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Can Being A Road/Transportation Enthusiast Lead To Any Actual Good Careers?

Started by bluecountry, June 23, 2024, 08:38:55 PM

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bluecountry

A lot of times, I hate how my passion and interest is transportation planning/demography/geography because that lead me to get an MA in Geography and pursue a planning career.  Based on my experience, I can say planning is an absolutely dismal useless career choice for the following reasons:
Quote1.  Your work doesn't matter. You are not doing an objective, creative analysis or problem solving, you are a tool for the local politicians and are simply the burecrate dotting all the 'I's' and 'T's' for their pet projects. 
- If you are lucky, maybe you are doing this for something interesting (like an expressway) but more likely it is for a left turn lane. 
- Even if your 'analysis' is interesting, it either is something that has been studied to death before and will be redundant waste OR if you actually do get to propose a real solution it will be scrapped by the next elected politician.
2.  You are a sell out, without any profit.  If you work for local government, which most do, you are in either a backwards Mayberry, NC setting or a bureaucratic setting that is full of resentful under qualified lifers. 
- Moreover, your job is not to save the world from sprawl or come up with a goof solution, your job is to justify why a data center is good or why a new sports arena will only require a left hand turn lane to mitigate traffic.  In short, you are a sell out, yet with pay worse than a teacher.
3.  Pay.  Sucks.  You are not going to be like your marketing, accounting friends, to say anything about finance advisors or lawyers.  Enjoy being paid like a teacher (when you average 9 vs 12 months), but unlike a teacher you don't do anything society values or really improve even one child's life.
Rant over.

Seriously, is there ANY profession related to this passion where you can either make good money to live upper middle class OR do something that actually is intellectually helpful vs spin?


Max Rockatansky

You'll never get rich in government work.  But you certainly can live decently and have a stable career.  Long term benefits is what keeps me in what I do (which isn't road or infrastructure related).

Now social media on the other hand is where being a road enthusiast can make some decent side cash.  The trouble is developing something marketable enough that is worth monetizing.

Rothman

Become a civil engineer and work for a consulting firm if you're after money.

If you're after work-life balance, go into government.

Have to snicker about becoming a planner and how you're just doing a politician's bidding.  That said, I've seen city planners wield great power over how towns/cities evolve in more than a couple of states.  I've also seen good studies done that lay out great bike/ped plans or emergency operations for communities by planners.

Just depends on what role you want to fill.

For the record, my roadgeekery took a couple of twists and turns over the decades, but I'm quite happy with where I am now.
Please note: All comments here represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the official position(s) of NYSDOT.

vdeane

Pay also varies based on where in government you work.  In general, the higher the level of government (federal/state/municipal), the higher the pay, but there are exceptions (like in NYC).  For MPOs it probably varies by what the host agency is (state DOT, transit authority, county, etc.).

The rant part reminded me of this Dilbert comic.
Please note: All comments here represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the official position of NYSDOT or its affiliates.

GCrites

Quote from: Rothman on June 23, 2024, 09:24:39 PMBecome a civil engineer and work for a consulting firm if you're after money.

If you're after work-life balance, go into government.

Have to snicker about becoming a planner and how you're just doing a politician's bidding.  That said, I've seen city planners wield great power over how towns/cities evolve in more than a couple of states.  I've also seen good studies done that lay out great bike/ped plans or emergency operations for communities by planners.

Just depends on what role you want to fill.

For the record, my roadgeekery took a couple of twists and turns over the decades, but I'm quite happy with where I am now.

The problem with going back to school to be an engineer is you have to do ALL of college over, not just the classes in the major. Electives and the general ed program don't apply towards engineering degrees unlike in the liberal arts where you could maybe go back to school for 1.5 years or less to pick up another Bachelor's. I tried to do so after finding good office jobs too difficult to obtain even after earning an MBA. My road and traffic engineer friends warned me about it (I didn't even know those were jobs at all when I started college) and when I looked into at the local Uni of course they were right.

Rothman

Quote from: GCrites on June 25, 2024, 08:48:15 PM
Quote from: Rothman on June 23, 2024, 09:24:39 PMBecome a civil engineer and work for a consulting firm if you're after money.

If you're after work-life balance, go into government.

Have to snicker about becoming a planner and how you're just doing a politician's bidding.  That said, I've seen city planners wield great power over how towns/cities evolve in more than a couple of states.  I've also seen good studies done that lay out great bike/ped plans or emergency operations for communities by planners.

