What was it like to work at London’s busiest airport and what is the future of changing travel behaviour?

Lisa Martin Voices of the Industry SteerAfter establishing and leading Steer’s Planning division in the United States, Lisa returned to the UK to take up a position at London Heathrow Airport, where she led the Surface Access Strategy team, before re-joining Steer earlier this month. We are delighted to welcome Lisa back into the team as Director and joint UK Head of Planning*, where she shares with us her cross-regional experiences, the challenges Heathrow faced during the pandemic and what the future of changing travel behaviour looks like going forward.

Lisa’s journey with Steer (formerly Steer Davies Gleave) started as a graduate 25 years ago, and she has since worked with diverse clients and teams in the UK, Australia and across the United States. Her project work focuses on delivering enhanced quality of life through the provision of better travel options and reducing the number of cars on our roads. Lisa has expertly applied behaviour change tools in a range of cities, including Adelaide and Melbourne in Australia, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego and Washington DC in the United States and London, Bristol, and Aberdeen in the UK. “I love arriving in a new city, working with the client and stakeholders to understand their challenges, understanding the opportunities for change and then identifying bespoke solutions that will most effectively deliver the required behaviour change in that geography”. Lisa expresses.

After nearly 25 years of consultancy work, Lisa took a bold decision to work client-side to help deliver what she considered to be one of the greatest transport challenges in the UK at the time. Heathrow Airport’s vision to expand was an ambition that could support 60 million more passengers per annum, yet Heathrow committed to “no more traffic coming to the airport”. This could only be achieved if there was a very significant increase in the proportion of passengers using public transport and a reduction in colleagues driving. “I knew I could apply my behaviour change experience to help with this ambitious agenda and make a difference closer to home”. Lisa discloses.

Like many airports and businesses, Heathrow was heavily impacted by COVID-19. Consequently, the focus shifted towards ensuring passengers and colleagues had a COVID safe journey to and through the airport during these testing times. Lisa responds, “I led the Surface Access Strategy team who were responsible for providing a choice of safe and reliable travel options to the airport for passengers and airport workers whilst achieving our sustainability goals. We developed new targets for a two-runway airport over the next five years and set out a robust surface access strategy to execute those goals”. The strategy provides improved connections and facilities, better awareness of journey options to passengers and airport workers and importantly, seeks to manage demand for other modes such as Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs). In addition, it seeks to optimise the use of technology and new mobility options to accelerate progress towards net zero and provide those travelling to the airport with a seamless multi-modal journey.

With an emphasis on the evolution and adoption of electric vehicles, we questioned Lisa on how we can encourage more people to move away from driving and her outlook on this. “Whilst I welcome the publication of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan by the Department for Transport, I am concerned that we are not giving enough attention to the need to reduce vehicle trips first and foremost. To realise our commitments, we need to encourage more people to take public transport, walk or cycle instead of using their car regardless of its energy source”, Lisa indicates. Recent investment in more active travel infrastructure and the rollout of micro-mobility options is giving people increased travel options. Now is the time to accelerate successful behaviour change programmes across the UK and get more serious about implementing the sticks too. We need to adopt more widespread road user charging in all forms (distance charging, congestion charging and workplace parking levies). We should also consider the role of high occupancy vehicle lanes in encouraging more shared trips too. These are very successful in the United States, and it’s something we can benefit from here too.  

Lisa is a strong advocate for making a difference to clients and our industry, and we asked her why she chose to return to Steer. “Steer is a very special company; we have incredibly talented staff who pull together to make a difference in our markets. Our global office network, combined with our size, means it is easy to connect people in different geographics tackling a similar problem for their client and learn from that experience. I returned because I believed I could make a bigger difference leading a team of people in the UK, working closely with colleagues across the globe, helping to solve a broad spectrum of challenges faced by our clients”, Lisa highlights.      

Eager to get stuck in, Lisa has immersed herself in one-to-one conversations with her new UK team in her first few weeks to allow her to understand their talents, ambitions, and values, ensuring these are at the core of their offering and delivery. She has also reconnected with her counterparts in India, Italy, North and Latin America during Steer’s recent Global Leadership conference to understand how they can best work collaboratively to identify solutions for their clients. Delving into the next six months, Lisa is determined to begin executing her plans, ensuring Steer continues to be a great, inventive place to work. “We are acclaimed for finding innovative ways to solve the transport challenges we face today, and personally for me, as we move ahead with the decarbonisation agenda, continuing to make a difference to our clients to design and deliver projects which will result in a reduction in vehicle trips, is of great significance”. 

*The Steer planning division in the UK is almost 100 people providing leading-edge expertise to transport and development opportunities across the UK for a range of public and private sector clients, including the National Infrastructure Commission, Canary Wharf Group, The Football Association, Combined Authorities, Transport for London and the Department for Transport.

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