A new mom on the road

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Yesterday I travelled solo on the bus into town with my 4 month old in his pushchair. No big deal hey… Actually, it was a pretty big deal for me. Readers will recall that back in May I wrote a post about my ambitions to be a “multi modal mom”. Well, the baby arrived and at various points over the last four months I’ve reflected on that blog post and on our travel choices. 

Our travel reality:

My first admission is that I had completely underestimated the shear effort just to get out of the house with a baby in tow – especially if you have a set time you need to be somewhere. It gradually becomes a little easier but I now know to leave an extra 15 minutes at least for an unexpected nappy change or demand for food.

My second admission is that we mostly travel by car. I had hoped to keep our car use low but the realities of having a newborn soon kicked in and the car is currently our primary means of getting around. Even this isn’t always particularly easy though.

The next easiest option is to walk. I’m lucky to have basic amenities – small supermarket, doctors, library etc – within easy walking distance. I’ll usually take the baby in the pram but occasionally in the baby carrier.

A cozy ride for someone

So public transport is definitely lacking in our modal mix. We have only used the bus very occasionally. This is why our trip into the centre of Edinburgh yesterday was such a big deal  – taking a pushchair on the bus fills me with fear! OK, fear may be a slight exaggeration but I certainly worried about it and spent time working out some contingency plans which included taking a bus earlier than I really needed to just in case I couldn’t get on the first one or two with the pushchair. 

In the end the journey there and back was fine – I got shouted at by one man who claimed he’d nearly tripped over the pushchair but shortly after I had a nice chat with another mom after I made space so she could also wedge her pushchair into the rather small space allocated on the new and ‘improved’ buses.  The little one cried momentarily but that’s something in getting used to although I still feel a little uncomfortable when he does cry when we’re out and about. 

I’ve only used public transport a handful of times and, in all honesty, it has been fine. However, I feel that luck has been on my side so far and might just run out on the next trip. If I could use the carrier for all my trips then it wouldnt be too problematic, but even at only 4 months old, I would struggle to carry the little man for much more than an hour. As such, I’d usually need to take the pushchair on the bus. To date the pushchair space has been available, or I’ve been travelling with other people who could help if we needed to collapse the pushchair. 

So what could be done differently to make us use the bus more? It’s a tricky one and there probably isn’t an easy fix. Here are my initial thoughts:

  • Bus design is an important factor. There needs to be suitable, and multiple, spaces for pushchairs in addition to wheelchairs among with easy access and boarding.
  • A clear welcome to families and babies onboard. An equivalent experience I can give here is that I know I can breastfeed almost anywhere but I still feel much more comfortable feeding where there are clear indications (usually stickers or posters) that breastfeeding is welcomed. Could bus companies show their support for young travellers in a similarly transparent manner?
  • Sharing tips. New parents are already turning to other parents about all sorts of topics – breastfeeding, baby classes, nappies etc. I have, however, never seen public transport discussed in these peer-to-peer forum. 
  • Using technology. Currently you have to wait until the bus pulls up at your stop to see if there is already another pushchair in the allocated space. This doesn’t give you very long to get baby out of pushchair and collapse it if you decide to get on board. Could there be an early warning system so you could get prepared before the bus arrives? It would be even better if it told you if there was a space on the next bus (but I can’t quite work out how this could function on a service where you don’t need to book a seat). 

Do you have other ideas?

Pondering my Future Travel as a Mom-To-Be

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A year ago I wrote a proposal for innovation funding to explore how you could make public transport an easy choice for new parents and those with young children. I am now writing this blog post at 7 1/2 months pregnant and pondering whether I’m really going to be able to achieve my own desire to be a multi-modal mom!  Continue reading

Examining our world of work

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I don’t subscribe to many podcasts but a few months ago I came across the Harvard Business Review’s ‘Women at Work’ podcast series. My interest was piqued and I downloaded Series 1. Series 2 has just kicked off and I’d honestly recommend it to everyone. Focusing on a different theme each episode, the hosts discuss their experiences of being women in the workplace but also examine formal research in the area. (Much of which is available on HBR). Obviously, these podcasts are part of a much bigger movement which is questioning topics including women’s position in society, inequalities and sexual harassment.

