Q & A with Veronica Reynolds of MEPC at Milton Park

Veronica Reynolds (centre)

Veronica Reynolds, a behaviour change specialist working with MEPC Milton Park, wanted to be an air hostess when she was growing up.  However, a passion for travel and enjoyment of the process of moving forward, now sees her working with the business park successfully increasing the use of sustainable transport to work.

Q: What inspires you most about the sustainable transport sector?

A: This is a hugely exciting time for the sector.  We are on the cusp of a transport revolution.  This is being driven by the ‘perfect storm’ of the ubiquitous smartphone, massive advances in electric/battery technology and a younger generation who have a mindset to be more sustainable and fully embrace the idea of the ‘sharing generation’.  Whilst I probably won’t live to see ‘Star-Trek’ style teleportation, I fully expect to see the widespread use of autonomous vehicles and the realisation of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop system connecting cities in a fraction of the time it now takes to fly.

Q: What is the most exciting project you are currently working on?

A: We recently heard that Milton Park had been chosen as the site for autonomous vehicle (AV) trials.  A consortium made up of MEPC, First Group, Oxfordshire-based Zipabout, Arrival, University of the West of England, Oxfordshire County Council and South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils will run one of the first commercial AV operation trials in the UK.  Initially the AVs will connect the different areas of Milton Park, but eventually, they will link the Park with Didcot railway station and other parts of the Science Vale region.  The AVs will be just one component of this ambitious ‘mobility-as-a-service’ project.  It will ultimately offer people at Milton Park the chance to plan, book and pay for journeys via their smartphones, offering cheaper, more sustainable, convenient options to personal car use such as ride sharing, electric bikes and the AVs as part of multi-modal journeys.  It will make Science Vale so much more accessible, especially for a younger generation of graduates, many of whom are choosing not to own a car.  It reflects the way that we will all travel in years to come and it’s very exciting to be at the cutting edge of this transport revolution.

Q: What is going to be the biggest challenge that you face as a business?

A: Science Vale area is growing rapidly, not just the centres of employment, but also the new housing being developed around the Didcot area.  The major challenge is to ensure that the infrastructure for sustainable travel is in place before people move here.  Local buses and making walking and cycling the obvious choice for short journeys will make it easier, healthier, quicker and safer than driving.  The Milton Park hybrid shuttle buses are already helping save over 1000 car journeys a day currently.  Most people are creatures of habit and the challenge will be to help them create good habits around their transport choices so that the default it not to jump into a car for every short journey.

Q: What do you hope your business will achieve in the next five to ten years?

A: We hope that we will see a 5 percent year on year reduction in single occupancy car use at Milton Park.  Already we have seen our car sharing community increase to over 680 people.  Car sharing is not just about saving money and reducing stress by sharing the burden of driving, it is also about networking and relationships.  We are hearing great stories from some of our car sharers about business deals done and new friendships developing all on their way to work!

Q: What was the best business decision you ever made?

A: To start cycling to and from work!  I’ve always known how important being active is and have always tried to keep fit.  As life becomes busier, it is sometimes difficult to fit in going to the gym regularly.  But my cycle to work takes an hour through some gorgeous countryside.  Driving takes 40 minutes.  It means I get my daily dose of nature and exercise without having to make time to go to the gym and I know I am much more productive and alert as a result.  My role as a behaviour change specialist working in transport means I spend a lot of time convincing business leaders and their staff to adopt active and sustainable travel.  Practicing what I preach makes me much better able to ‘sell’ the concept to others!

Q: What is the best thing about working and living in Science Vale?

A: Being surrounded by some very fine countryside and being able to cycle to and from work, yet working with some of the world’s best brains.  Every day is exciting and it always feels like there are major ‘world firsts’ happening here!  The science and technology developments happening here will shape the world of tomorrow.

Q: Who has been the biggest positive influence in your life and why?

A: My adult sons: they keep me young and open-minded.  They challenge me to think about the possible.

Q: What future technology are you most excited about?

A: Autonomous vehicles which will open up travel options for everyone and make places and travel accessible to all.

Q: What is your favourite business or science book and why?

A: Nudge, by Thaler.  It’s my ‘go to’ book for how to influence change.