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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Collective reflections about development practice and cities


The wheels on the bus do not go round and round

By Laura J Hirst, on 16 April 2012

Transport and social exclusion project in Newham Borough

Linking theory with practice is something that the DPU prides itself in – recently the students of the MSc Social Development Practice had an exciting opportunity to work in conjunction with the Overview and Scrutiny Committee of the London Borough of Newham to explore the constraints faced by high school students when using the local bus network.

Although Newham now enjoys excellent transport links which bring people both in and out of the Borough, bus travel for local residents within Newham remains difficult.  To date, mobility studies tended to focus on quantitative operational data and important issues related to the social aspects of mobility by bus, especially those related to social identity and which can lead to social exclusion, are often ignored.  The brief specifically required the investigation of barriers in relation to bus travel in Plaistow to get to and from school and access educational opportunities within Newham.

A number of interviews and focus groups were conducted with a diverse range of students aged between 13 to 18, using participatory methodologies where possible. These included 24 hour mapping and drawing activities and visioning exercises.  Other important stakeholders were consulted, a focus group with Newham Young People’s Board was held, as well as interviews with bus drivers and dedicated school Youth Safety Workers.

The research highligted that safety is a huge issue for young people travelling by bus. Young men feel vulnerable to muggings and bullying on buses and the presence of postcode gangs is believed to exacerbate this problem. For young women, travelling in the dark in the winter months is a particular safety concern. At one school, several students with disabilities face major difficulties in getting to school due to limited spaces on a council-provided bus service. Uneasy relationships between young people, bus drivers and other bus users were also cited as an issue, giving rise to feelings of insecurity on all sides.  Young people feel they are subject to negative stereotyping and discrimination on the grounds of age, gender and ethnicity whilst bus drivers experience a general lack of respect from young bus users.

Findings and recommendations based on the evidence collected were presented to the Overview and Scrutiny Team and other invited stakeholders. Recommendations were grouped under the general theme of a stakeholder engagement campaign, seeking to address the tensions which were identified between real and perceived safety concerns.  Such a campaign could go some way to dispelling stereotypes and facilitating broader community dialogue and participation on student safety issues related to bus travel within both Plaistow and the Borough more generally.  More specific recommendations were:

  1. Increased contact between bus drivers and students through the incorporation of school visits into bus driver training;
  2. A school and youth based education campaign to make students aware of their rights and responsibilities related to bus travel;
  3. A community travel forum bringing together local residents, the council, Transport for London, and young people to address security concerns

Not only did the research provide invaluable first hand experience of ‘practice’ for the UCL students,  but the results of the work have since been taken up by Newham Borough Council and are reflected in the recently published  ‘Report of the Regeneration and Employment Scrutiny Commission’s Review into Regeneration and Transport in Newham’.  In addition, student mentoring opportunities have been created, and there are plans for a potential student-led public engagement campaign, hopefully building ongoing connections between UCL and the community.

Laura Hirst is a student of the MSc Social Development Practice (SDP) at the DPU. She has sent this post on behalf of the SDP group. Photos in this post by the SDP student Ignacia Ossul.

Latest Update 6th Sep.2012

As follow-up to the presentation of findings and recommendations to Newham Council, SDP students shared these results with Newham Young People’s Board (NYPB), one of the project’s stakeholders. The feedback session reminded students of the importance of the ongoing process of evaluation and reflection of the practitioner’s role in representing voice(s), particularly those of young people in social development research.
Time and practical constraints meant it had not been possible to fully involve young people in the research process and gain feedback from them prior to reporting back to the council. The NYPB were not satisfied with how their input had been represented in the final document produced by Newham Council; they felt that language used should be more youth-friendly and that their recommendations needed to be more accurately reflected. Recognising these concerns, a group of SDP students applied for and were successful in receiving funding from the UCL Public Engagement Unit’s Train and Engage programme to work with the NYPB to facilitate one of their recommendations; a community forum on the issues raised in the research. The SDP students will work collaboratively with the NYPB to facilitate a series of community forums on youth and transport issues, involving a range of local stakeholders (e.g. bus users, young people, Newham Council, local service providers), to improve the relationships between them. The forums will culminate in a final meeting where agreed ‘asks’ will be publicly presented to service providers and local institutions.Heidi Chan, Laura Hirst, Emma Shilston


Ecobici, Equity in Mobility?

