Personal mobility is breaking down old divides between public and private transport

Another bloody driverless car. Image: Getty.

Strong divisions between various transport modes – roads, rail, buses, ferries and so on – have dominated their planning and management for decades, both here in Australia and overseas. Budgets are often devised and allocated with these transport modes in mind. Whole organisational structures have been created to manage each mode’s infrastructure separately.

But how people move around – to and from work, home, or for recreation – involves personal journeys. These are driven by the need to travel, by mobility, and not governed by the mode of travel.

As a result, major Australian cities generally suffer from disjointed connections between modes of travel. They lack an overall emphasis on how the whole transport system functions to aid personal journeys.

Thankfully, transport planners have been thinking a lot more about mobility, as emerging and established technologies offer huge potential for change. The wealth of new data sources – mobile phone tracking, on-board GPS and ticketing, to name a few – provides a better understanding of travel behaviour.

Increasingly, cities are realising that individual travellers care less about the operational details of one mode or another, and more about a safe and reliable journey to their destination. Rapidly changing infrastructure technology and the availability of large passenger datasets are changing the way transport professionals plan and manage networks.

All change

In New South Wales, Transport for NSW was created to better integrate the various transport agencies and modes. While that has been a big step in the right direction, technology is changing the landscape much faster than anyone expected.

Technological advance, new transport infrastructure, a quest for greater productivity and continual population growth in major cities have created a dynamic environment for traffic engineers and transport planners. They must cater for the evolving demands of transport users while exploring and understanding emerging technologies.

Passenger expectations of what a transport network should provide have also changed and grown. Improvements in vehicle technology, road, rail and port infrastructure mean we can travel further and more efficiently than ever before. Commuters now expect this efficiency while taking safety and reliability as given.

Access through smartphones and navigation technology to mobility information about traffic conditions and scheduling has bridged the knowledge gap between transport authorities and users.

The advent of car-sharing services in Australia could transform parking and road space calculations. Image: GoGet/AAP.

On top of all this, disruptive travel options – for instance, car-sharing services such as GoGet and Hertz 24/7 – have emerged. Almost 31,000 Sydney residents have joined the two services. These use 700 dedicated parking spaces throughout the city (although heavily concentrated within 12 kilometres of the centre).

In Sydney, it’s estimated a single car-share vehicle can replace up to 12 private vehicles that would otherwise compete for parking. Then there are car-riding options such as Uber, which are creating entirely new modes of mobility.

Individually, each of us can now pick and choose between competing travel options. We can also shift our choices dynamically for each section of a trip. This simple change is radically altering the behavioural characteristics of making each trip.

That has huge implications for infrastructure planning. It also fundamentally alters the capability of transport agencies managing the system in real-time.

The shift in landscape may even disrupt one of the strongest historical divides: the competition between roads and public transport. With strong feelings on both sides, divisions have tended to impede more integrated approaches – which should be the aim of a transport system driven by the need for mobility.

Technology blurs the lines

Much of the public transport versus roads argument has been unnecessary because when more travellers choose public transport over private vehicles, the remaining drivers benefit as well. Despite this logic, the divisions remain and battles still rage.

However, the evolution of technology to accommodate (and help track) passenger behaviour, coupled with disruptive new travel options, is intensifying and will have to be taken into account. Companies are aggressively pursuing solutions for real-time on-demand ride-pooling, such as UberPOOL. This allows you to share your ride and split the cost with another Uber rider headed in the same direction.

It is not unthinkable that just as the taxi industry is being disrupted by new technology, public transport could be as well. In a world where the lines between private and public transport are blurred, traditional modal divisions move from being outdated to thoroughly unworkable.

If we rethink transport as a consumer-centred experience, targeting mobility rather than mode of travel, then a truly integrated approach to transport planning would deliver the benefits of using public transport and other high-occupancy vehicle options. Revenues from public transport would increase, while road congestion would reduce with fewer motorists. This would lead to greater productivity and economic growth.

Self-driving cars available to anyone with a smartphone have been launched in Singapore. Image: EPA/Nutonomy.

The technological changes under way will only accelerate this potential. Transport agencies need to plan for it, to ensure they take advantage of these changes and maximise the benefits.

Autonomous cars – an emerging technology that is nevertheless rapidly moving toward deployment – will accelerate this trend. If a self-driving car service offers transport solutions to anyone via smartphone, then the differences between a taxi, Uber, UberPOOL and public transport begin to blur.

A world of mobility choice

The transport sector is poised to realise a true – and revolutionary – convergence between data science, communication and autonomous technology. As large-scale data collection and sharing become the norm, our mobility options could explode.

Travellers will be able to make real-time multimodal journey decisions. They will base these decisions on the attributes that matter most to them: safety, reliability, door-to-door travel time and cost.

This will help transport planners too. The data generated will allow optimised operation of the road network such as variable speed limits, dynamic lane reversal, variable message signs and ramp metering.

Clearly, the emerging data science of transport technology innovation will have a deep impact on both the user experience and the behind-the-scenes management of the network.


Ideally, to deliver this “universal personalised mobility”, cities need to integrate pricing and information delivery. Every traveller makes their transport decisions for their own circumstances given the information available to them. This might include online journey information or roadside information about travel times, speed limits or tolls.

The complete cycle of information from the network to the operating agencies and back to the traveller is a keystone of the future transport system for Australian cities, and for cities around the world. The challenge for today is to close the information gap by building on emerging technologies and shifting our focus to providing personalised mobility travel.

That’s going to take some effort and a lot of co-ordination, but the benefits of mobility versus mode of travel will become obvious very quickly. We just need to commit to it.The Conversation

S. Travis Waller is professor and director of the Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation at UNSW Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. 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.