“When you design a well-run public transportation system, it does not matter what your income level is at because you're just trying to get to where you got to get to as fast as possible. And public transportation can completely do that with the right support mechanisms in place, but we just have got to get there. We have to reduce the friction, we have to make it as simple and as easy and as wonderful as possible to use, and improve the overall user experience.”
– Sarah Barnes, Government Partnerships Manager, Lyft, and Author, Along for the Ride newsletter
"We have to reduce the friction, we have to make it as simple and as easy and as wonderful as possible to use."
In this episode
Whether you travel by car, bus, light rail or scooter, the world of transportation is in a state of transformation.
Leaders in the space are beginning to rethink methods to combat existing climate impacts, calls to lower emissions and support net zero carbon goals, and as we reassess what exists today, opportunities abound for improvements in everything from speed and ease of use to reliability and increased inclusivity.
In this episode of Changing Places, host Mariam Sobh explores these topics and more transportation trends with Josipa Petrunic, President & CEO of CUTRIC (Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium), Kevin Quinn, CEO of Vancouver’s TransLink, Sarah Barnes, Government Partnerships Manager at Lyft and Author of the Along for the Ride newsletter, and Kat Hanna, Director of Strategic Advisory and Place Strategy at Avison Young.
8:23 Josipa Petrunic notes how transit can’t be implemented properly without critical prioritization in city design and urban planning.
15:55 Kevin Quinn discusses TransLinks’ efforts to implement electric transportation technology within its fleet.
28:34 Kat Hanna shares how a lack of investment in public transit will result in reduced quality of services.
Click here to expand transcript
Speaker 1[00:13] Because I'm not 18 yet, the buses are free in London, and then the tube, when you're traveling between quite a few zones, although it's half price on my zip card, it's still quite a bit of money. So that's always in consideration, thinking whether or not getting the bus is a better idea to save money.
So I take the train, I take the bus, and I have my electric bike, and that actually saved me during the pandemic because then I could just ride to where I needed to go and it felt a bit better. Now I'm getting a little bit more comfortable with things as we move forward, but I've still got my electric bike, it's still my saving grace.
Speaker 2[00:49] I used to be and I am quite a big user of the tube. So I will usually get the overground or the underground. But at the moment, I'm not coming into the office as often, but I prefer to drive in now rather than take the train.
Mariam Sobh[01:05] When was the last time you took the bus, waited for the subway, or jumped on a train to see your best friend in another city for the weekend? Whatever your relationship with public transportation, it's a ubiquitous part of modern life and the fixture of our built world.
However, not everyone has the same experience with the transportation in their city as you do in yours. Maybe you're lucky enough to live in a city where light rail runs every four minutes and you never have to wait for a bus. Or you may jump into your car for a two mile drive instead of waiting 20 minutes for a bus on what could be a half hour journey. As we consider the role of public transportation in our daily lives, it's time to ask who it serves and what role it will play as we strive for a green, emission- free world.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, in 2019 Americans took 9. 9 billion trips on public transit, which makes public transportation an $80 billion industry. However, the APTA estimates that 45% of Americans have no access to public transportation. Meanwhile, the UK's Department of Transportation reports that ridership on public transit fell by 33% in 2020 from 2019 across Great Britain due to COVID.
Lastly, Statistics Canada reports 61. 3 million riders used Canada's public transit system in August 2021, versus 55. 5 million riders a year earlier. I think it's safe to say that the story of public transportation varies widely between cities and regions. What changes are coming? Who will be impacted the most? Can we get to a net zero future by saying so long to gas powered cars and buses?
I'll cover all of this and more with my guest, Josipa Petrunic, President and CEO of Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium. Plus we'll hear from Kat Hanna, Director of Strategic Advisory and Place Strategy at Avison Young, Kevin Quinn, CEO of TransLink in British Columbia, and Sarah Barnes, Government Partnerships Manager at Lyft, and author of the weekly transportation newsletter, Along for the Ride.
I'm Mariam Sobh, and this is Changing Places. Let's hear from Kevin Quinn, CEO of TransLink.
Kevin Quinn[03:31] If we take a step back in time to March of 2020, ridership in Vancouver dropped to around 15 or 20% of normal levels. So, nearly overnight 80% of ridership just disappears, and so we sit today at about 75% of pre- COVID levels. Our weekends are coming back faster than the weekdays. So our weekdays around 72, 73% of pre- COVID levels, weekends are around 80, 81%. So that's been really interesting.
Also, geographically, we're seeing that not every area comes back the same. So while there might be this average of 75% some, or at 60% some, or at 95%, the challenge for us and the challenge for Metro Vancouver region is how do we respond to that? So I think the dust really has yet to settle for what the kind of transportation landscape is really going to look like in cities, Vancouver, all over the world really.
Mariam Sobh[04:23] In order to understand how we got here, I'm going to chat with Josipa Petrunic, President and CEO of Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium, about the changes she's seeing in the world of transportation and what it could mean for your next journey downtown.
Josipa Petrunic, welcome to Changing Places. If we take a step back and look at public transportation through the lens of a city like Toronto or a province like Ontario, what are we seeing on the ground and what are politicians and citizens talking about?
Josipa Petrunic[04:56] Yeah. Well, mostly what politicians and citizens are talking about in this day and age is electrification. So, getting rid of pollutants from the transit and transportation sector, that's a big topic. Federally, provincially, municipally, everybody's talking about pollution and getting rid of emissions. Within that are obviously ongoing dialogues about getting more people into transit overall because of congestion. So I would say pollution and congestion are the two hot topics right now. There are some things we're not talking about that we probably should be talking about, but those are the ones we're talking about.
Mariam Sobh[05:26] What are the things that we're not talking about, if I can ask?