Just depends on what role you want to fill.

For the record, my roadgeekery took a couple of twists and turns over the decades, but I'm quite happy with where I am now.

The problem with going back to school to be an engineer is you have to do ALL of college over, not just the classes in the major. Electives and the general ed program don't apply towards engineering degrees unlike in the liberal arts where you could maybe go back to school for 1.5 years or less to pick up another Bachelor's. I tried to do so after finding good office jobs too difficult even after earning an MBA. My road and traffic engineer friends warned me about it (I didn't even know those were jobs at all when I started college) and when I looked into at the local Uni of course they were right.

Life decisions do matter.
Please note: All comments here represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the official position(s) of NYSDOT.

Dirt Roads

I'm not an expert, but here's my understanding:

One.  The best transportation planning jobs are in large engineering firms that "control" the rail transit marketplace (you will need to look those firms up).  You might have to wait patiently, but those jobs do become available from time-to-time, and those with previous experience are certainly in a better position.  It helps to be located in a city with an active rail transit development program, but it appears that transportation planners in other cities will get good/fun assignments when business is good.

Two.  Money, money, money.  It takes a lot of work, but the transportation planning industry needs people who understand the finance side and costs of transportation project development.  You might hate this part, but I would recommend going back 3 years and collecting a personal database of the costs and prices of everything you can find.  Start with a smaller regional approach, and widen your "region" as you go.  Be forewarned, there's a lot of "holes" in cost estimates and project bids.  The Federal Transit Administration uses standard cost categories for such budgets, but you can't compare them apples-to-apples.

Three.  Get a basic understanding of the "holes".  Most planning teams are strong in some areas and weak in others.  Their cost estimates almost always follow the same patterns.  The same is true with the metropolitan planning organizations and/or transit agencies.  If you can do a better job of explaining what is missing in the old cost estimates, those "holes" become a gold mine.  (Ergo, you get to help significantly reduce the "fudge factor" in the cost estimating process).

Four.  This is the hard part.  Even if you don't need it, develop a good understanding of transit operations within your personal "region" (all forms rail transit, fixed guideway and bus transit).  In general, you'll need to have a good handle on how to estimate round trip times and layovers.  Many folks only know how to estimate average transit speeds for each situation, but if you want to get good at this you need to work with the simulation tools and ridership models.  (Or develop your own).  Getting an understanding of the operational costs of traction power and/or fueling (especially "green" technology) is a big plus.

Five.  This is the boring part.  Try to break down the cost estimates into basic categories that get impacted by "big picture" cost factors.  Your typical transportation project might be 20% concrete, 25% steel, 55% labor plus a bunch of add-ons.  If you focus on this, you can get really close at taking old cost data and pulling an instant escalation factor out of your hat: "That's going to be 27% higher than four years ago".

Six.  "I'm not an expert, but here's my understanding".  Those words go a long ways to helping you get in the door to work in the fun part of transportation planning.  It also helped justify the extra amount of effort needed to get better at this.  At first, you'll have to do most of this on your own time.  But in due time, your employer will want to get their cut on the time you spend on "research".

Out of necessity, I had to get good at these things.  I wasn't interested in transportation planning at first, but it became one of the most satisfying parts of my career.  Before, I just thought I was a "jack of all trades".  When it came to planning, I had to be.

Wishing you (and others wanting to do the same) a better career path.

Rothman

Heh.  In government work, official compiled estimates of items are applied in project estimates...at least in NY.  Engineer has discretion to adjust, but the official book is there.
Please note: All comments here represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the official position(s) of NYSDOT.

johndoe

This old thread may interest you too: https://www.aaroads.com/forum/index.php?topic=15010.msg2631383#msg2631383

@Dirt Roads may claim to not be an expert (maybe they're like me and find the e-word scary!) But that sounded like a thorough response!

Regarding the "becoming consulting engineer" avenue: consider that many of us would agree with OP's opening rant...those issues aren't unique to planners!

SEWIGuy

Quote from: GCrites on June 25, 2024, 08:48:15 PM
Quote from: Rothman on June 23, 2024, 09:24:39 PMBecome a civil engineer and work for a consulting firm if you're after money.

If you're after work-life balance, go into government.

Have to snicker about becoming a planner and how you're just doing a politician's bidding.  That said, I've seen city planners wield great power over how towns/cities evolve in more than a couple of states.  I've also seen good studies done that lay out great bike/ped plans or emergency operations for communities by planners.

