#179 Non-motorised transport an untapped opportunity leaks

Capital allocations for transport aim to ‘lead the provision of an integrated, sustainable, reliable and safe transport system through planning, developing, coordinating, promoting and implementing transport policies, regulations and strategies’. The challenge however is deciding which allocations should be prioritised per unit of value added. This year’s Estimates of National Expenditure  reveal an interesting series of allocations which highlight a difficult trade-off on a macroeconomic level between freight and passenger provisions. On the other hand, the Medium Term Expenditure Policy Statement highlights even greater complexities for future transportation projects. However, if we focus on passenger mobility and access, performance indicators for allocating capital are measured in road kilometres and passenger trips— nothing much else. 

Whereas the impact of mobility and access is more tangibly measured through non-motorised transport (NMT) related activity  and changes in land-use. For NMT, foot-traffic and kilometres of side-walks, bikeways, bike lanes, protected intersections and priority phases are important indicators of the extent to which budgetary allocations interact with the most vulnerable roadway user. For land-use associated with transportation it may add value to include bus lane and busway kilometres; square meters of transport interchanges (and total number); and changes in land-uses within 5 kilometres of transport interchanges be it in property value or density. Such indicators extend the tangibility of transport investments into a more comprehensive basket related to measuring value and activities related to mobility and access. What is the use of knowing the number of passenger kilometres for a certain Bus Rapid Transit system quality of service also includes how people complete the ‘last-mile’? If property develops in such a way that households are attracted to live near work, life and leisure then maybe they’d love to walk or bike to work but it’s just not safe; or it’s just too inconvenient; or worse: it has never come across my mind. 

‘Options and opportunities for African mobility start-ups’ presents a conversation of evidence between transport systems, entrepreneurship and higher education in Africa. In a prolific presentation, Dr Tonny Omwansa author of Money, Real Quick: Kenya’s Disruptive Mobile Money Initiative outlines part of the work he’s been doing with the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative.

NMT essentially at the bottom of an investment ladder

Non-Motorised Transport, as mode which requires infrastructure, systems, services and community networks is easily taken for granted because it is assumed as an inherent mode which most people aspire not to engage with much. Whereas, the truth is that most learners walk to education centres, and walking is the most dominant mode to school, and for travel to work nearly 30% are done by NMT. So what exactly is NMT? In essence it is transportation that is not motorised, such walking, cycling, wheelchairs, trolleys, animal drawn carts, and other prams pushing babies. Clearly this mode is part of being a human being, and some animals assist with moving through space and time. However, if most people, young and old walk through cities, towns, townships and villages, how is it that the capital allocations do not reflect the mode as an essential service?

It goes a bit further, access to public transport is highly dependent on the extent to which people can actually walk or cycle to where minibus taxis can be hailed; busses stop and train stations. If our financing frameworks account for the kilometres of road and passenger numbers in contracted buses and passenger rail, yet with most people— particularly youth walking in our communities there are no substantial indicators for NMT. Then who cares about an essential and basic mode of service, lowest cost and most permeable mode with the greatest environmental, health benefits and untapped industrial potential?

A conference for prioritising active mobility and access

The 3rd Annual Non-Motorised Transport Conference hosted by the Department of Environment Affairs and KFW bank and other partners aimed at opening a conversation between advocacy groups; practitioners who work on methods to enable cycling; and explore the emerging technology, innovations and practices in research and development. In the audience were academics, practitioners from consulting, entrepreneurs, industrialists, organisations and activists.  

 With opening notes from Mr Zaheer Fakir, who aligns the core ambitions of the conference to enable the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal 11 on city making with a primary goal of contributing to an ecosystem of mobility and access. From here the scene was set by Deputy-Director General, Mr Chris Hlabisa, who emphasised the policy recognition for NMT is articulated through the National Roads Policy across infrastructure, information, behaviour, systems, transport and law enforcement against the backdrop of the NMT Infrastructure and Regulatory Guidelines, travel demand management and air quality pressures. This has evolved through the conference culminating into this 3rd iteration hosted at the Premier Hotel OR Tambo in Kempton Park, Gauteng, South Africa. 

