Editorial: On the plane to Helsinki

I have always thought of myself not as a consultant – that is, someone with specific expertise to whom you ask directed questions and who gives you what you think/hope are the right answers – but rather as an “advisor”, i.e. someone whose role it is to sit next to you for a certain period of time and draw your attention to a certain number of things to which you might wish to give a closer look. (NB. My experience shows that it is usually a lot more comfortable to work with consultants.)

So here I am just about to get on the plane for Helsinki where I shall be working and meeting over the next two weeks with a couple of hundred people, almost all Finns, in individual meetings and group and plenary sessions as you can find spelled out elsewhere on this site – and through all of that to talk together about equity and transport, private actions and public policy.

Over the last two months of preparatory work with my Finnish colleagues on this, while at the same time working in parallel with our international networks to test these ideas and extend the knowledge base, I have come up with a list of questions which I am about to stuff into my pocket — and when I land in the Nordic capital doing my best to ask and then listen to what they have to say. At the end of all this, some time in mid-April, I shall try to fashion what I have heard and learned into a relatively short strategic report with observations, reflections, findings and perhaps eventually some recommendations.

Here is the short list of the questions I am bringing to Helsinki:

1. What is equity (and what is not-equity)?

2. How does this concept work in the Finnish language? Are there significant differences of which we should be aware? (I am hopeful that my Finnish colleagues will write this u so that w can add it to he site.)

3. Is mobility/access a “basic need’, a human right of citizens in an active democracy.

4. Does the extraordinary Finnish equity-based education system give us a leg-up when it comes to the proposed push to equity-based transport?

5. What is not-Equity in transport? Examples from Helsinki?

6. What is Equity-Based Transport? Examples from Helsinki?

7. Is there a non-car majority in Helsinki?  Who are they, what are their needs and how can we serve them best?

8. Is “Public Transport” (i.e. for the most part scheduled fixed-route services) the answer for Helsinki’s 21st century patterns  and needs?

9. What is the future of the automobile in Helsinki, and Finland more generally?

10. What does a”better than car” mobility package look like?

11. What about the role of the ITC interface? Is this going to be critical? Or an option?

12. Should equity/transport strategies have an eye to job creation and lifetime learning?

13. Do Social Media tools make a difference? How?

14. Are the forces for change/improvement working together in Helsinki? Or are they mainly working on their separate specific agendas and coming up with priorities and demands of their own?

15. A discussions of civil society and the “social brain” as an untapped resource (lighting the synapses)

16. What would an Equity-Based Transport system for Helsinki look like? – and what would be the best way to get there?  Will it cost a lot? Will it be disruptive  and divisive? Will it take a lot of time to start to get there?

PS. Are we talking about a major paradigm change? And if so, what is wrong with the one we already have?

Hidden agenda

As I look at all this on my way to the airport, what strikes me is that this is one of those instances in which the questions are perhaps more important than the answers. And indeed I figure that it is my role here, not to come up with cocky answers to each of these, so much as to encourage the asking and subsequent discussions of all that touches on equity and transport for the city and beyond.

Eric Britton

Paris, 14 March 2012

# # #

Other voices:

Twenty four hours ago, I contacted a short list of my international colleagues who I know have deep expertise in these matters and asked them if they could come up with a short list, I suggested five, of questions that they would like to hear about in this context. They are, I would say, every bit as valid as the ones that I have chosen based on my own experience and perspective.

Let’s have a look at what they have to say:

# # #

From Elizabeth Deakin
Professor of City and Regional Planning
University of California, Berkeley

1. There is always the question of intergenerational equity vs. equity for the people out there today and how to serve both interests.

2. Cars are making the lives of some better, but they are making the lives of many others worse. Discussions of internalizing externalities seem to get very little traction. What can we do to make full cost pricing a way to move forward? Or if this is Quixotic, what other options are more likely to succeed?

