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Thread: Some questions about planning and education

  1. #1
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    Some questions about planning and education

    I am interested in becoming an urban planner, and more specifically I would like to work in the transit industry. I have recently finished high school and so I have some questions about planning education and jobs.

    Does it really matter what I major in for an undergraduate degree? So far, I have assumed that I would obtain a masters degree in planning.

    How important is it to attend a school that is accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board?

    How easy (or hard) is it to find a job in the transit planning area versus the land-use planning areas?

    What are the typical duties of a transit planner and a land-use planner? What are the more common types of jobs available in each field?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    I'll see if I can help you out here.

    1. The major you pick is not too important but it is not a bad idea to try to major in something related to planning. Personally I'd try to major in something that is related to your specific interest in the field, then you can use graduate school to build on it. Though if you're interested in transportation, civil engineering would be a good undergrad degree.

    2. It's a good idea to go to an accredited school just so you can get certified faster but if you have no intention of being certified, it's not too important. Most planning programs are accredited so it's not really limiting to just go to one.

    3. From my experience with transit planning; only large metro areas have dedicated transit planners. Most places, transit is just a part of the larger transportation planning process done at an MPO. For most planners who deal with transit, it's just an occasional project, not a full time job.

    Most planners are considered land-use planners so that's where the bulk of the jobs are. Though there a good number of transportation planners, transit is a pretty small niche within the field.

    4. From the dedicated transit planner I knew, he basically was involved in many corridor studies and plans for the transit authority in a major metro area. The system had some older heavy rail lines but he mainly focused on their new light rail lines. There was another department at the transit authority that dealt with real estate related tasks such as acquiring land and developing TODs. Most of the projects he did were shelved until funding became available but when it did become available, they could start implementing them fairly quick.

    Land-Use planners are often the jack-of-all-trades planners. Depending on the size of the area they're working, they can work in all the different planning areas. Typically though, they set the rules of what development can and can't do in their jurisdictions. This includes creating ordinances, working on comprehensive plans, and giving their opinions on projects at public meetings.

  3. #3
    If the program is not accredited, does that effect one's chances when looking for work? Especially in this climate?

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    If the program is not accredited, does that effect one's chances when looking for work? Especially in this climate?
    No. It just effects how long you have to sit on the sideline to hand over APA it's year bribe, i mean dues to become AICP. Employers could care less about accreditation
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  5. #5
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    Thanks for the help, guys!

  6. #6
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    That's awesome that your getting such an early start. I'm actually working in a transit internship so I'll give you my two cents. Transit is a growing industry and one that will assure you job security. As more of our cities begin to grow in density, the need for reliable transit grows exponentially. As long as we have cities, we will need transit. (unless its replaced with something more eco-friendly and cost effective then the auto.) What is currently happening in the industry, however, is a retirement bubble. Many of the baby boomers who started in the industry are beginning to retire and therefore, vast amounts of job openings are waiting to be filled by the upcoming generation. In the next 5-8 years or so, many of the original planners will be long gone. That being the case, it is an optimal time to enter the field.One school that has a great transportation Master's degree program is Georgia Tech. Hope this helps!

  7. #7
    If a program has a 70% admission rate, does that mean it's a good program?

    Also, does 70% mean it's a pretty easy program to get into?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Planitgood View post
    As more of our cities begin to grow in density, the need for reliable transit grows exponentially. As long as we have cities, we will need transit. (unless its replaced with something more eco-friendly and cost effective then the auto.)
    The problem with transit is that people who don't use it will ultimately be the ones to subsidize its usage. There's already a stigma attached to transit so sometimes just maintaining funding for it can be difficult, much less trying to increase it. Things like TODs and light rail are primarily marketed to higher income individuals but the bulk of a system's ridership comes from the lower income people who utilize buses everyday.

    There's a vicious cycle in transit that results from almost all systems failing to ever break even through fares. Basically a lot of systems look to increase fares or cut service to offset budget shortfalls but as a result this decreases ridership. So you're left in a cycle of increasing fares / decreasing service and losing ridership to the point where no one wants to or is able to use transit. Then there's the issue of paratransit which essentially operates as a subsidized taxi service that will always lose money for the operator but is required by Federal law.

    I will agree that transit should be an important part of any city but the economics of it just aren't there in most places. Funding will always be volatile for it since the more affluent people can often be unwilling to help subsidize the system. That's the reason Cobb County is not a part of MARTA system in Atlanta; the more affluent people there didn't want to pay for something they wouldn't use. That's the reason transit funding is one of the first things cut in many budgets since only poor people tend to use it...

    So I’d caution that transit planning is very much a niche field and that its funding will remain volatile. Everyone sees the value of roads but that's not the case with transit. A lot of people like the idea of transit just no one wants to pay for it but transit systems are not cheap. Things like light rail and TODs may be the highlight of a system but buses will remain the backbone. Then there's high speed rail which is very much up in the air in most places at this point as is a lot of other transportation funding. So as a transit planner, you’ll have to fight people’s perceptions of transit as well as their travel patterns to make progress.

    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    If a program has a 70% admission rate, does that mean it's a good program?

    Also, does 70% mean it's a pretty easy program to get into?
    This seems kind of random but I'd say it really depends. Generally more competitive programs have lower admission rates but that doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of the program; sometimes things like school name or location can make a program more popular. As for 70% being easy to get into, that depends on who those applicants are but in general I'd say that's pretty easy to get into.
    Last edited by Blide; 11 Jul 2011 at 2:08 PM.

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