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510Making the Third Voice of Transportation heard

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  • Eric Britton
    Jul 16, 2005
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      Sunday, July 17, 2005, Paris, France

      Dear Friends,

       

      Please forgive me for my tiresome insistence on this, but I would like to ask you kindly to send a signed message (it can be very brief) pointing up the importance of the concept of sustainable transportation to comments@... the high profile discussion forum of  the on-going CNN/Fortune/Time/Shell www.PrincipalVoices.com media project which describes itself in these words: “Principal Voices is a project aimed at stimulating discussion on some of the major challenges facing our world today.”

       

      Why? Well in a single sentence: because this forum is getting considerable public attention and because thus far they are limiting themselves entirely to what can only be characterized as “old mobility” thinking (which in turn boils down to: project and build).

       

      Here are three bits of quick background that you may wish to consult before posting your messages:

       

      1.       Their program statement viz. transportation -- http://www.principalvoices.com/transport.html

      2.       Our position on this (summary): http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Kyoto2020/message/91

      3.       Messages to date on this topic - http://www.principalvoices.com/comments-transport.html

       

      If you click to the last of these, you will see a first set of commentaries that have already come in kindly from Kyoto Challenge colleagues Carlos Pardo, Dave Wetzel, Rosalie Day, Gabriel Roth, Zeenara Najam, and John Lord (see below), all of which gives us a good start in making this Third Voice of Transportation heard. (You will quickly note the very wide range of points of view and counsel given – this great diversity being a critical part of the sustainability process, as well as the process whereby we get together to reconcile these differences and move away from the egregious dysfunctionality and unfairness of most of our present transportation arrangements, and, no less important, the dominant thinking behind all this.)

       

      My hope is that you will join us in bombarding them and thus make the absolutely essential point that the sustainability agenda is, that it must be, central to all our transportation decisions in the future.  The alternative being untenable and in a responsible democratic society unacceptable.

       

      You are most patient with me on this.

       

      Eric Britton

       

       

       

       

      Sustainable transport - that is all forms of transport that minimise emissions of carbon dioxide and pollutants - must be a primary consideration for Principal Voices. Both developed and developing countries must promote greater use of public transport, car sharing, walking and cycling. These transport modes will contribute to better environmental and public health as well as improving equity of access to mobility that we all need.

      Rosalie Day, Member, Bicycle Institute of South Australia Inc.
      Adelaide, South Australia


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      I welcome the Principle Voices initiative to openly discuss transport options for the future. As well as promoting development of public transport, walking and cycling as an alternative to the car dependant society, I would also urge you and others to consider the wider economic and planning policies that create the need for increased travel.

      Well designed cities with jobs and essential services within easy reach of peoples' homes, can do much to alleviate the increased pressure for building in the countryside and longer commuting and other journeys.

      Taxation policy can also help with this endeavour. Land Value Taxation (whereby landowners pay a share of their annual rental value to the community by an annual tax levied on all sites, valued for their optimum permitted use) is the perfect way to ensure our cities grow in a sustainable fashion with the opportunity for open spaces and parks as well as all other sites being used productively to provide good homes, jobs and leisure uses.

      LVT is cheap to collect and impossible to avoid. It gives landowners an incentive to use their land and not sit on empty sites for purposes of speculation.

      It also ensures that the landless citizens share in the natural wealth in land values - which are not created by landowners, but by the whole community.
      Dave Wetzel, Vice-Chair, Transport For
      London, UK


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      It is difficult to comment on the concept of "sustainable transportation" without a clear definition of it. My own approach is that an activity is "sustainable" if those engaged in it are voluntarily prepared to pay the costs resulting from their actions. Emeritus London School of Economics professor Alan Day applied this principle to roads as follows:

      "If road users are prepared to pay a price for the use of roads that is greater than the cost of providing additional road space (including all the costs, externalities, land costs, a sensible measure of the costs of disturbing any areas with special wildlife and all the other genuine costs which can be identified) then the additional road space should be built". ("The case for road pricing", Economic Affairs, Vol. 18, No. 4, December 1998, Institute of Economic Affairs, London).

      Unfortunately, this principle is ignored in the "Comments" already made. Carlos Pardo starts by "putting the interests of people at the center of decision-making", and then writes in praise of "reducing the use of cars". But people in all countries, at all income levels, seek to increase their mobility by the use of cars, because they feel it to be in their best interests. Until he finds a way for people to increase their mobility without the use of cars, how can Pardo resolve this dilemma? Is he suggesting that people in
      China, India and Thailand should not be allowed the mobility levels enjoyed in western countries? Is that "equitable"?

      Alan Day's approach resolves this conflict by requiring people to pay for what they use. Those who regard free markets as "sustainable" will agree with him. The market approach would also meet the concerns of Zeenara Najam, who wants transport conditions in developing countries to improve. She should get the AIT to send her to Singapore (very much a "developing country"), where she will see how traffic congestion is relieved by the application to roads of market pricing principles. Some 25 years ago I was in Bangkok offering World Bank assistance to the Government of Thailand to improve the pricing Bangkok's roads, following the successful Singapore model. We were turned down.

