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RESOURCE PAPER Sustainable Transport Definitions and Responses William R. Black, Indiana University T his paper was prepared in response to the two maintained and in reality get us nowhere. More than questions noted in the conference program: What that, it angers some researchers who see these words as are the ranges of definitions of sustainable trans- having far deeper meanings than I would intend. As a portation in practice today? How do these definitions result, moving directly to the definitions may be the affect how transportation sustainability is addressed? most prudent course to take. The first requires an inventory approach to what is out One of the first uses of the phrase "sustainability" in there and what has been in fashion in the way of defi- something approaching the current context was in the nitions over the past 10 to 15 years. Those looking for so-called Brundtland report of 1987 (United Nations consensus will probably not find it here. The second World Commission on Environment and Development question is a little more difficult, if not impossible, to 1987). That report discussed what was referred to as answer in a precise way. There are two reasons. First, sustainable development, which was defined as develop- we can't really say how something is being addressed if ment that meets the needs of the present without com- we have no general agreement on what it is. Second, the promising the ability of future generations to meet their major purpose of this conference is to try to get sustain- own needs. This definition can be extended without ability types of notions into the transport planning major changes to sustainable transport, which may be process, and this suggests that at least up to now it has defined as transport "that meets the current transport not been addressed. Therefore, before we examine the and mobility needs without compromising the ability of second question we will at least suggest some of the future generations to meet these needs" (Black 1996). components of a sustainable transport system on the This is easy to understand on the surface, but soon we basis of the definitions and other literature. Given this would have to face the fact that the needs are not well background, we can then suggest some actions that have specified, and if we could resolve that, we must then been taken toward making the transport system sustain- stop and imagine how many future generations we are able with regard to these components. talking about. Another way of expressing these ideas would be to state that sustainable transport represents transport and SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT: mobility with nondeclining capital, where capital would MEANINGS AND RESPONSES include human, monetary, and natural capital (Pearce et al. 1989; Daly 1992). Followed to its logical end, this It is reasonable to begin the discussion with some com- would imply that natural resources could not be used in mon types of definitions of sustainability and sustain- the system (sometimes referred to as strong sustainabil- able transport that one might find in a dictionary. This ity) unless they were used to develop additional natural will only yield words such as durable or capable of being capital (sometimes referred to as weak sustainability). 35
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36 I N T E G R AT I N G S U S TA I N A B I L I T Y I N T O T H E T R A N S P O RTAT I O N P L A N N I N G P R O C E S S Daly (1992) does not define sustainable transport but within and between generations; (b) is affordable, oper- specifies parameters for any sector being sustainable. ates efficiently, offers choice of transport mode, and sup- Within this context transport is sustainable if it satisfies ports a vibrant economy; and (c) limits emissions and three conditions: (a) the rate at which it uses renewable waste within the planet's ability to absorb them, mini- resources does not exceed their rates of regeneration, (b) mizes consumption of nonrenewable resources, reuses the rate at which it uses nonrenewable resources does and recycles its components, and minimizes the use of not exceed the rate at which sustainable renewable sub- land and the production of noise. stitutes can be developed, and (c) its rate of pollution Europeans tend to refer to this notion of sustainable emissions does not exceed the assimilative capacity of transport as sustainable mobility. Some U.S. groups also the environment. prefer the use of this term. The Mobility 2001 report If we apply Daly's conditions to the transport systems defines sustainable mobility as "the ability to meet the of the 1700s and 1800s, which are often viewed as sus- needs of society to move freely, gain access, communi- tainable, we would find that these systems were on the cate, trade and establish relationships without sacrific- verge of becoming nonsustainable. The major long-dis- ing other essential human or ecological values today or tance transport mode of the 1700s was sailing ships. in the future" (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Although they used renewable wind energy, they were and Charles River Associates 2001). becoming nonsustainable because they were depleting Transport Canada skirted the definition of a sustain- lumber stocks used in their construction and repair able transport system and sought instead to define "a (Albion 1965). The typical transport mode of urban more sustainable transportation system" as "one which areas in the 1800s was the horsewagonbuggycarriage provides affordable access to freight and passenger ser- system. That system resulted in tens of thousands of vice and does so in an environmentally sound and equi- horses polluting streams, wells, and streets of these urban table manner" (Bell et al. 1997). areas and obviously exceeded the assimilative capacity In later reports Transport Canada has set out to pro- of these environments (Lay 1992). vide a framework that addresses the social, economic, It should be apparent that today's transport systems and environmental elements of a sustainable transporta- fail to measure up to Daly's second and third criteria: tion system. More specifically, it seeks the highest practi- today's systems are consuming fossil fuels (specifically cal standards of safety and security, economic efficiency, petroleum-based gasoline) at rates in excess of the rate and respect for the environment so that transport's at which an alternative can be produced. "impact on the environment and on the health of Cana- Schipper (1996) states that sustainable transport is dians is acceptable to current and future generations" transportation where the beneficiaries pay their full (Transport Canada 2003). social costs, including those that would be paid by Greene and Wegener (1997) and Pearce and Warford future generations. He further notes that changes in (1993) define sustainability in economic terms. In this con- travel are associated with a number of prominent exter- text sustainability is holding the sum of the capital stocks nalities, including accidents, air pollution, congestion, of manufactured, human, and environmental assets at least noise, damage to species habitat, increases in carbon constant to ensure that future generations have the same dioxide production, and the importation of oil. It is capability to develop as current generations. Greene (per- these externalities, and not transportation or travel per sonal communication, June 24, 2004) has further stated se, that threaten the sustainability of the system, accord- that "sustainability is a constraint on the economic system ing to Schipper. which insists that we do not decrease opportunities for Gordon (1995) is less willing to be drawn into a well-being available to future generations below the level debate over definitions of sustainable transport and we have today. This is an ethical doctrine, and therefore states instead that underlying these ideas of sustainable inherently subjective not objective. It defines a new market transport are three different visions. The first centers on failure, because future generations cannot participate in the changing people and the way they live, the second on existing marketplace to express their preferences." changing technology, and the third on changing prices Favoring an objective conceptualization of sustain- (Gordon 1995). In effect, she is proposing, in rather ability, Black (2002) has asked the question, exactly broad terms, what actions are necessary to make the what is it that makes the current transport system not transport system sustainable. sustainable? He has concluded that the lack of sustain- Probably in an attempt to be more comprehensive, ability is due to global atmospheric problems, excessive the Centre for Sustainable Transportation (1998) in use of nonrenewable resources by the transport system, Canada states that a sustainable transportation system is excessive fatalities and injuries, local air pollution prob- one that (a) allows the basic access needs of individuals lems, and system congestion. To operationalize this and societies to be met safely and in a manner consistent approach, he made use of indicators in order to identify with human and ecosystem health, and with equity whether an area's transport system was sustainable.