The Future of Urban Mobility
Shapers Vidhan Rana, Riken Maharjan, and I represented the Kathmandu Hub in Shape China in the lovely port city of Dalian from 5-7 September. The Beijing II and Dalian Hubs organized the event and it gave us a unique Shaper’s insight into the economic and social conversations that are shaping China today. These regional Shape events also provide Shapers with an opportunity to meet, discuss the types of projects undertaken at the Hub level, and experience what this wonderful community is all about.
Amongst the myriad of panels and discussions ranging from youth engagement in contemporary art in Beijing, China’s circular economy, and the New Silk Road initiative that is being initiated to further China’s economic involvement in Eurasia, the Ford Mobility Session stood out for me as the most engaging and relevant as a Shaper. The Ford Motor Company’s Global Future Mobility Manager Ms. Erica Klampfl hosted the session along with members of her team.
Some thoughts on the session:
- The topic of mobility whether it is urban, rural, or trans-national, is very pertinent to us Shapers because we are from a generation who are more mobile than any of the generations before us. On a micro level, most Shapers live in fairly large urban areas that have their own systems of public and private transportation networks and culture.
- This was an excellent opportunity to learn about the different urban transportation systems from Shapers from Indonesia, Mongolia, South Africa, and Taiwan, which gave us a unique perspective on the state of urban transport from an advanced economy like Taiwan to the most underserved economy like Nepal.
- My interest was in the latest developments on the public transportation front. Kathmandu's public transportation system is overburdened, disorganized, fragmented, and prone to bottlenecks and politically motivated transportation strikes that can paralyze the city. As government involvement is virtually non-existent, the private sector has been catering to the requirements via a network of buses, microbuses, taxis, and auto-rickshaws.
- Moving forward, it seems imperative that the government takes a lead in the development of the public transportation system. If indeed the government decides to stay out of the sector then it needs to create the right political and economic environment to help the private sector establish and operate it. Either way, proper regulations, maintenance, and public safety should be prioritized.
- The development of a public transportation system is a delicate balancing act between complex engineering, urban planning, and public finances. The development of infrastructure requires large amounts of capital and highly experienced project management skills. On top of that, the hallmark of any public transportation system is that it needs to be comfortable, safe, and affordable.
- Technology has made daily commuting easier by increasing our ability to optimize travel routes to arrive at our destinations faster and by introducing smart payment systems that can integrate the various transportation networks like buses, trains, and trams through common payment gateways either through a card system or via mobile technology.
- An interesting observation was the fact that even in the most developed of economies, people tend not to take public transportation because it is just not convenient or not cool enough. Anecdotes on how Shapers perceive their public transportation systems were particularly entertaining and insightful.
The most important takeaway of the session was that a developed public transportation system is an indication of where a country is in its growth trajectory. Although it is not an easy task by any means to establish an efficient and affordable public transportation system, it can make a city more livable and business friendly. It is one of the major inputs in urban planning that can go hand-in-hand with investments in property development, businesses, and public spaces. Furthermore, the public transportation system can reduce traffic in the streets and make daily commutes safer and more convenient. The session also touched upon topics like the sharing economy and how the world of mobility is being disrupted by ride sharing apps for example. As Shapers, we must engage more idea sharing and policy discussions around mobility because only then can we make a larger impact in our societies by reaching places that were inaccessible before.
- Amod Rajbhandari