3. Would free bikes for everyone be a step forward? (can you ride a bike in a burka?)

4. Where are the children in this discussion?

5. Where are the many adults who have mobility limitations, physical or economic? (where am I in 20 35 years = I plan to stay active till I drop, but what if that is increasingly difficult? Do I have to sit by the window and knit or tat or something equally implausible?)

6. Could we reclaim most streets for people and make the cars stay in their place, on separate guideways that do not intrude on places for people?

7. How do we manage freight and urban goods delivery in a less obnoxious way?

# # #

Rory McMullan
New Mobility China
Zhuhai City, Guangdong Province, China.
Skype: roryer +86 13924708082

1. Cost – how can we make transport cost the same percentage of everyone’s income? making public transport free? Subsidies?

2. Time? How can we equalize the travel time budget? (I would love a three bed with a garden near to my job in London zone 1 but instead I need to live miles out).

3. Accessibility for all. Disabled, old, young, men, women.

4. Equality of impact – e.g. Brixton in the UK has amongst the highest pollution, traffic incidents involving sub-16 year olds, lowest incomes and lowest car ownership in London.

5. What role does sharing play?

# # #

Andrew Murray Wheeldon
Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN); http://www.benbikes.org.za
Cape Town South Africa

1. To what degree does the city/region/province cater in respect of mobility for the lowest income households?

2. What is the bicycle ownership stats for the various income groups?

3. What percentage of the population use bicycles, and can we measure the trip purpose – is it mobility, leisure, sport?

4. What percentage of the population has access to affordable, reliable, convenient public transport/

5. Which of the population groups has the greatest access to the city and/or education, employment and health opportunities and why? Can we measure this?

6. Can this region be described as one in which those most at risk (economically, socially, education, health, etc.) Have an equal opportunity in respect of mobility to address these ills?

# # #
Marcus Wigan
Professor of Transport Systems, Transport Research Institute,
Napier University, Edinburgh, Scotland

1. What are the categories through which ‘equity’ is defined?
2. What is defined as ‘equitable accessibility’, given that 25% of >65 years olds simply can’t walk more than 400m (the benchmark for younger people’s definition of ‘access’ to public transport
3. What coverage of access to toilets on transit is addressed? pregnant women and elder men need this as a key accessibility and equity factor
4. To what extent is ;equity of transport access to key resource (post office, bank, doctor, hospital, government offices) covered or addressed?
5. What tradeoffs between safety, access, cost etc etc are covered to ensure equity of access and use by all different modes including powered two wheelers and electric on and off road mobility solutions?
Hate to answer any of these myself Eric!

# # #

Jonathan Morris, World Citizen
La Colle Sur Loup, France

1. what are the arguments against gov’t spending on equity in transport?
2. Where does it stand in the list of priorities?

# # #

David Levinger
Mobility Education Foundation
Washington, DC

How can we increase equity in transport if we don’t place a priority on educating people about how the multimodal system operates?

# # #

Anzir Boodoo, PhD student
The Institute for Transport Studies
The University of Leeds UK

1. Does planning for transport consider ALL groups in society (young/old, male/female, singles/families, able/disabled, working/unemployed/shift workers)?

2. Do pedestrians (including those who cannot walk, or use other mobility aids) get considered first, ahead of motorised traffic?

3. Are all travel modes integrated? Is it easy to swap between foot, cycle, bus, tram, train and car?

4. Is it possible to get to all places easily on foot or cycle, and all places reasonably by public transport?

5. Is the network of public transport services, footways and cycle ways easy to understand and navigate, even for people with cognitive impairments (e.g. Learning Disabilities, dyslexia) and sensory impairments (e.g. blindness, deafness)

# # #

Enrico Bonfatti
Editor, Nuuva Mobilita
Bergamo, Italy

1. Public Transport: we use to consider car as the unfairest mean of transport by far. Nonetheless there are many equity issues involved in other means of transport. Public transport could be unfair as well: how, for instance, does a new HSR affect the lives of those not having access to it but whose houses, villages and towns are crossed by the line?

