Public Participation on Transport: Real Collaborative Value or Procurement Checkbox?

Photo by Steve Bland.

by Steve Evans

In case you weren’t aware of it, the City of Cape Town (CoCT) has declared October as “Transport” Month, with the highlight being the launch of the Transport Authority on 18 October 2012.

Amongst other things, the City has a number of public workshops planned, focusing on various aspects relating to the planning & integration of our transportation network, and with the objective of taking input from both public and private sector as well as other interested and affected parties.

But, are these workshops an opportunity for real collaborative value, or just a procurement checkbox from the side of the City?

The first of these workshops was held at the City Hall on the 2nd October, and was designed as a panel discussion with breakaway groups to “discuss and obtain input into the development of the Integrated Transport Plan (ITP) pertaining to passenger transport.” It included an overview of where we currently are, and attempted to offer a vision of what we as Capetonians want it to be.

As one might appreciate, the sheer scale of the project (relating to public transportation) belies the complexities of designing and implementing a new system against the background of our current (historical) infrastructure and social issues, let alone taking relevant and meaningful input from the public.

For this purpose, CoCT did well to break it down into the three sub-themes, and gave an informative presentation of the current state of the ITP and guidelines to frame the discussion around what it might be in the future. The breakaways sessions then focused on the following three aspects:

  • Fares and ticketing
  • Availability and quality of service
  • Information and communication

Whilst this was a noble attempt at a meaningful and inclusive process, I can’t help feel that CoCT missed a trick here by having their internal personnel facilitating the discussions, and to that end, the breakaway that I attended (Fares & Ticketing) tended to be dominated by a few individuals rather than a genuine attempt at brainstorming the possibilities of what could be.

That having been said, I was impressed with the expertise and experience of the people that attended, and there were certainly some good ideas that were generated. The only other observation was that I doubt that many of the people contributing were or are currently actual users of our Public Transport Network!

In my view, if the City want to get real value out of these workshops, and make this public participation process truly valuable, they need to ensure the following:

  • get professional facilitators to run the workshops (ideation is a complex process)
  • Brainstorm ideas in small sub-groups without reservation and regardless of how feasible or not the idea(s) may be (the rationalisation process will happen naturally at a later stage, and after all, that’s what brainstorming is!)
  • Invite and ensure the attendance and input of key people from the private sector as well as from all the relevant transportation stakeholders (both operational & regulatory)
  • Ensure that there is input locally & from external cities/governmental departments – I was pleased to hear the input from one of the operations directors from Gautrans adding insight from their experiences & learnings.
  • Ensure there is full representation across the board including from current public transport users.

Further to these inputs above, it dawned on me that despite all the good ideas & intentions generated around these core themes, the make or break of our future integrated public transport system actually lies with Information & Communication.

In the public transport context this is twofold (and assumes internal operational stakeholder buy-in & communication is aligned):

  • The marketing strategy – the ability to market the system (Internally & Externally) and communicate information to drive user uptake, develop sustainable ridership figures and ensure a satisfied user experience.
  • The marketing medium – the use of various Above the Line Media (ATL) with a large focus on and use of transit media space (for which there is an extensive international model) for both revenue generation (offsets operating costs/subsidies), but more importantly to leverage the above mentioned marketing strategy for “self benefit”.

A great case study is LA Metro, where they created their own in-house advertising agency to strategise and market the Metro brand, resulting in a “12% increase in discretionary riders (people who have a choice to commute by car or transit) from 24% to 36% in 2009. Subsequent articles also highlight the consistent ridership growth statistics (2011), as does the current statistical data released by Metrorail.  Not only has the marketing been focused around ease of use, but there has been a conscious effort to create a consistent and powerful image, language and context that supports the user experience throughout the system.

For the sake of Capetonians and visitors alike, I hope that the inputs from these public workshops are indeed valuable, and a genuine effort to engage with and take public input, rather than just being a procurement checkbox.

Steve qualified from UCT with a Civil Engineering degree before working both locally and abroad as a structural design engineer whilst pursuing an international career of a different kind – field hockey. Having finally achieved his sporting ambitions representing South Africa at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, he returned to Cape Town where he currently lives with his wife and two young kids. Steve has always had a fascination with Media and the way it effects our lives, and so it was a logical career progression joining the founding members of Secondharvest Consulting in 2007 to look at how signage, and in particular out-of-home media integrates (or doesn’t!) into our urban streetscapes. Steve has spent the past 7 years consulting on large scale infrastructure and transportation projects around the world for both public and private sector clients.Steve is a cancer survivor, cycling & MTB enthusiast, coffee lover and proudly South African!

There is one comment

  1. Sean Dayton

    Great article Steve:) I really agree with your points about inclusivity, and how it should be commuters themselves who are giving their insight. You can have the greatest public participatory processes in the world, but if you’re not talking to the right people then there’s almost no point. Quite reminiscent the Communal Land Rights Act which was ultimately declared unconstitutional – government spent all this money getting traditional leaders to participate and give their views, but the people the Act was going to affect the most were completely forgotten.

    In a similar sense you want to make the average commuter feel like the system isn’t just getting forced down from above – so have a wider level public participation process, and you’re right, the rationalisation process should happen at a later stage.

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