Thursday, May 31, 2012

Value-added Transportation System - Dr. George Hazel

Last night, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel for a lecture by Dr. George Hazel on shifting to a value-added, customer driven transportation system.

Hazel started the lecture by sharing the thought that when push comes to shove, the economy will always trump the environment and that affects how we frame the dialogue around building sustainable cities. Hazel's view is that there are only two types of spaces in a city: exchange space and transportation space. Exchange space can be anything from sidewalk cafes, indoor shopping, parks, offices, etc. Transportation spaces are bike lanes, rail lines, bus lanes, car lanes and the like. From an economy standpoint, exchange space is very important as is moving goods and people around cities. This leads to the logical conclusion that you want to find the most efficient way to move the largest amount of goods and people while maximizing exchange space. As it turns out cars and the infrastructure association with cars (wide lanes and parking lots) are the biggest loss of economy potential in cities.

Typical Per-Person Travel Space Requirement. From TDM Encyclopedia.

This is nothing new to most planners, but so often the best plans for a transportation system (like road pricing) die in the water because while it is actually good for a region, people don’t buy in. It’s like how everyone knows that eating veggies are good, but we still go for the potato chips instead. With that in mind, Hazel suggests that we need to reevaluate how we deliver transportation in regions. We need to stop thinking about cars, transit, and bikes and start thinking about the people that use the cars, transit, and bikes. Basically, we need to shift to a customer-focus transportation system based on the retail model.

One of the key take-aways from last night was that transportation providers like TransLink need to focus on adding value to their services. This could range from a loyalty cards system that rewards things like taking transit during peak periods or a smart card payment system that works on transit, taxis, and car share systems with discounts. TransLink could also become a one-stop shop for all your transportation needs in Metro Vancouver from booking a taxi, renting a car, finding a bicycle, and personal planning of your journey through the region. Hazel is currently researching different ways of adding value to transportation systems that use positive incentives to get people to shift to more sustainable travel options. His view is that the stick approach of getting people to change their behaviour has failed and we need more of the carrot.

While politicians like talking about value-for-money and low taxes, all that transportation customers want is service available when and where they need it.

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