Just depends on what role you want to fill.

For the record, my roadgeekery took a couple of twists and turns over the decades, but I'm quite happy with where I am now.

The problem with going back to school to be an engineer is you have to do ALL of college over, not just the classes in the major. Electives and the general ed program don't apply towards engineering degrees unlike in the liberal arts where you could maybe go back to school for 1.5 years or less to pick up another Bachelor's. I tried to do so after finding good office jobs too difficult to obtain even after earning an MBA. My road and traffic engineer friends warned me about it (I didn't even know those were jobs at all when I started college) and when I looked into at the local Uni of course they were right.


An MBA these days isn't a terribly useful degree unless you need the credential for a specific job, or it's from a high end program. There are so many of them out there now that I doubt the marketplace pays much attention.

GCrites

Keep in mind this was 20 years ago but the sentiment was still there to some degree. But for engineers -- which often have a reputation of being highly specialized -- a dose of generalism such as learned earning an MBA can be desirable.

Rothman

Quote from: GCrites on June 29, 2024, 10:40:35 AMKeep in mind this was 20 years ago but the sentiment was still there to some degree. But for engineers -- which often have a reputation of being highly specialized -- a dose of generalism such as learned earning an MBA can be desirable.

Heh.  Had an old boss that got his MBA on top of his engineering degree.  MBA did diddly squat for him.  His experience is what got him his current kushy job as a consultant in NYC after he retired...
Please note: All comments here represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the official position(s) of NYSDOT.

bluecountry

Quote from: Rothman on June 23, 2024, 09:24:39 PMBecome a civil engineer and work for a consulting firm if you're after money.

If you're after work-life balance, go into government.

Have to snicker about becoming a planner and how you're just doing a politician's bidding.  That said, I've seen city planners wield great power over how towns/cities evolve in more than a couple of states.  I've also seen good studies done that lay out great bike/ped plans or emergency operations for communities by planners.

Just depends on what role you want to fill.

For the record, my roadgeekery took a couple of twists and turns over the decades, but I'm quite happy with where I am now.
Thanks, so engineering is not my thing, I am more into what happens if we go 2 to 3 lanes vs what geometry the road needs to curve.  I take it though you agree with me on how planners are just tools for pols?


Quote from: vdeane on June 23, 2024, 10:06:03 PMPay also varies based on where in government you work.  In general, the higher the level of government (federal/state/municipal), the higher the pay, but there are exceptions (like in NYC).  For MPOs it probably varies by what the host agency is (state DOT, transit authority, county, etc.).

The rant part reminded me of this Dilbert comic.
The link to the rant does not work, can you re-post?

bluecountry

Quote from: Dirt Roads on June 27, 2024, 10:17:57 PMI'm not an expert, but here's my understanding:

One.  The best transportation planning jobs are in large engineering firms that "control" the rail transit marketplace (you will need to look those firms up).  You might have to wait patiently, but those jobs do become available from time-to-time, and those with previous experience are certainly in a better position.  It helps to be located in a city with an active rail transit development program, but it appears that transportation planners in other cities will get good/fun assignments when business is good.

Two.  Money, money, money.  It takes a lot of work, but the transportation planning industry needs people who understand the finance side and costs of transportation project development.  You might hate this part, but I would recommend going back 3 years and collecting a personal database of the costs and prices of everything you can find.  Start with a smaller regional approach, and widen your "region" as you go.  Be forewarned, there's a lot of "holes" in cost estimates and project bids.  The Federal Transit Administration uses standard cost categories for such budgets, but you can't compare them apples-to-apples.

Three.  Get a basic understanding of the "holes".  Most planning teams are strong in some areas and weak in others.  Their cost estimates almost always follow the same patterns.  The same is true with the metropolitan planning organizations and/or transit agencies.  If you can do a better job of explaining what is missing in the old cost estimates, those "holes" become a gold mine.  (Ergo, you get to help significantly reduce the "fudge factor" in the cost estimating process).

Four.  This is the hard part.  Even if you don't need it, develop a good understanding of transit operations within your personal "region" (all forms rail transit, fixed guideway and bus transit).  In general, you'll need to have a good handle on how to estimate round trip times and layovers.  Many folks only know how to estimate average transit speeds for each situation, but if you want to get good at this you need to work with the simulation tools and ridership models.  (Or develop your own).  Getting an understanding of the operational costs of traction power and/or fueling (especially "green" technology) is a big plus.

