skip to Main Content

CHANGES IN TRANSPORT PLANNING POLICY: CHANGES IN TRANSPORT PLANNING METHODOLOGY?

CHANGES IN TRANSPORT PLANNING POLICY: CHANGES IN TRANSPORT PLANNING METHODOLOGY?

ABSTRACT

The 1990s saw the emergence of influential of transport legislation both in the UK and in the USA.
This ‘watershed’ period appears to indicate that a significant turning point in transport policy is
underway. There is now a need to re-evaluate how transport planning is done, and to consider
changes to commonly used methods. Criticisms of urban transport planning are traced in the paper.
These often focus on the four-stage modelling approach, but some authors also criticise the ‘rational
comprehensive’ paradigmatical framework within which the use of four-stage computer models is
situated. It is argued that the rational comprehensive model of thinking is less useful today, due to
the increasing complexity of the transport planning exercise; the rejection by the public of the
transport planner as ‘expert’; and the highly political nature of transport planning. Alternative
approaches are needed in order to address the new types of problems which transport planners face.
The use of one such alternative approach, the Soft Systems Methodology, is illustrated as suitable for
investigating complex decision-making systems in transport planning. It is suggested that this
method could be beneficial in other problematic transport planning situations, where the rational
comprehensive approaches prove inadequate. Finally, the paper briefly looks ahead and considers
the implications of a changing policy environment to the training of transport planners in the future.

KEY WORDS

Keywords: methodology, political, rational, Soft Systems Methodology

ABBREVIATIONS

CAAAs – Clean Air Act Amendments
CATS – Chicago Area Transportation Study
CATWOE – a mnemonic for customer, actor, transformation, worldview, owner, environment
ISTEA – Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act
MTAB – Metropolitan Transport Advisory Board
SSM – Soft Systems Methodology
TMIP – Travel Model Improvements Programme

1

CHANGES IN TRANSPORT PLANNING POLICY:
CHANGES IN TRANSPORT PLANNING METHODOLOGY?

L Kane and R Del Mistro
4 April 2002

INTRODUCTION
As we turn into the new millennium it is timely to reflect on the profession of transport
planning, what is has achieved, and what we can learn from our short history. The last decade
has seen the emergence of influential policy or legislation both in the in the United States and
in the UK. In the early 1990s the United States government addressed air quality concerns in
the influential Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAAs)(1990). The CAAAs require areas not
meeting certain atmospheric pollution emission standards to introduce transportation control
measures within a given time frame. Sanctions can ultimately be applied by government for
non-attainment of these standards. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act
(ISTEA)(1991) legislation complements the CAAAs and emphasises an intermodal approach
to planning; the achievement of wider objectives through transportation; and a more adaptable
and open planning approach. Most importantly, the ISTEA legislation breaks with historical
precedent by allowing greater flexibility in the funding of surface transportation. Pas
described this productive period in US transportation-related legislation as ‘a watershed’ (Pas,
1995), whilst Garrett and Wachs described the CAAAs and ISTEA as “among the most
important landmarks in a decade-long shift of emphasis in regional transportation planning”
(1996). More recently, in the UK, the government has developed a “radical new approach”
to transport (Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, 2000) and the
legislation stemming from this facilitates, for the first time, transport measures such as user
charging and workplace parking levies (Transport Act, 2000). The UK trend is now towards

2

integrated transport and demand management. These policy moves in the US and the UK
appear to be indications that a significant turning point in transport policy is underway.

THE CURRENT POLICY ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING METHODOLOGY
The change in thinking at a policy level has been reflected in the academic debates. A
conference held in London in 1991 called ‘Transport: The New Realism’ concretised and
made explicit some of the changes which had emerged over the previous years (Goodwin et
al., 1991: 111) and summarised five principles which had developed over that period:
1. Transportation is part of a greater urban problem, which needs to be considered at all
governmental levels.
2. Consistency of treatment between modes is important.
3. It is acknowledged that meeting all desires for transport is an impossibility.
4. The notion that transportation requires more than simply technical solutions is
acknowledged and there is a call for greater understanding of human factors and motivation to
travel.
5. Some classes of traffic are necessary or desirable, and there is a call to prioritise these.

Owens (1995) also noted the new realism and described three possible transport planning
approaches in this new set of circumstances: ‘predict and provide’; ‘the price is right’; and
‘the planning panacea’. ‘Predict and provide’ was described as the familiar approach to
transport planning, which has been heavily criticised and was still, in the mid 1990s, very
influential. Cairns (1998) writing on the UK developments has since noted a formal end to
the ‘predict and provide’ approach, but if the ‘predict and provide’ approach has really died,
then we seem to be left with a vacuum in transport planning methods. Although Owens
discusses two potential policy directions (the ‘price-is-right’ and ‘the planning panacea’), new

3

tools to address the non-technical ‘New Realism’ issues are not obvious. Nevertheless, we
stand at a point in time where the professional, public and political will seems ripe for major
changes in the way urban transport systems operate. In parallel with this substantial change in
policy, there is clearly a need for a re-evaluation and perhaps a change in how transport
planning is done.

