TRANSPORT PLANNING AND DECISION-MAKING:
FRIEND OR FOE?
Department of Civil Engineering, University of Cape Town,
Private Bag, Rondebosch, 7701
Over the last twenty years the urban transport planning process has been seriously criticised.
Despite these criticisms at least three cities have achieved some acclaim for the processes
which they have adopted: Birmingham (UK), Melbourne (Australia) and Curitiba (Brasil).
Three traits of these cities are identified in this paper and these same traits are examined in
Cape Town, using information from seventeen in-depth interviews held with decision-
makers. In conclusion, some suggestions are made for improving the transport decision-
making process in Cape Town.
Over the last twenty years the urban transport planning process has been seriously criticised
by many authors. The methodology adopted in transport planning, and the use of certain
transport modelling approaches, have been particularly harshly denounced. These words of
criticism still appear to be falling on deaf ears in the transport planning fraternity, with an
over emphasis on the development of models and plans, and much less effort focused on
getting decisions made and action underway. This behaviour is certainly not unique to South
Africa. Rather it is endemic in the international transportation planning world.
In this paper the presently used transport planning methodology is briefly reviewed and then
three cities which appear to have achieved some success despite the methodological
criticisms are described. Some of the traits of these successful cities (in terms of the
processes which they have adopted) are contrasted with a Cape Town case study. Finally,
using the information from this paper, and from work reported elsewhere, some suggestions
are made which could improve transport decision-making in the Mother City.
2. CRITICISM OF THE CURRENT UTP PROCESS
The Urban Transport Process (UTP) has been the subject of considerable criticism. (Lam,
1997; Lee, 1994; Dimitriou, 1990; Meyer and Miller, 1984; Talvitie, 1997; Wachs, 1985).
Tolley and Turton (1995), writing about practice in the United States of America stated:
“..we have seen the demise of public transport and growing car use, with several social,
economic and environmental consequences. From this evidence, the process can hardly be
said to have been a success.”
The conclusion of Goetz and Szyliowicz in 1997 is typical of the comment:
“Current approaches to transportation planning have yielded, at best, inconsistent
results…..Planning is a critical element in the development and implementation of sound
transport projects, yet existing practices have resulted in numerous problems and in some
cases outright disasters.”
The critical voices are not new. As long ago as 1977 Atkins had this to say about the
modelling process, which forms the core of much transport planning:
“We have a series of excessively complicated and expensive models using unsubstantiated
and biased techniques to provide information of dubious accuracy for answering the wrong
In the same year as Atkins delivered his damning statement in a UK journal Eric Pas, who
was lecturing a postgraduate course at the University of Cape Town titled “Urban
Transportation Planning and Modelling”, issued some prescribed reading to his students
which included the following:
“Criticism may be levelled at the planning process on a number of grounds. In the first
place, the transportation-planning process as practised currently is extremely cumbersome
and very expensive. Second, it is inflexible, and it is static rather than dynamic. That is, it is
based upon measurements and estimated relationships from a single point in time, with an
assumption that these relationships will not change over time except as may be specified by
extraneous changes in total population, in wealth, and in similar characteristics. Third, the
process is aimed at preparing a single final state plan. Fourth, the objectives of the plan are
not well-defined. There are numerous arbitrary assumptions implicit in its structure. A fifth
criticism may be levelled that the current set of planning models represent something of a
computational dinosaur. They are unresponsive and insensitive to many of the questions that
the policy maker needs to ask. A further criticism is that little account is taken, in the
planning process, of the potential contributions that technological innovation may make.”
(Stopher and Meyburg, 1975)
Despite criticisms such as those above, the development and use of transport planning models
remains a part of the transport planners work which consumes substantial resources. Whilst
these tools can form a useful part of the transport planners toolkit the remainder of this paper
argues that the emphasis should in future move from modelling and planning to decision-
3. SUCCESSFUL INTERNATIONAL CASE STUDIES
Given the critical voices quoted above, it may appear surprising that there are ‘success’
stories in urban transportation. There are several cities where quantifiable improvements
have been demonstrated and where some local, and international, acclaim has been given.