Five.  This is the boring part.  Try to break down the cost estimates into basic categories that get impacted by "big picture" cost factors.  Your typical transportation project might be 20% concrete, 25% steel, 55% labor plus a bunch of add-ons.  If you focus on this, you can get really close at taking old cost data and pulling an instant escalation factor out of your hat: "That's going to be 27% higher than four years ago".

Six.  "I'm not an expert, but here's my understanding".  Those words go a long ways to helping you get in the door to work in the fun part of transportation planning.  It also helped justify the extra amount of effort needed to get better at this.  At first, you'll have to do most of this on your own time.  But in due time, your employer will want to get their cut on the time you spend on "research".

Out of necessity, I had to get good at these things.  I wasn't interested in transportation planning at first, but it became one of the most satisfying parts of my career.  Before, I just thought I was a "jack of all trades".  When it came to planning, I had to be.

Wishing you (and others wanting to do the same) a better career path.
Thanks, so I wonder why I can't get looked at by the AECOMs/WSPs of the world.
I worked as a TP at a top 5 market's public transit.
While I do not have a formal financial background I most certainly read about projects, financing, and have been part of FFGAs.
Moreover I have a business minor with classes in accounting.

Rothman

Quote from: bluecountry on July 02, 2024, 05:54:15 PM
Quote from: Rothman on June 23, 2024, 09:24:39 PMBecome a civil engineer and work for a consulting firm if you're after money.

If you're after work-life balance, go into government.

Have to snicker about becoming a planner and how you're just doing a politician's bidding.  That said, I've seen city planners wield great power over how towns/cities evolve in more than a couple of states.  I've also seen good studies done that lay out great bike/ped plans or emergency operations for communities by planners.

Just depends on what role you want to fill.

For the record, my roadgeekery took a couple of twists and turns over the decades, but I'm quite happy with where I am now.
Thanks, so engineering is not my thing, I am more into what happens if we go 2 to 3 lanes vs what geometry the road needs to curve.  I take it though you agree with me on how planners are just tools for pols?

That's still engineering. :D

No, like I said above, planners are not just tools for pols.  Still, by their very definition, planners propose solutions.  They don't decide on implementation.
Please note: All comments here represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the official position(s) of NYSDOT.

GCrites

Quote from: Rothman on July 02, 2024, 06:12:52 PM
Quote from: bluecountry on July 02, 2024, 05:54:15 PM
Quote from: Rothman on June 23, 2024, 09:24:39 PMBecome a civil engineer and work for a consulting firm if you're after money.

If you're after work-life balance, go into government.

Have to snicker about becoming a planner and how you're just doing a politician's bidding.  That said, I've seen city planners wield great power over how towns/cities evolve in more than a couple of states.  I've also seen good studies done that lay out great bike/ped plans or emergency operations for communities by planners.

Just depends on what role you want to fill.

For the record, my roadgeekery took a couple of twists and turns over the decades, but I'm quite happy with where I am now.
Thanks, so engineering is not my thing, I am more into what happens if we go 2 to 3 lanes vs what geometry the road needs to curve.  I take it though you agree with me on how planners are just tools for pols?

That's still engineering. :D



Yes the 2-3 lanes difference is traffic engineering whereas the curve geometry is road engineering.

vdeane

Quote from: bluecountry on July 02, 2024, 05:54:15 PM
QuotePay also varies based on where in government you work.  In general, the higher the level of government (federal/state/municipal), the higher the pay, but there are exceptions (like in NYC).  For MPOs it probably varies by what the host agency is (state DOT, transit authority, county, etc.).

The rant part reminded me of this Dilbert comic.
The link to the rant does not work, can you re-post?
Odd... it seems to work for me.  I don't have an image hosting account anywhere.
Please note: All comments here represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the official position of NYSDOT or its affiliates.

Rothman

Quote from: GCrites on July 02, 2024, 07:25:07 PM
Quote from: Rothman on July 02, 2024, 06:12:52 PM
Quote from: bluecountry on July 02, 2024, 05:54:15 PM
Quote from: Rothman on June 23, 2024, 09:24:39 PMBecome a civil engineer and work for a consulting firm if you're after money.

If you're after work-life balance, go into government.

Have to snicker about becoming a planner and how you're just doing a politician's bidding.  That said, I've seen city planners wield great power over how towns/cities evolve in more than a couple of states.  I've also seen good studies done that lay out great bike/ped plans or emergency operations for communities by planners.

