A morning like all others in Taipei traffic
Lyon, 3 February 2015
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
It had been a year and a half since I last worked in Taiwan, the longest separation since I started collaborating with colleagues there in 2009. During much of this interval, in addition to my teaching, editorial responsibilities, and advisory work, I have been working on a most challenging new book under the title “General Theory of Transport in Cities”. The book aims to set out what I believe to be a much needed, consistent base for planning, policy and investment decisions in this important and fast changing field where ad hoc decision-making by unprepared politicians and ambitious interest groups has all too often prevailed.
This last year has been a period of deep reflection on my accumulated experience in the transport and sustainable development fields in cities around the world over more than four decades. As a result of this ongoing process, I find myself this time looking at the issues in Taiwan from this broader international perspective. My keynote address to the International Forum on Livable City & Eco-Mobility in Hsinchu on 29 January was the first in a series of international “road tests”, which are giving me a precious opportunity to present some of the main arguments from the book before expert audiences to test them and seek their critical comments and views. The lively discussions that took place in Hsinchu during the forum and my four days there proved to be most valuable.
My visit this time put me in touch with a number of the leaders in the field, including mayors, deputy mayors, Director Generals of transportation and urban policy, distinguished university professors, journalists and a wide range of experts in the field in the cities of Tainan, Taipei, New Taipei City and Hsinchu — a splendid range of city sizes and approaches which have helped me to get up to date on the issues and approaches to which they are presently giving attention. Since I have been visiting Taiwan and meeting with and learning from leaders in the field for more than half a decade, I have been able to develop some not-inconsequential, pretty well informed “outsider” perspective on what is going on there. It is against this background that I am pleased to share with you here the main findings, consultations and recommendations that I have to make upon conclusion of this latest visit (and which I intend to test now through informal critical reviews by experts in Taiwan and beyond).
Four quick points about what follows before we dig into the details.
For the record I have to say that my point of view is not entirely neutral. I do have a concrete point of reference here, and that is the innovative experience and lessons learned at the leading edge in European cities over the last fifteen years or so. The recommendations I make here are not intended as encouragement for simply copying their approaches. Rather I invite you to reach across the planet, study them from up close and learn from the experience of the best. And then proceed to make them better yet in Taiwan.
Second, I must admit that none of the ideas set out here are entirely original to me. Many of my colleagues in Taiwan are already looking into, working with and recommending similar approaches. My hope is that since in this case they come from an external voice, this may help reinforce their cases.
Third, what you have here are strictly my outsider conclusions and you will therefore understand that they are based on incomplete information. (But that is perhaps not so bad, since in fact decisions making in the face of incomplete information is what transport and city planning and policy is all about.)
My last proviso is that what follows is just a start, and in each case to be fully understandable requires far more information than the few lines that appear here to introduce each of these points. For now however please permit me to stick with these short introductions, to get the ball rolling. That said, the interested reader may find it comforting to know that I am more than available to go into further details on any of these points if that might help.
The recommendations that follow may appear to be bold to the point of rudeness. Please, they are not intended as such. They represent my best attempt to draw on my experience and vision, and in this to be useful to the people and cities of Taiwan. The English poet William Blake wrote two hundred years ago that “Opposition is true friendship”. Good point, and I believe that is every bit as true today.
Now on to my ten recommendations, along with this invitation for your comments, corrections and counsel. My email address and phone number appear below.
I look forward with real interest to hearing from you.
M. +336 5088 0787 | E. firstname.lastname@example.org | S. newmobility
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1. Motorised Two Wheelers: A full-fledged, multi-point, comprehensive strategic analysis and plan is now called for, both at the national and city levels. And it is not too early for this! M2Ws (mainly two-stroke scooters) are often seen by public officials as a problem, which in my view is most definitely NOT the case. I regard these independently chosen, personally financed, flexible, space-efficient, cost-effective personal vehicles as a tremendous and as yet poorly understood mobility asset, which if we are ready to look closely open up vast possibilities of better, safer, cleaner, less intrusive, and more harmonious mobility for all. And that not only younger people and lower income groups, but also increasingly car owners who are turning increasingly to M2Ws as an affordable and more time efficient mobility option at a time when governments in most cities in the world continue to fail to put their traffic problems into the cage. But in the case of Taiwan’s cities there are a certain number of good signs. Despite the unabashedly Asia-style cowboy (and girl) driving, the scooters themselves are clean and there seems o be 100% adherence to the law requiring helmets and left hand turn practices. Also, while parking offers a huge urban space problem, in most cases the vast majority of the vehicles are neatly arranged. That’s a start. (If you undertake this with success — which I cannot doubt will be the result if you do – you are going to make a huge contribution not only to cities and people of Taiwan, but also to cities in other parts of Asian and the world who are facing these same problems and badly in need of your shining examples.)
2. Step up partnership with land use and urban design: The transportation planning and policy functions in most parts of the world has been too far held apart from the inseparable underlying issues of land use and urban design. Spatial organization lies at the heart of the need for movement. Transportation is properly viewed as a public service, and access depends critically on how the city is structured. These co-functions need to be united at both city and national levels. This will become increasingly important as new city structures emerge – epicities of different sizes which spring up around the central agglomeration, with the potential of being more self-contained and thus more appropriate for low-carbon mobility. An historic opportunity not to be missed.
