Principle Voices

Your comments

Do you have opinions on any of the issues Principal Voices is exploring: The environment, business innovation, economic development and transport? If so, we want to hear them. E-mail your views, including your full name and country of residence, to comments@principalvoices.com. A selection of these messages will be posted below.

General | Environment | Business | Economy | Transport


Beijing: The city known for its bicycles. Do you know the government has banned bicycles from the main roads because they contribute to congestion on Beijing roads???

Is this the way the developing countries are modernizing: by flooding their roads with cars in the race to prosperity. Can we find a trace of 'sustainable solutions' in tradition and culture that is disregarded in this race.

As the world has become smaller, more countries are opening their doors. The developing countries are trying to catch up to the lifestyle of industrialized nations for what they have 'missed' in luxury. The speed at which technology has been adapted by these countries is a small example of their intellectual and physical capacity.

But, concurrently, debates like Principal Voices are being held because a growing number of people are realizing that consumerism and current growth is not sustainable. We need to look for a healthier solution before its too late. Then why don't the developing countries on the fast path of development heed to the message, and innovate towards sustainability? They are at the right juncture to absorb the technology and utilize it for creative solutions everyone is looking for.

Building power plants and highways to mimic a western city will not make a developing country ready for the future. This is the time when all the hard lessons learnt from the industrial revolution can be put to place while making third world cities ready for the 21st century. It is the canvas of imagination where the global citizens share their knowledge and draft the lines of sustainability.
Shillpa Singh, India


As a American living aboard in Scandinavia I have notice that diesel engines especially the transport trucks do not emit black smoke at all. On the other hand, ride down any major American highway and you will see that when a diesel transport truck changes gear black smoke is everywhere. Why is this, what is it that the Danes are doing right not to pollute the environment through emission that the Americans should be doing with it transport vehicles. Is this a question for the transport forum. Thank you
Ralph Harper, Copenhagen, Denmark


I am not sure that I have any real problems with the rising price of fuel! The reasons are that, although petrol companies may be gouging out massive profits at this particular time (Oct, 2005) pricing, wherever the profits go, is simply a rationing mechanism and we need rationing today more than ever.

If the forecasts of most of the well informed pundits are to be believed then we have already, or very soon will, reach a point where the rate at which oil can be pumped from the ground is going down and no future technologies or new finds will reverse this future downward trend.

So the prospect of facing the future with an ever diminishing supply of oil is very real and yet I see no serious or plausible alternatives being considered (please don't say nuclear or hydrogen - do your research and you will see they will NOT supply fuel for vehicles - certainly not heavy vehicles - or aircraft).

Research has shown that upwards of 80% of world food production is dependent on oil - what will happen when the cost of fertilizers and transport become too prohibitive? Great numbers of people around the world will start to starve is what will happen. And this will not be confined to the under- or developing-world but will also impact significantly on the developed world as well.

It is the lack of research into viable alternatives to oil that I find of greatest concern and the lack of planning to prepare for the eventual loss of cheap energy from oil that I find of concern.

Many thanks for the opportunity to contribute to the debate.
Dr. Lance D Chambers, Perth, Western Australia


Fuel Prices, emissions, the environment, health care......they are all equally important issues but in my opinion, being a small business owner of a trucking company, fuel and oil prices are my biggest gripe right now. In the trucking industry, people like me are starting to starve and can't even make ends meet anymore. There are so many ways we can make this work as a united country, stop being so dependent on foreign oil, we can use refined and filtered cooking oil(proven to work). Is our "elected official" so threatened by this that we all have to pay the price? How much are "THEY" paying at the pump? Oh yeah, "THEY" aren't, we are paying it with our tax dollars. I can't just go out of business and get a "normal" job, this is my career. 50% of my income is spent purchasing fuel but do I get a tax incentive for this? NO, I don't. I just get taxed more. I would like to send a great big thank you to CNN for keeping the world informed on everything that is going on and I want to send a big kick in the pants to President Bush, who I didn't vote for, because every time I got to the pump, that's what I get.
Melissa M. Morris, Sweetwater, TN, USA


Lets not forget the billions of people living in second-order cities. The fifty three cities in China with a population of more than 2 million (of which we in the West can probably name 2).

The need for travel, the networks for non-car users and the niceties of behavioural change all lead to high car use and environmental damage. The attention of the world is often on Bangkok and Cairo but rarely on the smaller cities. A mass application of a quick evaluation method of reviewing traffic, transport and road safety would be a highly cost-effective form of intervention and assistance
Geoff Gardner, Travel Awareness Officer, North Yorkshire County Council, Northallerton UK


It would be welcome to see cars become more fuel efficient, but that's only half the problem. The other half is a built environment that reflects car dependence: buildings set far back from the road and spread far from each other, millions of kilometres of streets and expressways, and huge expanses of asphalt parking lots.

Cities that are designed to cater to cars necessarily exclude anyone who can't drive, particularly children, the elderly, and the poor. The mere presence of car-friendly infrastructure acts to lower population density to the point that transit can no longer run cost-effectively. Further, the noise and stress of traffic create an unpleasant environment for anyone who does try to walk, further reinforcing driving.

Children who grow up in car-based environments miss opportunities to exercise, interact with other members of society, and acquire independence. The results of sprawl development are clear: overweight children at higher lifetime risk of diabetes and heart disease, a significant increase in respiratory illness, even measurable effects on emotional development, concentration, and school performance. This doesn't even consider the dangers of vehicle collisions, the leading cause of death of children in North America.

Economically, the hundreds of dollars a month a family spends on transportation cannot be spent on anything else. Indeed, the American economy today consists mainly of construction and vehicles, with most manufacturing having moved offshore. It goes without saying that an economy built on physical growth is unsustainable and suffers the risks attendent with a lack of diversity.
Ryan McGreal, Hamilton, U.S.
http://www.raisethehammer.org/



The basic objective in transport planning should be to minimise the amount of motor traffic. To oversimplify, transport planners need to see every car on the road as a symptom of a transport problem that they have failed to solve.

The litany of external costs of motoring should be familiar to most people in this debate: in no particular order of precedence, they include greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, danger (especially to pedestrians and cyclists), abstraction of patronage from public transport systems and local community amenities as people choose to drive to more distant facilities, and congestion, topped up with a positive feedback facility whereby every increase in motoring exacerbates the factors which encourage more people to choose the car.

If, therefore, a problem of getting from A to B can be solved without a car, this is almost always a preferable solution for society as a whole.

Any policy must involve a combination of "carrots" and "sticks". The sticks have to exist so that people only use cars when there is no reasonable alternative; the carrots so that they do in fact have reasonable alternatives almost all of the time. There is no absolute need for these alternatives to be as attractive to the user as motoring, though obviously this would be an advantage; it is sufficient that they be sufficient for the needs of the journey in question and that they have a monetary advantage over motoring which would be enough to encourage people to choose them.

London has reduced traffic significantly by means of congestion charging, but this should be seen as only a first step in the creation of a city where walking and cycling are truly pleasant, where buses go at reasonable speeds, and where the rail system is pervasive enough to link all the major centres. And these targets are also appropriate in other insutrialised countries.

In less developed countries (I don't like using the word "developing" as it begs a question), public transport may be pervasive enough but not meet the standards which motorists set for themselves. The challenge is to ensure that extra money spent on transport is used to better the standards of the many who use public transport rather than the few who use cars, and in doing so to avoid driving pedestrians and cyclists off the road.
Simon Norton, Coordinator, Transport 2000, Cambridgeshire and West Suffolk branch, UK


While some of the aims of this project are laudable, the need to think about what sustainability is and what it entails for transportation systems does not seem to be present in your thinking. For example, it is very easy to talk about alternative fuels for motor vehicles being the solution, the panacea to the carbon and sulphur emissions caused by them, but you only need to scratch beneath the surface to find that natural gas, for one, is merely a different type of fossil fuel, and that hydrogen fuel cells are merely a type of battery, needing large power sources to produce their fuel by splitting water. Changing fuel source does not address the economic costs of congestion, the costs that hurt now - only consideration of those costs and demand management will do that, if coupled with alternative modes of travel.

Sometimes the solution is in reducing the amount we need to travel. Some supermarket chains have introduced smaller local store formats, with a wide range of goods within walking distance of people's homes. In other places, local village and town centres have been promoted or regenerated, enabling access to goods and services people need locally. Health facilities and schools, both usually under the control of government, can be located nearer to where people live. None of this is new or groundbreaking - in Europe, many spatial and transport policies already try to take account of this. Travel is only useful if it serves a purpose which cannot be served where you are.

You make no mention of the fact rail (and bus) are sometimes viable alternatives to car use - public transport projects in cities have often led to marked reductions in car traffic on corridors. Not everyone wants to drive, even if they have a car. What cannot be ignored is that public transport uses far less energy per passenger journey (although four people in a car can compete against some high speed rail systems). As engine technology improves, bus, train and lorry engines all benefit as well as car engines, and the playing field on energy use is once again skewed towards public transport, not "levelled" in favour of the car.

