#213 Proper transport planning puts people first

PLANNING IS A BIG DEAL– Transport plans are collaborative spaces, they put a sign at the door for anyone longing to be part of the process: ‘we’re working together to get something done’. That is the ideal. In practice, they’re lack in many ways. Closing streets for weddings is easier than getting sidewalks, and that’s the problem.

‘We’re very good at planning, not so much on implementation’, is a popular axiom in transport planning circles. As the spiral goes, consistently poor implementation increases the cost of interventions over time. COVID-19 regulations have revealed a number of issues, and among of them is the limits to planning, and the consequences inadequate strategic coordination in practice. There seems to be a deep interplay between land-use and society’s cultural formation, and transport plans could help articulate this formation if not add a few notes to the tune. 

Transport planning in SA in brief

Every other year, municipalities draft Integrated Development Plans (IDPs), these documents consolidate all the municipality’s development needs. These documents reflect meetings with different wards in municipalities, and all departments contribute to the document. Transport’s contribution comes from integrated transport plans.

Integrated Transport Plans or ITPs, are essentially a representation of local travel demand needs and the supply decisions, strategies, and project priorities to meet those needs. They are central to municipal budgeting, development and service delivery, but they are also prone to failure, or a lack of implementation. The Minimum Requirements for Integrated Transport Planning contend that “transport planning should always be strategic in nature and focused on the desired outcomes, as derived from national, provincial and local transport policy.” The policy objectives of these requirements should be at the heart of much of the actions taken for passenger and freight transport, but meeting the “minimum requirements” has plagued municipalities at every 5 year planning cycle. 

The desired outcomes of ITPs relate to increased accessibility, lower congestion, affordable transport in shorter travel times, increased uses of non-motorised transport and solving parking problems. These are the desired outcomes, that should be tangibly experienced by users of the transport system in any community with an ITP. How is this achieved? The minimum requirements highlight that proactive planning is the point of departure, but it doesn’t go into much detail about this (a paper we’re working on now deals with this issue). Proper planning involves human capital, talent and people found in the municipal offices, officials in government and any institutional member making or experiencing the decisions made about transport. In another note, I argue that transport users are making policy submissions when they engage on transport issues– they’re innovating. As a result, the people within the planning consultancy, municipality, advocacy and community are a key part of the process. 

Some issues with transport planning in SA

Facility and infrastructure planning, improved law enforcement, efforts to integrate public transport services and coordinating land-use and transport planning are key pre-requisites, but they are connected to the institutional collusion. They require human settlements should speak with public works, and public works, with transport. For example, we see the breakdown in institutional collusion in the context of scholar transport coordination at provincial level. But, this could be mended by including the advocacy groups in the policy formulation and engagement process. Fragmentation in policy governance is not simply overcome by calling for public comments after the fact, or presentations at a meeting, or even what we think is stakeholder engagement. Essentially, ITPs require a degree of interest, transparency and commitment by all stakeholders with a social contract driving the efforts. 

Most of the ITP work is outsourced, and the minimum criteria is used to evaluate the work. However, most of the work done on paper aims to meet the minimum requirements, but the work that needs to be done in practice exceeds the minimum requirements for officials and practitioners in the sector. Each role player draws a line in the sand to limit the scope of their involvement within the service level agreement (SLA). Going above and beyond to establish long-standing professional relationships, partnerships, is barely discussed, and if it happens it could be seen as a red flag for some discrepancy. Partnerships are crucial for effective transport planning, and these are not ad hoc meetings, or engagements, but durable, resilient and self-reinforcing conduits of information sharing and action. What I’ve learnt is that this type of work in planning requires institutional collusion for the greater good, competitive bidding, and experimental bidding for piloting initiatives such as tactical urbanism, or community projects. 

Collaboration is a principle and a goal – ‘Institutional Collusion’

Institutional collusion means various organs of the public sector coming together and working toward a specific goal. These should not be national structures, but instead, local municipal level structures. In smaller municipalities, these individuals will have to share ideas, engage and cross-pollinate their experiences. Local newspapers and community radio will serve as the loud speaker for the work in progress and the call for participation and engagement. Stakeholders would inevitably set their differences aside in these trust-networks, and navigate through the vested and overt interests revolving around the nucleus. What will matter is the work. 

  • The work proposed by the bidders, transparently compared and evaluated by officials and communities of stakeholders; 
  • Complementary project extensions to ensure stakeholders realise value for money, just as the public sector should derive value;
  • Small firms and organisations proposing simple interventions with smaller budgets and quick wins, immediate service delivery; and 
  • Community projects coordinated by Ward Councillors or local activists, all with the aim of putting something on the ground that serves their specific community.  

The minimum requirements are not minimal at all, they need concerted effort, enthusiasm and a genuine conviction that transport planning is crucial for service delivery. It could be access to water, health, education, work and leisure, ITPs are essentially the mechanism that could activate communities, introduce new technologies in transport, and create a conducive environment for active social engagement about public goods.

Going beyond the minimum requirements is a minimum requirement

At first glance one could have argued that doing the above mentioned is not a minimum requirement, ‘being proactive takes initiative and that isn’t a minimum requirement’. But it is, it is a minimum requirement because of the importance of integrated multimodal transport. It is a minimum requirement because the number of stakeholders involved need to build genuine professional partnerships that galvanize trust and inspire confidence. It puts people first, those inside the project and those who will receive the desired outcomes.

There is no ideological debate when it comes to serving the public, and enabling them to participate in the process of addressing their transport policy problems. I encourage anyone reading this to read the regulations in response to COVID-19 in detail, and reflect on the extent to which genuine engagement for integrated transport planning is fostered. In particular, it appears that the years and years of ITPs in cities and towns were barely integrated into the contemporary transport planning narrative. This is not new. What is new, is the fact that we finally have room to improve—actually improve. Strangely enough, there’s only one way to do it.

Thank you for reading this brief note, oh and hey, here’s something about Digital Identities in transport on Fin24!  

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