First thoughts: PISTA – Programme for International Sustainable Transport Assessment

leonardo dimensions man“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” vs. “The important stuff can’t be measured”.

In this critical spirit let us see what happens if we put this idea of somehow addressing the performance of cities and countries when it comes to sustainable transport, in front of the collective intelligence of our readers in order to see if something useful can be done with it. But first to get the ball rolling, some disorganized pre-thoughts about PISA and . . . PISTA.  And oh yes, stay tuned because this thing is just getting started.


PISA (2000 – 2015)

PISA — The Programme for International Student Assessment is a high-profile, much-debated tri-annual worldwide collaborative assessment comparing the academic performance of 15-year-old school pupils in different countries in the areas of mathematics, science, and reading, lead by an expert team of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Initiated in 2000 it is repeated by the cooperating countries every three years. The goal is to provide some sort of “measuring stick” by which countries can compare their performance with others, with a view to improving their education policies and outcomes.

Here is how the PISA team describes their mission:
Are students well prepared for future challenges? Can they analyse, reason and communicate effectively? Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life? The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) answers these questions and more, through its surveys of 15-year-olds in the principal industrialised countries. Every three years, it assesses how far students near the end of compulsory education have acquired some of the knowledge and skills essential for full participation in society.

The most recently published results are from 2012 where around 510,000 students in 65 economies took part in the PISA assessment of reading, mathematics and science representing about 28 million 15-year-olds globally. Of those economies, 44 took part in an assessment of creative problem solving and 18 in an assessment of financial literacy. More than 70 economies have signed up to take part in the assessment in 2015 which will focus on science. (Consult all PISA 2012 results here).

The results are hotly contested by many from a number of perspectives. But if nothing else they serve as a tri-annual wake up call to those responsible for the educational system in their country, which experience shows they may react to or ignore.

Is this an example for those of us who stay up night worrying about sustainable transport and sustainable development on our badly challenged planet? Let us explore this idea.


PISTA (2015 – ??)

What about building on this valuable lesson of experience and seeing if we can create a collaborative international structure which allows us to ponder, say every three years, the performance of “sustainable transport” in cities of the cooperating countries.

And until we find a better name for it, why not as a rough first approximation PISTA – Programme for International Sustainable (Cities) Transport Assessment. (Surely you will be able to do better, but this can at least get us started.)

What we are looking for is to create a reliable means to benchmark each city’s sustainable transport performance taking our lead from PISA it will be important that this extends only to those country’s/city’s that wish to participate in this collaborative process. Moreover, it is important tha t they are directly involved — not to the extent of taking over the entire auditing process on their own which could lead to certain problems, but to be actively involved.  Indeed, the neutral self-audit component of the program is an extremely important reason for doing it.  But how to measure it?

Readers of World Streets will have little difficulty in coming up with candidates for such a composite measure, and it is certainly not be purpose of this first exploratory article and call for ideas to try to venture too far into creating such a list based on one person’s perspectives. But just to get the ball rolling, what about these as first thoughts?

Strategy: First make it complicated (so as not to miss anything that might be important). Then make it simple (that’s the hard part).



Here is a first rough brainstorming mega-list of a certain number of indicators that we might wish to look at in each cooperating city — which leaves is of course with several tasks if all this is to have meaning from a comparative national perspective, including not only (a) data collection in each of these areas, and then (b) the even more daunting challenges of somehow combining the individual cities results into a meaningful national overview.

Sustainable City Transport Indicators (Cut 1)