Sustainability is about more than alternative fuels - land use, demand management and the development and promotion of alternative means of travel are all of critical importance, and I for one would argue that you cannot deliver sustainable transport systems without all of these.
Anzir Boodoo, UK


Sustainable transport - that is all forms of transport that minimise emissions of carbon dioxide and pollutants - must be a primary consideration for Principal Voices. Both developed and developing countries must promote greater use of public transport, car sharing, walking and cycling. These transport modes will contribute to better environmental and public health as well as improving equity of access to mobility that we all need.
Rosalie Day, Member, Bicycle Institute of South Australia Inc.
Adelaide, South Australia



There are many efforts going on around the world aimed at developing transport systems that can provide auto-competitive mobility in congested cities. They need to be rigorously evaluated and some selected for vigorous support from corporations and governments.

Descriptions of more than 80 emerging systems from around the world are currently available at the Innovative Transportation Technologies website. Some are operational, some are under development and some are still conceptual. All are electric, environmentally benign, low cost, easy to quickly construct and useful for both intercity and intracity travel. A quick overview is provided by four Photoindex pages. Links to details are available at the List of Systems page:
http://faculty.washington.edu/jbs/itrans/techtable.htm
Jerry Schneider, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington, Seattle, US.


I welcome the Principle Voices initiative to openly discuss transport options for the future. As well as promoting development of public transport, walking and cycling as an alternative to the car dependant society, I would also urge you and others to consider the wider economic and planning policies that create the need for increased travel.

Well designed cities with jobs and essential services within easy reach of peoples' homes, can do much to alleviate the increased pressure for building in the countryside and longer commuting and other journeys.

Taxation policy can also help with this endeavour. Land Value Taxation (whereby landowners pay a share of their annual rental value to the community by an annual tax levied on all sites, valued for their optimum permitted use) is the perfect way to ensure our cities grow in a sustainable fashion with the opportunity for open spaces and parks as well as all other sites being used productively to provide good homes, jobs and leisure uses.

LVT is cheap to collect and impossible to avoid. It gives landowners an incentive to use their land and not sit on empty sites for purposes of speculation.

It also ensures that the landless citizens share in the natural wealth in land values - which are not created by landowners, but by the whole community.
Dave Wetzel, Vice-Chair, Transport For London, UK


It is difficult to comment on the concept of "sustainable transportation" without a clear definition of it. My own approach is that an activity is "sustainable" if those engaged in it are voluntarily prepared to pay the costs resulting from their actions. Emeritus London School of Economics professor Alan Day applied this principle to roads as follows:

"If road users are prepared to pay a price for the use of roads that is greater than the cost of providing additional road space (including all the costs, externalities, land costs, a sensible measure of the costs of disturbing any areas with special wildlife and all the other genuine costs which can be identified) then the additional road space should be built". ("The case for road pricing", Economic Affairs, Vol. 18, No. 4, December 1998, Institute of Economic Affairs, London).

Unfortunately, this principle is ignored in the "Comments" already made. Carlos Pardo starts by "putting the interests of people at the center of decision-making", and then writes in praise of "reducing the use of cars". But people in all countries, at all income levels, seek to increase their mobility by the use of cars, because they feel it to be in their best interests. Until he finds a way for people to increase their mobility without the use of cars, how can Pardo resolve this dilemma? Is he suggesting that people in China, India and Thailand should not be allowed the mobility levels enjoyed in western countries? Is that "equitable"?

Alan Day's approach resolves this conflict by requiring people to pay for what they use. Those who regard free markets as "sustainable" will agree with him. The market approach would also meet the concerns of Zeenara Najam, who wants transport conditions in developing countries to improve. She should get the AIT to send her to Singapore (very much a "developing country"), where she will see how traffic congestion is relieved by the application to roads of market pricing principles. Some 25 years ago I was in Bangkok offering World Bank assistance to the Government of Thailand to improve the pricing Bangkok's roads, following the successful Singapore model. We were turned down.

This leads me to disagree with John Lord's suggestion that "transportation infrastructure and development must start and end with the government". On the contrary, transport infrastructure - road, rail, air and maritime - in the UK and US were pioneered by private providers, and it was government policies that created many of the present tragic absurdities.

Is it not easier to make the case that transport infrastructure is too important to be left to governments, and that the application of free markets is the surest way to the "sustainability" of the transport sector?
Gabriel Roth, US (Author of "Roads in the Market Economy", Ashgate, 1996)


Meeting the requirements outlined by Principal Voices -- finding ways to conserve natural resources, ease congestion of roads and airspace, cutnoise, reduce the number of accidents and increase social equity - can be accomplished using a light-weight automated transport called Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). Furthermore, PRT addresses the challenge as expressed on your comments page (by Zeenara Najam, Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand) that "Improvement in public transport in term of comfort, safety, time & cost will motivate society to use public transport." Although PRT technology has been available for years, political inertia (and even resistance) has repressed development of PRT systems. Until the political obstacles are overcome, any innovative transportation solution that meets the stated requirements will flounder.
Rob Means, Milpitas, California


Your intention with Principal Voices to work towards the improvement of transport in the world is very encouraging. However, we would like to add a few remarks regarding the way you have addressed this issue, based on our experience as a project that has promoted sustainable urban transportation for a while now.

