Lisa Iverach: Psyched about transport
Where are you working now, and what do you do?
I’m a Senior Researcher in the Transport for NSW Research Unit. I’m currently coordinating several research projects with university partners. This means that I spend most of my time engaging with project sponsors and SMEs across Transport, and with academics from a range of universities.
I also have quite a bit to do with establishing collaborative project agreements and MOUs with university partners so that we can all work together on interesting projects (I never realised how exciting legal contracts could be!).
How did you gravitate to studying/working in the mobility field?
This may come as a surprise, but my background is actually in Psychology. I have a PhD from the University of Sydney and a Bachelor of Psychology (Hons) from Macquarie University. After many years as an academic, I decided to take the advice of my father-in-law, David, who was actually the Director General of Transport for NSW back in the 1980s.
My father-in-law had also completed a PhD and always told me that there were so many interesting jobs and experiences outside of academia – he himself had made the jump from academia to government many years ago, and clearly he had thrived through that experience.
When a job appeared in the Research Unit at Transport for NSW, I knew that it was the perfect match for my skills set and passion for research. What I love about the mobility field is that there are so many research topics to explore, from sustainability and place-making to technology and people (and more).
Where (else) have you studied/worked?
I’ve had a bit of a colourful working life, and it hasn’t all been transport-related. A huge part of my career has been spent in the field of psychology, including a sizeable stint as a Drug & Alcohol Counsellor for Sydney Hospital and a Wellbeing Manager for Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
Following completion of my PhD at the University of Sydney, I decided that I loved research more than anything else. I worked for several years as a Senior Research Fellow and Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Sydney, and I was also awarded a 3-year Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Centre for Emotional Health, Macquarie University.
Doesn’t sound very transport-related, does it? You’d be surprised how much human behaviour and psychology plays a role in the way that transport is designed and used. And at the end of the day, research is my passion – in whatever form it takes.
What work/projects are you most proud of?
First of all, one of my proudest moments at Transport for NSW was the launch of our Research Hub back in June 2018, only 6 months after I’d made the jump from academia to government. Our Secretary Rodd Staples opened the event to 150+ academics from universities around Australia.
I was thrilled to see the strong intersection between government and academia, and I knew my decision to join Transport for NSW was one of the best decision’s I’d ever made career-wise. I was also proud that Transport for NSW had made a cutting-edge decision to establish a Research Unit & Hub to help solve some of its biggest challenges.
In terms of actual projects, there are so many that it’s hard to choose! My absolute favourite at the moment is a project we’re coordinating with the NSW Public Service Commission and Swinburne University on identifying barriers and enablers of flexibility for frontline staff at Transport for NSW (e.g. customer-facing roles). So much of this work is about enabling our staff to enjoy their jobs and balance them with family. So again, you can see a link to psychology.
I’m also really proud of a UTS PhD project on Optimising Signalised Intersection that is currently being sponsored by Transport for NSW, UTS and iMOVE. It’s amazing to see the evidence and impact that PhD projects can provide in a relatively short timeframe. These collaborative PhD projects provide a fantastic bridge between academia and government. In addition, being involved in this UTS PhD project reminds me of my time, not only as a PhD student, but also as an academic supervisor of Higher Degree Research students in Universities.
Other that what you’re doing now, and what you’ve done previously, is there something new, perhaps even a new field for you entirely, that what you would like to take on?
I’m really happy in the Research Unit at Transport right now, and I can see myself in the mobility field for some time to come. One thing I miss from my academic days is writing – I used to spend most of my time writing scientific journal articles, book chapters and the like. I don’t get much of a chance to write anymore, so I would love to see that my career eventually lands me in a role where I get to utilise those skills again. Writing is like knitting – very therapeutic.
In the next 3 to 5 years, what in transport/smart city/etc technology are you most excited about?
Gosh, where do I start?! It may sound cliché, but we really are at such an interesting time in transport history. We’re seeing the emergence of so many new technologies and mobility solutions that will change our lives on a daily basis.
I know there’s a lot of excitement around automated vehicles, and there’s plenty of fascinating research and innovation being done in that space. But I’m more excited about the transformation of our transport spaces and places. This includes the increased connectedness of our transport systems, and the impact that this will have on our daily human experience. Being connected creates community.
Last year we were involved in a 2-day Challenge on Envisioning Transport Spaces of the Future, which was sponsored by Sydney Metro and hosted by Google Sydney. The Challenge was attended by students from the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Sydney who worked together in groups to think about how our transport spaces might look in 20 years. For example, what new technologies will emerge? What will we use instead of turnstiles? Can we improve the customer journey by providing certain amenities?
In a related manner, Transport’s increased focus on place-making is very exciting. Place-making is about creating vibrant, liveable places that support community health, safety and wellbeing, and that also facilitate the efficient movement of vehicles. We’re currently coordinating a project with Swinburne University on designing safe and successful places using Virtual Reality technology. This is quite a foundational piece in terms of isolating variables that improve safety and place-making, while balancing that with vehicle movement.
Are you finding that your background in psychology is actually a great help to you in an environment of Big Transport looking more closely at customers, rather than the systems? (bottom up rather than top down)
Absolutely. The systems and the people are connected in so many ways – from the people who design, build and maintain the systems, to the customers that use them on a daily basis. Transport features in all our lives every day – whether it’s driving or walking the kids to school, catching a bus or train to work, or using cycle lanes to commute actively.
Good transport experiences can have many positive impacts for ourselves and the wider community. And you can see how good transport systems and vibrant places have the capacity to impact how we feel on a daily basis – which really does tie in with psychology!
Finally, what’s one transport project you’d undertake that would have a quick, appreciable impact?
I would love to know how long people are standing in bus queues before their bus arrives. We can capture how long a bus or train takes to get from Point A to Point B. But we don’t always know how long people are waiting before their service turns up. There are technology options available to explore this, using mobile phone data, and this could help us with service provision.