The United States federal government, in response to the CAAAs and ISTEA, started in the
early 1990s to attempt changes in transport planning methods. The Travel Model
Improvement Programme (TMIP) a rethinking transport planning methods from the ground
up (Wachs, 1996). This rethinking is a response to the new policy and legislative
environment, on the one hand, but also to a long standing tradition of criticism against the
existing practices of transport planners, from many quarters. The next part of this paper
explores the evolution of transport planning and the criticisms which have paralleled it, as a
prelude to the discussion of a supplementary approach to traditional transport planning, and
finally some thoughts on the new directions required for transport planners.

CRITICAL DISCOURSE IN URBAN TRANSPORT PLANNING
Transport planning as an identifiable discipline is conventionally considered to have started in
the 1950s with areawide transportation studies in Chicago, Detroit and others (Meyer and
Miller, 1984, Pas, 1988, Weiner, 1997). During this period there was general faith in the
ability of science to lead to improvements in the human condition and the success of the
natural sciences, helped give rise to the social sciences, regional sciences, even domestic
science (Klosterman, 1994). It was not surprising, then, that the transportation planning
method attempted to be scientific, and borrowed from the natural sciences when attempting to
explain issues such as trip distribution (with a gravity model from physics). The

4

transportation method which emerged during this time was a technical exercise directed
primarily towards cost-effectiveness, with the transport planner (who was, in actuality,
usually a civil engineer) as expert (Healey, 1977).
The development of computers through the late 1950s and early 1960s as a practical tool for
use in the analysis of large datasets also influenced the development of the transport planning
method. Computer models were seen as a useful part of ‘rational’ scientific planning

(Wegener, 1994), and grand models were built for Pittsburgh, San Francisco and the Penn-
Jersey Corridor in the US (Klosterman, 1994) and for London and the West Midlands in the

UK (Atkins, 1977). Transport modelling using computers and the emerging rational scientific
transport planning method, often undertaken by private consultants, evolved as almost
synonymous concepts.

In the 1960s rational planning with a systems approach came to the fore, as a response to the
perceived shortcomings of the scientific approach (Checkland, 1999: 59). The reasons for a
disenchantment with science in some circles can be summarised as follows. Firstly, although
science had made significant progress in advancing knowledge in the base disciplines such as
physics and chemistry, it had not made similar progress in the more complex disciplines of,
for example, psychology. In particular, the attempt by disciplines in the sphere of human
affairs (such as sociology and political science) to adopt scientific methods had not proved
fruitful, and even their classification as ‘sciences’ had been a subject for debate. The failure
of the analytical social and political ‘sciences’, had meant that there was not a body of theory
useful to the problem solvers in the world of social affairs, politics and management. The
systems movement was a reaction to the perceived failings of science in these fields, and it
provided an alternative but complementary means of thinking about the world. Systems
thinking was an attempt to view the world holistically – that is as whole bodies linked with

5

other whole bodies – which contrasted with the reductionism integral to the scientific method.
Systems thinking spawned systems analysis, the development of which has been attributed to
the North American RAND Corporation, (Checkland, 1999: 134) who described systems
analysis as including:
1. An objective/s to accomplish
2. Alternative techniques (systems) by which the objective/s may be accomplished
3. Costs/ resources required by each system
4. Mathematical model/s showing the interdependence of the objectives, the alternative
techniques, the environment and the resources.
5. A criterion, relating objectives and costs or resources for choosing the preferred or
optimal alternative.

Although the systems analysis technique was initially applied in military applications, it was
later more widely used, and was adopted by professional planners (de Neufville and Stafford,
1971). Many readers will recognise the RAND list as closely matching the transport planning
method. Practitioners who accept the RAND ‘mental model’ of the world, described above,
are using hard systems thinking. Hard systems thinking is related to, but distinct from, soft
systems thinking, which is the central theme of the latter part of this paper.

In conclusion, we can see that transport planners adopted in a relatively short-time frame:
scientific analogies for transportation phenomena observed (such as the gravity model); hard
systems approaches to conceptualise the urban and transport systems; a rational approach to
planning; and computing tools to implement all of these.

In the late 1960s, the hard systems approach had been common in both urban planning and

6

transport planning, but by the late 1970s these disciplines had started to move apart. Urban
planning was by now seen as a process involving both technical and political aspects, with no
single best solution. Many urban planners acknowledged that there were as many best
answers as there were individuals, and value systems, involved in the process (Hutchinson,
1981). In some cases urban planners abandoned their role as value-free technical advisors and
became advocates for the increasing numbers of non-governmental organisations rallying
against government.

