Low carbon transport part 3: allocate public road space democratically

N2 Bus lane

Here’s a picture of a democracy of space in action.

It’s a picture of what happens when public space on roads is democratically allocated on a same-space-per-person basis. The fifteen people in the minibus taxi have fifteen vehicle lengths of space allocated to them in the bus lane. These fifteen people are all inside the taxi and so the bus lane is free and the taxi can move speedily on. The people in the cars have the same amount of space per person as the taxi travellers. However, most of it is taken up by car carcases with a lot of fresh air inside of them, and so the car drivers are stuck in congestion.

Taxi use is really space (and energy) efficient. Bus lanes are one relatively simple way that public authorities can reward that space and energy efficiency. It’s such a no-brainer that you would imagine bus lanes all over the city, speeding whatever public transport vehicles we have on their way. And in lots of cities that is what has happened or is happening. The passengers are happy but also, crucially, the operators are also happy because faster trips means quicker turn around which means more profitable services. It also means more frequent services…more customers…and on and on in a virtuous circle.

It takes political and public official courage though, to commit to bus lanes even if it means taking space away from private vehicles. And it requires us to think of “roads” differently. Instead of links which are mainly about the easy movement of privately owned vehicles, can we rethink “roads” as public spaces, common spaces, with shared ownership, serving each of us fairly, regardless of what we earn or own?









Low carbon transport part 2: The car is not the devil. Empty space in them is.

When I talk about the sustainable transport/low carbon transport thing I often get accused of having “car hatred” going on. It seems that no matter who the audience there is always a Jeremy Clarkson there accusing me of lack of reason, idealism (since when did that become a swear word?) or just plain spoiling-the-party. There is a grain of truth in the accusations. It’s true that I don’t get the speed fetish thing. I also don’t really get the car-as-sex-object; car-as-status symbol thing either. But just because I don’t get the emotional attachment which many have to their cars and all that they stand for, it does not mean I have a blanket opposition to them.

In the last post I wrote of the 70% of transport energy consumed by the cars making 25% of trips. The simple reason for this imbalance is that cars are a highly inefficient way of moving people around. Looking at it in basic terms we regularly energise about one ton of metal with petrol in order to move an 80kg human around. Mad! Even though buses and trains are bulky and lumbering the numbers of people who can squish into them mean that they are super energy efficient per trip. The key to really understanding energy efficiency in transport is to wrap your head around the difference that occupancy makes.

Source: Cape Town Partnership

Source: Cape Town Partnership

This graphic shows the intuitively obvious. Quadruple the people being carried and quarter the energy use and associated emissions. Which is just one reason why liftclubs and technologies which encourage shared use are worth encouraging.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is that in the short term in South Africa (thanks largely to the nature of our segregated, sprawling cities) cars could be an important tools in carbon reduction. Full cars can be almost as energy efficient as the most energy efficient public transport mode – the minibus taxi. This is because a car-pooled private car will tend to travel one way full, park, and then return home full again. By contrast a minibus taxi (like all public transport in South Africa) may well travel full in one direction during the commuter peaks and then be almost empty on the return journey. The distorted land patterns in South Africa which keep employment far away from residences, with very little mixed uses of activities inbetween is terrible for efficient public transport use. This separation of activity makes for imbalanced flows of people and inefficient empty public transport vehicles. A mix of activities in a city means that the public transport system can be better used…saving money on the “return” legs.

So even when I am wearing my most strident energy efficient hat I’m not a car-hater, but I am an empty seat hater.







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