October heralds another Transport Month. Given the number of national and international days for a variety of themes and causes, it’s easy for the significance of a month like this to be lost as just another event in a calendar of events. Transport Month 2013 must be different. It really does provide an opportunity to reflect and beyond the month – Act.

Transport and mobility which for a long time had remained dormant in public discourse, in city planning and strategy is increasingly beginning to take centre stage. This provides an opportunity for deep reflection on the centrality of transport in decision-making at city level. It further creates the space for authentic conversations on the power relations in transport and the need to transform transport planning and provision so that it truly becomes more people-centered.

Transport is an invisible thread that weaves through our lives from before birth through to the funeral. How a pregnant mother travels to her ante natal check-up, transport availability when in labour, the babies first trip home, access to early childhood development facilities and recreational amenity, access to primary, secondary and tertiary education, the resources required to seek a job, the daily commute to work, trips for leisure and social responsibility, the hearse making its way to a funeral – a range of experiences across our lifetime are determined largely by the quality, affordability, accessibility and reliability of transport choices available to us.

The reality is that too many have become accustomed to seeing their city spaces and lives through the lenses of private car ownership and use. The vast majority of decision makers – elected and administrative are private car captive. If we are to create more sustainable city environments then we must begin to think and act differently on matters of Transport and mobility, so that as we plan, design and implement, we begin to make different choices and decisions. Four ideas for Transport for better urban spaces include:

  1. Transport and mobility are everybody’s business: Academic training in a variety of disciplines should begin to include modules on how transport impacts a discipline so that across society there is a keener appreciation of transport as a potential enabler or disabler in life. All stakeholders need to start factoring transport and mobility into their decision making. It is imperative that all government departments begin evaluating their development plans with transport lenses. The impact of location, how accessible a facility will be by virtue of various modes of transport and how affordable it will be to access a facility. It is imperative that the private sector too begins to think more carefully about how staff will get to a development, what will it cost them to do so, what are the implications of transport non- availability late at night etc.
  2. Transport and mobility are about all kinds of people: Too often transport is discussed and planned for as if we are planning for a man who needs to get to work and back home in a car that he owns and drives. As planning is done for Transport from both an infrastructure provision and operations perspective we need to be more alive to the various categories of people we are planning for. Children, active adults and the elderly, single people, parents with young children, those with different types of disabilities , the literate and the illiterate, the Executive and the General Worker, the employed and the unemployed, the city dweller and the visitor to the city. We must begin to plan transport with the needs of a variety of stakeholders in mind. How infrastructure is designed, till what hours operations run, how information is provided on transport should be radically transformed so that we begin to create inclusive spaces for all.
  3. Transport is not about any single mode: With the advent of new technologies we are experiencing champions for particular modes: Rapid Rail, Surface Heavy Rail, Bus Rapid Transit, conventional bus, minibus etc. We must move away from the idea that any single mode is thee solution that will magically solve all problems. Quality urban transport has a role for all modes but must also begin to look at walking and cycling as important mobility solutions. The fragmentation and competitive stances between modes must be exchanged for a seamless, co-operative stance that is embodied around the user needs and experience.
  4. Transport transformation is possible: Too many people believe that getting the requisite mindset shift to get people out of private cars onto public transport is impossible. With the correct information, marketing and understanding concerns it is possible. There are a range of short term interventions that can quickly improve the existing transport offerings whilst longer term planning and implementation are being undertaken. We can begin to consciously create the requisite skillset required to build a radically different transit system for a transformed society. Transport Transformation must extend to overhauling historic ownership patterns, to South Africa becoming an exporter of Transport technologies rather than importer, to alternative and sustainable energy sources , to focus on cleaner air and social cohesion possibilities for a radically different transport system going forward. We must begin to move freight in more creative and sustainable ways. Safer roads can be accomplished. There is a definite need for stronger civil society and NGO voices on matters of transport and mobility so that the discourse shifts from the concerns of the 1 person 1 car brigade!

Transport Month 2013 provides the opportunity to go beyond rhetoric and campaigns, to do a deep introspection and to begin the transport revolution in earnest. It is not just the responsibility of policy-makers and experts. Unless, we don’t all embrace a radically different transport vision – history and future generations could judge as harshly. Do we care enough to act to build sustainable cities that allow residents to interact with each other, with urban spaces and with their own potential in a way very different from a transport system that was designed deliberately to keep people apart and saw mobility as a means of maximizing profit not enhancing humanity?