      This leads me to disagree with John Lord's suggestion that "transportation infrastructure and development must start and end with the government". On the contrary, transport infrastructure - road, rail, air and maritime - in the UK and US were pioneered by private providers, and it was government policies that created many of the present tragic absurdities.

      Is it not easier to make the case that transport infrastructure is too important to be left to governments, and that the application of free markets is the surest way to the "sustainability" of the transport sector?

      Gabriel Roth, US (Author of "Roads in the Market Economy", Ashgate, 1996)


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      Your intention with Principal Voices to work towards the improvement of transport in the world is very encouraging. However, we would like to add a few remarks regarding the way you have addressed this issue, based on our experience as a project that has promoted sustainable urban transportation for a while now.

      Our concept of sustainable mobility addresses social, environmental and economical concerns at the same level. From our perspective, aiming at sustainable mobility means putting the interests of people in the center of decision-making. Hence it focuses on providing access to employment, social services and cultural activities while reducing the impact on public health, environment and the future of our children.

      The question is not about the speed of trains, the width of roads or the fuel used in motor vehicles. The question is whether people can pursue their daily needs in a sustainable and affordable manner.

      We feel that reducing the use of cars is one key activity,It would result in various consequences: a healthier, more equitable population, greater access for low-income groups, women and the elderly to all aspects of our societies and reduced consumption of non-renewable resources. The promotion of walking and cycling, the improvement of public transport systems, the creation of liveable public spaces and car-free areas are proven strategies to pursue these goals. This can be achieved without the typical large expenditures in transport infrastructure that normally arrive at the same problem: congested roads, inequitable transport and less access to education, work and services to low-income population. It is also important to emphasize that interventions at the technical level will never be as efficient as a sector-wide policy approach.

      Also, you should take into account the fact that, though cars have a large economic industry behind them, a reduction of these vehicles would, in the long run, benefit the entire population as cities would be more productive than before for the reasons outlined above.

      There are various examples of sustainable mobility initiatives around the world, both in developed and developing countries. Policy approaches such as London
      s congestion charging, Bogots decree for an annual car-free day (and Europes similar initiative), Bus Rapid Transit projects in more than 60 cities in the world and bicycle promotion projects around Latin America, Asia and Africa are few examples of what has already been achieved and the positive results seen in these examples.

      We believe that this approach would be more productive in the long term than continuing to reinforce the belief that technical improvements towards better private vehicles can solve these problems. However, we do agree that, after a sustainable transport policy has been implemented, technical improvements can support that cause by developing improved public transport vehicles, more accessible transport infrastructure and safer transport networks that will make the entire population benefit from them. Transport should begin with people and end with people, with the tools of policy and technical developments at their service.

      We hope these suggestions are well received, and we look forward to keep giving suggestions to your projects development. You may also look into our website at www.sutp.org and download our resources which expand on this point of view (for example, our introductory module available in www.sutp.org/docs/overview.pdf

      Carlos F. Pardo
      GTZ Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP)
      Bangkok, Thailand


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      Sustainable transport is needed for a healthy & safe society. The people of developing countries are suffering with the worst conditions of public transport. The trend to use the motorized vehicles especially motor cars is going to increase. There is a need of sustainable transportunder the aspects of economics, safety & environment. Improvement in public transport in term of comfort, safety, time & cost will motivate society to use public transport. There is need of strong transit systems that can be use with existing infrastructure & promotion of non motorized vehicles by-cycles etc. For the popular use of transport transit systems integrated transport models are also required. Separate bus lanes and cycle lanes could be also a better solution for promotion of sustainable transport. To save the energy resources, to improve the economical conditions of nations, to see the healthy environment in the future sustainable transport is need of the day. The governmental & private agencies should work together for the implementations of such projects in developing countries.

      Zeenara Najam, Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand


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      Transportation infrastructure and development must start and end with the government. Private efforts to develop the needed infrastructure require long term planning and delayed returns on investment.

      Incentives must be geared towards the utilization and development of mass transport and while the bulk of investment must be borne by the public, there is plenty of room for the private sector to participate in fringe benefit programs.

      There is no reason why a country as rich as the US lags in rail transportation systems other than the free market approach and inherent corruption in government funded efforts to maintain its failed Amtrak system.

      Countries have to earmark a separate budget, much like health care systems to build continuously towards an efficient alternate mode of transportation. This process should start immediately in
      North America to tie the Continent together in a seamless network of high speed and integrated intra city transport systems.

      The biggest hurdle to transportation is politics and taxation policy. If you consider the cost to an average family of $15,000 per year to maintain the family car (depreciation, gas, insurance and maintenance) versus a family investment of $5,000 per year to build a healthy alternative - the populace will opt for the car. That is the challenge facing weakly structured democracies in terms of social responsibility.

      However if you polled the population on what is better for society as a whole, they would answer - rail systems.

      John Lord, Canada