What is a Public Transport User Group? (And why are they important)

Worldstreets has committed to carry out a series of articles, in cooperation with informed on-the-we the people - REDspot collaborators, looking into various aspects of public transport user groups, on the grounds that they are increasingly emerging  in many cities around the world as important potential players in the uphill struggle to sustainable transportation, sustainable cities and sustainable lives. In most of the 20th century transportation decisions were strictly made by government administrations and elected politicians, more often than not in cooperation with interests representing industrial and financial partners supplying infrastructure, vehicles, electronics and services. In most places these were closed loops in which the public was occasionally, at best, invited to approach the table and then asked to share their views on alternative proposals prepared by the various administrations and agencies, but for the most part were excluded from the actual planning and decision process. They were at most shadow players.

However this is starting to change, to the extent that in many cities in recent years these groups are increasingly becoming important players in the planning, decision and investment process. That is all to the good and that is why Worldstreets is carrying out this series of articles in 2015/2016.

What is a Public Transport User Group?

Public Transport Checklist

Although most of the older user groups at their origins were specifically oriented to classic “public transport” services (i.e., scheduled, fixed route, managed “pay as you go” operations) including bus, trolleybus, tram, metro, monorails and often local rail and ferry services, in recent years the modal mix has tended in many cases to expand and vary.

Gradually many PTUGs are starting to expand their modal coverage and adapting to create relationships to cover other forms of shared non-private car travel, including, with many variations, a growing range of flexible door-to-door services, including taxis, less traditional small bus services, school and worker buses, chauffeur services, public bicycles, DRT, various forms of carsharing, etc. In doing this the PTUGs are moving with their times, which are increasingly shaped by new technologies, new actors, and new operational modes.

Sustainable development can only be achieved though active citizenry and participatory society. Older forms of delegated decision-making on all the key issues are not, and will never be, able to get the job done.

PTUG Goals and Organization:

There are many variations but here are the central trends:

  1. A Public Transport User Group (or Association, Forum or other) classically are community-based organizations representing public transport passengers, defending the interests of passengers, promoting sustainable transport policy and lobbying governments and transport authorities
  2. In the main they are fully independent and do not depend in any way on government agencies, offices or providers of transportation services
  3. They are, in fact, consumer organizations, increasingly representing passengers of all forms of public and shared transport.
  4. The ones that count are non-profit, voluntary, civil organizations, with no political affiliations.
  5. Lobby governments and public transport authorities in the interest of all users of public transport.
  6. Advocate a greater role for public and shared transport, and less dependence on the private car.
  7. Work with other bodies and through the media to promote public transport and educate the community about the benefits of sustainable transport policies.
  8. Undertake or participate in collaborative research and surveys into transport policies which will improve services and make their city a better place in which to live
  9. Often tend to maintain blogs and more recently social media in order to communicate and organize information and actions

Geography:

Public Transport User Groups today are fixtures and active participants in the transportation policy process in Europe, North America, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. They also can be found in some South American cities, however they are not, to the best of the author’s knowledge, significant participants in the public policy process in most of the Asia region.

no excuses sir

At their best Public Transport User Groups coordinate closely with local government and have over the last two decades have begun to be considered as serious participants in the information and decision process.  These are very often semi-adversarial relationships with government and operators since they represent different constituencies. That said, there are cities around the world — still a minority however — in which local government considers these groups as integral parts of the information decision process. We are gradually making process, but there is room for plenty more.

At the other extreme are the many groups who are effectively ignored or at best listened to with one slightly deaf ear. All of this depends on the level of ambition, talent and communication abilities of the organizers.

Note on Citizens Mobility Forums:

Although for now we are working in this series with the phrase Public Transport User Group, we also refer to it as a Citizens Mobility Forum in some of our work on this subject. The two phrases have much in common and some distinguishing differences. Our thought is to put them both out there into the discussions and see how they develop. The advantage of the PTUG , at least for how, is that it is more familiar in most cities around the world.

Some further references:

Next steps: 2015/16

Worldstreets now proposes to contact a cross-section of these groups or projects on all continents and in the weeks and months ahead provide profiles of how the various groups work in their cities. We believe that this is going to be useful to our readers.

We hope point of view that groups such as these, which are based on active in continuing citizen participation in different parts of daily life are going to hold the key – if indeed there is a key – to meeting the challenge of sustainable development, climate change, equity, systemic efficiency. Civil society is going to be a central actor in the push to sustainability, or otherwise it will be no sustainability at all.

We look with great interest to your contributions and suggestions, and would remind our readers that this, like all of our other Worldstreets initiatives, is based on free collaboration and exchange. Perhaps you will consider working with us to do a profile on our cities user groups.

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A Closing Note on Participatory Democracy

PTUGs are an example of a far greater fundamental trend in 21st century society, namely that of active citizenry and participatory democracy. (We shall be going into this in more detail in the coming months in this series, but for now and to get the ball rolling on this important facet of PTUGs, let us share with you a lightly edited version of what Wikipedia had to offer on the subject this morning (with apologies to Wikipedia for the modest vioence done ot their text at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_democracy.  More, and more original, will follow)

Participatory democracy is a process emphasizing the broad participation of constituents in the direction and operation of political systems. Etymological roots of democracy (Greek demos and kratos) imply that the people are in power and thus that all democracies are participatory. However, participatory democracy tends to advocate more active forms of citizen participation and greater political representation in the decision process than traditional representative democracy in which in most cases government is determined by citizens making occasional trips to the voting urns and then leaving the business of governance to the temporary office holders. .

Participatory democracy strives to create opportunities for all members of a population to make meaningful contributions to decision-making, and seeks to broaden the range of people who have access to such opportunities. Since so much information must be gathered for the overall decision-making process to succeed, technology may provide important forces leading to the type of empowerment needed for participatory models, especially those technological tools that enable community narratives and correspond to the accretion of knowledge. Effectively increasing the scale of participation, and translating small but effective participation groups into small world networks, are areas currently being studied. Other advocates have emphasized the importance of face to face meetings, warning that an over-reliance on technology can be harmful.

Some scholars argue for refocusing the term on community-based activity within the domain of civil society, based on the belief that a strong non-governmental public sphere is a precondition for the emergence of a strong liberal democracy. These scholars tend to stress the value of separation between the realm of civil society and the formal political realm. In 2011, considerable grassroots interest in participatory democracy was generated by the Occupy movement.

To conclude for now, it is not possible to think about or understand PTUG movement without making this association with active citizenry making their voices heard.

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About the author:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is a public entrepreneur specializing in the field of sustainability and social justice. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest work focuses on the subject of equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions -- and in the process, find practical solutions to urgent climate, mobility, life quality and job creation issues. More at: http://wp.me/PsKUY-2p7

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