Sustainable mobility’s dirty secret – 2013 Italian sequel

This article by Enrico Bonfatti appeared yesterday in our sister publication Nuova Mobilità, and we are pleased to present it here, if only in a Google translation. If your Italian is up to it, best that you click here and read it in the engaging orignal. But if not, with a bit of patience and detective work on your part, the following is clear enough for the interested leader to be able to read and follow the main lines of the arguments.

The dirty secret of sustainable mobility – Italian sequel

- Enrico Bonfatti reporting from Bergamo, Italy

In recent years we have witnessed in our country to a growing awareness of the devastation caused by 70 years of organization of mobility – urban but not only – centered on the private car even though it must be said, this is still struggling to translate into specific choices and unique to allow most of us to use that range of transportation options would be desirable in a truly multimodal transport system and sustainable, making the private car really the last resort that could be used in the rare cases where you can not to have other options.

Yet the dissemination of “good practices”, at least as aware of the possibilities it offers us the current state of technology and their actual implementation on the ground is now a reality in our hyper-carred Italy at. What’s wrong? I always thought that, once you understand that you have to aim at the achievement of a mobility system is no longer based solely on car things go on their own, with a unanimous agreement and common strategies to be pursued at any time and place. Strategies that we described in this post on Paris three years ago and that we believe may be the heart of any policy that has as its goal the pursuit of a strong reduction of km / vehicle routes, the only one who can define unambiguously the success or failure of any mobility policy.

Vs. complementarity. subsidiarity

Instead, thanks to the withdrawal of the policy now turned into administration for third parties on a nation reduced to a condominium, has emerged in recent years in the wake of the success of approaches “liberal” to the problem of mobility (Area C and the different forms of congestion charge , however useful if intended as a tool for addressing the demand for mobility, not only as a means prince – if not only – fund-raising) a vision of corporate consultant who does not feel the least touched by the crucial problem of the use of available resources – laws spaces and public funding – concerned only the pursuit of efficiency of this or that transport carrier that you think “alternative” to the car but once achieved it turns out in reality “complementary”, as nothing gets in terms of reduction traffic flows. The lesson that many experiences of road pricing have to give is implemented only for the part on the ability to make money in a short time (and there is a strong feeling that can also serve as an alibi for a further retreat of the public sector) to finance services transport often in the service of the urban elite and not very attentive to the needs of the suburbs, the inhabitants of which are paradoxically forced into the “luxury compulsory” private car at this point excluded from urban centers and then confined in long pilgrimages from suburb to suburb, from dormitory neighborhood shopping center and vice versa.

I think the admiration with which the French are seen with their network of high-speed embedded in diverse urban areas by tram services of excellence built within a few years that allow the Niçois to commute to Paris. Or the underground services with their exorbitant costs. Many (or some) of these realities can also offer a truly public (ie, at the risk of repeating ad nauseam the concept, help reduce km / car paths) in the reality in which they are located, but be aware that a ” good practice “in Lyon is not necessarily in Piacenza, and go from the particular to the universal on such a multi-faceted and geographically characterized as that of mobility is an exercise as less risky.

For example, it is an open secret that in our country the realization and the economic sustainability of the network high-speed pass for the suppression, or at least through heavy penalizing inefficiency “unexpected”, many regional and interregional connections over short to medium distances, condemning the serious inconvenience to commuters or forced use of the car. But nowhere you hear a voice that rises to pose the question of a situation in which the elite of our country has 14 connections per day from 300 km / h on the Milan Rome, while the commuter Milan Bergamo do not know if it will find its regional on track. And we apologize for the inconvenience. The increases in demand on high-speed rail network – favored by both promotional rates that the suppression of many inter-regional links – and the decrease of the local transport – which is inevitable given the uncertainties caused by unreliable services – are used to persevere in nefarious political choices . All this happens in a more general context of economic crisis in which the slogan “spending cuts” became the mantra of all political parties, totally oblivious of that banal economic concept for which the expenditure to someone is the income of someone else , then that income is taxed in turn helping to swell the coffers of the state. In fact, the last months of “technical government” did not see anything but a sharp increase in debt of the state, which inevitably will be used as a fig leaf for the prolonged absence of dutiful public policy intervention in the field of local transport (which oddly enough is alleged justification when it comes to “keep us in Europe” with high-speed trains).

