Richard Martin Humphreys: A career in transit

Richard Martin Humphreys serves as senior transport economist at the World Bank’s office in Serbia and Montenegro. Photo by: Vesna Kostic

Richard Martin Humphreys considers himself lucky for the job he has. He is currently a senior transport economist at the World Bank’s Belgrade headquarters in Serbia and Montenegro.

For most of the day, Humphreys is busy preparing and implementing projects and studies in the transit sector, which must take into account the concerted interests of the bank, beneficiary communities and other stakeholders.

“I am very happy to be in the fortunate position to do a job that I love,” he told Devex in an email.

Humphreys has been commissioned to spearhead the bank’s $388 million Corridor X project in Serbia. The project will help link Serbia to Bulgaria and Macedonia, and draft a national strategy to implement the country’s new road safety law.

With the project, Humphreys finds himself frequently reviewing tender documents, supervising the selection of consultants, and overseeing disbursements of World Bank funding for transport projects.

As the project’s task team leader, Humphreys sees to it that the design and implementation procedures are at par with international best practices.

He is also in charge of directing consultants hired for the project. This task, he shared, proves to be rather challenging considering the diverse culture and backgrounds of World Bank staff. Two principles, therefore, become important in such an environment.

“Respect and tolerance for all individuals is a central and guiding principle for all Bank staff, not just for Task Team Leaders, and rightly so,” he said.

Coming from the mountainous county of Powys in Wales, Humphreys has been engrossed in development disparities across regions and why such inequalities emerge and persist. These interests prompted him to pursue an undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Wales.

The same rural environment also helped foster his awareness of the need for good transport links. But during an undergraduate stint at the University of California, Humphreys became aware of a rather different facet of the transport sector.

“After decades of new road construction and development” in California, he said, “the result [was] increasing and unsustainable levels of congestion and environmental pollution.”

California’s transport concerns included managing demand, pricing roads, limiting new construction and building environmentally sound transport structure, Humphreys learned. These same issues are confronting Belgrade today.

In Serbia, the lack of a robust sector policy and strategy remains a primary impediment in developing a sustainable transport system, Humphreys said. The European Agency for Reconstruction has assisted the country’s Ministry of Infrastructure in drafting a strategy for the transport sector. The next essential move, Humphreys noted, is to prepare a master plan for each of the subsectors that is consistent with current and projected traffic volumes for each mode of transportation, and available fiscal space or adequate sustainable government funding.

The progress of executing projects, he noted, is often derailed by conflicting interests among political factions, international financing agencies and other key stakeholders.

“I always find it frustrating when what is clearly in the best interests of the country is precluded due to the personal interests of the team leader, or institutional interests, of another institution,” Humphreys said.

Though he faces arduous tasks, a combination of experience, technical and managerial skills, as well as a diplomatic relations with partners and colleagues have helped Humphreys traverse the international development field.

His advice for budding transport specialists?

“Get a strong educational grounding in a key subject of interest, gain suitable experience, and persevere,” Humphreys said.

Humphreys holds master’s and doctoral degrees in transport economics from the University of Leeds’ Institute of Transport Studies.

About the author

  • Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.

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