A Frame for Understanding Active Mobility 

While there is an interest in improving public passenger rail transport through the War Room, an emerging public transport subsidy framework which is inclusive, and the contraction in the capital allocations for contracted busses there is a new conversation emerging. 

NMT is more than about moving from one point to another, it is about integrating cities, people and networks in a scale that is sustainable. Mr Christian Grün from the German embassy practically highlighted that a bicycle is a symbol, a material artefact and a social value ‘place’ and cities like Germany were rebuilt to reflect a new “freeway for all”. He outlined the future of public transport systems as a present day focus on active mobility and access. 

As a keynote to lay the first strokes on a vast canvas, Dr Njogu Morgan a post-doc from WITS University, untangled the bicycle licensing practice in South Africa’s loose knot on mobility getting looser from 1935 onwards. Various elements lead to the demise, but his sense relates to (a) interrelated frames of observation; (b) power and the public image; (c) shifting beyond mobility; and (d) forming a sense of belonging. 

Independent consultant Gail Jennings, purported that people are aware that traffic congestion is causing massive delays, and using NMT might be a way out if it. Her preliminary work on a choice-specific group reveals that there is a life-course transition sphere which shows that people who used to cycle when younger, are may well cycle later on. However, this is exacerbated by having a and developing a community of people who actually perform this type of activity beyond recreation. Her proposal is that evidence based advocacy messaging on a behavioural level is an important lever for inducing NMT demand. 

‘Advocacy and practice in non-motorised transport for African cities and townships’ takes the conversation out of the project planning sphere into practice. Advocacy requires a system of active people who are willing, able and equipped to guide and support volunteers and participants. Sindile reveals the broad set of activities involved in making bike-buses work, narrates through learning and riding township streets, while hinting at various opportunities to do more to make active mobility a norm where appropriate.

Prof Marianne Vanderschuren from the University of Cape Town zeroed in on the context specific nature of interventions with a focus on emphasising that: (a) mobility and access needs to be observed at each Transport Analysis Zone (TAZ) for effective local intervention; (b) life-cycle costing is a more clearer and comparable tool to select projects— especially where NMT is concerned; and (c) long-term planning requires good planning which does not have to be repeated every cycle— only improved slightly.

Two of the last speakers in the plenary session Mr Martin Lev Simonsen and Jens Dyring Christensen highlighted a few interrelated points. First that having a policy without an action plan for local level intervention is crucial and supporting it through commensurate capital allocations is key. However, for the Municipality of Aarhus it was also important to integrate publicly available guidelines such as those found in Cycling Solutions. For employers, incentives to support biking to work are the best way to get cities moving, through an employer to employer bike-to-work competition with employee teams and prizes, Christensen argues that this same model can be applied to schools and institutions through the Pro Velo Switzerland initiative. From here, the event was split through advocacy, enabling and innovation groups. 

Cycling in South Africa: a high level view of activities, progress and challenges’ is essentially a discussion about and around the organisations behind cycling in South Africa. Mike Bradley reveals that cycling as a sport is one level of the conversation which can be a lever to life-long cycling for leisure, competition and well-being. It also requires government, non-profit and private sector engagement. l

Focusing on Practice Beyond the Canvas

At the heart of the conversation were various practical examples from Africa and Europe related to developing NMT interventions that are sustainable, financially viable, industrially suitable and capable of enabling the mind shift necessary to support NMT use, policy making and infrastructure decisions. 

Understanding that riding a bicycle is usually something that people pick up at a young age, ensuring that learners can ride and access bicycles through training academies, and bicycles which are durable and suitable for young and old. Doing this well, requires a package of interventions such as what is being done in Go!Durban focused on trust, or in Kenya, Nairobi through the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI). The package of interventions require actions which enable learning, marketing, technologies, community involvement, and environmental development. 