Private sector visions vs. policies of public spaces

In the face of this criticism, the answer often given is the same: “we need to be more virtuous, we must make rail attractive to local companies.” Moralism out of place. I would like to see how we can make local transport attractive to private operators without increasing rates. Italian ones are among the lowest in Europe (although they are very different from region to region), but here it reveals a vision myopia of corporate consultant.

In a country with 6 cars every 10 inhabitants newborns and centenarians including the marginal cost of each additional road journey is extremely negligible and therefore difficult to convince the motorist to change their habits and use the train leaving still a tool that has fixed costs exorbitant all the more so if the infamous railroad rates increases even for commuting are notoriously variable costs, the recent experiences of Lombardy Express are there to prove it.

Instead, the core of what it has to teach the experience of Area C – as well as other softer forms of congestion pricing as the one adopted in Bologna – is constantly ignored. The goal of reducing traffic flows can be achieved when one realizes that a necessary condition, certainly not enough of an increase in marginal costs of automobile travel. Only at a later time you can think of to increase public transport fares which offer will have been improved thanks to the transfer of resources from private car to public transport and other forms of mobility and use of public land. Resources that are not only financial but also physical (creation of bus lanes, cycle lanes etc) and questioning a vision of urban life formed over a century during which the imagery to speed before and all ‘car then hidden from the eyes of even the professionals of the importance of what some call the “intangible heritage” of the city: the relations of the inhabitants with each other, with the spaces that make up the urban fabric and their history. It often happens that he who seeks, even in complete good faith, to break the impasse in which we find ourselves falling into the trap of giving up the questioning of what is the intended use of urban spaces: the construction of a new subway line does not match the reallocation of significant percentages of public spaces above (which would result in an increase in travel time – and then the marginal cost – the car moving), it is much easier than the opening of the new line to be taken by pretext for the reduction of services TPL surface. And in this case, ‘”efficiency” – in purely financial – of the new infrastructure is more than guaranteed by massive transfers of users from another vector of public transport much more than ex-drivers, to the detriment of what should be instead the effectiveness of new infrastructure in terms of reduced traffic flows and to improve the quality of public spaces.

Space allocation and public funding

So why not take the logical framework underlying the experiences of congested pricing also the scope of large metropolitan area? Why not find a way to transfer resources from the car to public transport (rail and road) for the movement, for example, between Varese and Milan or between Sesto San Giovanni and Rho Fair? Why not reserve a lane highway during rush hour, upon the use of articulated buses, integrating the service with immediate connections with public transport from the nearest highway leading in urban centers? In this case, the marginal cost increase of the displacement automotive could be measured in increased congestion and then transfer times. Solution rather unpopular, you know, for this would be offset by the creation of a public transport service really excellent linking origins and destinations of trips in a truly “seamless”, without any interruption. What difficult but not impossible. This above is just an example, but I think with a good exercise in imagination we could find many more related to reality and territories that we know well.

But there is the problem of funding that can not be ignored under the illusion that forms also pushed for congestion pricing or reallocation of spaces can be enough to find the necessary resources to ensure racing frequencies acceptable and immediate connections even in contexts where the TPL services are very sparse or non-existent.

For this we should at least adopt an attitude of skepticism when you peddle solutions of road pricing as the panacea for all ills. If used to justify the withdrawal of the public sector by the mobility management risk becoming tools of discrimination. If you are placed in the overall context of questioning of transport policies as we have always known – which can only be done through a decisive intervention of public authorities aware and, above all, sovereign and condominium administrators – can help change habits that seem to be dictated by an addiction that rational choices.

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About the author

Enrico Bonfatti, Managing Editor, Co-Founder of Nuova Mobilità, Bergamo Italy

Nuova Mobilità is a sister publication of World Streets, created in July 2009 to serve and net-work the Italian transport and environment community. As a long time activist and close observer of transport and environment conditions in his home city Berga-mo, and more generally in Italy, Enrico Bonfatti came to realize that good ideas were not circulating well in Italy, not only concepts and projects taking place in other parts of the world but even on leading edge developments in Italy itself. His professional training is in the health field, which brought him early to the idea of healthy transport, namely bicycles, public transport and . . . shoes. As editor his job is to select and adapt articles from World Streets and international media to create a network of support for all those working on challenging issues of sustainable transport throughout Italy. In the first months, the vast majority of the content came from foreign sources. But the goal is to begin to give increasing weight to Italian content, up to at least one third of the total. –> [more]

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About the editor:

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