Interestingly, the issues which unite these success stories are not the adoption of a particular
transport model or plan, but rather a more difficult to describe managerial approach to the
planning process. Three case studies of interest are briefly described below.
3.1 Birmingham, UK
In the recent past in the UK, the traditional approach to decision-making has been in the
context of Structure Plans (describing in general terms the plans for the urban area) and
annual Transport Policy and Programmes, (a submission to government outlining actual
transport schemes requiring funding). In Birmingham, there was an acknowledged lack of
clear corporate direction, and major proposed changes to the transport system (a new LRT
scheme, and proposals for development) precipitated a new look at the decision-making
It was decided that a transport strategy would be put in place, seen as only one aspect of a
broader ‘urban policy’ stance, encompassing social, environmental, and economic concerns,
and taking a view well beyond the 30 year time horizon. It was also decided to involve all
political and interest groups. To help the process, the political record over the previous
5-10 years was examined, and certain strong themes of vision emerged.
To facilitate the process consultants were appointed to examine the various options open, and
the likely outcome of a ‘do-nothing’ scenario. Rather than the development of a list of
schemes, which tended to be the case in the past, the output was a list of objectives, a
strategic ‘blueprint’ which could be interpreted into a list of ‘tactical’ schemes. The ‘integrated
and strategic’ approach adopted contrasts with the ‘technocratic’ approaches of the 1960’s and
1970’s, and also the ‘naiveté’ of leaving planning to the ‘market’. The key features of the new
approach were described as:
separating the strategic from the tactical, by looking sufficiently far ahead to be ‘out of
range’ of even the most ambitious scheme of programmes;
arriving at a view about the long run before turning to medium and shorter term issues;
concentrating on the processes for generating and assessing short term proposals, rather
than on the proposals themselves.
The key difficulties were described as:
the lack of any clear models for the long-range transport/land-use effects;
the political difficulties in bringing about major changes to urban fabric;
the barriers between planners and engineers which mitigate against holism. (Wenban-
Smith et al, 1990).
The approach was labelled as an ‘Integrated Transport Study’ (ITS) and was subsequently
adopted elsewhere in the UK (Bristol, Edinburgh and Merseyside see Coombe and Copley,
1993), and also in Melbourne, Australia (see below). One key feature of the later studies was
the use of a strategic transport model, which was substantially different from the traditional
four-stage model. This new model had far fewer zones than a conventional model
(commonly less than 20 zones), and did not have a detailed transport network. These models
allowed the rapid testing of policy at a strategic models, and took into account the feedback
between supply and demand. (Institution of Highways and Transportation, 1996).
3.2 Melbourne, Australia
In 1990, in response to a self-appraisal of past approaches, and increasing environmental
concerns, the Roads Authority of Melbourne initiated a study ‘to provide a strategic
framework to address the demand for and the management of Melbourne’s traffic to the year
2000 and beyond.’ The study developed a philosophy of ‘community needs-based planning’
which had five tenets:
planning needs to be participatory since implementation will rely on the support of many
groups, each needing to have ownership and commitment;
planning needs to be both in-depth and with breadth;
planning needs to focus on ends and means simultaneously, since strategies will generate
impacts, and these must be understood;
planning needs to be values based, which are more stable over time, and more likely to be
accepted over time, than strategies; and
planning needs to be a continuous process.
The team identified that there were three stages to the study, firstly to increase awareness,
secondly to increase credibility (especially since, in this case, the initiating agency was seen
as a road construction agency); and thirdly to discuss issues, based on a series of discussion
sheets prepared beforehand. Using an approach described as ‘similar to that used in …recent
UK studies’ (and described above under Birmingham, UK), the agency then decided to
develop a vision describing the sort of city the residents would like to have.
A systematically structured ‘search conference’ was used to bring together stakeholders and to
generate a set of shared values. Unlike the Birmingham and other UK work, where policy
and service providers developed the vision, the group at the search conference included large
representations of other groups. The outcomes of the search conference, and other
submissions were checked against market research, and then a vision reflecting the values
was prepared, under four headings: our way of life, our city, our environment, our economy.
