Weekend fishing expedition: You have heard of about PISA course. But what about PISTA?

little-girl“If you can’ measure it, you can’t manage it” vs. “The important stuff can’t be measured”.

In this critical spirit let us see what happens if we put this idea of somehow addressing the performance of cities and countries when it comes to sustainable transport tin cities, in front of the collective intelligence of our readers and colleagues in order to see if something useful can be done with it. But first to get the ball rolling, some disorganized first thoughts about PISA and . . . PISTA.

PISA (2000 – 2015)

PISA — The Programme for International Student Assessment is a high-profile, much-debated tri-annual worldwide collaborative assessment comparing the academic performance of 15-year-old school pupils in different countries  in the areas of mathematics, science, and reading, lead by an expert team of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Initiated in 2000 it is repeated by the cooperating countries every three years. The goal is to provide some sort of  “measuring stick” by which countries can compare their performance with others, with a view to improving their education policies and outcomes.

Here is how the PISA team describes their mission:
Are students well prepared for future challenges? Can they analyse, reason and communicate effectively? Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life? The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) answers these questions and more, through its surveys of 15-year-olds in the principal industrialised countries. Every three years, it assesses how far students near the end of compulsory education have acquired some of the knowledge and skills essential for full participation in society. 

The most recently published results are from 2012 where around 510,000 students in 65 economies took part in the PISA assessment of reading, mathematics and science representing about 28 million 15-year-olds globally. Of those economies, 44 took part in an assessment of creative problem solving and 18 in an assessment of financial literacy. More than 70 economies have signed up to take part in the assessment in 2015 which will focus on science. (Consult all PISA 2012 results here).

The results are hotly contested  by many from a number of perspectives. But if nothing else they serve as a tri-annual wake up call to those responsible for the educational system in their country, which experience shows they may react to or ignore.

Is this an example for  those of us who stay up  night worrying about  sustainable transport  and sustainable development  on our badly challenged planet?   Let us explore this idea.


PISTA (2015 – ??)

What about building on this valuable lesson of experience and seeing if we can create a collaborative international structure which allows us to ponder, say every three years, the performance of “sustainable transport” in cities of the cooperating countries.

And until we find a better name for it, why not  as a rough first approximation PISTA – Programme for International Sustainable (Cities) Transport Assessment. (Surely you will be able to do better, but this can at least get us started.)

Readers of World Streets will have little difficulty in coming up with candidates for such a composite measure, and it is certainly not be purpose of this  first exploratory article and call for ideas to try to venture too far into creating such a list based on one person’s perspectives. But just to get the ball rolling, what about these as first thoughts?



Here is a first rough brainstorming list of a certain number of indicators that we might wish to look at in each cooperating city — which leaves is of course with several tasks if all this is to have meaning from a comparative national perspective, including not only (a) data collection in each of these areas, and then (b) the even more daunting challenges of somehow combining the individual cities results into a meaningful national overview.

Sustainable City Transport Indicators  (Cut 1)

