How do we look at transport?

I wrote a thesis many years ago, and had a stubborn arrogance that it was one piece of work, and so it should be read in its entirety. As a result I didn’t publish papers and I didn’t keep going in Academia, and almost no one has read my thesis. So… I thought, why not at least put some of the work I did out there in a more accessible form. I’m going to start with Chapter 2, which explores the different contexts or lenses through which urban transport systems are examined.

So what type of system is urban transport and how do you see it and all the problems and opportunities related to it? Perhaps this depends on your profession, your interests or just what is going on around you? If you are a public health practitioner, it might be seen as a problem of safety and health. If you are interested in the environment, it might be a problem of consumption of materials including fossil fuels and emissions of solid waste and air pollution. If you live in part of the city which has problems with traffic noise and feeling cut off from your neighbours by big roads, perhaps it is an urban planning problem.

If we want to solve transport problems and explore opportunities for transport to play a positive role, we have to examine transport from the perspective of all these people and more.  I set out six different contexts (or lenses) to look at urban transport systems. They are not independent on one another but they help give us different ways of focusing our attention and ensuring various elements of transport problems are being considered.

Diagram of contexts
Source: Hicks (2013)


They are even more interrelated than this graphic shows, but I wanted to keep it from getting messy.  An outline of the contexts are as follows (there are a lot more details in my thesis):

  • The political/cultural context – modes of transport have broad impacts on the culture and political ideologies of the society, and conversely, transport development is also influenced by culture
  • The material and energy context – modes of transport use consumes resources, and produces waste and emissions
  • The urban planning context – modes of transport impact the landscape and function of a city
  • The economic and industrial context – modes of transport require financing and their operation impacts on the wider economy
  • The psycho-social context – modes of transport impact their user psychologically and socially through the experiential, symbolic and utilitarian values that transport use offers them
  • The public health context – modes of transport impact the health of people who use the transport as well as other people in the community

The table below gives some of the findings that came from examining the transport in Sydney from the different contexts.

Contexts related to urban transport

Source: Hicks (2013)

This basically gave me a good base to start any examination of transport within my PhD, and has continued to help me when contemplating new innovations or approaches within urban transport, or reflecting on long standing issues. For access to my thesis please visit the UNSW library UNSWorks webpage and search for The social context of urban travel behaviour



One thought on “How do we look at transport?

  1. Pingback: Chapter 3: It’s time we talked about your behaviour! Your travel behaviour… | a way we go

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s