Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dialogue: Transferability of International Experience - Part II

Michael Yeates of Brisbane continues on this important topic.
Hopefully this is a subject that will be pursued in some detail and with more vigour ... but without too much personal umbrage. In the interim, appears to give a useful "summary" from the perspective of the TRANSPLUS project brief.

But as with most such projects, there are so many caveats or "weasel words" that drawing directly from such work simply induces yet another round of reasons for not adopting or not changing etc etc ... much like the scientific method involves critical review rather than a more healthy dose of the "precautionary principle".

Oh yes, then there is the whole area of "risk" ... in all its forms.

From my experience and research, opponents of change prefer endless research rather than what I describe as a combination of trial + demonstration + research ... something where all the "but what if ...?" questions can be answered by experience rather by tactical debate and rhetoric and where the experience is a learning experience .. raising awareness so that decisions and research are informed by informed respondents and/or participants.

While this opens up the whole behaviour change area, Ajzen and/or Fishbein are widely accepted theorist-practitioners to explain the interaction(s) between personal and group behaviour change and social norms etc and of course there are many debates and developments ongoing.

One other practitioner I find convincing based on case studies in very different circumstances is Werner Brog of Socialdata ... in particular in relation to what might be described as "knowledge drag" or "awareness drag" or even "experience drag" as terms with similar implications to the idea of "fiscal drag" ... the delay from when something occurs to when its outcomes occur.

The relatively major project by SOCIALDATA in Brisbane was followed by a much smaller one ... there are some reports on the web .. but then no more application and back to building more roads ...! Is this the influence of biased research, of politicians beliefs, of consultants pushing their preferred expertise?

Brog has shown that decision-makers (often politicians <> consultants) over-estimate political support for the status quo ... a bit like the under-estimation of costs and over-estimation of benefits in CBA (GOOGLE <>)

The result is a political and consultant preference for continuation of business-as-usual which tends to increase current behaviour and/or rational preferences while continuing to constrain alternatives.

The issue is discussed by Brog in Section 7 in ...
Bilbao 2000: The challenge for cities in the 21st Century: Transport, Energy and Sustainable Development European Conference Bilbao / Guggenheim 10 - 11 February 2000 ... Changing mobility behaviour - the role of information and awareness.

Another with similar info is in ...
Section 1 in Interactive Workshop on Sustainable Development “Sustainable Development Makes Good Business Sense” Brisbane, 26/28 October 2004 A Global Approach for a Global Problem - Development of an Integrated Sustainability Approach

The paper has similar views but without the graphics which in my view help enormously in conveying or at least demonstrating the situations addressed.

But then, if Brog's "successes" and many are well documented as case studies, are still not accepted for more general application, there is a need for further explanation. As Brog says in the introductory part of the above paper, (my emphasis in bold) ....

Since passive mobility takes up an incomparably greater part of our lifetime, citizens generally judge the traffic trend from the passive mobility standpoint. They therefore hope that transportation planning and policy will provide relief precisely during the period of passive mobility by an orientation towards the promotion of environmentally friendly and not (no longer) motorized private modes.
This understandable wish that environmentally friendly transportation modes will be encouraged is countered by public opinion, which is seen as “pro-car”. Accordingly, the importance of motorized private transportation is overestimated and the possibility of reducing it is underestimated.

Nonetheless, limited changes by individuals in their behavior would be possible at any time without giving rise to major problems and would have a great impact. But it is not sufficient for such behavioral changes to be possible, as they must also be considered possible. And the predominance of the car in public opinion runs counter to this requirement.

The result is, strange as it may seem, that the simple behavioral changes in active mobility, which would make an appreciable contribution to the desired improvements concerning passive mobility, are (wrongly) considered to be so radical that any attempt to initiate them is immediately seen as an unwarranted impairment of the quality of life. Accordingly, practical measures to reduce traffic are not taken at all or not taken seriously enough, and the very trend we think we are avoiding (deterioration in the quality of life) actually occurs.

Transportation policy and transportation planning do not provide much solution to this “mental blockage”. For, first and foremost, it is not a change in basic conditions, which is necessary, but a change in people. It is not “others” who have to make a change, but we ourselves. This obviously applies not only to citizens but also to opinion-formers and decision-makers.

and then in the summary ending he also says ...

The insights at the root of this concept are neither new nor revolutionary. They have been proven effective. Nevertheless, they have not attracted the public attention they deserve. Instead, they meet widespread disbelief, skepticism, and rejection by many transportation professionals. This unveils the fundamental dilemma faced by the transportation world.

Transportation policy, transportation planning and transportation sciences have been greatly influenced in the last few decades by the rapid development of car traffic. In only a few dozen years the car has left an indelible mark on social life in the Western countries. It has become mankind’s symbol for the technical conquest of nature, for freedom and affluence, for status and individuality. The slogan “open roads for free citizens” came to reflect the spirit of a generation who for the first time in history felt they were able to cast off their fetters and enjoy virtually unlimited mobility.

Those who produced cars or carried out the necessary infrastructure planning work were also held in equally high esteem and they succumbed to the universal euphoria; the (planning) techniques and instruments developed by them clearly reflected an emphasis on car traffic. With such planning methods and their planning action, they have left their mark on people’s thinking and their environment.

It is precisely everyday mobility that makes it possible to achieve considerable overall improvements by means of numerous, minor changes in individual behavior and to test a change in thinking that is very important for the survival of humanity.
Unfortunately, this opportunity is scarcely perceived by transportation policy decision-makers, transportation planners and transportation theorists. Those who are so often themselves the staunchest advocates of “automobile freedom” find it extremely difficult to accept the idea that transportation modes, which are more tolerable than the car, have to be promoted.

Mind you the vested interests would soon emerge again ... imagine the job losses from all those policy writers and planners who currently enjoy job security based on producing endless consultancy briefs and then engage all those consultants ... all or most of whom may well be almost unemployable given their ethical commitment to their current employment and employers ...!

Michael Yeates

Print this article