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"Reinventing transport in cities: An Ikea of the mind" .

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  • Eric Britton
    Dear Friends, The following is an excerpt of what I believe to be an important section of my in process public report, Reinventing transport in cities: “Vol.
    Message 1 of 1 , May 26, 2007

      Dear Friends,


      The following is an excerpt of what I believe to be an important section of my in process public report, Reinventing transport in cities: “Vol. 1, New Mobility in Paris: Action agenda for a sustainable city”. The attached excerpts are intended to give you a feel for what we are up to here.


      The report will contain an important section in which I recapitulate a selection of comments and suggestions from reviewers, the idea being to make it clear that there is no one way of going about all this and that if anyone wishes to give a fair shot to really undertake fundamental reforms in their city they mist be able to work their way through complexity and considerable differences of opinion. No one ever wrote in concrete to my knowledge that Reinventing transport in cities: was going to be simple.


      So there you have it. If you do have comments or suggestions perhaps the most efficient for now will be to post them to me privately at eric.britton@..., but if you consider that your points properly belong to the group as a whole, I invite you to handle it as you think best.


      I might add in closing that I will be presenting this report and the idea behind it at the Cities for Mobility conference in Stuttgart in two weeks time (see http://www.cities-for-mobility.de/). You may wish as well to ponder if your city could do well to join their network. IN the event, the title of my presentation will be “Reinventing transport in cities: An Ikea of the mind”.


      Kind thanks if you find time and interest for this.


      Eric Britton




      From: “New Mobility in Paris: Action agenda for a sustainable city”.

      1.8       The 21st Century transport market (Not quite what you may think) 


      Here is a useful bit of news from the real world that should make the move to more sustainable systems considerably easier for policy makers, and indeed for most of us in our day to day lives.  It all starts with a mind problem.


      Behind our collective failure-of-imagination problem, we have a corresponding mind problem. Specifically, the traditional 20th century transport policy paradigm was almost entirely auto-centric, and this simple vision has shaped our cities and led to the present situations that the Clinton and other programs are trying hard to find ways to reverse and improve.  This is because the presumption of most policy makers in the sector is that the majority of people either have or want to have a car, so the system needs to be refined to make it possible for them to use them as much as possible.


      However in the world of human mobility there is not one "big problem". There is, for better or worse, just an ever-changing heteroclite confluence of very large numbers of people, daily life realities, needs, possibilities, and desires. The old mobility vision of society is essentially one of purposefully striding workers, with fixed jobs, fixed hours, trips, roads and the list goes on - all of whom to be served by our "normal transportation arrangements".


      Then in the traditional 20th century transport policy view , there are "the rest": the old, disabled, poor, etc., etc., and they too our bleeding hearts somehow figured out need to be catered to as well. Well, let's give them a bit here and there too. But most of our money is going to be spent on providing mobility arrangements for "normal people". That's right, isn't it.


      No, it's not at all right. It is all wrong. It is wrong because it is grossly unfair and uncivil. And it is also just based on a false precept. Why? Because that splendid vision of society simply does not jibe with reality. It never did in the past, and as our societies age it increasingly is absurdly contrary to reality. Here is the surprise, the kicker:


      The "transportation majority" is not what most people think, transportation planners and policy makers included. The transportation majority are all those people who increasingly are poorly served by the mainline service arrangements that eat up most of our taxpayer money. And each year, as our populations age this majority grows in numbers.


      The Silent Majority [1]

      But if you look scratch the reality you will see that it is very different indeed. Here is a generic short-list of the people in your city, country or electorate who make up this until-now all too silent majority:

      • Everyone who does not have a car (or want one. . . a growing plurality of its own)
      • Everyone who cannot drive (or want even to learn)
      • Everyone who should not drive (for reasons of a variety of impediments such as limitations associated with age, psychological state , , , ,)
      • Everyone who cannot responsibly take the wheel at any given time (fatigue, distraction, nervousness, some form of intoxication. . . )
      • Everyone who cannot afford to own and operate a car of their own (And remember that costs a lot of after-tax money)
      • Everyone who lives in a large city and for reasons of density, public health and quality of city life needs to have access to a high quality non-car mobility system
      • Everyone who would prefer to get around their city by walking, cycling or some form of shared transport but who cannot safely or readily do so, because all the money is being spent on a car-based system which is fundamentally and financially incompatible with these more healthy ways of getting around
      • Everyone who suffers from some form of impairment that makes driving or even access to traditional public transit difficult or impossible
      • All those who are today isolated and unable to participate in the life of our communities fully because they simply do not have a decent way to get around.
      • And -- don't lose sight of this! -- you in a few years

      So how are we going to provide for the mobility needs of this clear majority? Well for starters, by putting aside our old vision and opening our eyes to the reality of what is in effect the 21st century mobility market. So let's get started.


