Not only in Penang and Malaysia more generally, but in city after city, country after country around the world elected politicians all too often have given ample proof that when it comes to sustainability, transport, fairness and even efficiency they just don’t get it. They plan and spend hard-earned taxpayer money for a distinct if powerful minority of all citizens and voters. It is amazing that they still manage to get elected in democracies. What’s going on?
Public transport? Cycling? Walking? Car pooling? Car sharing? People stuck at home? Elderly? Handicapped? Poor? Isolated? Workers unfairly paid? People unable to get to a job? Or who have to take hours to get there and don’t have a choice? We are the transportation majority.?Spend my hard-earned money for them? Bah! Who needs it? Why bother if it’s just for a few marginal people? Let’s concentrate our attention and investments on the big problems, those of the majority of people, and where the money is. In brief on us drivers and our cars and all those enterprises and interests who are doing fine just like that.
Not so fast! Let’s have a look.
Pity really. In the real world of human mobility there is, as it turns out, no one “big problem”. Hence no big solutions. There is, for better or worse, just an ever-changing confluence of a very large number of different problems, different people, different desires, different daily life realities, different needs, different constraints, different priorities, different possibilities, and different decisions. And different actions. And different consequences. The kaleidoscope of daily life.
The old mobility vision of society, to which we have been long subject, is essentially a simplified panorama of striding muscled workers, with secure jobs, fixed hours, well-defined trips, leaping into their car and then buckling up for “safe driving”. Very nice.
All of whom well served by our 20th century “normal transportation arrangements”, that is the huge and hugely expansive infrastructure that we continue to build and repair to support no-choice automotive transportation (and those largely empty cars).
Something like eighty percent of the local transportation funding in most cities of the world goes for that car-supporting infrastructure: roads, bridges, cloverleafs, tunnels, supporting elections, policing, accident prevention, and the long list goes on. Life is sweet.
Then there are “the rest” of us, including: the old, disabled, poor, rural, etc., etc. And of course the old disabled rural poor.
They too of course need to be catered to as well. Fair enough. So let’s give them a bit here and a bit there too. But most of our hard-earned tax money is still going to be spent on providing high quality mobility arrangements for “normal people”. That’s right, isn’t it?
Sorry but no, it’s not at all right. It is in fact 100% wrong. It is wrong because it is grossly unfair and uncivil. And beyond that, it is also based on a false precept. Why?
Because that splendid vision of society with thee and me at the wheel with the wind blowing through our golden hair, simply does not jibe with reality. It never did in the past, and as our societies age it increasingly is absurdly contrary to reality. Here is the surprise, the kicker:
The “transportation majority” is not what most people think, including less qualified transportation planners and policy makers among them.
The transportation majority are all those of us who increasingly are poorly served by the mainline, no-choice, car-based truncated service arrangements that eat up most of our taxpayer money and take away our choices. And each year, as our populations age this majority grows in numbers.
Here is a generic short-list of the people who make up this till-now all too silent majority:
1. Everyone in your city, country or electorate who does not own or have handy access to a car
2. Everyone who cannot drive
3. Everyone who cannot afford to own and operate a car of their own (And remember that costs a lot of after-tax money)
4. Everyone who should not drive (for reasons of a variety of impediments such as limitations associated with age, psychological state , , , ,)
5. Everyone who lives in a large city and for reasons of density, public health and quality of city life needs to have access to a decent non-car mobility system
6. Everyone who would in fact prefer to get around by walking, cycling or some form of shared transport who cannot safely or readily do so today, because all the money is being spent on the car-based system which is fundamentally, and financially, incompatible with these “softer” and more healthy ways of getting around
7. Everyone who suffers from some form of impairment that makes driving or even access to traditional public transit difficult or impossible
8. Everyone who cannot responsibly take the wheel at any given time (fatigue, distraction, nervousness, some form of intoxication. . . )
9. All those who are today isolated and unable to participate in the life of our communities fully because they simply do not have a decent way to get around.
10. And — don’t lose sight of this! – in a few years you!
How do we work our way out of this? Simple, get out there and vote!
Vote for mayors, counselors and legislators who are ready to work for the transportation majority.
Vote for mayors, counselors and legislators who are ready to join the transportation majority and show their stuff by getting to work and around their city at least one day a week by public transport, ridesharing, walking, bicycle, carpool, shared taxi or carsharing. Or better yet some combination all of the above.
Vote for them. They are the experts. And don’t vote for the other guys.
They’ll get your message.
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Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton