It happened again this week. A colleague expressing disbelief at the lack of discussion in transport planning in South Africa about social justice issues. “Isn’t is obvious,” they said, “that in a country like South Africa the needs of the person on foot must be put first?” I find myself, again, explaining how transport planning SA-style is focused on the efficient movement of vehicles. That the ‘pedestrian’ is often seen as some -‘thing’ that has to be accommodated. That the label ‘pedestrian’ has somehow lost its tethering to human beings with needs, lives and vulnerabilities.
There’s a bunch of people who have been banging on about this issue of transport and social justice for as long as I can remember. How about Eduardo Vasconcellos, Brazilian writer and thinker who has spent a lifetime unpacking issues of inequity and discrimination in transport systems. Or the work of Geetam Tiwari who has pushed for deeper acceptance of all in Indian planning alongside colleague, Dinesh Mohan, who has researched road safety in India in depth. Then there is Paul Barter, reminding us that even in Asia the car can dominate planning conversations. More recently Martens focused on the issue in a book(hooray!) while in local research, including much of the work at the Centre for Transport Studies, UCT and elsewhere, social justice is an ongoing concern.
Yet transport-social justice, and justice as it plays out in road and street design, is still the Cinderella topic of ‘mainstream’ transport planning, as it is practiced in government and by consultants in South Africa. It is ignored, or side-lined and paid lip-service to. There are good reasons for this. Chief is the reality that doing transport planning with a social justice focus would require a complete overhaul of transport planning methods, data collection and expertise. To focus primarily on human accessibility rather than on vehicle efficiency would mean rethinking over fifty years of disciplinary thinking and methodologies. This is the hard, grinding work which is not being done. So, as a discipline, we remain stuck.
Who of the consultants, I wonder, has the courage to take the road less travelled and genuinely work towards human accessibility and transport justice?