Further, more detailed, ideas were developed by the search conference on principles (how
transport agencies should go about their work), strategies and actions. Later, detailed
technical analysis was undertaken of all of the proposed strategies and actions. (Anson and
3.3 Curitiba, Brasil
Curitiba, Brasil, has been the fastest growing city in Brasil, and yet is widely mooted as a
‘sustainable’ city, in part thanks to its efficient public transport system, attracting 70%
ridership. Curitiba has developed into an important role model for Cape Town. A delegation
of planners and engineers visited the city in the mid 1990s and since that time the city has
informed planning, and particularly the development of Cape Town’s Metropolitan Spatial
Development Framework. The institutional arrangements in Curitiba are characterised by the
A centralised municipal government with a strong planning body. The authority given to
the ‘Curitiba Institute of Research and Urban Planning (IPPUC), as well as the
consistency and enthusiastic nature of the planning team have clearly been an important
factor in the successful implementation of the Curitiba Master Plan.
Leadership and vision. Jaime Lerner, the ‘visionary’ director of the IPPUC from 1965,
and Mayor from 1971 – 1993 is credited with concretising the vision developed by IPPUC
and formulated in the Curitiba Master Plan.
Authority and structure of public transport managers. The authority managing Curitiba’s
public transport system (URBS) is somewhat unusual. In addition to regulating the
private companies operating services in Curitiba URBS also has influence over land-use
decisions taken in the city, and may stand in the way of developments seen to be
supporting car-use. URBS generates income through the collection of rent at bus
terminals. This income, plus fare revenue mean that URBS is able to operate without
Efficient bureaucracy. The private sector are confident in the ability of the public sector
to offer efficient decision-making and so, despite a strong set of regulations, the private
sector continue to invest.
Supportive civil society. It appears that the Curitibans are either supportive
towards the authorities or, for some reason, without a voice to disagree. This has helped
the leaders to implement their plans without dissension. (Minter, 1997).
4. TRAITS OF SUCCESSFUL CITIES
Clearly the success of these cities, as described by the authors cited, owes more to the
managerial structure and processes which were used, than to the transport modelling or
planning as undertaken by the officials in these cities. Evidently the development of a
successful transportation improvement program is not straightforward and it would be unwise
to attempt to provide glib answers to the urban transport problem. However, given the case
studies above, and others (Portland, United States see Minter, 1997; and Ithaca, United States
see Boyd and Gronlund, 1995), the following criteria appear to be important:
Development of a vision.
Existence of leadership.
Breaking down barriers between groups involved.
Given the identification of the above (and other) issues, a study was undertaken in Cape
Town which examined the issue of decision-making in more detail. (Kane, 1998)
5. A SOUTH AFRICAN CASE STUDY
For the Cape Town case study a number of in-depth interviews were held with seventeen
officials and politicians involved in the urban transport decision-making process during 1997
and 1998. The interviews lasted between half an hour and two hours and were all recorded
on tape. The interview guide which was used outlined issues of possible importance which
had emerged from previous readings, but the guide was not used strictly. Wherever possible
the interviewees were encouraged to move onto relevant topics of the interviewee’s choice
and so the interview was kept as free-flowing as possible within the topic area of decision-
making in Cape Town. All interviewees were told the purpose of the interview and it was
emphasised that although words would be taken and quoted in publishable documents, the
words would not be attributed to them, and so the quotes would remain anonymous. This
was done to encourage an open, honest and critical response.
The tapes were transcribed, and the transcriptions were searched for common themes. Many
themes emerged, but the following three sections provide only quotes relevant to the ‘traits
for successful cities’ theme identified above.