2 And how much priority must we give to HSR development and how much to improving regional trains serving commuters living in the towns’ surroundings if, how is often the case (and in Italy it is), there are not enough funds to support both of them?

# # #

Leena Silfverberg
Head of Unit
Helsinki City Planning Department, Transport
Kansakoulukatu 1 A FI-00099 City of Helsinki

1. Who is (are) the most dominating or powerful actors in the sector from your point of view.

2. And in opposite, whose status most needs improving?

3. How does this inequity show? Is the situation changing, to which direction?

4. And (of course): What has to be done to make it better?

# # #


6 responses to “Editorial: On the plane to Helsinki

  1. Olli Hakanen

    Hi Eric,

    Wellcome to Helsinki with your most valuable mission. I hope your stay in Helsinki will be one of the factors to help us change the paradigma from trafficplanning into mobility system thinking.

    The existing planning philosophy of Helsinki City is based on the vision of 200 000 more people living in the metropolitan area in 2030. Tradegy of this Helsinki 2030 traffic vision is that people are expected to maintain the private automobil focused behaviour and trafficinfra is planned and designed accordingly.

    This is bound to lead into contructing new highway and street after another. So their is a urgent need to create a new Helsinki 2030 mobility vision to guide townplanning. Efforts must be concenterated on proactive service design of mobility instead of just reactive planning of new trafficinfra.

    My interest of this subject has a long history but was greatly intensified about a year ago by the first symptoms of what the execution of Helsinki
    2030 traffic vision really means. In the name of developing public transfer new streets are suggested to be constructed through the most valuable green areas of our city.

    There is existing streets for buses and streetcars which could be freed from the rush of private cars. These opportunities have unfortunately been neglected by the city authorities. We have created the alternative solution in collaboration with representatives of every relevant city district association along the route.

    I wonder if you would be interested in the solution we have co-created. We have actively tried to involve Helsinki cityplanners into the process. The younger generation of them have been very keen on participating bur are bound by the intructions given by their bosses, who seem to be interested in promoting only their on vision.

    Our solution also consists a new mobility service concept “Liikkumo”. It could be translated as “Mobility Contributory”. It is based on an idea that we must be able to avoid the growth of private autotrafficing in Helsinki Headland by offering a service which would benefit the individual when adapting new multimobility solutions instead of using own car.

    I will be participate on your workshop tomorrow between 15-16. Maybe we could discuss before or after the session?

    I am very mauch looking forward on meeting you.

    Olli Hakanen, architect, voluntary mobilityplanner

  2. We routinely accept that a civilised society should deliver a large measure of equality in housing, health care and employment on measures of ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Will you support an international effort to create cities and regions that deliver high quality access to all ages and both genders to all routine daily destinations at the lowest achievable environmental, carbon and economic cost?

    Professor John Whitelegg
    53 Derwent Road Lancaster
    LA1 3ES United Kingdom

  3. Hi Eric, I was moved to write by your Facebook call for questions, but also I feel assured that the crowd will bring the right questions. I have a message rather. Use it as you will.

    As a South African I am deeply aware of how one man (Mandela) and our small country on the tip end of Africa has acted as a beacon of hope in a cynical world. Time and again people tell me how Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s democracy are role-models for them.

    I have heard about Finland’s education system. This is also held up as a model of what is possible. I firmly believe that at this time we need role models in the transport system too, and who is better placed to do this than Helsinki? Why shouldn’t Helsinki act as a beacon of hope for a more equitable world? In South Africa a big key to success was Nelson Mandela’s belief in the impossible. May your deliberations be infected with this same spirit of possibility, in the face of impossibility, and the same belief in yourselves as equally precious and valuable.

