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The dangers of shared taxis in the New Mobility System

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  • Eric Britton
    ... When one introduces shared taxis one has to guard against the danger that they take people off buses and trains (or off their feet or bikes) rather than
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 31, 2005
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      --- In NewMobilityCafe@yahoogroups.com, Simon Norton writes on this date:

      "When one introduces shared taxis one has to guard against the danger that
      they take people off buses and trains (or off their feet or bikes) rather
      than off cars. If so they will actually increase the number of motor
      vehicles, and furthermore unless the system is transparent and available to
      casual users (i.e. one doesn't have to live in the area, belong to a club,
      or book ages in advance) they may prevent the development of genuinely
      comprehensive mobility systems. "

      ***end message***

      --- In NewMobilityCafe@yahoogroups.com, "Eric Britton" <eric.britton@e...> wrote:

      Couple of quick comments on this if you will:

      * As long as we insist on thinking of these new ranges of mobility
      options as "taxis" (i.e., not viable public transport) we will stay stuck in
      the last century -- and all that entails in terms of quality of service and
      quality of life. We really need to open up our minds and imaginations on
      this score.

      * Likewise, if we remain prisoners of the old "binary" mental system
      of public (trains, scheduled buses, etc.) and (or rather versus) "private
      transport" (by which is meant cars, and not only that really those well more
      than half empty privately owned motor vehicles that roam our streets
      untrammeled) - we will also continue stay stuck.

      * Our 21st century New Mobility System is well equipped at least in
      principle to do its job in a fully sustainable way, but it needs all four of
      its main pillars: Those two (much improved of course by technology and
      organization to do a better job in our towns and cities), plus (c) real
      planning and resources to support widest use of 'active transport'. And
      then our fourth and until now largely neglected fourth pillar . . .

      * Small to medium sized vehicles offering 'car like mobility' (or
      better!) in a very wide range of types, based on entrepreneurship and savvy
      use of available technology and purveying services that will get people
      where they want, when they want without the enormous negative impacts that
      we associate with owner-driver (and almost empty) cars in the traffic
      stream. This includes new group taxis of various sorts, ride sharing,
      carsharing, dial-a-ride, shuttles, line taxis, E&H transport, and the list
      goes on and on.

      Now all of you here will be well aware of all this -- but the question
      remains why has this great idea pretty much stayed in the closet over all
      these years (albeit with a fair number of striking demonstrations, but which
      never seem to really take off and in the process alter our basic thinking
      about transport in cities)?

      When I started on my personal transportation odyssey more than three decades
      ago, I at one point headed up an international study and brainstorm of just
      this kind of system/service, which we then called "paratransit", a name
      which since has been co-opted in many places as something specifically
      related to more medical or patient transport. I can't this morning lay my
      hands on the original graphic which provides an idea of how all these bits
      and pieces relate, but here is a rendering which I have just cobbled
      together based on that which gives a rough idea (though it leaves out the
      modal share monster the private car . . but you get the idea).

      What I think is terribly striking and really quite disappointing about this
      vision of what local transport is or at least should be about in a world, in
      a city that wishes itself to be sustainable, is how little progress has been
      made on this agenda in the THREE DECADES since we carried out this exercise
      and put it in the form of a report that was distributed by the US Dept of
      Transportation to more than five thousand people and groups around the
      world. The reaction? A deafening silence.

      The reason? Well, apparently it seemed just so very inconvenient. To the car
      crowd that wants to change nothing and till now has had the resources to
      make sure that that is exactly what happens. To the public transport crowd,
      who - rightly I think - see themselves as providers of a certain range of
      services within a certain kind of business and organizational framework, and
      who really are stretched to the extreme just to get their part of the
      (important and difficult) job done. The traffic people were up to their
      necks in finding ways to whoosh ever more vehicles through the available
      street space. The builders and their allies who felt that the solution lies
      in increasing the space available to cars. And finally to the various
      "authorities" who over the years have cobbled together combinations of laws,
      ordinances and regulations which at the end of the day have reinforced this
      ghastly, inefficient and basically binary transport system of the not that
      regretted twentieth century.

      Getting more people into fewer vehicles and getting them where they want to
      go in ways that are more comfortable, more efficient and more cost effective
      than any of the other alternatives. And of course reinforced by the
      regulatory framework to give them privileged access to scarce street space.
      In creative working partnerships with the traditional public transport
      providers. And stuffed with technologies that are there today and well able
      to do their part of the job.

      Two final sustainable society qualifiers to all this:

      * First that since (a) these vehicles can be purpose designed
      (including in terms of emissions, fuel efficiency, safety, etc.) and (b)
      since they will be much more intensively used, the fleet will be renewed
      more regularly (if we get it right that is), meaning that the vehicles
      moving on our streets day after day will increasingly incorporate the best
      available technology and performance standards.

      * And the last wrinkle on this has to do with job creation. Over the
      last fifty years the main thrust of innovation in the pubic transport sector
      has been to cut costs through labor-savings. But our new transportation
      arrangements are going to use drivers in each of those vehicles (with the
      exception of carshare originations, but there too there is a job creation
      vector which is not to be ignored), which means that our new mobility system
      is going to be a source not only of new kinds and new qualities of mobility
      services, but also jobs. No trivial contribution as we try to figure out
      collectively what it is we really want of our cities, and our lives.

      That's it from a slowly simmering Paris this morning, But not to worry, we
      will figure this one out too.

      Eric Britton

      PS. Every time I see or reproduce that little graphic I think with affection
      back to its origins, in the bowels of the Urban Mass Transit Administration
      in the early/mid seventies. At the core of the original path-breaking 1975
      report "Para-transit: Neglected options for urban mobility" was a working
      partnership between the very creative Jimmy Yu of UMTA and the main
      author/head of a small team from the Urban Institute, Ron Kirby (to whom I
      am copying this note so that he can cross-check me for accuracy). I don't
      have a copy of the book handy, but I just checked and you can pick up a copy
      today for five dollars or so from Amazon.

      Starting in 1974/5 and almost in parallel, I led a small team that spent
      some years in pushing out the frontiers both in terms of expanding the range
      of services covered and more important I think in retrospect reviewing
      developments in Europe in particular ("Paratransit: Survey of International
      Experience and Prospects". This led to a continuing cycle of team studies
      and projects, which today have taken the form of what you can see in places
      like the New Mobility Agenda and subsequently the World Carshare Consortium,
      World Car Free Days, the Kyoto World Cities 20/20 Challenge, and on and on.

      BTW, I always smile in recalling an "enormous" contribution that I
      personally made to the field of paratransit, which in fact was about as
      small and negative as one can get.. yet still it made a difference. I
      "officially" at UMTA and beyond removed once and forever the hyphen in
      para-transit, with the argument that hyphenization in the world of words is
      only a half way house until such time that the word reaches full maturity.
      Which I felt that by 1975 it had indeed. At least the word itself. ;-)

      PPS. The above certainly too long note does not pretend to try to tackle the
      full problematique of bringing sustainable mobility to our cities, but
      rather just to try to provide some food for thought in answer to Simon
      Norton's good challenge. I have to add however that one very important
      missing "pillar" in the overall strategy is working with city planners,
      developers and local authorities to provide and support more appropriate
      grouping of activities and services, as opposed to the worst abuses of
      car-based spread patterns. And of course there is the very promising
      'communications substitutes for movements" axis which all of you now well,
      but let's leave that for another time and place.

      --- End forwarded message ---
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