The call to advance the quality of higher education should be a constant priority for academic institutions in response to the changing needs of the professions. This is particular true for transport planning, a discipline that is experiencing rapid and on-going changes due to the emerging environmental, economic, security-related and social issues that mobility is becoming increasingly more associated with. Indeed, academic institutions are faced with the challenge of ensuring that transport planning courses address the growing complexity of urban challenges (Zuylen 2000; Ramsden 2003).
Transport planning courses are typically offered in urban and regional planning or engineering departments although, in some instances, they are also offered in other institutions such as tourism, business, public policy, social science and urban studies departments. A number of studies have provided national overviews of transport planning education, such as in Australia (Mateo-Babiano et al., 2013), Switzerland (Kaspar, 1982), Canada (Ruppenthal, 1998) and USA (Krizek and Levinson, 2005). These studies have adopted different research methodologies and slightly different research questions. In any case, in these studies, it has been identified a general preference for multidisciplinary and holistic transport planning courses (see as well van Zuylen, 2000 and Ferreira et al, 2013, who confirm the same trend). In the ‘60s and ‘70s the rational technical planning model influenced the field of transport planning which led to the delivery of a technical-oriented transport-planning curriculum. With the introduction of communicative planning in the ’80s and ‘90s, planning pedagogy was revised to capture its thrust towards policy-orientation and towards the facilitation of communicative planning processes (Handy et al 2002). This had important implications in a number of transport planning courses, which have reflected this new trend.
However, not all the transport planning courses that one can find today accommodate a broad curriculum. Moreover, only limited hours can be allocated to cover the broad and multidisciplinary field of transport planning and this means that difficult choices have to be made even when a comprehensive curriculum is desired (AESOP, 1995). Within each course curriculum designers must then choose from amongst a diverse set of important topics what should be taught. The inevitable exclusion of many concepts and topics results in curriculum gaps that might negatively affect the professional future of the students. As an alternative to this, curriculum designers can choose to make curricula as broad and comprehensive as possible, however this can lead to shallowness and superficiality and will make it difficult for students to achieve deep learning in any given subject area (Krizek and Levinson 2005, Ferreira et al, 2013). In line with this, two key questions emerge. First, how should curriculum designers solve the tension between the comprehensive and the specialist orientation in transport planning courses? Second, which subject areas should be given priority in these courses, if any?
The aim of this article is to assist curriculum designers finding their own answers to the abovementioned questions. In order to achieve that aim, an international web-based survey was conducted where transport planning professionals across the globe were asked to give their opinions on what are the subject areas and topics that they rank as the most relevant for their work and how much coverage of these subject areas should be given in an ideal transport planning master. It was also asked the coverage given to these elements in the master course they have attended when they were still students. Through this, the paper seeks to explore the challenges associated with teaching urban transport planning today and identify the state of the art in transport education. The study also answers some questions about the future trends of the transport planning profession.
The paper is organised in the following sections. Section 2 briefly discusses the research design choices and setup of the data gathering. The relevant characteristics of the sample (survey respondents) are also presented. Section 3 discusses the research results. A discussion of significant differences found among different countries, professional roles, and age groups is included. Section 4 provides conclusions and briefly discusses the future of transport education.