July 06, 2012

Public transport makes a breakthrough at two world summits

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FOLLOWING the recent G20 conference in Mexico, where public transport was specifically mentioned for the first time, UITP reaffirms its conviction that a continued commitment to and investment in public transport is crucial to achieving sustainable development in the 21st century.

This small yet significant recognition came on the back of the Rio+20 summit where, despite mixed overall results, UITP's strategy to double the world market share of public transport by 2025 (PTx2) was recognised as one of the "voluntary commitments." This is good news for our strategy which aims to decouple the growth in urban mobility from its societal and environmental costs.

Indeed, the G20 declaration recognised this rapid urbanisation challenge that we are currently facing, a challenge that is only set to grow in the coming years. By 2025, the world's urban population is expected to increase by 40% from 3.2 to 4.5 billion with a resulting 50% increase in daily urban trips. Mobility is a fundamental requirement for modern and efficient societies. Public transport not only alleviates congestion, linking employees to employers, but also helps to tackle pollution. Travelling by private motorised transport, on the other hand, emits 3.5 times more greenhouse gas than public transport.

One of the other major challenges is urging governments to learn from the current economic crisis to accelerate the shift towards greener and more sustainable production and consumption patterns, which is slowly beginning to happen in some parts of the world, but not quickly enough.

The economic crisis has put enormous pressure on public purse strings so other funding solutions need to be explored.  There are numerous solutions including PPPs, advertising, new ticketing structures or alternative revenue sources such as employer contributions or congestion charging.

Of course, in order to double the market share of public transport, capacity also needs to be substantially increased to provide an expected extra 2.5 billion journeys worldwide by 2025. Many new and innovative solutions will be required to provide this extra capacity, such as network re-organisation, automation of metro lines and the re-design of buses to fully meet changing mobility needs.

Operators, authorities and industry have a responsibility to create a more service-orientated public transport model, which strikes the right balance between affordability, comfort and flexibility. Public transport also needs to be given a competitive advantage over the car in order to attract new users, which means segregated infrastructure, limited traffic and parking zones and a ban on polluting vehicles. These are obviously not easy challenges to tackle, although there is no shortage of positive examples being set all over the world.

In order to do this, cities need to implement better demand management by positively influencing the factors which affect mobility behaviour; develop a more commercial approach to match people's changing lifestyle needs; create a favourable business and regulatory framework that allows public transport to thrive and ensure that public transport policy is fully-integrated with other urban policies, such as land use and parking, as well as other modes of transport.

The PTx2 strategy aims to change mobility behaviour and habits, making people think twice about using their cars, although not opposing car ownership in itself. If the current trend of car use continues, our cities will grind to a halt by 2025 - many already have - and greenhouse gases will increase by 30%. A journey from home to work by car consumes 90 times more urban space than the same journey made by metro. Given current demographic growth and mobility patterns, particularly in developing countries, this is simply unsustainable.

In many parts of the world, car ownership is still seen as a sign of social and economic success. It is exactly for this reason that UITP recognises that one of the most important things that needs to change is the perception of public transport, which, incidentally, is often faster than using a private car. The ownership of a private car does not in itself guarantee mobility: take Singapore or Munich where public transport has a high modal share, access to 500,000 jobs takes from 20-25 minutes on average. Compare that with Houston or Melbourne, where the car is the mode of choice, and journey times rise to 55-70 minutes. There is also a discrepancy between the perceived and the real cost of owning a car. For 90% of its life, a car is simply 'stuck' in a parking space, whilst the costs are high to both the owner through insurance, maintenance, and parking, and for society through congestion, accidents, noise, and pollution.

Doubling the global market share of public transport is unquestionably a bold aim, but it is not unrealistic. In some cities, such as Vienna where public transport already has a 35% market share, doubling this would not be feasible, so they have set a target of 40% by 2025. However, in Dubai, where mobility demand is expected to quadruple by 2020, they aim to increase the market share of public transport from 6% currently to 30% by 2020, which is an enormous modal shift. It is exactly this kind of initiative that is needed to alleviate the role of transport in climate change, support sustainable economic growth and ensure that our cities are pleasant places in which to live.

To learn more about the UITP's PTX2 strategy, visit: http://www.ptx2uitp.org/

Alain Flausch

Alain Flausch has been secretary general of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) since September 2011. Prior to this, he was president of the UITP following his appointment in June 2009. Flausch has been involved with UITP since 2001 holding a variety of positions on committees and boards. He is also president of the Belgium Union of Regional Public Transport (UBTCUR) which combines the country's three national public transport companies. Flausch was appointed head of Brussels Transport (STIB) in April 2000 where he set about changing STIB's commercial approach and its corporate management to put clients are at the very heart of service provision. Prior to this Flausch was managing director of IP Belgium, the first media sales house in Belgium, from 1990 to 1999, deputy general manager of the Belgian chemical group Prayon-Rupel from 1982 to 1990, and an attorney with Simont Gutt & Simont in Brussels from 1973 to 1982. Flausch, who was born in Brussels in 1950, is a lawyer and holds a masters degree from the University of Berkeley (California).

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