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Transport around the Commonwealth

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Transport needs vary from country to country. The Commonwealth represents this variety and recently met to discuss global needs.

Transport challenges are global, particularly in the contexts of social mobility, accessibility and global climate change. Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain, Rail Knowledge Transfer Manager at KTN, and a UK representative at the Commonwealth Youth Parliament 2020, looks at how international collaboration can meet some of these needs.

Transport systems around the world vary widely and are perceived differently within this global context. Those who use public transport systems on a regular basis are certainly far more likely to have more detailed opinions on their function than a tourist, who may only use a system once. But, whilst some of these views naturally carry more weight, they must all be considered for the establishment of truly world-class transport systems.

Similarly, people of all backgrounds and with different needs and accessibility requirements must be consulted, to ensure that systems are truly reflective of all users. More than 70 per cent of the rural population of African nations are estimated to have been left unconnected, due to missing transport infrastructure and systems. In urban areas, where an additional two billion people are expected to be living in cities by 2045, the growth in population is far outstripping the growth in public transport, thus limiting access to economic and social opportunities.

One key element of the development of these outstanding systems lies in the value of international collaboration and the sharing of best practice (and lessons learned). Whilst not all technologies, projects and principles are internationally uniformly applicable (most people would not directly compare the Transport for London network in the UK with bus transit in and around Neiafu, Tonga), learning from almost every transport network can, and should, be shared. It is important not to make assumptions about which messages may be useful; those at a local and community level are best placed to make judgements and to extract useful information.

This is especially relevant in the context of global economic recovery from COVID-19, through enabling businesses to market and sell their products and innovations internationally, to the future of the UK following Brexit as we look to build stronger relationships outside the EU, including within the Commonwealth.

Sustainable development

Through the Commonwealth Youth Parliament, representatives from a variety of nations discussed international transport development needs and opportunities, specifically amplifying the views of young people.

Decarbonisation is a key focus in transport around the world, with transport emissions, including road, rail, air and marine transportation, accounting for more than 24 per cent of global CO2 emissions in 2016. In the context of global climate change, and the varying contributions that different nations make to emissions, we must all work to address this crucial need to help those nations most at risk from the catastrophic impact of climate change (including India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Canada and beyond). This has the impact of improving lives around the world in every nation, regardless of risk, safeguarding those in the global community and across the Commonwealth.

Development of sustainable transport is ongoing internationally, from hydrogen train development in the UK with HydroFLEX, through work to develop sustainable stations, to developments in Canada, where the University of New Brunswick is researching lightweighting trains and boats through use of aluminium, and the University of Carleton is developing a database for precise measurement and assessment of the health impacts of pollution from aviation.

The outputs and learning from this work must be shared internationally, to reduce duplication of effort, and to ensure that the most impactful practice is enacted in nations around the world.

For both improved connectivity and sustainability, development of better integrated networks and transport systems is crucial. Giving passengers in a wide range of communities greater choice and ensuring door-to-door connectivity is essential in effecting the modal shift from private to public transport.

Variety of views

David Salmon, representative for Jamaica at the Commonwealth Youth Parliament 2020, focussed on bus services, commenting that, “… public transport is essential for communities in order to provide integrated and comprehensive development that factors the needs of all citizens” and that priorities for improvement include punctuality, as well as “…making buses more accessible for the disabled community and to decrease waiting times”. He also commented that “public transportation is important as it can serve as the mechanism to link respective communities,” adding: “Due to the zoning plan in Kingston, many people have to commute for long distances, thus a viable public transport system is essential. To build viable communities, public transportation is necessary”.

Adam Tate, representing the UK, particularly highlighted the regional disparity of public transport across the nation, with transportation in London being much more reliable and accessible, whereas outside the capital it can be “irregular, overpriced and old”.

For national improvements, Adam feels that, “Integrated transport planning is essential, to provide a more robust national infrastructure and systems which are conducive to use focussed on sustainability and health benefits”, particularly to reduce isolation of rural communities and to meet carbon reduction targets.

He highlighted Amsterdam as a key example of a well-integrated city, illustrating how the sharing of learning is particularly key for international transport development; for Amsterdam, active travel facilities and connectivity by bicycle provide a superb example for other smaller cities around the world.

A man sits on a boda boda in Uganda. Photo credit Random Institute.

For larger cities and for those in more rural communities and suburbs, however, rail and light rail development is essential for full access to all opportunities. Erasto Richard Magamba, representing Uganda, firmly believes that there is a need to improve railway transport within the nation. He uses boda bodas (motorbike taxis) regularly, in an effort to avoid traffic. Boda bodas are also a common source of income, especially for young men, but have recently been banned from carrying passengers in Uganda to reduce the spread of COVID-19, only being permitted to carry cargo. This has a significant impact on connectivity in the nation, with Mr Magamba commenting, “… public transport is very important when it comes to business transportation because it goes beyond… to cater for an ordinary person deep down in rural areas to connect with urban areas”.

Pubali Bezbaruah, representative for India, echoed this development need in rail and light rail, commenting: “Metro, in almost every state, is needed so that much of the time and money is saved.”

Very Light Rail development in Coventry, UK, may well hold the key to some of these communities’ needs, enabling connectivity without the need for major infrastructure development and reducing costs, timescales and disruption. 

A bus in Jamaica. Photo Credit: Rock Staar

International inclusion

Across this, accessibility and inclusion come to the fore, and must be considered and included for development of public transport of all types. Maria Ovcharenko, representative for Canada, feels that the transport system in her nation is effective and efficient, as well as inclusive, commenting that “…most, if not all, buses and LRT systems are wheelchair accessible”. However, she feels that this inclusion needs further development, particularly in ensuring women feel safe travelling alone at night, commenting that “Edmonton specifically… has begun implementing measures to address this on a superficial level, such as hiring security personnel”.

This consideration of inclusion in the widest possible context is vital for building safe transport networks which inspire public confidence. In the UK, initiatives including Visible Platform are working in this space, highlighting the needs of women and ensuring that the inclusion agenda goes beyond physical access.

Moving forward, it is clear that international collaboration across innovations and transport development can address some of these significant challenges. Collaboration is fundamental to the ethos of the Commonwealth, and KTN works to enable this international communication, including through work such as the UK Rail Innovation COVID-19 brochure, which highlights innovations applicable in a global context for rail recovery.

Adam Tate, representing the UK, commented: “…the UK suffers with competing political agendas and is reliant largely on Victorian era infrastructure. There needs to be shared and equitable spending across the UK, looking at methods of creating green and sustainable funding models for public transport.”

Ensuring transport is developed for the needs of people at every level – from tiny rural communities to the international climate change context – is essential to equal access and inclusion. This can be achieved through consultation with communities, working with experts in transportation and through collaboration with international groups.