So, what to make of transit in the United States compared to our good friends across the pond in Europe? No matter what country you are in, except perhaps the ever-punctual Switzerland, there will always be complaints about thetimeliness of public transportation. There will always be an issue with the design of the train, and there will always be someone who had a bad experience somewhere. So, when you hear naysayers for transit, remember that they have a knee-jerk reaction against transit not because it runs poorly even because they actually had a real bad experience, people are generally stating that they feel their life is more convenient and they have more control in a car. In the United States, that is quite probably true.
That having been said, I joined a panel on “Society and Environment: Green Economies,” a business, society and policy approach at the International Geographic Congress in Cologne, Germany. What has the panel explored that came together in Germany?
The panel was formed of four people and a chair, from four very different lands: France, Sweden, Germany and the United States. The focus was on the various levels of green decision making, and what the incentive to do so is, and the means of analysis for that form of decision.
The panelist from France focused on corporate-level decisions that favored green goods carriage. The two from Sweden focused on the new knowledge dynamics of the green economy and the developments of what are termed eco-networks that drive innovation in the environment. The German representative chaired the panel and I focused on what design and development has wrought here in America and how utilizing GIS and data can improve the delivery of mass transit. The conclusions were surprisingly similar, but come from entirely different approaches.
Incentives for Green Decisions
In France, it was shown that the companies choose more sustainable cargo carriage because either it is better marketing (looking green equals more green in the wallet) or because it improves the bottom line due to efficiency. In other words, business is still business everywhere. That has a natural parallel to mass transit and transit in general: a greater awareness of the environmental utility of mass transit, a form of psychic income (that is, income derived from feeling better about the results of work rather than profit or wage) will produce greater choice of transit. It is therefore incumbent upon mass transit authorities and agencies, in concert with planning organizations and local leadership, to introduce the concept to the potentially riding citizens.
One of the Swedes presented fairly new research into what she termed knowledge dynamics for the green economy, or groups of colleagues that informally think green and focus new business or newsocial policy on delivering environmentally sound decisions within economically sound policy. This is a developing field, according to her. However, we have a parallel here in the United States: Silicon Valley, or the Route 128 loop outside of Boston. These are technical hubs whose members, in competition or not, often exchange information.
In economic geography, we call this scale economies of agglomeration or specialization, in other words, the more smart people focusing on a subject that you have in a close area, the more you develop that specialty and the more competitive your products become on the world market, thus driving up profit. So, how can public transportation and mass transit take advantage of these eco-networks? Participate outside of the transit and planning “world” and get involved in the broader environmental and economically friendly movements.