I’ve taken something from every Women at Work podcast episode. I’ve got to say that I work in a super, small and inclusive team although I still find the wider transport sector to be too male-dominated particularly given the fact that we are trying to design inclusive transport systems. The Women at Work discussions have prompted me to see and then question the inherent biases – expectations, cultures and perceptions – facing women in the work environment. I’m sometimes surprised by the things that I hadn’t previously recognised. For example, in the first episode of Series 2, the hosts discuss the fact that women, in general, spend more of their working hours on ‘non-promotable tasks’ than men at the same level of seniority. These are tasks including office housework (like watering the office plants, ordering lunch, and taking the minutes in meetings) as well as many other routine jobs which don’t support career progression. The patterns here are complex and include the fact that women tend to feel the pressure to volunteer for these jobs more than men, but also that they are asked to do them more often by managers (and are reluctant to say no when asked). It’s easy to see why men might progress faster in organisations if they’ve had more time to concentrate on promotable tasks compared to their female counterparts.

I’m left examining my own actions and attitudes as a woman who wants to keep her career progressing, but also as a colleague to other women. I think it is important to note though, that we shouldn’t have to be anything different – we shouldn’t act more ‘male’ – but that our work environments should see the value in a diverse workforce and allow all to prosper.

On a related note, I’m also excited to be starting to read Deep Work by Cal Newport which examines the distractions we face while working and our tendency to low-value, shallow work. More on this once I’ve finished the book!

Nordic ideas from the ITS World Congress 2018

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The ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) World Congress is a pretty big deal in the public transport world. The 2018 Congress has just been held in Copenhagen and I was excited to attend to present a paper that I had accepted and to take part in this global discussion about the future of transport.

There has been a perceivable change in the themes covered in the ITS Congress’ sessions over recent years, reflecting a wider industry shift towards ‘mobility’ and ‘service’ instead of ‘transport’, ‘vehicles’ and ‘operations’. With the theme of this year’s Congress being ‘Quality of Life’, a citizen-centric approach was apparent across many of the presentations I attended.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is a hot topic at the moment and is an area I am actively engaged in. At its most simple I would describe MaaS as an approach to reduce single-occupancy car use by making it much easier for people to be aware of, and combine, a mix of alternative modes, which together can match the car for ease and convenience. It was impressive to see so many session dedicated to, or including discussion of, MaaS and while not everyone is in agreement about the approach to delivering MaaS, the conversations are definitely moving forward. However, it wasn’t strictly a MaaS presentation that has stuck most firmly in my mind.

The very last session I attended, was one I selected on the spur of the moment, but I’m very glad I spotted it on the Programme. It was called ‘Better Mobility with Public Transport’ and included three excellent presentations about activities being undertaken by HSL (the Helsinki Region Transport Authority), Ruter (the public transport authority for Oslo and Akershus counties) and Movia (the Greater Copenhagen public transport authority). These agencies have been supporting each other in refining their direction and approach to public transport delivery.

It was a story from Endre Angelvik at Ruter, which really caught my attention although all were clearly undertaking some excellent work. Endre talked about their desire to reduce single-occupancy car use, but instead of being caught up in MaaS or another technical solution, they’d had taken a broader approach. They’d noted that trip chaining (i.e. stopping at multiple points along your journey for different tasks such as picking up some shopping on your way home from work) was actually one of the biggest challenges to reducing car use in their Region. At the same time, they had some issues to solve around the transportation of children to after-school activities and then to their homes afterwards. By putting on a relatively simple minibus service, which the kids paid for using a usual child’s monthly travel pass, they quickly solved the problem of getting them home. It also boosted inclusion for children whose parents may not have otherwise been able to get them to/from these activities. However, the even greater knock-on effect is that the kids’ service removed the main chain in the evening commutes of the parents. This meant more parents could leave their cars at home that day and take public transport.

In some ways, this all seems so simple and commonsensical. However, this type of approach doesn’t happen often enough. All too often we get caught up in finding a technological fix, and miss the wider opportunities. I found it inspiring to listen to Endre and his Nordic colleagues and am sure I will now question our transport challenges and solutions even more thoroughly.