By contrast, the transport planner continued aspiring towards being an objective, value-free
advicor, who relyed on computer models for technical information. However, despite some
improvements to the transportation modelling methods, both modelling and the transport
planning process as a whole continued to come under criticism. In 1986 Atkins built on an
earlier critique of 1977 and compiled an article of quotes from practitioners, who were
prepared to comment on the redundancy, inefficacy, and wastefulness of the mainstream
methods of transport planning. These critical voices have continued, in various forms, to the
present day. They can be divided into criticisms of the four-stage modelling approach, and
broader criticisms of the ‘rational’ methodology used for the transport planning process. The
remainder of this paper describes the essence of the ‘rational’ methodology adopted in
transport planning and goes on to describe an alternative to the rational methods.

TOWARDS NEW METHODOLOGY
Pas (1995) noted that the modelling system used in present times is fundamentally little
different from the one which emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. Wachs arrives at a similar
view, and says the “state of the practice in transportation planning consists of an obsolete
approach to modelling which has been marginally updated and adapted by clever technicians

7

but which has not been fundamentally rethought from the ground up” (Wachs, 1996).
However, although a number of authors have blamed modelling for failures in transport
planning, others have pointed out broader problems at a higher ‘meta-methodological’ level
(Khisty and Leleur, 1993) and surmise that it is the ‘paradigmatical frameworks’ (the shared
mental models which transport planners use) which are at fault. To understand transport
planners’ shared ‘mental models’ it is necessary to reflect on the origins of transport planning
which has a focus on the objective, reductionist and technical, to the neglect of the normative,
holistic and socio-political.

The dominant ‘rational comprehensive’ (Goetz and Szycliowicz, 1997) way of thinking about
transport planning has been described by Linstone (1984, subsequently cited in Wachs, 1985)
as:
(a) “the notion that analysis and decision-making are separable activities performed by
different actors;
(b) the definition of “problems” that are abstracted from a complex world, and the implicit
assumption that problems can be “solved”;
(c) an orientation towards optimisation, or searching for the best solution;
(d) a commitment to reductionism; research and study of systems that are defined by a limited
number of elements or variables; and by their interactions; reliance on data, models and
combinations thereof, as modes of representation and inquiry;
(e) quantification of information;
(f) commitment to objectivity: the belief that the analyst or researcher is outside the system
he or she is studying, and that knowledge can be found which is independent of the
observer;
(g) a commitment to problem-solving as a sequence of logical steps: for example, problem

8

definition, specification of alternatives, enumeration of goals, assessment of
consequences, selection of a course of action and implementation of a selected course of
action.”

The rational comprehensive mental model requires reconsideration for several reasons.
Firstly, whilst the earliest transport studies were focused on issues of cost efficiency in

infrastructure provision, the studies of today are asked to contemplate accessibility, macro-
economic impact, environmental impact, equity, land-use and growth management (Meyer,

1999). Thus at the level of transport project appraisal we have moved from an era of relative
simplicity to one of great complexity. One outcome of this is to introduce potential conflict
into the appraisal system, since each person with a differing value system will reach a

different decision over which approach is ‘best’. This development takes transport decision-
making from a position where objectivity (through the optimisation of cost) was theoretically

possible, to one where values and norms need to be accounted for somewhere in the transport
planning process. The rational comprehensive mental model does not easily allow for this.
(Indeed, it has been noted that the rational comprehensive approach is best when a single
body, whose goals are widely accepted, is attempting to undertake a project. These conditions
are ‘rarely found in democracies’ (Szyliowicz and Goetz, 1995)).

Others have highlighted the problematic, political nature of transport planning. Meyer and

Miller (1984) have argued that transport planning is insufficiently orientated to decision-
making, and that transport planning is as much a political exercise as it is a technical one.

Szyliowicz and Goetz (1995 and 1997) ask why large infrastructure projects have repeatedly
failed, and conclude that the political dimension is repeatedly ignored or under-estimated.
Khisty (1992) sees that “ultimately all plans are really political statements; indeed all attempts

9

to implement them are political acts”. Most recently Chisholm noted a recurring theme in his
own report that “coping with the nation’s transport needs is as much a matter of politics as it
is of technical expertise” (Chisholm, 2000). Given these analyses, and the calls for transport
planners to adopt a different mental model, the inference is that the adoption of improved
modelling tools alone will not be the solution to improving urban transportation systems.

So what do the alternatives to the analytical rational comprehensive approach to transport
planning process look like in practice? What supplementary tools can planners use in their
work to assist them in understanding socio-political transport planning issues? Given the
multi-disciplinary nature of transport planning, it is necessary to look beyond the scientific
arena for possible alternative methods. For many years transport planners have borrowed
from other disciplines in the pursuit of answers but the methods remain essentially based on
engineering approaches. However, since the adoption of the RAND systems approach in the
1960s the systems field has blossomed and at least seven branches of systems methods have
been developed (Flood and Carson, 1993). Transport planning has largely failed in adopting
new systems methods either in academic research, or in mainstream practice. This is despite
the popularisation in management circles of systems-based ways of thinking by writers such
as Peter Senge (see ‘The Fifth Discipline’, 1990) and De Bono (1986).