6. DEVELOPMENT OF A VISION
On the issues of vision in transport planning there was wide acknowledgement amongst the
interviewees of its importance, but varying views over what it should be, and whether it
existed. With some exceptions, the officials tended to look to longer time horizons than
“(A vision is) very, very important because actually it illuminates your path, forms where you
are going, gives you a clear direction. (It should be for) 15/20 years.” (Councillor)
“I think that one must have a vision. (It should be) no longer or advanced than say 5 to 7
“10 years is the maximum I would choose (for a vision)” (Councillor)
“(A vision is) crucially important…Minimum? Fifty years.” (Councillor)
“…probably (a vision needs to have) a 5 year time span, where you plan with some degree of
“I think it’s (a vision) extremely important…I don’t think one should have one that will last for
the next 20 or 30 years, that isn’t possible.” (Official)
“Vital, absolutely vital….20 to 25 years, that is what we define as long term.” (Official)
“I don’t think we can plan much further than 15 years ahead”. (Official)
This raises an interesting point about words such as vision, integration, multi-modal planning
and strategy. These terms are used liberally, but in reality is there any agreement about what
The interviews took place in the wake of the publication of the Metropolitan Spatial
Development Framework (MSDF), a planning framework for Cape Town, and the
development of the ‘Moving Ahead’ plan, instigated by the Transport Directorate of the Cape
Metropolitan Council. Hence, when asked whether a vision was in place, the replies were
“I would say for the short and medium term because I think for example the budget for the
Olympic related project 4 to 5 years or so was up to 2000 or something but I don’t think
currently there is a vision in place beyond that.” (Councillor)
“I believe there is a vision but I don’t think it is coherently put together as I would want to
see it. I think then we would’ve had it in a document, that vision being spelt out to the
“There are lots of little bits of paper around with various visions, you know Cape Town city
council had them and the CMC have done a few exercises, and there’s a lot of paper.”
“I think to answer that absolutely, honestly, yes there is a vision.” (Councillor)
“At the moment it is in a kind of a wishy-washy-whoosh-thinking about it but its not
formulated and down on paper.” (Councillor)
“I think we are getting it in place. I don’t think it is fully there yet, as I intimated earlier, but
the general trend is to say ‘let’s have a long-term vision.’” (Official)
“(The vision is not in place yet). No, not yet. Slowly its forming.” (Official)
7. EXISTENCE OF LEADERSHIP
Interviewees were questioned on the importance, in their view, of good leadership. The
respondents were unanimously agreed on its importance, and on the fact that it was not in
place at present:
“I must be frank with you……You’ve got potentials, but I don’t believe you’ve got champions
of cause. Every cause that succeeds needs a champion. So you need somebody who
fervently, obsessively believes in something and he or she preaches it on every turn in the
“I don’t think we’ve got many of those politicians who want to become sort of immortal
having implemented the MSDF or something like that, they are too scared of that sort of
thing. They rather focus more on their parochial interest.”(Official)
“Well, I think it’s important but I’m not quite sure who should be providing this strong
leadership. I think we don’t know where it’s going to come from at this stage.” (Official)
Interestingly the officials interviewed tended to look for political leadership, whereas one
councillor was looking to the officials for guidance:
“Every now and again you find a dynamic official….but I don’t think we’ve got anybody like
that (Solly Morris – a previous City Engineer) now and it’s probably one area where there is
a lack that there isn’t any charismatic individual who’s going to lead this process. Not what
I’ve seen.” (Councillor)
8. BREAKING DOWN OF BARRIERS
South African society has had a divisive past, and so this final trait would be perhaps the
most challenging to tackle. There are several barriers to be overcome:
Between planners and engineers.
Between local authorities and the public.
Between officials and politicians.
The planner/engineer division is dealt with elsewhere (Kane, 1998). The local
authority/public barrier was noted by interviewees:
“The political decision-making must in fact be, to a degree informed by public reaction and it
cannot be a mechanistic application of models and of the opinions of the professional, it has
to be a pot pourri of their input, the political input and the input of the people. So it’s a
different mix we’re talking about from what has historically been the case.” (Councillor)
“I remember, when we started in Durban in about the early 1990’s you know the whole idea
of public participation was completely foreign to them (local authorities) and they were
scared of it, you know, they did not want to talk to everybody. And many people did not want
to speak to them either. It was this whole thing about everybody being wary of talking
to the government, supposedly illegitimate government and so on.” (Official)
The following quotes are demonstrative of the divide between officials and politicians. Some
felt that the politicians should have more involvement:
“(The official) is supposed to take (the) councillor in charge of the committee to brainstorm,
to plan (meetings) ahead….(They should ask) “What are the critical issues? What do we need
to discuss? I fail to see if that thing is happening….” (Councillor)
“What you got at the moment is a cadre, an elitist core, of transport planners, and I think
most of the critical decisions are made by them. Alright, you have planners interacting with
them but essentially they see themselves as an elitist core. I think the thing of planning as far
as transport is concerned needs to be far more accessible to politicians and to the
“I think that time has now come that we should train officials in becoming aware of the new
system and what a democratic system really means, and how they have to listen to what the
public want.” (Councillor)
“I think that the way through this is that the… decisions shouldn’t be made at a technical
level independent of the politicians. Politicians should get involved at an earlier stage.”
