoid direct conflict between different viewpoints.
What are your personal and/or professional career plans for the future? Helen Forster once told me that the goal of a manager is to develop and empower your colleagues to the point that you are functionally redundant. To that end, a lot of my professional goals are around helping facilitate growth in the team that is around me, whether that be personal growth, financial growth etc. I think corollary to this is that we can measure our success by the amount of our busy-ness; the less busy we are the more we are able to concentrate only on the things that are important.
I think from a technical growth perspective, I would like to be part of industry growth in the topic of how we deal with land use projections with respect to transport modelling. Land use is the fundamental driver of demand outcomes, and I know that this topic is regarded by many industry leaders as a critical issue that we need to get better at if we are going to better facilitate and support objectives around creating a more efficient, environmentally sustainable transport system. However, the land use modelling as a topic contains many complexities which make it difficult to comprehend for most; it is much an issue of translating the intended interactions as it is in building models. Much work needs to be done to create a more accessible framework for the entire transport planning community.
Do you have any advice you would like to share to professionals in the transport/traffic industry?
What do you do in your spare time to unwind? I try to support professional and amateur classical music and opera in Western Australia; I have played the violin since I was six, love chamber music and am a patron of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra which my sister is a violinist in. When I need to calm myself, I also love reciting poetry works by such as Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Owen and Eliot and reading the philosophical works of Soren Kierkegaard and Ludwig Wittgenstein.