Khisty and Leleur (1993) identified Soft Systems Methodology (SSM), which was developed
by Checkland from the ideas of Churchman and Ackoff (Flood and Carson, 1993: 108), as a
tool of potential use in transport planning. SSM provides an alternative to the ‘hard’ systems
engineering approach with which many transport planners are familiar. In the remainder of
this paper the ideological roots of SSM, and its use in an urban transport case study are
described.

10

THE IDEOLOGICAL ROOTS OF SOFT SYSTEMS METHODOLOGY (SSM)
The hard systems approach has already been described in this paper as a response to perceived
failings in scientific approaches to problem solving. Transport professionals, many of whom
were originally educated in civil engineering, have often been schooled in the hard systems
approach to transport planning and it is encapsulated even today in the guidelines they use
(Institution of Highways and Transportation, 1996). The important influence of the systems
approach in this field means that a discussion of ‘systems’ tends to be interpreted as ‘the hard
systems approach’. For transportation professionals tackling the design of a bridge or
pavement, then the hard systems approach is entirely appropriate. The objective is clear, and
the engineer’s job is simply to define how the work is to be done. The development of a
strategy for safer school travel, or the institutional restructuring of a public transport operator
is rather less simple to define. In these examples choosing the means to address the
objective/s (the engineering) is only a small part of a complex decision-making environment,
and the hard systems approach falls short. Hard systems thinking does not help to identify
who should be choosing the objectives. It does not help in the discussion of the objectives. It
gives no hints on the likely areas of conflict. In short, decision-makers are left to ad-hoc
techniques, to their experience or to their instinct, in resolving the human and socio-political
problems which fall outside the prescriptions of the hard systems method.

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) was developed in response to perceived failings in the use
of the hard systems method in the management of social situations where the goals are often
obscure. SSM is described in some detail below, but it useful to distinguish at this stage
between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ systems thinking, which is a subtle but crucial distinction. An
observer using a hard systems approach will view the world as a collection of systems which

11

theoretically can be engineered (for example road systems, transit systems, walkway
systems). An observer using soft systems thinking will understand the world as a collection
of views of reality, which can be explored via a systemic thinking system. Finally, in hard
systems problem solving the systems are outside, in the world. In soft systems thinking the
systems are inside, in your mind. Soft Systems Methodology, then, is a way of exploring the
mental models of individuals involved in transport planning. It provides ‘thinking tools’ to
assist in the exploration and interpretation of the complex human or socio-political situations
commonly found in transport planning institutions and programmes.

An example may serve to illustrate. Transport planners in local authorities are frequently
faced with presenting schemes, which have both positive and negative impacts, to the public.
SSM provides a technique for ‘seeing’ the proposed scheme from a number of perspectives:
the councillors’; the local residents’; the drivers’; the pedestrians’ etc. Use of SSM brings to
the fore the range of likely responses to, say, a public consultation. In this way a transport
planner can gain insight and so can fully prepare for the likely social dynamics of the
interaction. A better prepared professional team has the potential to improve the process for
all concerned.

To conclude then, following the formal demise of ‘predict and provide’ transport
professionals are increasingly motivated to solve problems of what (should be metropolitan
policy focus; is the role of the politician). SSM is one suitable tool for this new style of
examination. SSM is a flexible tool which can be used to generate individual knowledge and
understanding, or as a tool for generating action from a group. This case study used SSM to
generate individual understanding.

12
SOFT SYSTEMS METHODOLOGY IN PRACTICE
The following sections provide a very brief overview of the SSM approach, with reference to
an application used to assist in understanding urban transportation decision-making in Cape
Town (Kane, 1998). The intention is not to educate the reader in the detail of SSM, which
would require a far lengthier piece, rather it is to outline the salient features and outcomes of
the process in this instance. It is important to note that SSM is not a process for examining
transport systems as they are usually described (by numbers of vehicles, speeds, accidents).
Instead, it is a means of examining the human activity systems which underpin behaviour in
transport planning. The SSM approach is frequently described as a series of logical steps.
The steps do not have to be followed in strict order, but for this description the conventional
sequencing is used. The following outline is divided into two analyses, namely the logical and
cultural analyses.

SSM : The logical analysis
The logical analysis comprises several steps, firstly, finding out about the situation. In the
Cape Town case study this stage comprised data collection, interviews, observations at
meetings, and studies of policy and legislative documents. Describing the situation through
the use of six questions is the next stage namely:
(a) Who is/are the Customer/s of the (transport planning) process?
(b) Who is/are the Actor/s involved (in the transport planning process) ?
(c) What ‘Transformation’ takes place? What is the purpose of the (transport planning)
activity?
(d) What is the Worldview/paradigm set (more accurately known as the ‘Weltanschauung’) of
those involved in the (transport planning) process?
(e) Who is/are the Owner/s of the (transport planning) situation and who have the power to

