Long haul to sustainability
Long haul to sustainability
At least seven of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals relate to the impact of sustainable transport on a society and an economy, points out Dr Gustav Rohde, Co-CEO at engineering consultant Zutari.
Rohde says that, to achieve these goals, the public transport sector needs to embrace technology to meet its users’ needs better and ensure more streamlined service integration.
From tracking and GPS to smartphone payment and rating systems, plenty of efficiency can be introduced into the sector. The fusion of new technology and people-focused design will lead to integrated, connected, greener, safer and more inclusive transport or mobility.
“Public transport has a major role to play if we want to create a truly sustainable environment. People leveraging technology will be the catalyst for the sector to embrace safe, inclusive and smart mobility. We have to see this as an opportunity and not as a threat, as it can only benefit all current stakeholders,” comments Rohde.
In an age of disruptive technology, from Big Data to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the engineering industry itself has to embrace rapid change. Not only are users beginning to look to smart infrastructure and services, but society is also demanding responsible suppliers and service providers. Although there have been significant developments in terms of technology and user expectations, the pace of change is sometimes deemed not fast enough.
When it comes to the public transport sector, the engineering industry has pockets of skills, from traffic engineering to intelligent transport systems and traffic modellers. A more holistic approach is needed in order to truly transform the sector, especially as integration is a key driver for smart mobility. This requires collaboration with operators, drivers and, most importantly, end users.
Integration not only refers to the different modes of public transport available, but also the ability of users to move about freely and safely. Smart mobility is not about transporting people so much as it is about how users experience the system in being intuitive enough to respond to their personal requirements.
The public transport sector in South Africa has been dominated by regulation, often to the detriment of a truly interactive user experience. The role of the operator has slowly come into focus, while in future it will be much more about people demanding smart mobility solutions. This, in turn, will become a key driver and catalyst for change.
Being more responsive to the needs of end users is what Zutari terms having a co-engineered impact. “Our designs will become so much smarter if we adopt a process of co-creation, and this is especially true in the realm of public transport,” argues Rohde.
The major issues related to sustainability and an affordable standard of living for all in the developing world are inextricably linked to the issue of safe and affordable public transport. In South Africa, for example, 27,1% of the population spend over 30% of their monthly take-home pay on transportation.
“We have got to question ourselves as an engineering fraternity and as a society as to why the public transport sector is still dominated by unsafe and inefficient practices, with the majority of people forced to use transport solutions that not only are highly unreliable, but where drivers often flout traffic laws.”
This presents a major opportunity and a challenge for all stakeholders to essentially become co-creators. “We should all be equally passionate about ensuring that the public transport sector achieves its mandated goals so that it can become an appropriate catalyst for the effective transformation of our society and our economy,” argues Rohde.
Zutari recently conducted a major survey into the impact of Covid-19 on sustainable transport in Southern Africa. The survey canvassed 16 heads of several major players in the transport sector, both public and private, six subject matter experts from Zutari itself and 12 young professionals.
It found that the impact across all transport modes has been unprecedented. Transport’s role in supporting any economy underlines the urgency with which action has been required to mitigate the risk posed by Covid-19, while ensuring a sustainable transport ecosystem.