Dr Tonny Omwansa presented the TUMI approach in Kenya which focuses on accelerating start-ups through partnerships between education, public and private sector in a manner that advances curricula, public development and private sector’s social investment and the emergence of new business. The approach shifts the universities and entities involved beyond the traditional curricula toward a problem-based one (see the Problem-Based Learning Africa platform); and expands the opportunities for funding outside of the help of public sector but rather toward organisations and entities that are aligned with these initiatives. 

Furthermore, in Tshwane, the University of Pretoria has experimented with a bicycle sharing project which highlights the complexity of the project and quality of service necessary to manage such an initiative. Even though bicycles can be allocated to households, it is unsustainable without township based repair shops, mechanics, and industries which are incentivised to manufacture bicycles. 

Qhubeka made by the Real Bicycle Company is the only bicycle manufacturing entity in SA based in East London, and assembling in Groot Marico through local contracts with rural-villages with an aim to manufacturer 200 000 bicycles over a 10 year period, creating a few thousand jobs.  Anthony Fitzhenry argued that riding and walking have a calorie ratio of 1:5, in that riding ensures an effective use of scarce calories in rural and urban areas where school children and adults may not have sufficient food, but need to get around. He also purported that instead of applying the Shova Kalula approach of allocating bicycles to school children who live a certain distance from school, Qhubeka focuses on allocating bicycles to 100% of the learners. Their impact emirates from reducing the radius of envy, through providing high quality and very durable locally manufactured bicycles which can cover 5000 km; and supporting this distribution with repair, and maintenance support in the form of a guarantee. 

In the case of Botswana, a case study was presented by Ivan Reutener in which a broad horizontal and vertical innovation for Animal Draw Carts in which an ADT signalling, priority crossing and mobile app was developed by RHDHV with the aim of enabling a network of shared carts, easy crossing for these modes and presenting a new industry of mobility and access in rural economies— thus mainstreaming them. 

‘Integrating active mobility into an ecosystem of initiatives, networks, systems and infrastructure’ highlights the broad ambitions of Go!Durban, a Bus Rapid Transport system in Durban. Rocky outlines the investment in more qualitative elements that support the non-motorised element of the BRT system through the cycling academy, cultural initiatives, and environmental dimensions associated with the effort. He highlights that the most effective interventions are “packages” of actions which enable a reinforcing loop between mindset shifts, education, infrastructure and marketing.

Non-motorised transport as a natural resource

An economy desperate for growth needs to develop both its logistics networks throughout supply chains for resources, food, industry, culture and service sectors and still get around to making sure people have access to public goods and private services.  Fundamentally, both go hand-in-glove because for logistics industries to flourish there is a dependence on healthy people who are happy to work and build the organisation. Being one’s best at work can be implausible if and when commuting to work takes too much time from one’s personal life, and it comes at a costs that inhibits a families from keeping a decent financial budget. The Department of Trade and Industry is quite aware of this, and their framework for Special Economic Zones includes residence into the industrial network, but not necessarily the transport network related to these logistics hubs. Furthermore, in service economies and regions it is important for people to access opportunities, leisure and activity in an effectively revitalising manner. 

On a behavioural level, people need bike lanes, sidewalks and affordable housing close to their place of work. Employers need to support and incentivise more sustainable mobility options where possible— even if it is once a week. However, this requires interventions in skills development, youth development and industrial development beyond simply creating jobs, but through creating industries associated with the NMT through bikes, sidewalks, mobility applications, business models, helmet manufacturing and clothing. All of which need to be integrated with existing public transport systems and networks such as bicycle racks for minibus taxis, buses and bike-park-and-ride solutions. Whether walking and cycling is the primary mode or other modes are used, the interventions are complex. The future of mobility and access is just like the present, naturally active and non-motorised. As a natural resource, NMT needs to be extracted through the right infrastructure, enabled through appropriate systems and interventions; encouraged through suitable marketing and communication methods; and exchanged through communities, networks and advocacy. Just because one drives, doesn’t mean we can’t ride.


Thank you for the 3rd NMT Conference Team, presenters and people who were at the conference, engaged and involved.

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