13

stop it?
(f) What is the Environment (for example political, economical, social…) in which the
(transport planning) activity is occurring?
These descriptive questions form the mnemonic ‘CATWOE’. Using the CATWOE results it
is then possible to describe the transport planning system in fundamental terms (called the
‘root definition’). Developing a conceptual model of the activities that would be required to
achieve the transformation (of step (c)) follows. This conceptual model is a systemic account
of a human activity system described in the root definition. Conceptual models are not
representations of the real world, but are (mental) models, which describe the activities
logically necessary for execution of the transformation. Logic is not always the same as
practice, and distinguishing between logical occurrences and actual occurrences is a key part
of the SSM process. For each of the activities in the conceptual model, the following
questions are then asked:
(a) Does the logical activity exist in the real situation?
(b) How is the real activity done?
(c) How is the real activity judged?
Finally the transport planning process under scrutiny is judged by asking whether the human
activity system described by the conceptual model demonstrates efficacy, efficiency and
effectiveness. This process is repeated as many times as deemed necessary by the
practitioner/s, using different worldviews, and hence different logical conceptual models.
Once some acceptable level of understanding is reached, then the logical analysis stage is
theoretically completed. In practice, however, there is usually iteration between this stage of
analysis and the cultural analysis described below.

14

SSM: The cultural analysis
The cultural analysis is composed of three components; namely, analysis of intervention;
analysis of the social system and analysis of the political system. In the analysis of
intervention, the practitioner using SSM attempts to identify issues that may impact on his/her
understanding and description of the situation. This implies that some self-reflection on the
part of the practitioner is in order. Checkland and Scholes (1990) suggests that this analysis
includes a discussion of the customer’s and the practitioner’s relationship to the system being
studied/managed; a discussion of what norms of behaviour are expected by the customer and
the practitioner and of what values should be used to assess performance of the system.
Finally, there is a discussion of who has the power to stop the intervention, during its
preparation and implementation. This stage of the cultural analysis exposes the implicit
behaviours of those who undertake transport planning work, and can be valuable in bringing
to the surface conflicting values.

During the analysis of the social system, the assumption is made that all actors are
interconnected in the system, although some are more relevant than others. As such three
questions can be posed in this analysis: Which actors are relevant to the system/situation
being analysed? What are the expected behaviours of each of these relevant actors? What are
the norms of behaviours that can be considered good or bad in these actors? This stage is also
concerned with making explicit values, which are normally not discussed.

For the analysis of the political system any human system is assumed to include a process
whereby reaching the accommodation between different interests is influenced by the power
of those involved. This power can take the form of intellectual, authority, charisma,
representation, access to information, etc. The questions that are asked in this regard are:

15

What types of power exist? How are they obtained? How are they used? How are they
preserved or protected? How are they passed on? And finally, how are they relinquished?
Often the political analysis exposes problems in a human system, which may be hidden or
even taboo.

APPLICATION OF THE SSM IN CAPE TOWN
Background
Greater Cape Town is a city of over 3 million people situated at the south western end of
South Africa. The transport planning and decision-making situation at the time of the study
(Kane, 1998) resulted in the formation of a Metropolitan Transport Authority with its own
Board (‘MTAB’). This Board produced transport plans for the metropolitan area, although
national governments had historically provided most of the funding for their implementation.

It is widely acknowledged that South Africa has gone through remarkable social and political
transformation since 1994; from a state where the separation on the basis of race was
sanctioned to one with a humanistic constitution based on equality and individual rights. This
has required changes in the mind set (referred to as ‘worldview’ by Checkland) of those in all
walks of public life, including transport planners. There has, for example, been a fundamental
shift from transport policy, which was essentially supporting the spatial separation of races
under apartheid, to transport policy which attempts to meet the basic needs of all. The
developments at all levels of South African society made the interface between elected
decision-makers and transport planning professionals an interesting topic for study. The study
was largely an academic exercise, aimed at examining the usefulness of SSM for transport
planning applications, rather than in providing input to the local decision-making process.

16

Building the ‘rich picture’
The ‘rich picture’ can be described in a number of ways, from a discussion of the human
activity system to a drawing. For this study, as a first step in understanding the urban
transportation decision-making system in the chosen case study city of Cape Town, 45
questionnaires were completed by 33 officials and 12 politicians involved in transport
planning. The questionnaire was intended to produce a picture of the ‘worldview’ of
engineers, planners, politicians/councillors and officials and to inform the second stage of the
logical analysis.

In addition to the questionnaires, which elicited response from a wide range of people,
interviews were also conducted with a smaller group. The intention of the interviews was to
provide more information on the worldview of those involved with MTAB, and also to give
an improved understanding of the decision-making system, before the logical and cultural
analyses took place. The analyses of the in-depth interviews were eventually summarised and
some themes were found to have been raised a number of times. Amongst these were the
views that funding needs to be consistent and needs to be increased and that the powers and
function of each authority needs to be clarified and finalised. Politicians felt that decisions
had often already been taken by officials and that they were simply being presented with
items for rubber stamping (an interesting parallel with the findings of Wachs, 1985). There
was a lack of trust between officials and councillors, with each group perceiving the other not
to be focused on optimum transport decision-making. It was said that committees could be
improved through increasing the creative output, backed up by capacity building (that is the
development of transport expertise at an individual level) of all involved. Finally, there was
apathy among councillors who described a scenario where transport is not seen to be among
the most critical elements of city government, although paradoxically there was also a

17

willingness which transcended party political boundaries to actively participate in the
transport decision-making process.