    Honorary Research Associate
    University of Cape Town
    Rondebosch 7701
    +2721 6715404
    +2772 7046605

  4. Marja Salomaa

    I think I´ve got some sort of an idea, what you are trying to achieve in Helsinki. I´ve been reading your web site and talked with our city planners. And I´ve got a list of the different groups you are meeting here.

    To me the interesting thing is that Helsinki already has (in deep contrast to rural Finland) the most equity-based public transport in our country. You should hear me talking with my mother, who lives in Kotka, hasn´t got a car and who has to rely on 8 daily bus tours on weekdays.

    You can live your whole life in Helsinki without a car and even women with prams, pensioners who move slowly, people with different disabilities can manage fairly well in trams and buses and metro. I´m not saying we live in the best possible of worlds, but the question is, do you honestly expect to get clues for a total transformation or hints for fine-tuning?

    On the other hand there are a lot of cars in Helsinki and cyclists and walkers complain endlessly, how they are mistreated. Do you think, that your focal point will be on them?

    How relevant are the ticket prices to equity-based public transport?

    These questions interest me at the time being. I´ll think more for tomorrow.

    Marja Salomaa
    Sanoma Kaupunkilehdet
    Metro, Vartti
    p. +35891224412
    m. +358407441115

  5. Robert Stussi

    5 questions concerning transport and equity

    difficult.. (but since y have many peers, you will get a lot of questions)

    first, we have to remember that the underprivileged suffer already a lot (more than we could imagine) because in trying to obtain what for the normal (let alone the privileged) is current, they have to make a terrible effort (wheelchair is a good example: even in advanced societies, where much is done for them, they still have a much more complicated life, besides having often to get in by the backdoor of side door (take it symbolic, not figurative) , since the main door was not suitable to be adapted for them..)

    so it is a sinus curve, and we might try to flatten a bit the negative curve (theirs, the unfortunate’ ones) which of course statistically only can be achieved if we flatten also the positive sinuses – that means taking from the privileged.. and since that is next to impossible, all stays at it is, usually

    Therefore one question could be: do we (who is we? of course mostly “the others”) really want to change (towards an equitable transport system) ….

    and looking for equity, maybe we should first look away from our navel (and group(s) / classes we belong to)… do we really see what the non equitable people/groups are going through (the poor are conveniently out of sight, except in touristic zones (and many poor are too proud to show their plight – that is why even in rural china a weeding costs a fortune), and the poor millionaires.. suffering from all that richness are out in Miami and Las Vegas..)

    so another question (not really a question, but a it should be a paradigm): going towards an equitable transport system (any system) we should strat with ourselves

    it seems to me that equity has nothing to do with being equal (a concept itself impossible to measure, even imagine how to “measure”)
    equity can be of very different “size and quality”, all is relative….in a rural area, people might be used to do a lot of walking and a bicycle could be a big upgrading, in high density supply conditions, people might be very upset about a 2 minute delay of a metro (let alone a massing train..),
    but then, there are minimums and maximums, and even they are relative (the only common minimum might be that we were born, the maximum is we will die..)

    so the question (paradigm again) equity is relative

    who is aware, observing equity questions? it is more and more a hype question (the elderly, the kids, the mobility reduced); many transport systems invest quite a bit; others say that a metro driver helping a wheelchair to enter a metro delays and makes the transport system (always the dammed system) less efficient.. that are the system efficiency believers, our worst enemies (they are always right, cannot be touched); I adore the NY buses, where the driver gets out of his seat, walks around the bus, opens the wheelchair ramp and wheels in a wheelchair, not preoccupied about time schedules and the honking; so they are the militants a good working “system” needs (surprisingly the unions were not against this, saying it was not included in the work agreements); I once almost lost a bus, helping to elderly alight, for which I had to step out (her the bus driver would not bother to leave his seat)…

    therefore another question could be: to achieve equitable transport we have to break the system and be ourselves – each of us, first an observer/recognizer, then a militant

  6. Pingback: Editorial: On the plane to Helsinki (March 2012/March 2013) | World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities

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