Public transport has to be a convenient and desirable choice, not a ride of last resort, if we are reduce traffic congestion and lower our carbon footprint. Usable public transport is about network planning not urban density. As the cost of oil and petrol rise those communities without good transport options and good local infrastructure including fresh food and schools will become vulnerable to increasing socio-economic stresses.
“The street is the river of life of the city, a place where we come together, the pathway to the centre.” William H. Whyte. City: Rediscovering the Centre. 1988
In Melbourne, Janet McCalman observes in Struggletown, “The Edwardian working-class child grew up in a lively street community that the motor car has since destroyed.”. A rich and inclusive street life prevailed on our inner urban streets where horse drawn carts and pedestrians co-existed. The streets were a source of abundant life and activity, characterised by the laughter and shouts of children playing rather than the drone of engines . Much of the design activity of Melbourne’s planners in the later part of the twentieth century and into this new century has been to find ways of rehabilitating the streets for pedestrian use, safety and comfort.
Since the days of ancient Athens, city streets and urban plazas have been essential meeting, conversation and activity zones for the general public. The ancient Romans provided open air public toilets and seating to enhance the comfort and convenience of their streets. For much of history the needs of pedestrians have been an important factor in shaping the urban environment. The car has come to dominate our public space and is vital that we look at reconfiguring our modern cities to once again provide greater convenience and comfort for pedestrians, public transport users and light, low-environmental-impact vehicles. 100 years ago, before cars, our streets were like parks. Everybody was welcome provided they didn’t get in the way of others or endanger them. Look at David Engwicht in Brisbane Street Reclaiming, taking over residential streets with deck chairs etc. There is now a challenge to design our urban public spaces and transport facilities in ways that rival the comfort and convenience of the car; a challenge to create an extended, efficiently serviced, comfortable and safe urban lounge room.
A well patronized and run public transport system is the only way now and in the foreseeable future that we will be able to move around our cities, suburbs and towns in a low carbon, sustainable way. The, car while presenting as a desirable, apparently self-contained alternative, consumes too much energy to be a viable alternative. And it comes with a range of environmental, spatial and social negatives. The accessibility, quality and character of our transit and transport networks is central to the culture of our cities. Transit and transport occupies up to 35% of the footprint of our built form including carparks. [Delhi, for example currently has 23% of its metropolitan footprint under roads with extensive additional roads and freeways under construction.] We need to develop rich and inviting public space that supports public interaction and participation. How might transit feel if it was run by an airline for instance?
The service and experience we design for transit users will enable greater or less civic engagement and user control. At the moment our transport or mobility space is focused on privatising public space [the car] and all of the consequent behaviour patterns. This is negatively impacting on the civic character of our cities. In developing richer experiences we need to consider the value, the touch points, the resources, the journey before, during and after and the policies necessary to drive them.
The public transport or transit system must be an anywhere to anywhere, anytime system, not a ride of last resort, if you want mode change and sustainable transport. Technology is not the solution. The next generation of urban transport innovation is about joining the dots to provide convenient, practical affordable door to door transport in ways that work better than the single occupancy vehicle. The key is connecting interests not competing ones, an open source transportation platform to supply an emerging market.
In the near future we will be facing the real cost of energy and the likely impact on our mobility patterns and options when 1 litre of petrol costs $8.00 as predicted by the CSIRO. We need to relocalise our centres of production and consumption so people don’t have to travel as far for their key goods and services. We need a system that rewards localisation and local production. We need to make local destinations desirable and promote local produce rather than promote the ubiquitous supermarket based global retail networks. How do we facilitate the appropriate infrastructure. How is the local market with local produce made more desirable than the internationally supplied mall?
The car acts not only as a mode of functional transport, it also acts on emotional and social levels. It privileges individual autonomy and self-expression. How should these issues be addressed in designing new mobility systems?
The public transport system needs to embrace innovation. How do we create and meet the increased expectations of the public for levels of appropriate amenity and comfort? The car boom was fuelled by the post war road infrastructure, the rise of suburbia, an existing national retail infrastructure selling cooking kerosene that metamorphosed into gasoline retail and the glamorous presentation of the car and car culture in movies and advertising.
Case study. Uber car-share. Peer to peer services
New peer-to-peer services are emerging that are changing the landscape of transport services and will have a major impact on transportation systems in the future. These are becoming part of a portfolio of transport options that the younger demographic in the US are using along with public transport rather than owning a car. This month the State of California made Rideshare services legal, providing a regulatory framework for start ups like Lyft, SideCar, UberX and Tickengo. The California Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 at a San Francisco hearing to pass proposed rules that create a new class of “transportation network companies” (TNCs). (Technically these services are not considered “ridesharing” under the CPUC’s definition, which defines ridesharing as practices such as casual carpool.) Today’s ruling makes California the first U.S. state to legalize these peer-to-peer services, which connect individual private drivers with people who are looking for a ride. The new rules could provide a guiding framework for other states nationwide that are grappling with how to regulate these new services, which aren’t taxis but also aren’t the same as traditional casual carpooling. By providing legitimacy to the sharing economy, the ruling also could tangentially provide a boost to other sharing economy companies such as Airbnb which are engaged in their own regulatory challenges as they try to get official legislation or other approvals to operate from various government bodies. Uber has confirmed that it has received $258 million from Google Ventures.