Our car expert tries to become a transport bureaucrat...

A six-figure salary for sorting out the nation's transport - it's just the job for a car expert, isn't it, asks James Ruppert
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Indy Lifestyle Online

For the past few months I've been applying for jobs. The Independent didn't mind a bit and in fact they were suspiciously encouraging. You see, I couldn't resist the temptation to join the growing band of public sector workers.

According to the Government's own statistics, employment in this area increased by 62,000 in just 12 months. A total 5.88 million people are employed in the public sector.

Of course, many do hugely useful jobs - teachers, doctors, nurses, the police. Trouble is, there are an increasing number doing jobs that are extravagantly (director of) but vaguely titled (transport strategy). Even worse, some of them are about interfering with the way we drive.

But I reckoned it was possible to be a force for good. I mean, how difficult can it be to make the stretch from used-car to transport infrastructure expert and improve everyone's lives? Actually, it proved very difficult indeed. No one wanted me. Maybe it was my underwhelming CV, or the fact that my references came from the editor and editor-in-chief of Autocar.

I applied for positions that were either directly involved in making transport policy or where transport was part of a wider "environmental" brief. First up, I tried to get the top job, at the heart of the enemy, Transport for London (TfL).

They needed a managing director of surface transport. I needed to move back to London, but a six-figure package would soften that minor inconvenience.

Surface transport encompasses buses, riverboats, dial-a-ride, Victoria coach station, trams, taxis and private-hire licensing, the Congestion Charge, the Transport Policing and Enforcement Directorate and street management.

I felt uniquely qualified, not least because I was born and grew up in London and spent 30 years usingbuses, Tubes and taxis, being stuck in traffic jams, being ticketed and clamped and so on. I've also travelled to places where public and private transport is pretty good: Singapore and Hong Kong have good underground systems, Mexico City has Beetle-shaped taxis, India's got rickshaws and Japan the bullet train. I didn't even fib on my CV; after all, I've been professionally involved in transport of all sorts for more than 20 years.

At first, I seemed to be doing well, even though my calls for "an informal and confidential conversation about the role" were not returned. Then Julie Langridge-John called to say that she had received my application and apologised for not getting back to me. We exchanged pleasantries and I confirmed my availability for interview.

Two weeks later came the follow-up call telling me I was not to be invited to London to reveal my brilliant plans. Presumably I'd been Googled and the truth was out; I was an automotive fascist and a stranger to public transport.

Of course, it could have been the confrontational answers I gave to the questions I was required to answer in a covering letter, which I thought were entirely reasonable. I won't bore you with the whole answer, just the gist of my response to questions such as "What attracts you to this unique and fascinating role?" I wrote: "I believe I can bring together a blend of public and private transport solutions that will make London run better."

"What would your unique contribution to this role be and how this would be seen in action?" I replied: "To make London work and run better requires clear leadership and coherent strategy, which I have the expertise to provide."

"How would you establish and manage your profile in this role, both internal and external?" (Blimey, what does that mean?) "Success will bring an increasingly positive profile, which then enables us to implement more radical changes for the better." Rubbish, I know, but I'm sure it's what they wanted to hear.

I decided to apply to TfL again for the less challenging, more focused role on sub-surface transport, which I think meant the Tube. They wanted an operations director for the Underground on a six-figure package. But TfL had my card marked, so no chummy phone calls, just a polite "get lost".

Then it was time to interfere with transport in other regions. I had high hopes when I applied for the post of group director for the environment with Gloucestershire County Council. This included responsibility for transport and, again, a six-figure sum for a 38-hour week. But it wasn't to be; I was not shortlisted, wrote the chief executive Peter Bungard. The same thing happened when I applied to be the head of transport systems projects for Manchester.

If the regions didn't need me, maybe my country did. A part-time post at the Environment Agency would fit in with my lifestyle and mean I could still work for Autocar.Brilliant. As a board member, I'd have to work between four and seven days a month over a three-year period, for which I would be paid a handy £15,245 to £26,679 annually.

According to the advert, I would be "creating a better place" and that would include rural transportation, a subject close to my heart because it doesn't exist. Yet again I was shown the metaphorical door.

What did I learn from all this? Well, obviously my own unsuitability for public service, and how to complete mind-numbing application forms that always required me to detail my complicated ethnic origins. I also noticed that loads of money is paid to senior managers to sort things out, but that never seems to happen.

The qualifications to run a transport system seem pretty negligible and ill-defined. Common sense should be a requirement, but that was never mentioned. I reckon a bus or train driver probably has a better idea of how to keep things moving than an academic who's implemented a few cycle schemes.

I dearly wanted to confront a selection committee and put some radical ideas to them, simply to get a reaction. Relaxing rules, for a start. Ever driven in Paris, or Rome? It is chaotic, but it is much less stressful and there is a distinct lack of parking wardens to spoil your day. Worst of all, it's us taxpayers who are funding half-baked road schemes and transport initiatives and wasting the efforts of staff who are genuinely committed to public service and making our lives better.

Maybe I'm just bitter that I wasn't offered a job. Officially, I am unemployable. On the positive side, I would never consider working for any local authority or government body that would have me as an employee.

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