When it comes to investing in the transport sector, we make continue to make some strange choices. In city after city around the world we are spending hard-earned taxpayer money for a distinct transportation minority of all citizens and voters. What’s going on here?
Public transport? Cycling? Walking? Car pooling? Carsharing? People stuck at home? Elderly? Handicapped? Poor? People unable to get to a job? Or who have to take hours to get there and don’t have a choice?
Spend my hard-earned money for them? Bah! Who needs it? Why bother if it’s just for a few marginal people? Let’s concentrate our attention and investments on the big problems, those that concern the majority of people. Us drivers and our cars. We are the transportation majority.
Not so fast! Let’s have a look.
Pity really. In the real world of human mobility there is, as it turns out, no one “big problem”. (And hence no big solutions.) There is, for better or worse, just an ever-changing constellation of a very large number of different problems, different people, different desires, different daily life realities, different needs, different constraints, different priorities, different possibilities, different times, different wallets, and different decisions. And different actions. And different consequences. The complex ever-changing rich kaleidoscope of everyday life.
Old mobility – How did it work?
The old mobility vision of society, the one to which we have been long subject to the point that most of us have a hard time to imagine that this may not be true, is essentially a simplified panorama of striding muscled workers, with good health and secure jobs, fixed hours and well-defined trips — all of whom are ready to leap into their car and then buckle-up for “safe driving”. A very pretty picture. .
And all of these striding muscled people were well served by our 20th century “normal transportation arrangements”, that is the huge and hugely expansive infrastructure that we continue to build, extend and repair to support our all-car no-choice transportation mirage (and those largely empty cars).
Something like eighty percent of local transportation funding in most cities around the world goes for that car-supporting infrastructure: roads, bridges, cloverleafs, tunnels, supporting elections, policing, accident prevention, and the long list goes on. Life is sweet.
Then there are “the rest” of us, including: the old, disabled, poor, rural, isolated, unconnected, etc., etc. And of course the old disabled rural poor.
All these people need to be served as well in a just democratic society. Fair enough. So in the classic 20th century formula we thought we were being very “generous”, giving them a bit here and a bit there too. But most of our hard-earned tax money is still spent on providing high quality mobility arrangements for “normal people”, the car people. That’s right, isn’t it?
Sorry but no, it’s not at all right. It is in fact 100% wrong. It is wrong because it is grossly unfair and uncivil. And beyond that, it is also based on a false precept. What might that be?
Because that splendid vision of society with thee and me at the wheel with the wind blowing through our golden hair, simply does not jibe with reality. It never did in the past, and as our societies age it increasingly is absurdly contrary to reality. Here is the surprise that the actual statistics show us, the kicker:
The transportation majority
The “transportation majority” is not what most people think, transportation planners and policy makers among them.
The transportation majority are all those of us who increasingly are poorly served by the mainline, no-choice, car-based truncated service arrangements that eat up most of our taxpayer money and take away our choices. And each year, as our populations age this majority grows in numbers.
Here is a generic short-list of the people who make up this till-now all too silent majority:
1. Everyone in your city, country or electorate who does not own or have handy access to a car
2. Everyone who cannot drive
3. All those who cannot afford to own and operate a car of their own (And remember they cost a lot of after-tax money)
4. Everyone who should not drive (for reasons of a variety of impediments such as limitations associated with age, psychological state , reactions times, , , ,)
5. Everyone who lives in a large city and for reasons of density, public health and quality of city life needs to have access to a decent non-car mobility system
6. All of those — a fast growing group — who would in fact given the choice prefer to get around by walking, cycling or some form of active or shared transport who cannot safely or readily do so today — because all the money is being spent on the car-based system which is fundamentally, and financially, incompatible with these “softer” and more healthy ways of getting around
7. Everyone who suffers from some form of impairment that makes driving or even access to traditional public transit difficult or impossible
8. Everyone who cannot responsibly take the wheel at any given time (fatigue, distraction, nervousness, some form of intoxication. . . )
9. All those who are today isolated and unable to participate in the life of our communities fully because they simply do not have a decent way to get around.
10. And so — don’t lose sight of this! – in a few years, you!
Equity and the new Transportation Majority
If our goal is to develop equity-based mobility systems, then this simple stark reality gives us a fine starting place. Our goal must now be to create a complex web of transportation arrangements and good choices that will serve all well.
And our good luck is that after the last fifteen years or so of innovation and new approaches in leading cities around the world, we really do know how how to do it.
A final note on equity and democracy.
How do we create systems that are not only equitable but also environmental, efficient and cost-effective ?
To this, we offer two responses. Simple, get out there and vote for candidates who show that they understand and will act in favor of equity and the transportation majorities!
And second, be part of the solution.
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