      To sell your product, it helps to know your customers


      We drivers – and yes I count myself among them – are a strange if distinct species and it is important for those who are leading the process of adaptation and change in the sector to understand us for what we are. 


      Let me list some of our outstanding characteristics quickly as a prelude to strategy and action. :


      1.      We are above all creatures of habit – and our habit is to hop into our car whenever a reason emerges and to speed off to the tasks at hand.

      2.      We are viscerally impatient. Our cars can go fast and we tend to want to use them to their full capacity. This is only natural in the animals that we are.

      3.      We are often not in our best driving form when we take the wheel. It’s a real challenge to be a good driver.  Fatigue, eyesight, effects of aging, alcohol, psychological state, and various distractions (those ubiquitous cell phones and cigarettes among them) combine to render us, let us say, problematique at the wheel.

      4.      We are dangerous to others, and to ourselves. When you combine impatience, the alpha state of the average motorist once launched, speed and the enormous mass that we more or less control, you have a disaster waiting to happen.

      5.      We are suspicious  of change, and of course of anything that we may see as encroaching on our rights to the road (when we want and as we want)

      6.      We perceive ourselves as the majority – and thus well worthy of the investments and care that are lavished on us.

      7.      Most of us are aware that our cars cost us a lot, and feel strongly about anything that would further increase their financial burden on us.

      8.      We make formidable adversaries.

      9.      We are extremely good at making our voices heard when we perceive any possible threats to our right to drive. We can mobilize quickly and efficiently – not least because we command the attention of the powerful economic and political forces that do well by persisting in the old way of doing things (also known as old mobility).

      10.  When we make our grievances known, it invariably makes a great story, so the media consistently picks it up so that we can share our tears with the whole world.


      If you think of this group as an important “market” that you need to bring onboard to make the changes that are rapidly becoming obligatory, it is important of course to have a full picture of what are after all and in a pluralistic democratic society our customers and not our adversaries.  That’s a useful first step.

      On the other hand we drivers are not pure monsters or even hopeless egotists that many of you people may take us for, most of us at least. And so it will be useful for you to take the time and trouble to understand the fullness of who we are and how we make our decisions if your new policies are ever to work.


      We care as much as you do about our families and in general our neighbors (if we know them). We also worry about our health and that of our families, and know that the kind of exercise that we can get by walking and cycling are important.  We are increasingly aware that our cities, quality of life and health, and indeed our conditions of transit are not what they should be, and that the number and extent of protrusion of cars is an important part of the problem.  And the messages of the importance of global warming and its clear links to CO2 and driving are really starting to get through. And so most of us at least are starting to accept that there is indeed a problem, that part of the problem has to do with the ways in which we are including our cars, and that it has to be faced.


      With this in hand those of you who wish to bring about the necessary changes and adaptations already have some advantages to work with. This is the basic landscape of this important minority. And now that you have mapped it, you can get down to work.


      One final advantage that you will do well to bear in mind, is that many of us drivers are in fact considerably more adaptive in their behavior than your simplified prejudices. And if you need proof of that all you have to do is observe the almost continual dynamic rerouting that savvy drivers make when confronted with unexpected congestion or road problems. A second from of adaptation which we see even more in cities, is the rush toward using motorized two-wheelers instead of our cars.


      So we are adaptive and capable of change, even major modal change, and we propose that you also bear this in mind and work with that.  Give us something that looks to us like an improvement and at least some of us will be willing to give it a try. It may take some time for the rest to come around, but is that not what innovation and adaptation are all about.


      You will have to lead, you will have to understand your market, you have to be able to present us with a better choice and you may be surprised at the results.



      [1] As is well known, one of the principal reasons why this majority has in most places to now failed to make their voices heard is simply that they lack the strong central organizations and means that the proponents of “old mobility” (the infrastructure builders and their suppliers, the automobile lobby, equipment manufacturers, energy firms, and the fairly narrow but nonetheless extremely powerful web of economic and political interests that profit from these investments, and their often extremely effective lobbies). But what they do have is votes, which in turn points in the direction of the solution.

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