  1. Context: Basic indicators (City. Metro)
    • Area. Population. Income per capita.
  2. Modal split
    • See brilliant open project from EPOMM – the European Platform on Mobility Management
    • Walking and cycling need to be fairly factored in for this to be meaningful
  3. Transport/Public Space Management
    • Roads and streets as percent of total urban area
    • Space allocated to parked vehicles (% total urban area)
    • Greening of streets and public spaces
    • Roundabouts (including in city limits)
    • Street furniture and comfort
  4. TDM – Transport demand management
    • Street space rationing (Odd/even, time of day, vehicle type, load-factor, directions, etc.)
    • Street sharing
    • Reserved lanes
    • Area access constraints
    • Street Code (“Code de la rue”)
  5.  Walkability
    • Pedestrian zones/Streets
    • City collects and analyzes walkability indicators
    • Ave walking distance to nearest public transit service point
    • Sidewalk coverage (vs. total street length)
    • Street crossing improvements
    • Footbridges/Pedestrian bridges (???)
    • Pedestrian priority
  6. Bikeability
    • Kilometers of protected bicycle ways
    • Leisure vs. transport cycling provision
    • Other cycling indicators
    • Safe parking provision
    • Casualties
    • Systems for measuring walkability
  7. Public bicycles
    • number public bicycles in country
    • number cities with public or shared bicycle systems
    • Users
    • average daily ridership/bike
  8. Carsharing
    • Comparable indicators (different types, number vehicles, number users, number providers, public policy …)
  9. Ridesharing
    • By different type, etc.
  10. Public transport (scheduled, fixed route) indicators
    • Different modes
    • number vehicles
    • capacity indicators
    • usage figures
    • reserved right away
    • signal priority
    • Transit shelters and improvements for people waiting service
    • Access/information
    • Performance indicators
  11. Taxis
    • Number of taxis, by type, some kind of usage indicator, . . .
    • Shared taxis, new services, fleet expansion
    • Monitoring quality of service, negotiating, assisting
  12. School transport
    • “Modal split”
    • Walk/Bike to school
    • Top speeds in areas around schools
  13. Private cars
    • Number registered (time series indicator?)
    • Number/household
    • Residential parking cost
    • Zones, entry restrictions
  14. Parking
    • City parking indicators (including price)
    • Park + Ride
  15. Speed
    • top speed zone indicators (15, 30, 50, … kph)
  16. Public Health
    • number of days exceeding minimum pollution levels
    • accidents
    • deaths and injuries in traffic
    • respiratory infections  levels
    • Noise controls
    • Obesity
    • Your candidates  …
  17. Car free projects
    • car free zones
    • car free housing
  18. Goods and freight delivery (indicators?)
    • Delivery windows
    • Combined delivery
    • Cargo bikes, EVs
  19. Innovative fleet management
    • private sector
    • public-sector
  20. Access/Social indicators: Key target groups
    • Women
    • Children
    • Elderly and handicapped
    • Poor
    • Non-drivers (See
    • Ghetto/slum dwellers
    • Low density rural areas
  21. Security/
    • On street
    • At stops
    • In public transport
  22.  Infrastructure
    • Investments, by mode
  23. Economic instruments
    • Full cost pricing
    • Moving vehicles
    • TDP – Time/Distance/Place road pricing
    • Parking
    • Favoring green transport (taxes, direct subsidies)
  24. Enforcement
  25. Budget
    • investments by mode
  26. Open: Planning, data, legal requirements for
  27. Public policy/government national, local)
    • Heavily committed to sustainability
    • Nominally committed
    • Inconsistent
    • Not at all
  28. Civil Society
    • Related programs, user or neighborhood groups
    • Blogs reporting problem, progress, etc.
    • Direct involvement in planning and decision process


This is clearly a very mixed the list. There is no doubt that this will be a tough nut to crack, but once a (or perhaps more than one) basic template has been created and tested in several representative cities, things will doubtless start to get a bit easier.

The “easy” part will be deciding on the organization of the list of indicators, and then in running them for each participating country/city. And once we have that in hand, how do we reduce the entire structure into a single or several indicative numbers which will give some kind of base for comparison? And that just for a single city?

National indicators: once we have recently the data in each of the finally decided categories, the next trick will be to figure out how to combine them into a set of meaningful national indicators. As the OECD PISA projects has made clear, this is no easy task and in our case may be even more complicated. But it can be done if the will is there.



Participating cities: it will be important that the minimum number and range of cooperating cities be brought into the project in each country. One idea that comes immediately to mind would be, say, to bring in the 10 largest cities of the first solid base, and then to reach out to see if a reasonable number of small and medium-sized cities can also be invited to cooperate.

Triennial: this seems like an appropriate interval or carry out this work, as the PISA project has shown. At the very least, it gives us a good initial target which we can then modify as work on this program advances.

Leadership: There will of course have to be a properly placed and funded institution who can lead this effort, which most importantly the city based on assessments by collaborating country teams. (One possible idea is that there should be at least one “visitor” on each country team coming from outside the area to encourage a certain neutrality of procedures and presented results.

# # #

Today you have here nothing more here than a very rough first cut at an idea which strikes us as something which is worthy of serious consideration and eventually with appropriate preparation actually done. If cities and countries can see how they are doing well and the rest in terms of these critical indicators, it is going to give them food for thought and some of these are going to understand and be willing to address the challenges these indicators suggest.

In doing this, they will be putting to work one of the most powerful engines for improvement in our cities, which is that of emulation. A city with the will to do better spots another city doing something interesting, and takes that as their point of departure.

If we are to preserve our planet, there will have to be thousands and thousands of such points of departure.

Measuring the street.  Happy City Saint John's

Measuring the street. Happy City Saint John’s

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On new ideas

The reader will quickly appreciate that in the form you see it here this is not only a new idea but for now at least a very fragile new idea. No problem ! If it is a reasonably good idea, it may pick up steam and move ahead in this or some related form. But if it is a great idea , it will open the door just a bit to a much more powerful and useful idea. Let us see what happens

Next steps

Suppose we just take Occam’s Razor to that far  too long list and figure out how to get a good set of comparative indicators with something a lot simpler. Now that’s an idea!

Here is what we propose to get us going .  Start by identifying different programsand techniques for  benchmarking  performance in cities of more specific indicators , such as walkability,  city cycling,  parking,  car restraints,  public transport performance , underserved groups, etc.

We will start with city cycling.

* For more on the ongoing World Streets  benchmarking program , click to

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Existing Sustainable Transport/Cities Award Programs

(Go to for latest draft on this)

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Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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