A Revolution in the Transport Economy

If you ask most Australians today what worries them most, chances are they will respond that the ever-spiralling cost-of-living is of prime concern. The rising cost of petrol, in particular, is one factor which flows on through the transport sector to impact upon the broader economy.

This tendency – felt worldwide – is worsened by tension in the Persian Gulf, and looming confrontation with Iran. In addition, there is the impact of rapidly developing economies like China and their insatiable thirst for oil.

Many commentators believe if we have not already reached “Peak Oil” we will do so soon. And as demand increasingly outstrips supply the crisis is set to worsen.

The aim of this paper is to consider the transport sector crisis: from the need for green and efficient alternatives, to the imperative of providing transitional transport supply infrastructure – as part of a “transport revolution”.

Transport economy in crisis

Considering the skyrocketing price of oil, it might reasonably be supposed that there is already sufficient incentive for governments worldwide to take decisive action and restructure their transport economies in favour of cost-effective and renewable solutions.

The Emissions Trading Scheme proposed by the Rudd Government – as applied to petrol – looked set to increase prices by as much as 10c a litre.

In response to criticism, the government signalled that it would be cutting petrol excise for three years so as to make the overall effect revenue neutral.

There is still, though, a strong case to transition beyond the kind of oil dependence we now have. Both for the environment and for sheer efficiency there is a case to be put for the public transport alternative – and for investment in electric and hybrid car technology.

Debate is now crucial: to spur Australian governments on to embrace reform and to restructure transport economies in favour of cost-effective, sustainable and renewable solutions.

Intelligent Transport Systems

Both describe the use of computerised communication technology applied to improving the conditions on our roads. A system is programmed to achieve a particular set of goals, according to brief, further goals can be added, in the future, but need to be programmed into the system.

Any difference, therefore, lies in details of software programming and its application. Where traffic-related ITS deals mainly with traffic enforcement and toll collection, transport-related ITS aims to provide more pleasant and effective travel to those using public transport and help traffic to run more smoothly. The eThekwini Transport Authority has incorporated ITS into its plans for the future.

The eThekwini Transport Authority

In January 2004, the eThekwini Transport Authority (ETA) was established to take responsibility for all transport-related issues within the Municipality. Its particular mandates are public transport and the reduction of traffic congestion. It therefore hopes to encourage the people who presently indulge their use of private transport, to see the benefit of swapping to public transport.

In the Durban area, this includes buses, mini-bus taxis and trains, none of which presently operate very efficiently. Some services are duplicated, under-utilised and over-subsidised while others, that by virtue of their popularity should receive subsidies, do not.

Buses and trains are subsidised to the tune of R400 million a year, but taxi commuters -historically the poorer people of our society – are required to cover the entire cost of the service.

13% of Durban’s residents (roughly 400 000 people) have no access, or cannot afford to access public transport, in any form. The eThekwini Transport Authority’s current initiatives aim to apply technical intelligence to change and improve the status quo.

The ‘recap’ and EMS

The average distance of a public-transport trip is 20km and takes roughly 48 minutes from start to finish. Taxis are often (at best) uncomfortably crowded and (at worst) in a frightful condition, putting the lives of commuters at great risk.

Taxi ‘recapitalisation’ goes far beyond exchanging hard cash for beaten up vehicles and dedicated, regulated, route monitoring. An Electronic Management System (EMS), which operates far beyond fare payment issues, is an important feature of the R7.7 billion x 7-year programme.

Incentives for change

“Positive discrimination” incentives that will hopefully cause motorists to change willingly to public transport include priority right-of-way (dedicated) bus lanes enforced (to keep other vehicles out) with the help of CCTV number plate and facial recognition systems, which will allow for automatic prosecution of offenders.

Dedicated bus lanes increase the speed of buses while decreasing the speed of all other vehicles. Electronic transponders, fitted to buses, can further ensure that the buses encounter green signals at robots.

Transportation Services and Modes of Transport

In human evolution, the earliest means of transport were walking, running and swimming. Before the Industrial Revolution and modernization, water transport was the most efficient method of transporting large quantities of goods over long distances though it was very slow and expensive. The importance of water transport led to the growth of cities along rivers and sea-shores where boats, canoes and ships could dock.

The domestication of animals and the invention of the sled gave way to early animal transport services. Horses and oxen were used from as early as 3000 BC to transport goods and humans and traveled over dirt tracks. Later civilizations such as the Mesopotamian and the Indus Valley built paved roads for easier transport.

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century turned transportation on its head. It was the age of many inventions that fundamentally changed the concept of transport. Communication, telegraphy, the steam engine and the steam ship sped global transport in all directions. Land transport became possible over large distances without the application of animal or human muscles. The Wright brothers’ successful experiments with aircraft paved the way for airplanes and air transport became a faster way to transport goods and people in shorter time-frames to further destinations.

Modes of transport

A ‘mode of transport’ is a method or solution that uses a particular type of infrastructure, operation and vehicle to transport people and cargo. A mode can be used by itself or in conjunction with several other modes; in this case it is referred to ‘intermodal’ or ‘multimodal’ transport. Each is distinct from the other and is used based on choice of factors like cost of transport, route taken, capability and so on.

  1. Human-powered – this is the most common in developing and under-developed countries because of several factors like savings on cost, accessibility of location, physical exercise and environmental reasons. Human-powered transport is a sustainable form of transport and has recently been enhanced by the use of machinery and modern technology – e.g. cycling, skating, rowing, skiing which are extremely useful in difficult environments.
  2. Animal-powered – whether ridden by humans or used as pack animals for movement of people and commodities, animals can work alone or in teams – e.g. mules, horse-carts, dog-sleds etc.
  3. Air – airplanes and aircraft have reduced travel times considerably and is the fastest mode of passenger and goods transport. High costs and high energy use are the downsides of air transport; however, it is estimated that over 500,000 people travel in aero-planes at any given time.
  4. Rail – Railroads and rail tracks run the length and breadth of every country in the world ferrying people and goods from place to place. Although they involve the use of large amounts of surface land, rail networks provide easy connectivity options within cities, within countries and between different countries as a mode of public transport- e.g. New York City Subway, London Metro, Eurotunnel or the Chunnel between England and France and the Euro Rail.
  5. Road – road networks pass through cities, towns and villages and provide better connectivity options in addition to city rail networks and are ideal for public transport also. Road transport is entirely different from other modes as it allows a vehicle user to have complete freedom over speed, direction, timings of travel and change of location that other transport methods cannot provide. They require large surface areas, use high energy and are quite expensive.
  6. Water – water transport includes barges, boats, sailboats and ships through canals, rivers and seas. The earliest boats and ships were routed through inland canals for transporting people and spices. Today large passenger and cargo ships provide an organized and efficient transportation method. Although the time involved is long, water transportation is significantly less expensive than air or road.