Others believed that there should be less involvement from the politicians:
“Politics are getting too close to the, I won’t say Officialdom, but let us say, the ‘Technics’ of
the business that we deliver.” (Councillor)
“Unfortunately today, you find that many politicians want to intervene in things that they
should not be intervening in. They want to get involved in all kinds of decisions that really
should be left to officials. In other words, people that are expert in the field.” (Official)
“… it is going to be the technicians who have the aplomb to drive that process through or to
convince the politicians. The politicians just become a spokesperson on a rubber stamp if he
is not sold in one direction or another.” (Official)
Others were more reflective about the new environment, and positive about the way ahead:
“Now if (a politician) starts questioning me about administrative things I have to accept that
that is part of the checks and balances, you know. I’m accountable to him as an elected
politician, and you know I have to accept that. You know its just one of those things. If
you’re living in a political environment you have to accept that.” (Official)
“…I think (the politicians) are perhaps a little bit too involved. At this point in our country I
think its necessary and I don’t resent it at all.” (Official)
“We’re tending to use a ‘member-led officer-driven’ (approach). We call it ‘councillor led
and official driven’, where the politicians and their officials actually form a team in
developing policy which is then being approved by the politicians and then implemented by
the officials. It’s meant that the interface between the officials and the politicians has
become much closer and almost more vague, a bit blurred almost.” (Official)
The issue of trust between officials and councillors came up several times:
“Yes, I think that mostly I can say 75% we trust them.”(Councillor)
“ ….you’re very much told what the officials want you to hear and I’m aware of
that………very often you get the feeling you’re not making real decisions you know. Sadly.”
“Politicians only really become enthusiastic about participating in something, if there is
something in there for them. Well them or their area. If they can see some spin-offs for
their constituency.” (Official)
General frustration, particularly amongst politicians, was expressed at the lack of progress in
“…one gets the feeling that so much in the transport field, it’s no decision, no decision and
then we’ve had a report”… time passes then they say” well, we had better get another report”,
and that seems to be the area where they spend, although we’ve had cuts in transport budgets
etc, the one apparent area where least cuts, is the report-getting area.” (Councillor)
In summary, the interviews demonstrated a lack of consensus regarding vision; no clear
leader in place or expected and many barriers; although there were some indications of these
barriers being overcome.
9. CONCLUDING REMARKS
Clearly Cape Town (and many other cities) have some way to go before they achieve the
‘success’ demonstrated elsewhere. What can we do now in order to ensure success in the
future? Given the information gained in this study, the following suggestions for improving
decision-making (and hence delivery) are offered. It can be seen that they are not
engineering solutions per se. Rather, they are management directions to be embarked upon.
The successful transport professionals of the future may be planners, engineers or from
another profession, but they will certainly also need to be managers of note.
Table 1 – Priority Action Plan for Improving Decision-making in Cape Town
Action suggested….. …in order to….
Clearly agree the purpose of each meeting
(to inform, to lobby for change, to obtain a
decision, to get advice on a project/process,
to stimulate ideas)
Question politicians on their preferred
format for the presentation of information
Consider reducing the size of agendas, and
making more use of good presentations
Re-train the officials in good presentation
technique, given their new client
Improve the working
relationship between all
officials and politicians
Share ideas regarding professional
similarities, and frankly discuss professional
Improve the working
Clearly define technical terms in use, eg
Improve clarity of
Ensure that all committees have a clear,
Reduce cynicism, re-
motivate the involved
Allow officials to raise their concerns about for delivery
Encourage personal development and
upgrading of transport skills, especially in
Build confidence in
Instigate a process of basic transport
education in relevant areas for politicians
Building ownership of the
issues in politicians
Develop education and training, promote
knowledge, on topics of relevance
Ensure the debate is well-
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