Alexandra Batey is the director of investment delivery planning at Transport for London (TfL). She started working at TfL in 2013 as part of the asset management development team before pursuing roles in station sponsorship and being appointed to her current post in January 2020. Alexandra is currently overseeing the installation of new walking and cycling improvements across London to help people to social distance following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Engineering was in my blood
I come from a long-line of male engineers on both sides of my family, so engineering seemed like a natural career choice for me. I gained a master’s degree in environmental engineering at the University of Nottingham and became the first female engineer in my family.
When I graduated, I joined London Underground’s civil engineering graduate scheme, which was a fantastic experience, being able to work in lots of different departments across Transport for London before deciding where to focus my career.
I really enjoyed working on site, seeing the projects being built over time and leaving a physical mark on London in the form of bridges and structures, new platforms and station works.
My next role was as a project engineer and then a senior project engineer as part of the Four Lines Modernisation programme with London Underground. This was a great learning experience, focused on high-level system integration and programme level engineering strategies. This was also the first time I become a team manager and recognised how important people leadership is to success.
Prioritising my kids
At this point, my career journey took a bit of a back seat as my daughter, Ellessia, was born and I decided to have a full year maternity leave and focus on her. When I returned to work, I still worked fulltime but I made a move into asset management and sponsorship. When my son, Rafel, was born two years later, I decided that I wanted to work part time and so I took up a role in research and development sponsorship until both children were at primary school.
I am fortunate to have a supportive husband and we have agreed what is right for our family and after the children both started primary school that it was my time to put the effort into my career.
Changes in work allow you to learn more
I have since had multiple roles in London Underground sponsorship across stations, civils, renewals and engineering before moving into surface sponsorship in 2017 and taking up my role as head of public transport sponsorship. It was a great move, as it enabled me to truly have a pan-TfL view and an understanding at a strategic level of the transport network across London.
I also started sponsoring air quality and technology projects, which I have found really exciting and allowed me to stretch my skills and experience to move to a new area.
Many of my work changes have been about learning something different and recognising both my strengths and weaknesses, as well as trying to move into areas to develop myself further.
My most recent promotion, in 2019, has seen me become the director of investment delivery planning for TfL and has been a real acknowledgement of my determination to continue to develop and improve myself.
TfL is the integrated body responsible for London’s transport system. Its role is to implement the Mayor’s transport strategy and manage public transport services across the capital, for which the Mayor has responsibility. TfL manages London’s buses, London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, TfL Rail and London Trams. It also runs London River Services, Victoria Coach Station and the congestion charge scheme.
In addition to this TfL has responsibility for a network of main roads, all of London’s 6,000 traffic lights, as well as regulating taxis and the private hire trade operating in the capital.
The future of London
The Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) sets out a bold vision for a growing, welcoming London, where 80% of journeys will be made by walking, cycling or public transport by 2041. TfL’s investment programme delivers London Underground and surface transport projects to meet the objectives of the MTS.
As director of investment delivery planning, my role is to be the internal client for the TfL investment programme, defining and sponsoring a multi-billion pound programme of work to ensure it meets the needs of customers, taxpayers, funders and other stakeholders in accordance with the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and as part of the TfL Business Plan.
On a day-to-day basis, I work with teams across TfL to shape the future of London’s transport network. I look across the entire business, developing the prioritisation and strategic alignment of the investment programme and ensuring that we have good governance processes in place. I also ensure that projects deliver the outcomes they set out to achieve.
My role involves working closely with London Boroughs and other stakeholders to achieve shared objectives. I also work extensively with external partners, including developers whose work could impact on TfL operations, and ensure that any when they are developing their plans transport benefits are included in schemes as well as making sure they are actually delivered.
Supporting my team
During COVID-19, I have been focusing on supporting the ‘restart and recovery workstreams’ and leading my team through this time of uncertainty. People are concerned about their family and the impact this will have on their lives. It is important to me that I am able to support my team and also help to keep London moving for those essential workers to help us get through this time.
On a personal level, having to balance childcare, home schooling and continuing to work is challenging. It is important to have some level of routine. Maintaining boundaries between “office” hours and personal time is vital to protect our physical and mental health.
Projects during the pandemic
During the COVID-19 emergency I have been supporting London’s restart and recovery plan, which has mainly been through the London Streetspace Programme. This has meant working closely with London’s boroughs to identify where temporary changes are needed to support social distancing or that would benefit from cycling and walking improvements.
Changes are being rolled out at pace to make an instant difference; you can already see a number of temporary cycle lanes introduced across London.
To help our customers walk and cycle wherever possible, we’re concentrating on three key areas:
- Quickly building a strategic cycling network, using temporary materials such as cones and including new routes to help reduce crowding on the Tube and trains and on busy bus routes;
- Changing town centres so local journeys can be safely walked and cycled where possible, for example with wider pavements on high streets to give space for queues outside shops as people safely walk past while socially distancing;
- Reducing traffic on residential streets, creating low-traffic neighbourhoods right across London so more people can walk and cycle as part of their daily routine.
We have achieved some fantastic results in a really short period of time to help London on the road to recovery. I am really proud of my team and how they have risen to the challenge of delivering the London Streetspace plan.
Working with our supply chain for restart and recovery
TfL works really closely with its external suppliers. The resilience of our supply chain will be so important to London’s post-COVID recovery. It is essential that we have good, collaborative relationships with our supply chain to overcome issues such as scarce materials and resources, as well as how to work efficiently whilst ensuring safety and maintaining social distancing.
Sharing of lessons learnt, working together to be creative and innovative will enable more efficient delivery and operations leading to a successful recovery.
A positive change in gender balance
When I joined the graduate engineering programme at London Underground I was the only female engineer in my year. In recent years in TfL we had a 50/50 split of male and female engineers, which shows how far TfL has come during my career. We are not perfect, but I can see significant step changes to ensure we are moving forward.
It is so important to have a diverse and inclusive approach to our staffing and talent management. I also believe that removing barriers is key to provide access to everyone for all types of roles. Post-COVID there is an opportunity to review flexible working and what can be achieved remotely. Again, this will provide opportunities for work-life balance and make the workplace more accessible to all.
Working in STEM
Since 2003 I have been a STEMNET (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network) ambassador and so that work is important to me. I was invited to 10 Downing Street to celebrate ‘promoting STEM’ and it was a real highlight to meet the then Prime Minister Tony Blair.
It is really important that we encourage young people to study STEM subjects, and ensure that there are diverse role models for young people to see and help them to be inspired by a career in a STEM subject.
My advice would be that STEM careers can be incredibly rewarding and are a great career choice for all types of people. My experience has been that TfL is a great place to work. There have always been opportunities for me to progress and develop. I genuinely enjoy working for TfL, knowing that I have a positive impact on Londoners, changing their lives through ensuring that this city has a great transport network. Every journey does really matter.
It has also enabled me to have the work-balance that I need to be a working mother, to be flexible in the way that I can be there for my children whilst still pursing my career.
A look at the future
It is a really interesting time to be part of the senior leadership team at TfL, I am looking forward to working with Andy Byford and welcoming him as our new transport commissioner.
For TfL, as part of the post-COVID recovery, we will need to actively play a part in how our services and projects contribute to the safe and sustainable re-start of the social and economic lives of London.