The range of logical analyses
Any transportation decision making system can be considered from several perspectives, or
worldviews, and the worldview used will largely govern the outcome of the analysis. SSM
calls for the use of a number of worldviews in succession, in order to achieve a rounded
understanding of the problem at hand. In the case of the Cape Town case study, the foci were
the MTAB committee and the transportation branch of the council, and so the human activity
systems chosen for consideration were firstly the MTAB committee as a ‘human activity
system’ for:
(a) disseminating information, with the officials as customers;
(b) obtaining a political mandate, with the officials as customers;
(c) disseminating information, with the councillors as customers; and
(d) making decisions, with the committee members as customers;
Secondly, the metropolitan transport branch as a system for:
(e) allocating funding, with the public transport operators as customers; and
(f) meeting transport needs, with the general public as customers, were examined.
In this paper only (d) “the MTAB committee as a human activity system for making
decisions, with the committee members as customers” is described further in terms of the
logical and cultural analysis procedure.

Case study logical analysis
For the “MTAB committee as a human activity system for making decisions, with the
committee members as customers” the following CATWOE was established:

18
Customer All MTAB committee members
Actors MTAB committee members and lobbyists
Transformation From no decision to a final decision
Worldview MTAB committee members believe that decisions are

needed to develop transportation system

Owner The public who elect the councillors and the authority

that pays the officials

Environment Formal structure of the committee and the enabling

legislation for MTAB

From this CATWOE list a root definition was developed, which describes in a formal way a
logical process for the transformation to take place:
“A system for decision making which serves all those on the committee, and also lobbyists.
The system is owned by the public, who elect the councillors, and by the government, who pay
the officials. The system operates within the existing committee structure, which is informed
by legislation, with the purpose of making decisions required to develop transport.”

At this stage the logical root definition is compared with the (often illogical) reality. This is
often the point at which learning takes place, a moment where the realisation dawns of the
reasons for a difficult situation. In this case it became evident to the author that although the
system was supposedly ‘owned’ by the public, although they are often at arms length from the
transport planning processes in Cape Town.

The penultimate stage of the logical analysis is to break the logical system into component
parts (a conceptual model) and ask of each stage: Does it exist (in reality)? How is it done (in

19

reality)? How is it judged (in reality)? Finally the whole system is evaluated for efficacy,
efficiency and effectiveness. Table 1 shows the outcome of the logical analysis of the MTAB
committee as a human activity system for making decisions with committee members as
customers. From this analysis it was concluded that the decision making process of MTAB
could be significantly improved if its performance were subjected to some external
evaluation, especially in respect of the relevance of the items placed on the agenda; the
process of the debate and the background information on which decisions are taken.
TABLE 1: OUTCOME OF THE LOGICAL ANALYSIS
The MTAB Committee as a human activity system for making decisions, with the
committee members as customers
MODEL
COMPONENTS

DOES IT
EXIST?

HOW IS IT
DONE?

HOW IS IT
JUDGED?

1.Problem is identified and
placed on agenda

Yes By officials Not judged

2.Problem is presented by
officials

Yes By officials By Councillors

3.Problem is debated by
the members of the
committee

Yes In committee Not judged

4.Decision is made Yes Voting By members, lobbyists and

the electorate

5.Decision is monitored Informally By interested and
affected parties;
lobbyists and the
electorate

Not judged

6.Measures of
performance
are defined

Sometimes Key performance
indicators

Not usually done

7.Performance of
committee
is monitored

No Not applicable Not applicable
EFFICACY: The system produces decisions, but are they in the correct areas?
EFFICIENCY: Judgement of system efficiency depends very much on the perspective of the

individual

EFFECTIVENESS: The system meets the intent of the officials, but what are the needs of the

politicians and electorate?

Results of the cultural analysis
In the first part of the cultural analysis, the analysis of intervention, the primary aim of this
work as an academic thesis, was exposed. That the results were presented as an academic

20

piece, rather than as, say, a working report to council, has implications for the interpretation
of the results. For example, since an academic piece of work is expected to develop new
knowledge, the focus throughout was on new ways of investigating decision-making, rather
than on solving Cape Town’s problems.

The public were one of the actors investigated for the second cultural analysis (the analysis of
the social system). Apathy from the public was generally expected and any involvement from
them was viewed as ‘good’ behaviour. A similar investigation of expected ‘good’ and ‘bad’
behaviours was undertaken for other actors. For the third and final cultural analysis (the
analysis of the political system) types of power existing, their form and use were analysed. It
was interesting to look at the power of the officials, and to contrast that with the more explicit
power of the elected councillors. Whilst councillors gained some of their power from the
electoral mandate, an important facet of officials’ power is the knowledge they have. Whilst
councillors can lose their power quite suddenly through a loss at the ballot box, the officials
hold a more stable position of power, and are unlikely to lose it, unless they lose their jobs.
Throughout the work there was a call for ‘capacity building’ of councillors, to equip them
with more knowledge and so to enable better decision-making. Consider this within the
analysis of power, and it can be seen why capacity building is difficult at times, since
assisting with the capacity building of councillors requires officials to relinquish knowledge,
and hence part of their power.

