SUSTAINABLE MOBILITY’S BITTER PILL (And why most politicians do not want to swallow it)


Maybe it will take care of itself.

An even dozen hard facts that politicians, administrators and engineers are finding it very hard to accept – but without which they will never be able to lead the transition to sustainable mobility and a sustainable city.

    1. QUESTIONS: You think you know what the answers are to your transport-related problems. But the odds are that you do not. In fact, it is more than likely that you do not even know what are  the questions that need to be asked. (And that is the most important of all. Finding the right questions that lead to the right answers.)
    2. MIND: You are going to have to change your mind, your way of thinking about all aspects of these issues. (The hardest step of all, because it requires that you first accept that your old ways of thinking and doing things are not going to get the job done.)
    3. NOW: If you are to be a responsible leader, you cannot afford to put these fundamental transformative decisions and actions off to some later date. The time to start is now.
    4. WORK: You and your team are going to have to work very hard to master this new, unfamiliar and extremely demanding course of governance. This may prove uncomfortable but it is vital.
    5. LISTEN: You are going to have to listen to and learn from concerned citizens, NGOs and others who may disagree with your established older traditions and ways of thinking .  Listen carefully, invite them on board and turn them into part of the solution.
    6. PACKAGES OF MEASURES: You going to have to forget your dreams about high profile, big-price, big-bang hardware or technology “solutions” — and concentrate instead on carefully crafted, complex, heavily interactive packages of relatively low cost near term measures which you must continually fine tune as you learn from experience.
    7. CARS: There are going to be a lot less of them in the city but they will not disappear. However, they will take on very different and much needed new roles. The knowledge, the tools and the proofs are there to help you achieve this transition. Create a climate of change.
    8. ECONOMICS: You are going to have to make imaginative use of economic instruments (ex. road and parking pricing, user incentives) – to achieve your objectives. (These risk to be extremely unpopular with certain groups, but they are overall among the most powerful proven instruments for change.)
    9. UNPOPULAR: You are going to have to accept that elements of this transition are going to be wildly unpopular at times  and put strong pressure on you — at least until the contested measures and approaches start to show positive results.
    10. PATRIARCHY: You are going to have to accept that much of the fundamental weakness of the traditional decision structure in the sector is that it is almost entirely dominated by males (who are themselves incidentally are car owner/drivers). To counter this, you need to expand the planning and decision mechanisms to ensure . .
    11. FULL GENDER PARITY at all levels of the decision and leadership chain. (This may well be among your most difficult and unwelcome challenges. But really, if you want to succeed you have no choice.)
    12. YOU: You, Mrs. or Mr. Mayor, and your team must be among the first to show the way, to set the honest example for others. You and your family and your staff. Consistently and not just smiling before a throng of photographers on a Car Free Day or some other rare occasion.  The voters need to see their elected officials and government teams in the bus, on a bike, waling to nearby appointments, and otherwise simply showing the way by their modest example. Otherwise it is going to be just one more tired example of PAU (Politics As Usual.) And so it goes.

    That’s it. If you can ask the questions, handle these issues and make the much needed changes for your city you can be sure you will win every election you will face as long as you care to run for office. Leadership! It’s the difference between survival politics and wise governance.

    # # #

    Eric Britton
    9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

    Bio: Educated as a development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and international sustainability activist who has lived and worked in Paris since 1969. 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: The Politics of Transport - . | Britton online:

    View complete profile


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s