Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Future Urban Transport Conference - Göteborg Sweden

I just returned from the 4th Future Urban Transport Conference held in Göteborg. The conference is sponsored by the City of Göteborg, the Volvo Research and Education Foundations and the Volvo company. (The photo above is of the design on the sides of Göteborg's public transport vehicles - they have a great PT system including a new bus rapid transit line.)

The conference was excellent, blending academic research with public policy and business issues. The first day consisted of presentations from academic researchers. Many were from programs sponsored by the VREF and there was a real diversity of ideas and opinions expressed. The conference website shows the schedule with links to the presentations.

One of the most interesting presentations for me was the keynote by Professor Geetam Tiwari who discussed some of the research done at her institute in New Delhi. Her presentation Public Transport Use - Emerging Issues really made you think about some preconceived ideas about public transport (is a new metro the right solution for cities like Delhi? is public transport really safer than alternatives? what are the real equity issues in transport?).

I also really enjoyed Professor Carlos Daganzo's presentation on A Cheap and Resilient Approach to Eliminating Bus Bunching. Professor Daganzo was one of my teachers at Berkeley and he always amazed me by being able to translate very complex mathematical analysis into practical ideas, and even better, to make them easily understandable. As a public transport rider I feel like I am affected by bus bunching every day and so I hope to work with Vienna Transport to test Carlos' idea on my local bus line. I'll keep you updated.

The third presentation that made a big impact on me was by Professor Harry Dimitriou: Mega transport Projects, Globalization and Private Finance: Emerging Challenges for the 21st Century. The topics he raised are especially topical since many policy makers have been operating under the assumption that private finance (e.g. public private partnerships etc.) are the answer to solving our transport infrastructure problems ... but the private finance model seems to have let us down in the last several years, what does this mean? Among the interesting points he made is that the private sector is not necessarily more efficient than the public sector, that finance companies and government can have very different objectives for their assets (financiers may want to churn the asset to generate short term profits, government wants an efficient and sustainable infrastructure solution), etc. Fascinating ideas extremely relevant for today's problems.

I could go on since there were many other interesting papers and discussions. Tomorrow more on the second two days of the conference.

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