New Transport Economist: In Conversation

We are delighted to have recruited Jon Bunney to Regeneris. Jon brings over 19 years’ experience as a transport economist having previously worked for SYSTRA (formerly JMP) and Halcrow. Here are some early thoughts from Jon:

What most excites you about joining Regeneris?

I’ve worked in partnership with several members of the team at Regeneris over the last five to ten years, so I’ve had some insight into the way things operate. I’ve always been struck by the positive atmosphere created on projects, with a clear sense of empowerment for staff to deliver. I’ve also noted the tone of client feedback and it’s apparent that there is a great amount of professional and personal respect for both the outputs produced, as well as the manner in which this is done. I’m really looking forward to becoming part of this culture; the dynamism and flexibility that comes from working within a consultancy of this size.

What do you see as the current challenges in the transport sector?

The fundamental challenges of travel remain ever present – more people needing to get to places on ever more constrained transport networks. Whilst government is focused on the link between transport and economic growth, the funding constraints over an increasingly long period of time have meant that, despite some big-ticket infrastructure investment, many local transport networks and services remain inhibited with under-investment.

The environmental impacts of transport also remain a critical issue, particularly within our cities. There seems to be an underlying reliance on technology to resolve this issue in due course but the reality is that current pollutant levels remain unacceptably high in many places.

What technology innovation most excite you in the transport sector?

There’s a lot going on in transport at present, so quite a lot to get excited about – albeit, it is often difficult to figure out which technologies have a real chance of becoming embedded within the transport market. Being fired-off in a frictionless Hyperloop tube from London to Edinburgh in 30 minutes sounds brilliant and bizarre at the same time!

Notwithstanding the legislation to implement them, driverless car technologies are nearly upon us. One of the biggest constraints to making informed decisions about how we travel is that so many of us have one (or two or three) cars sitting outside our homes; it is a very attractive default mode of travel. What interests me most is whether driverless cars can ultimately move us away from being a nation of continually aspiring car owners.  If you could save money by not owning a car, yet retain the option of one coming to pick you up, then it might help people make more considered choices about how they travel.

What transport policy do you feel has had the most impact (positive or negative)?

I’m always interested in how policy and legislation affect the operation of the market for transport. Putting train enthusiasts and the ‘Jeremy Clarksons’ aside, no one really wants to have to travel, which makes transport a particularly interesting market. Not least because the more one person travels, the more it affects other people. As such, regulation and legislation has more of a role in transport than it perhaps has in other markets. Governments can though be reluctant to be too heavy handed in applying such regulations.

The way we pay for, and permit access to our roads in the UK is a useful example. There are a series of up-front financial and legislative barriers before you can start driving (vehicle tax, drivers licence, MOT, etc.) but then you can drive as much as you like. Clearly you still need fuel to drive, and a significant proportion of this cost is made up of government duty, but whilst this might help constrain the amount you drive, it doesn’t influence when you choose to drive. Unlike the public transport market, where you have peak and off-peak tickets, there is no financial incentive to drive at times when the road network is quieter. Road user charging would be a mechanism for doing this but, with a few notable exceptions, has so far been deemed too politically unappealing.

Who are your transport heroes?

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the phrase ‘transport heroes’ before, although my primary school ‘house’ was named after Sir Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine, so perhaps I was always destined to be in transport … although maybe I missed out on being a pilot!

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