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" E pur si muove" - brilliant and troubling series of exchanges on the Sustran forum

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  • eric.britton@ecoplan.org
    Dear Friends, There is a brilliant and troubling series of exchanges taking place on the Sustran forum under the subject line Bike Taxi which are pointing
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 25, 2004

      Dear Friends,


      There is a brilliant and troubling series of exchanges taking place on the Sustran forum under the subject line  ‘Bike Taxi' which are pointing to anomaly after anomaly in terms of the inability of cities and planners across the globe to deal with the challenges being raised by the mega-explosion of motorized two wheels, especially in cities in developing countries, with the Olympic Gold Medal going to Asia.


      The quickest way into these discussions for those of you who are not already a member of Sustran, is to go to the New Mobility Agenda home page (http://newmobility.org), click Discussions on the top menu, and away you go.  (You may wish to try a search for “Bike Taxi” which will give you the entire thread in neat order.)


      To give you a feel for where I at least think that these exchanges are taking us, I attach a note to the group that I wrote this morning to the group, in an attempt to provide a sort of stepping stone to extending the focus of the discussions.


      I hope you find some use in this and I can assure you that your views and suggestions to the group will be very welcome.


      Eric Britton



      -----Original Message-----
      From: ecoplan.adsl@... [mailto:ecoplan.adsl@...]
      Wednesday, August 25, 2004 12:36 PM
      To: 'Sustran-discuss@...'
       Subject: Information on 'Bike Taxi' -" E pur si muove"


      “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” -- Sir Winston Churchill, October 1, 1939.


      These fine, instructive and yes! in the final analysis truly and fundamentally puzzling exchanges in these last days bring me back to something that I have been meaning to share with all of you for some time. This is in part prompted by conversations on this topic during a recent visit here of Dinesh Mohan here on the occasion of his role in the panel presenting that important WHO report on traffic and injuries.  Since it also touches on something that keeps coming up in my work, observations and international exchanges.


      And since I have yet to get my arms around the issues, I would at least like to share with you in the form of a handful of riddles, conundrums, and puzzlements which I now put before you in my growing perplexity. And to which you may have some answers. Or, better yet, paths toward answers.


      1.      Is it too much to say that the massive introduction of low cost (motorized) two (three) wheelers into the traffic stream in city after mega city around the world is, in a phrase, CHANGING EVERYTHING IN THE DOMAIN OF TRANSPORT POLICY AND PRACTICE ?

      2.      Might it be that their diminutive surface areas (street-take, parking-take) and behaviour in the traffic stream is totally out of line with everything the transport and traffic planners ever learned in school and have practiced in almost all cities of the world? (Among thousands of anomalous examples one recent case from just across the Channel: the utter inability (thus far) of the London Congestion Charging team to deal with motorized two-wheelers in their scheme. And that’s just a (relatively) simple case).

      3.      Another anomaly that sets traditional transportation thinking in its head: these buzzing belching flying creatures are creating situations in which suddenly private transport (door to door, etc.) is both cheaper and faster than public transport. Thus they are undermining the usual arguments for subsidy to public carriers.  And of course the market, meaning that we have more empty (or empty-ish) taxpayer subsidized buses. Ouch!

      4.      And they (now we are mainly into what we are calling here ‘bike taxis’ but much of this applies as well to all motorized cycles in cities) are dangerous, dirty, uncontrollable, prone to corruption of divers types, etc.

      5.      And what about women, shoppers, children, the elderly, the infirm, etc. who are not necessarily easy customers for these services? Do we simply forget about them? (As we often have in the past.)

      6.      But . . .  in places of high unemployment. “Bike Taxis” and the like offer income earning possibilities to poor young people (and where you rather have them on a motorbike or throwing torches at Government House. It is a choice after all.)

      7.      From the usual formal planning and policy perspective in most places at least, these gizmos simply do not exist.  (And yet if you look out on the street, as Galileo said: e pur si muove… which with your permission I will translate to: “And yet they move”.

      8.      And when they do (finally) come into the lagged sights of the indolent policy makers (usually as a result of some kind of press wake-up call), the knee-jerk reaction is all too often either (a) to ban them (whereby all the problems conveniently disappear) and/or (b) to “control” them. (But certainly not to understand them… am I not right in this?)  Both these reactions are, as we can see in city after city, not very productive from the vantage of sustainable development and social justice, or even simple systemic efficiency out there on the street.

      9.      Should those of us who care about these things continue to leave them in the hands of impatient administrators who decide one day to instruct the police to toss all the becas into the ocean.  Or, more often, just to stay under the desk and pretend that it does not exist and will go away.

      10.  So where does this bring us?  To deal with this brave new world, should we just throw away all the old transport dogmas and designs, and simply rejigger the whole system around two wheelers?

      11.  Or can we continue to patch and band-aid here and there in city after city and hope to  get good results?

      12.  Or do we have to start to create a new multi-level Third World City transportation paradigm with new classes of vehicles and street users to be brought into the formal planning lens?

      13.  Suppose for the moment that we limit our attention to all this from an Asian perceptive. (We can then later take what we have learned and apply it to the other parts of the world in which his new transportation paradigm is emerging.)

      14.  We are talking about HUGE NUMBERS.  And a process that is already well engaged.

      15.  Anybody mention Kyoto?

      16.  Maybe a good starting place in this clearly much needed rethinking of transport in cities is to step back and ask (as Dinesh suggested): WHAT IS A STREET ANYWAY?

      17.  Is it a place meant for cars? Are all streets in a city alike? Do we need to have more gradations in terms of transport types to accommodate?

      18.  And what about the important non-transport functions of streets as public spaces? As meeting places? As venues for peddlers, hucksters, hawkers?  Places to rest or sleep? Uses that put in Jane Jacobs’ wonderful words “eyes on the street”, public presence that act to temper violence and personal attack?


      What I am trying to say that while cities around the world are de facto reinventing transport, those of us who care should now get to work to develop new paradigms, tools and visions of how all this newness can be better understood and put to better use.


      Are these things that we should be talking about here? And as part of this seeing what we might do to increase consciousness of the issues at stake and somehow, somewhere figuring out how to advance this important agenda?


      Thank you for your patience.  And for your ideas.




      The New Mobility Agenda at http://newmobility.org

      The New Mobility Forum at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WorldTransport/


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