Richard Harris  23.04.52 to 31.05.24

Eric Sampson CBE

Richard Harris – one of the UK’s leading ITS professionals and ITS UK’s former International Director – sadly passed away on 31 May 2024 surrounded by family at his home in Devil’s Bridge in mid-Wales. Eric Samspon, his friend and colleague, has written this memorial piece with input from colleagues across the sector.

Richard was one of those rare people who caused the ‘buzz’ of a room to change when he was in it.  I think I first met him over 30 years ago when I was at DfT and we invited a number of organisations concerned with transport research to join what became known as the Waterloo Conference which led to the formation of ITS UK.  He was in many ways the perfect conference delegate: he listened to what others had to say and built on it; but was not afraid to speak his mind and be critical – as this sketch will try to show.

A couple of years later I took over a study contract that the previous manager described as ‘tricky’.  We had a rather robust meeting with a cast of five from the contractor including Richard and it soon became clear that nobody attending was being permitted to explain slow progress.  We told each of the delegates to write around 50 words summarising what was wrong and 50 more to set out how to move forward – and do it separately.  Sheets of paper were issued and my staff collected them just before a lunch break during which we read the material. 

The contributions varied in candour but one response was written with the Government-logoed paper upside down and it savaged the performance of the [absent] project manager.  It outlined where money had been wasted on pointless lines of enquiry and described a huge lack of direction.  It recommended that we cancel the project to save what was left of our money but if that was not possible a possible rescue route was sketched requiring a new project leader and suggested identifying which members of the contractor’s staff had the necessary experience.

Richard had been cautiously critical during the earlier public discussions and we concluded that he was the “upside down” author.  We kept all the notes and said we would visit the company in a week to give a decision.  It turned out that our guess on authorship was correct and after a rather robust discussion and faced with the option of cancellation the company agreed a new project manager with us who designated Richard his deputy.  Between them they delivered an excellent report, a little late but under budget.

I had various interactions with Richard over the succeeding years many of which were in his role as the ITS UK International Director.  He threw himself into this and put Memoranda of Understanding in place with just about every ITS National Association mainly as a result of face-to-face lobbying.  For many years he was a huge supporter of the ERTICO contributions to World and European ITS Congresses – the man you turned to when others had under-delivered or when you urgently needed new thinking on something.  His contributions were recognised globally by election to the ITS Hall of Fame.

For me there was a memorable contact 10 years back when unknown to each other we were approached by the New Zealand Government with the sort of invitation it’s impossible to decline: a two week visit to conduct an audit of New Zealand Government Transport and Transport regulations and strategies and write a report.  Between us we developed a ‘good cop bad cop’ act that prompted those we interviewed to be generous with information but also prompted our NZ ‘minder’ to complain that too often we were ‘good cop good cop’. 

We reverted to the usual formula when interviewing the transport head of a major city that must remain nameless.  We started badly and got worse as he revealed no professional exchanges with anyone inside or outside New Zealand and as a result his city’s plans were years behind current practice.  He was obdurate in defending obsolete positions prompting Richard to say at one point “are you saying that traffic management in xxxx does not comply with Lotka’s Equations or Saunder’s model?”  To which the city boss replied irritably: ‘that’s exactly what I’m saying’.  Richard responded “very interesting; there are no Lotka’s Equations or Saunder’s model; I made them up and they illustrate that like most of this discussion you don’t know what you’re talking about”. 

I remember his loyalty to colleagues, generosity with time and especially ideas, and kindness to those entering the ITS sector needing advice or guidance.  I think he was unable to say “Sorry I’m a bit too busy”.

I remember a rapid and wicked wit – in a presentation a speaker showed a car going off a road into a river as a consequence of errors from GPS-based location and explained ‘This demonstrates   “Floating Car data ?” suggested Richard.

I am so sad to see him go and in such a painful way.  I started to miss him as soon as he retired “to spend more time grooming horses’ feet” and now he has left us.  My sympathies to his family in their very much bigger loss; but also my massive thanks for the loan of such an entertaining and helpful colleague. 

He was truly a man of principles who was not afraid to speak his mind.

Richard’s family have set up a Just Giving page in Richard’s name to collect money for Bronglais Hospital, Marie Curie, and Hospice at Home in recognition of the excellent support and care they provided for Richard. Please feel free to donate here.

Richard’s funeral will take place at Aberystwyth Cemetery & Crematorium. For additional information, condolences, or funeral details, please email and we’ll put you in touch with the Harris family.