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Quality Public Transport: key to urban sustainability

Brendan Martin, 14 November 2012

This morning I spent a couple of hours as the guest of the Guardian newspaper taking part in a debate called The future of sustainable transport: solving global gridlock. The event was sponsored by Ford, and (until I raised it a few minutes from the end) had hardly touched on the role of public transport. I'm not saying those two facts are related, but then again I'm not saying they aren't!

Credit to both the Guardian and Ford for putting on the event, of course, and I'm grateful they invited me along. Debates such as this are really valuable, and I am happy to believe Ford V-P Barb Samardzich, who spoke at the event, that Bill Ford is a sustainability visionary whose TED talk on the subject is not to be missed. I will indeed watch it.

But I'm less happy to go along with Barb's statement that by 2050 there will be 2 billion cars on the world's roads, around double today's number. Call me cynical, but coming from Ford that sounds more like a wish than a forecast.

Barb didn't pluck that number out of the polluted air. That is indeed a soundly based projection of current trends. But there is a big difference between a projection and a prediction. The one tells us where we will get to unless we do something differently, while the other implies inevitability, and by doing so neglects our collective ability to shape the future.

Visionary leaders are indeed required -- but in national and municipal government rather than in global corporations with a lot at stake in seeing the 2 billion number as a target rather than a warning. Henry Ford revolutionised private transport, but I think it's a bit far-fetched to expect his great grandson to be the one to revolutionise public transport!

But a revolution in public transport -- and in all the related issues of accessibility, land use, working practices and so on -- is what we need. More and better public transport options, linked more effectively with cycling and walking, and resourced and managed so that they are genuinely desirable ways to travel -- these must be central to a sustainable future.

Public World is working with the International Transport Workers' Federation to promote such a global future. We've only just made a small start, but if you or your organisation would like to join us, please do! Find out more at


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