Our concept of sustainable mobility addresses social, environmental and economical concerns at the same level. From our perspective, aiming at sustainable mobility means putting the interests of people in the center of decision-making. Hence it focuses on providing access to employment, social services and cultural activities while reducing the impact on public health, environment and the future of our children.

The question is not about the speed of trains, the width of roads or the fuel used in motor vehicles. The question is whether people can pursue their daily needs in a sustainable and affordable manner.

We feel that reducing the use of cars is one key activity,It would result in various consequences: a healthier, more equitable population, greater access for low-income groups, women and the elderly to all aspects of our societies and reduced consumption of non-renewable resources. The promotion of walking and cycling, the improvement of public transport systems, the creation of liveable public spaces and car-free areas are proven strategies to pursue these goals. This can be achieved without the typical large expenditures in transport infrastructure that normally arrive at the same problem: congested roads, inequitable transport and less access to education, work and services to low-income population. It is also important to emphasize that interventions at the technical level will never be as efficient as a sector-wide policy approach.

Also, you should take into account the fact that, though cars have a large economic industry behind them, a reduction of these vehicles would, in the long run, benefit the entire population as cities would be more productive than before for the reasons outlined above.

There are various examples of sustainable mobility initiatives around the world, both in developed and developing countries. Policy approaches such as London's congestion charging, Bogotá's decree for an annual car-free day (and Europe's similar initiative), Bus Rapid Transit projects in more than 60 cities in the world and bicycle promotion projects around Latin America, Asia and Africa are few examples of what has already been achieved and the positive results seen in these examples.

We believe that this approach would be more productive in the long term than continuing to reinforce the belief that technical improvements towards better private vehicles can solve these problems. However, we do agree that, after a sustainable transport policy has been implemented, technical improvements can support that cause by developing improved public transport vehicles, more accessible transport infrastructure and safer transport networks that will make the entire population benefit from them. Transport should begin with people and end with people, with the tools of policy and technical developments at their service.

We hope these suggestions are well received, and we look forward to keep giving suggestions to your project's development. You may also look into our website at www.sutp.org and download our resources which expand on this point of view (for example, our introductory module available in www.sutp.org/docs/overview.pdf

Carlos F. Pardo
GTZ Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP)
Bangkok, Thailand



Sustainable transport is needed for a healthy & safe society. The people of developing countries are suffering with the worst conditions of public transport. The trend to use the motorized vehicles especially motor cars is going to increase. There is a need of sustainable transportunder the aspects of economics, safety & environment. Improvement in public transport in term of comfort, safety, time & cost will motivate society to use public transport. There is need of strong transit systems that can be use with existing infrastructure & promotion of non motorized vehicles by-cycles etc. For the popular use of transport transit systems integrated transport models are also required. Separate bus lanes and cycle lanes could be also a better solution for promotion of sustainable transport. To save the energy resources, to improve the economical conditions of nations, to see the healthy environment in the future sustainable transport is need of the day. The governmental & private agencies should work together for the implementations of such projects in developing countries.
Zeenara Najam, Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand


Transportation infrastructure and development must start and end with the government. Private efforts to develop the needed infrastructure require long term planning and delayed returns on investment.

Incentives must be geared towards the utilization and development of mass transport and while the bulk of investment must be borne by the public, there is plenty of room for the private sector to participate in fringe benefit programs.

There is no reason why a country as rich as the US lags in rail transportation systems other than the free market approach and inherent corruption in government funded efforts to maintain its failed Amtrak system.

Countries have to earmark a separate budget, much like health care systems to build continuously towards an efficient alternate mode of transportation. This process should start immediately in North America to tie the Continent together in a seamless network of high speed and integrated intra city transport systems.

The biggest hurdle to transportation is politics and taxation policy. If you consider the cost to an average family of $15,000 per year to maintain the family car (depreciation, gas, insurance and maintenance) versus a family investment of $5,000 per year to build a healthy alternative - the populace will opt for the car. That is the challenge facing weakly structured democracies in terms of social responsibility.

However if you polled the population on what is better for society as a whole, they would answer - rail systems.
John Lord, Canada


General | Environment | Business | Economy | Transport



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