Sunday, January 25, 2009

Creating a common “New Mobility Agenda” for policy and decision purposes

Creating a common “New Mobility Agenda” for policy and decision purposes

Paris, 25 January 2009

Dear colleagues,

What some call the New Mobility Agenda is in fact nothing more than a different way of looking at the transportation sector, conditioned by the understanding that the knowledge we have developed over the last couple of decades based on better and worse experiences in our cities, reviewed and extended in light of the extremely different circumstances that characterize the overall decision envelope for these matters in the 21st century, requires something of a retrofit of our thinking about the sector and the priorities that define it. The major retrofit, I would say.

It is my view that the main contribution of this idea of a coherent Agenda, as opposed to ad hoc decision-making which has been the dominant pattern in the past, is that it can be built on an explicit, consistent, strategic framework which can be checked for relevance and usefulness at any point before, during, or after decisions are made. With an explicit agenda, there is no place to hide. There are clear rules of the road which need to be adhered to if the system is to work as it should.

For example, and this is just to take one from my own personal definition of the Agenda (attached), is my continuing dogged insistence that under present circumstances, and specifically in the period 2009 to 2012, all programs launched and money spent in the sector with public support have to be oriented to achieving significant impacts on the main objectives of the Agenda (i.e., significant near-term greenhouse gas and traffic reductions (and energy-saving s) without economic or efficiency reductions).

This for some people, interests and proposed programs involving public money may provide a source of considerable irritation, particularly in the case of favored big and expensive infrastructure or technology projects whose eventual payoffs, if any, will kick in only over decades. The trick here is that the Agenda, at least as I propose it, is not indifferent to longer-term projects and priorities, it simply subjects them to more specific and often considerably more rigorous tests than they have had to face in the past before being awarded great gobs of hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

Most of us, I am sure, would prefer not to have our interests and priorities subjected to too much public scrutiny, but when it comes to the public interest and public dollars there is no responsible alternative to this. And in order to do this in a meaningful manner, we need to have an explicit overarching framework of values and priorities which together constitute our new culture of transportation decision-making.

Where to apply this kind of thinking? A number of concrete examples come immediately to mind. The first is the process of propositions and debate which is presently going on in the U.S. Congress concerning the $800 billion plus Stimulus Bill. If anyone takes a careful look at it, what they will see is a succession of idea after idea, project after project, argument after argument. All that is a fine testimonial to energy and engagement, but it strikes me as totally devoid of the necessary central strategic core and tests that tie the whole thing together and permits rational and responsible decision-making.

This is only one of the very large number of examples, which can be seen in state after state, country after country, city after city, and including in international and regional organizations such as The European Commission, various UN agencies, and others. If you look around at the decision frameworks which exist in all these places which you know about, I am quite certain that you are going to see somewhere between two and no applications of the kind of rigorous thinking and consistent screening which absolutely must be the norm at a time when the needs are great, money is short, and help is needed in the immediate future.

Each of us here who give time and thought to these matters certainly has their own definition of what kinds of things go into making up their personal "Agenda" and which thus determine the priorities for decision-making and action within it. But to the extent in which there are at least a couple of thousand of us spotted around this planet who work in these matters from a wide variety of perspectives and who broadly share the objectives and the ethic of sustainable transportation, I would propose that there is every reason we start to move from our present independent, and scattered, personal understandings about what is important, to see we can now come up with a more or less commonly held Agenda.

With this in mind, and after a number of years of exchanging information and learning from people and projects all over the world, I sat down and tried to work up what is certainly imperfect draft Agenda, in the hope that it can now serve as an explicit starting point, which with your help we may be able to fashion into something which reflects a broader view of priorities and possibilities.

How to get this ball rolling? Here is what I propose.

In the attached I have reproduced my own current understanding of the Agenda which appears as you see it here on the opening page of the New Mobility website at . Working with this base I would now like to invite your individual comments in a first instance, which I will then collect and with this help from you see if I can do a better job with this which reflects a broader view. If the first instance you can post your criticism, comments, and suggestions to me privately at , I will then study and work with them and see if I can use them to improve the structure that follows below.

I look forward with enormous interest to hearing from you on this. If we put our heads together on it, we can for sure get some useful results. They are much needed.

Eric Britton

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