Just depends on what role you want to fill.

For the record, my roadgeekery took a couple of twists and turns over the decades, but I'm quite happy with where I am now.
Thanks, so engineering is not my thing, I am more into what happens if we go 2 to 3 lanes vs what geometry the road needs to curve.  I take it though you agree with me on how planners are just tools for pols?

That's still engineering. :D



Yes the 2-3 lanes difference is traffic engineering whereas the curve geometry is road engineering.

I believe he wants to play SimCity IRL, though, and see what it does to land use.
Please note: All comments here represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the official position(s) of NYSDOT.

Max Rockatansky

Put your industrial zones at the end of the map to minimize pollution.  Make sure no zone is further than six tiles of railroad.  Fill all the empty space between the single railroad tiles with parklands.  You'll be on your way to a 500,000 resident Megalopolis in no time.

GCrites

I thought Donut Block strategy wouldn't be beaten but here we are.

Max Rockatansky

I used to be a donut block believer but it just plain leaves too much unzoned space.

Dirt Roads

Quote from: bluecountry on July 02, 2024, 05:58:07 PM<snipped>

...so I wonder why I can't get looked at by the AECOMs/WSPs of the world.
I worked as a TP at a top 5 market's public transit.
While I do not have a formal financial background I most certainly read about projects, financing, and have been part of FFGAs.
Moreover I have a business minor with classes in accounting.

Not sure if you find any more pleasure working for one of "the Bigs", as they tend to have specialized transportation planners and transportation planners for different sub-specialties.  Instead, you ought to dig deeper into which firms have a national profile but don't have a presence in many of the markets.  The firm that I retired from didn't even have a focus on "traditional" transportation planning.  But we got a lot of fun planning projects that "the Bigs" weren't interested in (many of which died in the planning phase, but so what?). 

Rothman

Quote from: Dirt Roads on July 03, 2024, 04:41:06 PM
Quote from: bluecountry on July 02, 2024, 05:58:07 PM<snipped>

...so I wonder why I can't get looked at by the AECOMs/WSPs of the world.
I worked as a TP at a top 5 market's public transit.
While I do not have a formal financial background I most certainly read about projects, financing, and have been part of FFGAs.
Moreover I have a business minor with classes in accounting.

Not sure if you find any more pleasure working for one of "the Bigs", as they tend to have specialized transportation planners and transportation planners for different sub-specialties.  Instead, you ought to dig deeper into which firms have a national profile but don't have a presence in many of the markets.  The firm that I retired from didn't even have a focus on "traditional" transportation planning.  But we got a lot of fun planning projects that "the Bigs" weren't interested in (many of which died in the planning phase, but so what?).

Dang, I missed what bluecountry said here.

If you think public sector work is just doing what pols want, egads, what do you think the WSPs of the world do?

For example, I believe WSP is performing the traffic impact analysis for the Micron development north of Syracuse.  Are they decisionmakers?  Heck no.  They just provide the analysis results to MPOs and DOTs to inform decisionmaking.

Also, keep in mind that when consultants bid on projects/tasks/studies, that they provide the qualifications of those that will work on the project as part of their bid.  For transportation-related work, people are looking for engineering degrees, although having a planner/general analyst thrown into the team is common.  So, it's a very competitive market to fill that one slot or so per team.

I think bluecountry said they worked at a transit authority?  Consultants are also looking for those that have good connections at such agencies (toeing any ethical laws/regulations), so I've seen mid-managers make the jump from public to private more easily than lower-level analysts/planners.  And, engineers are in demand, so they are making the jump the easiest currently...

Be sure to send a thank you e-mail after an interview.  Private sector hiring procedures come down to formalities like that to divide who gets hired and who does not.
Please note: All comments here represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the official position(s) of NYSDOT.

bandit957

I wanted to get into civil engineering, but our university here doesn't have an engineering program, so I had to get into broadcasting instead. And that was right at the time the broadcasting industry was essentially being killed off.
Might as well face it, pooing is cool

Rothman

Quote from: bandit957 on July 05, 2024, 10:01:21 AMI wanted to get into civil engineering, but our university here doesn't have an engineering program, so I had to get into broadcasting instead. And that was right at the time the broadcasting industry was essentially being killed off.

And economists think labor is mobile...
Please note: All comments here represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the official position(s) of NYSDOT.



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