Outcomes and criticisms of SSM
One of the outcomes of this SSM exercise was a list of suggested action steps for the
decision-making process in Cape Town. More importantly in this case, however, SSM gave
the practitioner valuable insights and a deep appreciation for the issues involved. SSM, then,

21

is a method of learning. The precise outcome of learning and improved understanding cannot
be accurately forecast, but in the world of transport planning, where the transport situation
changes daily, a method for improving understanding of complex situations and learning as
part of the process must be a valuable tool.

Criticisms of the SSM technique largely centre on the use of SSM in a group situation (Flood
and Romm, 1997:204) and on the means of ‘proving’ whether the method was useful (Flood
and Romm, 1997:265). In this case study SSM was not used in a group. But in relation to the
latter criticism, since the nature of SSM is that we can never prove its usefulness, we can only
ask: was the problem solved? In this case study the need was to discover more about the
social dynamics of the MTAB committee, and certainly, to an extent, this problem was
addressed. Whether it was addressed ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than with another method remains
unanswered.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
To date, despite over 30 years of application and research into the SSM in the UK, and
elsewhere (Watson and Smith, 1988) SSM has not been extensively used in transport
planning. An exception is Khisty (1993), who applied SSM in a citizen participation exercise
for transport and this increasingly common arena of practice is one where SSM could be
valuable. The SSM approach is equally relevant in the arena of political decision-making,
where it can assist planners and engineers to become more aware of the individual, social and
political dimensions of the system, and thus to resolve those non-technical situations which
the rational comprehensive model of thinking does not address particularly well. Often
engineers and planners work on the assumption that their technical solution is the optimum
solution which should be accepted by the politicians and public. In reality this acceptance is

22

not always forthcoming. Using the SSM brings unstated assumptions of individuals and
institutions in the process out into the open and allows some of the blocks to decision-making
to be seen. Through the logical and cultural analyses a better understanding can be developed
of, or between, all the relevant actors.

Some planners may feel considerable discomfort at the prospect of using a tool such as SSM,
which contrasts markedly with the objective technical modelling exercises prevalent in
transportation planning. However, tools such as SSM should not be seen as replacements to
traditional rational approaches, rather they address the largely ignored social and political
dimensions of the transportation planning problem, and allow planners to play a more
effective role in that process, through improved understanding. Szycliowicz and Goetz
(1995) suggest that we need to acknowledge the usefulness of the rational approach in some
areas, whilst also seeking models of decision-making which recognise the importance of
power, and allow for flexible implementation. “The application of these principles will also
require planners, managers and political leaders to think and act in fundamentally different

ways than heretofore”. Khisty (1992) suggests that we need to learn a range of problem-
solving techniques, since attempting to solve all transportation problems using the same

model of problem solving has led to serious problems.

The change in transport policy is clearly evident, and the move from the objective ‘predict-
and-provide’ exercise has already been noted. Given these changes, a review of commonly

used methods is surely also timely, and with it, the need for a fundamental re-evaluation of
the role of the transport planner in the new environment. The transport planner as technical,
value-free implementers of the decisions of others is an ideal which is impossible to reach in
the political environment found in most democracies. An alternative is to view the new

23

planner as someone with some technical ability, who also acknowledges and can evaluate the
complex social and political nature of transport planning.

In his inaugural lecture of 1997 Professor Phil Goodwin of the University College, London
viewed the transport agenda as requiring three changes: in policy, in methodology and in the
skills we want our students to learn. The change in policy is demonstrably underway, at least
in the UK and the US. The established methodology is perhaps slowly shifting with
developments such as the Travel Model Improvement Program as one useful development on

addressing modelling issues in particular. However, even more is required than simply a re-
tuning of our technical tools. New methodologies require to be added to the planner’s toolkit

of approaches. Once there is a more thorough understanding of the methodologies which
would serve transport planners of today, then it is possible to reconsider the skills necessary
for students. The skills will certainly reach beyond the technical and tomorrow’s transport
planners may call on several methodologies to help solve problems. SSM could be a valuable
tool in their repertoire.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The support of the following people is gratefully acknowledged: Roger Behrens, Dave
Cooper, Tom Ryan, Vanessa Watson, Peter Wilkinson of the University of Cape Town, the
two anonymous reviewers and Rob Kane.

REFERENCES
Atkins, S.T. (1977). Transportation planning – is there a road ahead? Traffic engineering and
Control 18, 58-62
Atkins, S.T. (1986) Transportation planning models – what the papers say. Traffic
Engineering and Control, September 1996, 460-467.