The joy of reading

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I’ve always enjoyed reading, ever since I was young when I wished I lived in America and went to ‘Sweet Valley High’. However, it was only usually during holidays that I would devour a pile of novels as quickly as possible. This year, my New Year’s Resolution was to try to read 25 books in the year. Now I know for some proper bookworms, this probably doesn’t sound a lot, but for me, one book every two weeks or so seemed like an ambitious target. I was fuelled on in part by my new commute, which resulted in me sitting on the bus for over an hour most days. I’d had enough of gazing out of the window and felt frustrated with using this time to keep checking emails before and after my working day.

The impact of my New Year’s Resolution has been much greater than I imagined. It’s early November and I have now almost finished with my 24th book of the year. I’ve nearly always got a book in my bag. I don’t read on every single bus journey, sometimes I’m just too tired, but on the vast majority, you will find me engrossed in my latest literary choice. I now look forward to my bus journeys rather than seeing it as a chore. I’ve also noticed that it seems to be helping my day-to-day stress levels. It’s proving a nicer way to start and end the day and allows me to turn-off my work brain as I head home for the evening. I’m sure I sleep better too when I read as I go to sleep. A recent article in The Simple Things magazine, explains that reading can become a form of mindfulness – I most definitely agree!

Beyond these great personal benefits, I’m also enjoying the wider impact of books. I’ve hardly read anything on my Kindle this year; the good old paperback is my medium of choice. I enjoy receiving other people’s recommendations and passing books on to others who I think will enjoy them. My mom and I have been drip-feeding each other with books throughout the year. I’m talking about books with friends and colleagues much more, and finding new, common interests this way. I’ve always enjoyed a riffle through charity shop bookshelves and can now do this without any guilt, knowing I probably will get around to reading the book I’m about to buy, rather than it ending up on my bookshelf, unread for years. I look forward to buying and reading even more books next year! I’ve kept a note of the books I’ve read this year, but next year my plan is to write a proper review of each one.

For those interested, this year I have read:

  1. The Versions of Use by Laura Barnett
  2. The Leopard by Jo Nesbo
  3. The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
  4. Dissolution by C J Sansom
  5. Rupture by Ragnar Jonasson
  6. The Buried Giant by Kazou Ishiguro
  7. The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
  8. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
  9. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
  10. The Hidden Light of Objects by Mai Al-Nakib
  11. This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
  12. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
  13. Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
  14. The Blackhouse by Peter May
  15. A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman
  16. After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell
  17. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
  18. The Dry by Jane Harper
  19. Nutshell by Ian McEwan
  20. I’m Travelling Alone by Smaual Bjork
  21. The Marmaid and the Drunks by Ben Richards
  22. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
  23. The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
  24. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

When I was glad I was five minutes early

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I’m regularly travelling for work these days and can certainly notice that the more I travel, the less anxious I feel about missing connections or being delayed etc. However, on Friday I was glad that I’ve not become too relaxed, and left work a little earlier than required to get to the airport. I had decided to take the tram. I have my Ridacard so the tram is free all the way to the airport (as in many cities, paying passengers have to pay a premium to take the whole route to the airport). As it was approaching rush hour, I thought the tram would be a safe option because it doesn’t have too many points where it can get stuck in traffic. It’s also super easy when you are dragging a suitcase along behind you. However, Friday’s trip wasn’t the most user friendly. Here follows my (slightly long winded) account of the journey. Continue reading

Nesta Article on Innovation in Transport

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Nice little article on the Nesta Blog about the key trends which are beginning to transform the transportation sector.

The integration of new technology and the concepts of ‘mobility’ will push innovation in the sector

It’s an exciting time to be working in this sector are trying to work out how we can get the greatest benefits out of this period of change.

When do people say ‘Hello’

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I was recently out for a walk on a lovely beach not far from Edinburgh. There were plenty of people out walking their dogs or playing with their kids. Not a single person said ‘hello’ to anyone else, even as they were passing.

At the end of the beach, the sand ended and a path lead us away from the shore. The narrow path cut through some bushes and across grassy land. Suddenly everyone started to say ‘hello’ to one another.

It was really noticeable to me. I guess it was something about the increased level of proximity. On the path the space was shared and people had to acknowledge one another.

It started off on interesting conversation between my mom and me about how public space is changing because so many people aren’t really ‘present’ in public space when they are off in their own virtual worlds (aided by smartphones). However, I’ll leave that for another post!