3. Give up om the American model: It is my impression that despite many serious efforts on your part, that you have yet to abandon the American model (basically priority to cars) for the European model (basically , priority to fair and efficient mobility for all, at the price of reducing street space for motorised traffic). To be a bit aggressive, I would say that from an on-street perspective your cities just (a) have not perhaps fully appreciated to what extent the old model is broke, and (b) that the new one really does work. Public attention and investments should be refocused on projects and programs which favor more space efficient, cleaner and safer technologies, modes and services.
4. “The Uber Revolution”. The sudden, striking and entirely unexpected appearance of organizations in the private sector offering new and at times radically different mobility packages needs to be seen not as an unpleasant detail but rather as an extraordinary opportunity to study and bring about a major and much-needed paradigm change from the old broken model. Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Curb, YongChe, LeCab and a fast growing group of solo and shared ride contenders, as well as more traditional taxi operations starting to rise to the challenge, is the fastest growing new mobility alternative to unsatisfactory taxi or other transport services. This movement deserves close study and careful experimentation.
5. More safe cycling: Achieved by (a) taking space now allocated to inefficient and toxic motorized traffic, and by (b) creating low speed zones and routes across the city which offer safe havens for cyclists.
6. Civil Society: Taiwan has an exceptional advantage in the form of outstanding university programs and professors who are world level in their fields of expertise and actively lead the contributions of Civil Society or “The Third Force” which is essential to ensure both efficiency and democracy. We would like to see more high profile activity from NGOs, associations, environmental and neighborhood groups, consultants, bloggers, schools and the media including investigative reporting. More participation and feedback is needed in order to ensure that all the voices are being aired and interest served.
7. Car Free Day Audits: Time to move to a new way to put the Car Free Days idea to work. In addition to whatever events are organized on that Day, it is recommended that once a year a “new mobility agenda audit” be carried out by participating city governments. The audit present identify in summary terms the status of key sustainable transport modes and indicators, and on the Car Free Day the city mayors can provide (a) a concise summary of progress made on the New Mobility Agenda over the last year, and (b) while at the same time announcing, for example, five specific targets to be set and “what” met in the year ahead.
8. Walk/Bike to School: For reasons of health and social development it should be a national priority to ensure that every child Taiwan be able to safely walk or bike to school. There is no good reason that such a program cannot be successfully engaged. For very reason that might be advanced arguing that this is not possible here or there, there is an experience-proven response.
9. Gas Prices: No matter what the explanations, justifications and complications might be, this resource needs to be fully and fairly priced to take fully into account the high externalities of motorised transport. From the vantage of more efficient and cleaner transport in cities, this should be a no-brainer.
10. Join Europe: The leading edge of integrated transport and city planning and practice in the world today is firmly in Europe, and it is my contention that one of the best ways for cities, institutions and programs in Taiwan to sharpen their policies and practices will be through closer association with the best groups, projects and mobility approaches in Europe. There is an excellent ongoing program which could provide the vehicle for such cooperation: EPOMM, the European Platform on Mobility Management, a network of governments in European countries that are engaged in Mobility Management (MM). They are represented by the Ministries in their countries and are wide open to new ideas. Given Taiwan’s level of excellence in the sector, this could be a most creative partnership.
Here are two good references on EPOMM to get you started:
- Video at – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lbIXYsTlYE#t=206
- About EPOMM – http://epomm.eu/index.php?id=2591
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There you have my 2015 conclusions and recommendations. I would very much like to have added recommendations on such important opportunities in Taiwan such as low speed low-car ecozones, getting full value from the taxi industry, and above all research into underlying issues of behavior and choice along the full chain of actors (including government) , but my present information is still too short in these areas, and in any event this list is doubtless as long as it needs to be for now at least.
Should you wish to discuss, give your views or critique any of these, please know that you have a willing partner in France. My full coordinates appear below.
PS. One more new partnership: In work over the last year on the General Theory of Transport in Cities it has become increasingly clear that our sector, if we are to be sustainable, must shift sharply both to (a) high energy-efficiency mobility forms (exergy), and also (b) away from carbon-based systems to different forms of efficient electrical transport. However for this to be meaningful, there needs to be major investments and programs for greatly increased production from renewables. The transport sector in all its parts should now step forward to become a strong partner and supporter of renewables for which there are major and as yet unaddressed possibilities in Taiwan.
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About the author:
Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is Managing Director of EcoPlan International, 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. His latest work focuses on the subject of equity, economy and efficiency in city transport, and helping governments to ask the right questions and find practical solutions to mobility, public space and job creation issues. Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Society at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion in Paris, he is founding editor of the international collaborative journal World Streets and the Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice. His forthcoming book, “Convergence: toward a General Theory of Transport in Cities”, is being presented, discussed and critiqued in a series of international conferences, master classes, workshops and media events over 2015. – – – > More at http://wp.me/psKUY-3RH