Why is it that virtually every major transport project built in the last decades in just about any part of the world has cost a great deal more than the original engagement, and served far fewer people than originally forecast? This pattern repeats itself time and again. Since the ones who end up holding the bag every time are the hard-working and apparently infinitely gullible taxpayers, it is possible to come to a conclusion. And that has to be that, up to now at least, we are terminally stupid, we fall for the same old trick every time. Why is that, and what are its implications for the quality of mobility services in your city and metro area? We invited Dr. Colin Black who is currently working to get a handle on these issues from an overall European perspective to share his thoughts with us.
As previously documented on World Streets the city of Tallinn, Estonia implemented Free Fare Public Transportation (FFPT) in January of 2013 for all registered citizens of the city. A year and a half into this policy voices from politicians, the media and academia presented an array of opinions in favour of, and refuting benefits of the policy. Thus in May of 2014 I visited Tallinn to conduct interviews with City staff, independent environmentalist consultants and academics alike for my master’s thesis in Urban and Regional Planning Studies at the London School of Economics. My research question was ‘Is Tallinn, Estonia’s free fare public transportation policy meeting its claimed motives as stated by the city’s municipal leaders?’
When one considers how things have gone in the last decades or thereabouts, it is not easy to believe in the survival of civilization.
I do not argue from this that the only thing to do is to adjure practical politics, retire to some remote place and concentrate either on individual salvation or on building up self-supporting communities against the day when the atom bombs have done their work. I think one must continue the political struggle, just as a doctor must try to save the life of a patient who is probably going to die.
But I do suggest that we shall get nowhere unless we start by recognizing that political behaviour is largely non-rational, that the world is suffering from some kind of mental disease which must be diagnosed before it can be cured.
In order to understand what needs to be done to create healthier lives and a better performing set of transportation arrangements, World Streets has from the very beginning made a consistent distinction between what we call “Old Mobility” vs.”New Mobility.” The difference between the two is simple, straight-forward . . . and substantial.
Old mobility was the dominant form of transportation policy, practice and thinking that took its full shape and momentum starting in the mid twentieth century, at a time when we all lived in a universe that was, or at least seemed to be, boundless and free of constraints. It served many of us well in many ways at the time, albeit with numerous and notable exceptions, though we were blind to most of them most of the time. It was a very different world back them. But that world is gone. Gone and it will never come back.
The letter that follows is, as you will quickly surmise, not an actual communication from one elected official in one case, but rather a composite, a distillation of experience that I have had over these last years of trying to push the sustainable transportation agenda in many parts of the world, almost always in conjunction and in dialogue with mayors and other city leaders. As you will see, it is not that they are uniformly adverse to or not interested in the concepts behind sustainable transportation and sustainable cities. It is just that they have a great many other things on their mind, including staying on top day after day of the considerable challenges of managing their city — and, in not very long, running once again for reelection. This is the political reality of which those of us who would be agents of change must be aware, that politics is the art of the possible. Now let’s turn the stage over to our mayor: Continue reading
Equity? Hmm. This, it turns out on inspection, is not quite so easy a concept to get across. In English, and after two days of discussions with a wide variety of groups and people here in Helsinki, it’s already tough enough. And I have learned, it’s even more challenging in Finnish. Here are some late night thoughts on this word that I share with you here in the hope that it may inspire comments and clarification. So here you have my notes, more or less in the order that they came to mind late in the night. Continue reading