  1. Basic indicators (City. Metro)
    •  Area.   Population.  Income per capita.
  2. Modal split
    • See brilliant open project from EPOMM – the European Platform on Mobility Management
    • Walking and cycling need to be fairly factored in for this to be meaningful
  3. Public Space
    • Roads and streets as percent of total urban area
    • Space allocated to parked vehicles (%  total urban area)
    • Street sharing
    • Street Code (code de la rue)
    • Area access constraints
  4. Walkability
    • Indicators?
  5. Bikeability
    • Kilometers of protected bicycle ways
    • Leisure vs. transport cycling provision
    • Other cycling indicators
    •  Safe parking provision
    • Casualties
  6. Public bicycles
    • number public bicycles in country
    • number cities with public or shared bicycle systems
    • average daily ridership
  7. Carsharing
    • Comparable indicators (different types, number vehicles, number users, number providers…)
  8. Ridesharing
    • By different type
  9. Public transport (scheduled, fixed route) indicators
    • number vehicles
    • capacity indicators
    • usage figures
    • reserved right away
    • signal priority
  10. Taxis
    • Number of taxis, by type, some kind of usage indicator, . . .
  11. School transport
    • “Modal split”
    • top speeds in areas around schools
  12. Private cars
    • Number registered (time series indicator?)
    • Number/household
    • Residential parking cost
  13. Parking
    • City parking indicators (including price)
    • Park + Ride
  14. Speed
    • top speed zone indicators (15, 30, 50, … kph)
  15. Public Health
    • number of days exceeding minimum pollution levels
    • Your candidates…
    • accidents
    • deaths and injuries in traffic
    • Noise controls
  16. Car free projects
    • car free zones
    • car free housing
  17. Goods and freight delivery (indicators?)
    • Delivery windows
    • Combined delivery
    • Cargo bikes, EVs
  18. Innovative fleet management
    •  private sector
    • public-sector
  19.  Infrastructure
    • Investments, by mode
  20. Economic instruments
    • Moving  vehicles
    • Parking
    • Favoring green transport (taxes, direct subsidies)
  21. Enforcement
  22. Budget
    • investments by mode
  23. Open: Planning, data, legal requirements for
  24.  Civil Society
    • Related programs, user or neighborhood groups
    • Blogs reporting problem, progress, etc.
    • Direct involvement in planning  and decision process


There is no doubt that this will be a tough nut to crack, but once a (or perhaps more than one) basic  template  has been created  and tested in several  representative cities, things will  doubtless start to get a bit easier.

The “easy” part will be deciding on the organization of the list of indicators, and then in running them for each participating country/city.  And once we have that in hand, how do we reduce the entire structure into a single or several indicative numbers which will give some kind of base for comparison. And that just for a single city!

National indicators: once we have recently the data in each of the finally decided categories, the next trick will be to figure out how to combine them into a set of meaningful national indicators. As the OECD PISA projects has made clear, this is no easy task and in our case may be even more complicated. But it can be done if the will is there.



Participating cities: it will be important that the minimum number and range of cooperating cities be brought into the project in each country. One idea that comes immediately to mind would be, say, to bring in the 10 largest cities of the first solid base, and then to reach out to see if a reasonable number of small and medium-sized cities can also be invited to cooperate.

Triennial: this seems like an appropriate interval or carry out this work, as the PISA project has shown. At the very least, it gives us a good initial target which we can then modify as work on this program advances.

Leadership: There will of course have to be a properly placed and funded institution who can lead this effort, which most importantly the city based on assessments by collaborating country teams. (One possible idea is that there should be at least one “visitor” on each country team coming from outside the area to encourage a certain neutrality of procedures and presented results.

# # #

Today you have here nothing more than a very rough first cut at an idea which strikes us as something which is worthy of serious consideration and eventually with appropriate preparation actually done. If cities and countries can see how they are doing well and the rest in terms of these critical indicators, it is going to give them food for thought and some of these are going to understand and be willing to address the challenges these indicators suggest.

In doing this, they will be putting to work one of the most powerful engines for improvement in our cities, which is that of emulation. A city with the will to do better spots another city doing something interesting, and takes that as their point of departure.

If we are to preserve our planet, there will have to be thousands and thousands of such points of departure.

Measuring the street.  Happy City Saint John's

Measuring the street. Happy City Saint John’s

# # #

 On new ideas

The reader will quickly appreciate that in the form you see it here this is not only a new idea but  for now at least a very fragile new idea.  No problem !  If it is a reasonably good idea, it may pick up steam and move ahead  in this or some related form.   But if it is a great idea , it will  open the door just a bit  to a much more powerful and useful idea. Let us see what happens

 Or . . . .

Suppose we just take Occam’s Razor to that too long list and figure out how to get a good set of comparative indicators with something a lot simpler.  Now that’s an idea!

# # #

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Britton is an American political scientist and sustainability activist who has lived and worked in Paris since 1969. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest book, "BETTER CHOICES: Bringing Sustainable Transport to Your City" focuses on the subject of environment, equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions. A pre-publication edition of Better Choices is currently undergoing an international peer review during Sept.- Oct. 2017, with the goal of publication in English and Chinese editions by end-year. If you wish to participate drop a line to BetterChoices@ecoplan.org .

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