24

Cairns, S. (1998) Formal demise of ‘predict and provide’. Town and Country Planning
October 1998, 281.
Checkland, P. and Scholes, J. (1990) Soft Systems Methodology in Action. John Wiley and
Sons, England.
Checkland, P. (1999) Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. Includes a 30-year restrospective.
John Wiley and Sons, England
Chisholm, M. (2000) The Long March from Realism to Reality. Report 6 in the Series
Supported by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund. Landor Publishing, London.
De Bono, E. (1986) Six Thinking Hats. Little Brown and Company, London.
Department of Environment, Transport, Local Government and the Regions (2000).
Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan. Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions,
London.
Flood, R.L. and Carson, E.R. (1993) Dealing with Complexity: An Introduction to the
Theory and Application of Systems Science. Second Edition. Plenum Press, New York.
Flood, R.L, and Romm, N.R.A. (1997) Critical Systems Thinking: Current Research and
Practice. Plenum Press, New York.
Garrett, M. and Wachs, M. (1996) Transportation Planning on Trial: The Clean Air Act and
Travel Forecasting. Sage Publications, California.
Goetz, A.R. and Szyliowicz, J.S. (1997) Revisiting Transport Planning and Decision-making
Theory: The case of Denver International Airport. Transportation Research 31A, 263-280.
Goodwin, P., Hallett, S., Kenny, F. and Stokes, G. (1991) Transport: The New Realism.
Report to the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund. Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford.
Goodwin, P.B. (1997) Solving Congestion. Inaugural lecture for the Professorship of
Transport Policy. University College, London, 23rd October 1997.
Healey, P. (1977) The sociology of urban transportation planning: a socio-political

25

perspective. Urban Transport Economics ed D.A. Hensher, pp 199-227. Cambridge
University Press.
Hutchinson, B.G. (1981) Urban transport policy and policy analysis methods. Transport
Reviews 1, 169-188.
Institution of Highways and Transportation (1996). Guidelines for Developing Urban
Transport Strategies. Stephen Austin, Hertford.
Kane, L.A. (1998) Delivering Urban Transport by Improving Decision Making : Lesson from
a city, lessons for a city. Unpublished M.Sc. Thesis, University of Cape Town. Cape Town.
Khisty, C.J. (1992) Matching planning styles and roles in transportation to conditions of
uncertainty and state of technological know-how. Transportation Research Record 1364,
139-143.
Khisty, C.J. (1993) Citizen participation using a soft systems perspective. Transportation
Research Record 1400, 53-57.
Khisty, C.J. and Leleur, S. (1993) Identifying a new role of the future planner. Guessing the
Future: Coping with Uncertainty in Infrastructure Planning eds L.Gifford and J.R. Uzarski,
pp 422-431. American Society of Civil Engineers, Denver.
Klosterman, R.E. (1994) Large-scale urban models: twenty years later. Journal of the
American Planning Association 60, 3-5.
Linstone, H.A. (1984) Multiple Perspectives for Decision-making. Elsevier Publishing
Company, Amsterdam.
Meyer, M.D. and Miller, E.J. (1984) Urban transportation planning : A decision-oriented
approach. McGraw Hill.
de Neufville, R. and Stafford, J.H. (1971) Systems Analysis for Engineers and Managers.
McGraw Hill, New York.
Owens, S. (1995) From ‘predict and provide’ to ‘predict and prevent’?: pricing and planning

26
in transport policy. Transport Policy 2, 43-49.
Pas, E.I. (1988) Is travel demand analysis and modelling in the doldrums? Paper prepared
for presentation at the 1988 conference on travel and transportation “New Developments in
Dynamic and Activity-based Approaches”, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, UK.
Pas, E.I. (1995) The Urban Transportation Process ed S. Hanson. The Geography of Urban
Transportation, pp 53-77. The Guilford Press, New York.
Senge, P.M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning
Organisation. Doubleday, New York.
Szyliowicz, J.C. and Goetz, A.R. (1995). Getting realistic about megaproject planning. The
case of the new Denver International Airport. Policy Sciences 28, 347-367
Wachs, M. (1985) Planning, Organizations and Decision-making: A Research Agenda.
Transportation Research 19A, 521-531.
Wachs, M. (1996) A new generation of travel demand models. Guest editorial.
Transportation 23, 213-214.
Watson, R. and Smith, R. (1988) Applications of the Lancaster soft systems methodology in
Australia, Journal of Applied Systems Analysis, 15, 3-26.
Wegener, M. (1994) Operational urban models state of the art. Journal of the American
Planning Association 60, 17-29.
Weiner, E. (1997) Urban transportation planning in the United States: A historical overview.
Fifth edition, Travel Model Improvement Programme website. (On-line)

27

NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS

Lisa Kane is an Honorary Research Associate in the Urban Transport Research Group,
University of Cape Town, South Africa. A graduate civil engineer, she worked as a transport
planner for Oscar Faber TPA and The MVA Consultancy in the UK before pursuing a career
in academia in South Africa.

Professor Romano Del Mistro is registered as a professional engineer and town and regional
planner in South Africa. He has worked in local government, research and private practice
before returning to academia. He is currently professor in transportation engineering at the
Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Pretoria.

Back To Top