High Volume Transport

Vital transport research to ensure accessible, affordable and climate friendly transport for all.

Five questions that will shape the future of transport

On 17–18 January 2019, Hight Volume Transport (HVT) Team Leader Bernard Obika attended Transforming Transportation in Washington D.C., an event co-hosted by the World Bank Group and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Transforming Transportation gathered hundreds of policy makers, transport experts and researchers under the theme ‘Will New Mobility Deliver Sustainable Transport for All?’. This focus made it a ‘must attend’ event for HVT as our mandate is to commission cutting-edge research that updates technical best practice for transport infrastructure in low-income countries and share it with governments and practitioners so it is applied.

Five key questions

On 17 January, Bernard was among the panellists of ‘Managing the Transformation: New Mobility, New Policies, New Solutions’, a session delivered by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

HVT Team Leader Bernard Obika at Transforming Transportation. Credit: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, made available via Flickr under the permissions of a Creative Commons licence.

The session was moderated by Armin Wagner, Team Leader Sector Project, Sustainable Mobility, at German Development Agency GIZ. The other panellists were Christian Hochfeld, Director at Agora Verkehrswende, Laura Ballesteros, Deputy Minister of Mobility of Mexico City, Daniel Günther, Senior Policy Officer at BMZ and Maruxa Cardama, SLoCaT Secretary General.

Panellists and audience engaged in a passionate debate around five key questions, to which Bernard gives his answers below.

1. What are the key success factors of alliances in the transport sector?

Alliances need to focus on results and the people who form them should focus on the outcomes of their work. To work well, alliances also need to be non-hierarchical and inclusive.

2. How can we break down the silos in transport without losing the sector’s identity?

There is a belief in the transport sector that we need to work in silos to retain our identity. Following this logic, urban mobility specialists should work in urban mobility, and long distance transport experts in long distance transport. However, we can no longer work in silos. Transport is multi-disciplinary and is becoming increasingly so. We need to look at old and new transport problems from a different perspective and that is why HVT is working with core transport specialists as well as anthropologists and other professionals. And this is yielding some interesting results.

For example, the issue of climate change requires a multisectoral approach, where all disciplines collaborate to tackle it, as we are part of systems that are interconnected. Energy and transport related emissions are another example. It is also clear the transport sector needs to work with the health sector to understand its impact on wellbeing and health. Identity becomes secondary, results are what matters most.

3. What is the biggest contribution we can make to ensure mobility serves the common good?

Inclusion is the key and this is precisely why HVT focuses on it.

Over 1 billion people in the world live with disabilities. You cannot leave such an important part of the world’s population out of the equation. Much of the research that HVT is commissioning and will commission focuses on how to increase access to transport for the youth and people with disabilities, which have not been adequately taken into account in previous transport strategies.

Another important factor is the need to approach problems in different ways and from different perspectives. For example, the HVT team is working with multi-disciplinary teams from SOAS University of London, University of Birmingham and other institutions to look at some of the traditional transport problems from different angles.

4. What is your New Year’s resolution to strengthen partnerships and raise the level of ambition?

It is too late for New Year’s resolutions. We should be more visionary in the way we see the future of transport. Transport is moving ahead faster than us researchers. Changes are dictating the agenda, but the people who are driving them are manufacturers who don’t participate in the same fora as us, transport experts and researchers.

Manufacturers don’t necessarily have the intimate knowledge we have of science and imperatives around transport. Their incentives and ours may also differ. Instead of adapting to their innovations to tackle climate change and inclusive mobility, we should be ahead or at least work with them to shape the agenda collaboratively.

5. What can Germany learn from international experience in mobility transition?

Germans have a vibrant and progressive car industry. They should reorient the knowledge they have on internal combustion engines to help us develop the next generation of electric vehicles. That knowledge could also be used to help us understand how to deal with combustion engines in low-income countries as the rest of the world moves to electric.

The answers to these questions will shape the future of transport, with knock-on effects across other sectors too. It is key we get them right.