By Tina Ziegler, on 25 January 2011

Post written by: Susana Arellano, DPU alumna 2009

Mexico City has long been known for the environmental crisis that is undergoing. Part of the proposed solution is Plan Verde, a 15 year strategy that the local government along with NGO´s and the private sector has launched to tackle issues in areas such as water and solid waste management, climate change and mobility. This last one includes improvements on the subway system, new bus routes and the introduction of the bicycle as a feasible way of transport in a culture where the car has long been privileged by city planners.http://www.mexicocityexperience.com/travel_center/getting_around/ New bike lanes and education programs certainly called for attention at a local level, but Ecobici made it to the headlines worldwide as the first bike-sharing program in Latin America. A year from its launch it raises questions on its future existence and its success as a program that claimed an opportunity for equity.

On February 2010, the public-private partnership between the Ministry of Environment (Secretaria del Medio Ambiente) and Clear Channel implemented Ecobici. An investment of 75 million pesos (£3.8 M) from the government along with publicity spaces for the enterprise, resulted in 85 stations and 1,114 bicycles. The bike-sharing program is similar to those currently working in other countries such as Italy, France and Spain. An annual fee of 300 pesos (£15.5) gives the users an unlimited number of 45 min rides along the four benefited neighborhoods: Condesa, Hipódromo Condesa, Juárez, Cuauhtémoc and Roma Norte. For those who know Mexico City the appointment of such area immediately leads to one of the following reactions: either it seems the most obvious selection, as it did to most of the middle/high class, or, as activists and NGO´s expressed, it is once more a clear example of the iniquity that prevails on most urban plans. The government explained that its intend was to reach the population that commutes to work and facilitate their journey after the bus or subway. It is certain that these neighborhoods, recently gentrified, have a high density of retail and commercial area; however, it is inevitable to notice that the dwellers are mostly those with high acquisitive power. Surveys demonstrate that other areas in the city register similar or higher commute rates, such as the boroughs of Tlahuac, Iztapalapa or Xochimilco where the majority of the population is from low income backgrounds. So why this specific region?

Map of bike stations in operation and available bicycles

Ecobici at first glance seems the kind of project countries of the global south are striving on in order to become world class cities. The beneficiaries of the program are those located within the most visible areas of the city to middle/high income classes, tourists and to the rest of a globalizing world. The implementation of a project which has been successful in developed countries is perceived as a definite way of moving forward. However, the models cannot be replicated, especially in a context with such high inequality levels and where opportunities seem unreachable for the majority of the population. Ecobici, with few variations from its counterparts in Europe, required a demographic that could also resemble a lifestyle closer to the one from the global north. Most of the people who reside in the area fit in the profile. They are credit card holders, which was required to become a member, and had already started to embrace a culture of bicycle mobility. It was almost a won bet. Thus, it is natural to question if this large investment from public funds, which seems only for the most privileged, is capable of being part of a larger transformation towards equity in mobility.

I believe Ecobici is able to offer more to those in Mexico City. The decision of starting the program in that specific area may have seemed unjust, but it is also unfair to stereotype it as a bourgeois project and not acknowledge its potential. The location was the opportunity to have a successful precedent, therefore allowing it to move forward. By reaching approximately 22,000 users instead of the 24,000 predicted, its success on the last year has pushed it to already expand into the historic downtown district. Ecobici could be the opportunity to have a public transport project that grants freedom of mobility to those with little possibilities otherwise. Public transportation, as Diana Daste mentions on a previous post, can go beyond inclusion from a liberal perspective and into social development. Ecobici could bring closer work, education and recreational opportunities, while at the same time improve the health of a growing Mexican obese population. A government official after the launch of the program declared that cycling generates citizenship, as it claims equity of rights between those in motorized vehicles and the cyclers. Therefore, why not use Ecobici as a program that recognizes as citizens those who have been long neglected.

Ecobici in Mexico

Change and more possibilities are underway. The extension predicted for 2012 will be 180 stations that could start to reach Buenavista and Tlateloco, areas recognized for their cultural wealth, mix income populations and tradition on social movements. The procedures to become a member have been adapted so users no longer have to be credit card holders, but can make use of the service by presenting their phone bills. Free education programs such as “Bici-Entérate” (“Bike-Inform”) continue to grow and to attract more people eager to use the bicycle as their main transport. Traffic regulations have been modified to recognize the cyclists as citizens with rights and responsibilities. It seems Ecobici can become a program for Mexico City instead of a copycat. Great potential can be appreciated and in the near future decisions on where and whom to reach will be key.  Its permanence as part of a healthier Mexico City will depend on the embracement from the population of cycling as alternative for mobility. As well as, on the outcome of the current struggle from the government to achieve a sustainable program and from NGO´s and community groups to have it become public policy. What Ecobici has accomplished today is not enough, but hopefully it is just the start towards the bicycle as a tool for equity in Mexico City.