Four possible visions for the future of public transport

A self-driving bus in Shanghai. Image: Getty.

The way people get around is starting to change, and as a professor of transport strategy I do rather wonder if the modes of transport we use today will still be around by the turn of the next century.

Growing up, my favourite book was a children’s encyclopaedia first published in 1953. One double page spread featured an annotated cityscape, showing all aspects of the built environment – most of which we would still be familiar with now. The various modes of transport illustrated – trains, buses, lorries, taxis, motorcycles, bikes, pedestrians and private cars – still work together as a system in fundamentally the same ways.

But a whole range of possible (though not inevitable) societal and technological changes could revolutionise how we travel in the coming decades. These include large-scale responses to the climate change agenda and energy sourcing and security; shifting demographic trends (such as growing numbers of elderly people); the development of the collaborative economy; the growing use of big data; and the apparent inevitability of driverless cars.

To examine what future urban transport systems might look like, I recently directed a future-gazing project for New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport exploring how people might be travelling in the year 2045. I helped develop four scenarios, along two axes of change.

The first axis considered automation – at one end, vehicles are still be driven much like today (partial automation). At the other, they’re driverless (full automation). The second axis related to how dense cities could become – one future where the population is more dispersed (like Los Angeles) and another where it is concentrated at a higher density (more like Hong Kong). With these axes in mind, I generated four possible futures for public transport, which could play out in cities across the world.

Choose your fighter. Image: Marcus Enoch.

1. Shared shuttles

In the “shared shuttle” city, demand responsive minibuses, Uber-style taxis and micro-modes – such as shared bicycles, electric bikes and hoverboards – to cover the “last mile” to your destination are widespread. Hiring these different forms of transport is simple, thanks to seamless booking and payment systems and a thriving entrepreneurial spirit among a range of commercial, social and government transport providers. Meanwhile, new environmental regulations mean that owning a car is more expensive than it used to be, and private vehicles are restricted to the suburbs.

Flexibility is a core feature of this scenario, with vehicles and services that adjust to the needs of individuals, and with how the space continually adapts to meet the needs of the city as a whole. There’s also a collaborative ethos, reinforced by the development of a more compact and high-density city, while progress toward full automation has been slow because of safety and privacy concerns.

2. Mobility market

Private cars still dominate urban transport in the mobility market scenario. Many citizens live and often work in dispersed, low-density suburban areas, since city-centre housing became too expensive for most to afford. Fewer people walk and cycle, because of the long distances involved. And the use of public transport has declined, since less dense transport networks mean there are fewer viable routes, though a limited network of automated trains and buses is still used for trips to the city centre.

Car use has fallen somewhat since the 2010s, because “active management” measures – such as pre-bookable fast lanes and tolls – are now necessary to control congestion, despite the completion of a sizeable road building programme in the recent past.

Instead, commercially provided pre-paid personalised “mobility packages” are helping to stimulate the use of a whole range of shared mobility options, such as car-pooling, bike hire and air taxi schemes. These now account for around a quarter of all journeys.


3. Connected corridors

Society in this high-tech, highly urbanised world of connected corridors is characterised by perceptive but obedient citizens who trade access to their personal data in return for being able to use an extremely efficient transport system. Physically switching between different services or even different modes of travel is hassle free, thanks to well designed interchange points, and fully integrated timetabling, ticketing and information systems.

For instance, travellers might walk, e-cycle or take a demand-responsive minibus to a main route interchange, then board a high frequency rail service to get across town and finally take a shared autonomous taxi to their destination. Each will be guided by a personalised, all-knowing “travel ambassador” app on their smartphone or embedded chip, which will minimise overall travel times or maybe maximise sightseeing opportunities, according to their preferences.

Private cars are not really needed. People trust technology to deliver inexpensive and secure transport services and appreciate living close to work, family and friends.

4. Plentiful pods

In this future, fleets of variously-sized driverless pods now provide around three-quarters of those journeys that still need to be taken across the low-density, high-tech city. These pods having largely replaced most existing public transport services, and the vast majority of privately-owned cars.

People do still walk or cycle for some shorter trips. But pods are so convenient, providing affordable point-to-point journeys for those not satisfied by virtual interactions. Passengers can pay even less, if they agree to share with others. Pods are also fully connected to the internet, and are priced and tailored to meet customer needs. Ultimately, pods give people the freedom to work, learn or live where the weather is best or the houses are cheapest.

My research did not pass judgement as to which scenario should be pursued. But it did conclude that public transport will need to evolve to meet future challenges, and that the role of government will still be of key importance going forward, no matter which path is chosen. Personally though, if forced to choose, I think I’d favour a shared shuttle future more than the others – it just seems more sociable.

The Conversation

Marcus Enoch, Professor in Transport Strategy, Loughborough University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.