Josipa Petrunic[05:29] Yeah. Some of the things we're not talking about. We're speaking a lot about congestion and the problem with congestion, but it's kind of died, the discussion about tolls and road pricing, and that is something that sort of died in Toronto in particular, but across Canada. That was a huge missed opportunity in 2017, and half a decade later we're seeing the consequences. So congestion pricing or toll roading, that has disappeared, and that's a problem given the issue of pollution and congestion.
Mariam Sobh[05:56] Let's hear from Kat Hanna, Director of Strategic Advisory and Place Strategy, Avison Young, about the impact of London's congestion zone.
Kat Hanna[06:04] London was very much actually a pioneer in terms of adopting the congestion charge. We have seen some of that displacement from private cars onto public transport. I think if I was taking a step back from a policy angle and saying, "What good does a congestion charge do?" it has to be combined with that investment in public transport as well, which again is also something you can do because you've got that money that is coming in from the congestion charge.
Josipa Petrunic[06:34] The second thing we're really not talking about is autonomy. The real topic is autonomous pooled and platooned buses and shuttles. That can move thousands of people in a short period of time, over short and long distances and complicated jurisdictions with relatively low cost. It takes time and investment, but the topic kind of died after a first few pilots across Canada. It didn't work out the way people expected about five years ago. So those are a couple of things we're not talking about that we really should if our big concern is pollution and congestion.
Mariam Sobh[07:04] With autonomous vehicles, I think maybe there's a lot of fear around them because I just feel like we only hear when there's a car battery catching fire or something.
Josipa Petrunic[07:13] Yeah. I think that's the case for both electrification and autonomy. Back in 2016, 2017 when all this was taking off and people were talking about the end of the auto sector and new mobility, which is right, that's what we should be talking about, it used to be captured by this acronym called CASE, and that stood for Connected Autonomous Shared and Electric.
If you could connect all the vehicles out there, you could automate them and get rid of drivers, which are a huge part of the problem. But you're right that the first few pilots, the first few efforts out the door, the big news stories are usually about the battery catching fire or the autonomous vehicle hitting the truck. In reality, technology innovation has a thousand things that go wrong with it before we get to a steady state of things working.
Mariam Sobh[07:53] It's interesting because I think when we were in the midst of lockdowns and things like that and people were working from home at the height of the pandemic, it seemed like people were not using cars anymore and they started biking, and they started realizing that we didn't need all this stuff, but now how quick we forget, we're back to the same old routine.
Josipa Petrunic[08:10] Well, yeah, and also because a lot of the experiments with road allocations disappeared, right? Look at the Lakeshore in Toronto. We had this great period where you could walk, you could cycle, you could scooter on these streets, and suddenly those streets are back to being allocated for cars.
Transit just won't win until urban planning and city design prioritizes it. So if you're on a bus, you go first through the green light, the other people wait. That's a basic thing. Now it sounds complicated, and there's some AI involved and there's some technology and software, but totally doable today. It's a choice not to do that. A road pricing that doesn't cause people to go bankrupt but does make them stop and think, "Maybe I should drive to the metro station and then take the go train in rather than driving all the way." Two to five bucks on the road would shift a portion of the population off the road without breaking the bank and causing bankruptcy and hardship.
So there's all these elements, and then if we take a look at even basic things. It's still illegal to drive or ride an e- scooter on the streets of Toronto. So, eliminate space for cars and create the space for scooters and bicycles and walking. If anybody lives down on the Queens Quay, you know how long that effort was. That's a beautiful stream of mixed use, right? You've got bicycles and pedestrians, and you have street cars and you have limited lanes for cars. It's great down there, and it took forever and a day to get that approved, to get it built. Getting more of that across Toronto is essentially what has to happen to get to the world that you're talking about, which is it's not just during a pandemic, we take back our streets on a daily basis.
Mariam Sobh[09:36] You mentioned just momentarily about scooters. Do you think they'll come back into circulation? Because I think before the pandemic they were becoming this viable mode of transportation. I know I saw them everywhere and then suddenly they disappeared. Could a scooter be a solution for that last mile? Is that last mile something that needs more investment in it, or do we just need public transportation to be the bridge between the last mile?
Josipa Petrunic[10:01] No, for sure the last mile or, as we'd say, the last kilometer is a big problem in Canada and North America in general. We've got all these suburbs and we've got these train stations, and you can get to and from the train station very problematically once you're on the train system. Once you're on the subway it's pretty fast. Scooters, autonomous small pod shuttles, e-bikes, walking and active transport, these are modes that people will take and do take when they're available to them. Often we put our heads in the sand and say, "Well, electrification, autonomy, all this technology is very expensive. It's complicated. You need real estate. You need chargers. You need hydrogen fueling. You need all of these DSRC units." Yet actually one of the pieces of infrastructure we terribly under- invest in is sidewalks. Basic sidewalks. Basic paved pathways that get you to the transit station.
Building a sidewalk sounds simple until you have to build it along a highway to a ghost station or Metrolink station that was built in the middle of nowhere because land was cheap. So then it starts to get a bit more complicated, and the end solution there is not just like these first kilometer, last kilometer, first mile, last mile, small shuttles or scooters, it's also a dedicated laneway for transit. That's a big one. There was a time when all we talked about was rapid transit way and dedicated laneway. Now nobody's talking about it, but that's what we need. Everywhere that there is transit you need a dedicated laneway for transit and it will end up being cheaper, faster, more convenient than every other mode, whether it's first mile or last mile, or whether it's extended interventional mobility.
Mariam Sobh[11:24] Let's take a moment to hear from Sarah Barnes who works in the private sector dealing with government partnerships at Lyft.
Sarah Barnes[11:31] Waterloo Station, which is one of the city's largest commuter rail stations in the city, see a ton of people commute every single day in from the southeast of England, and they would maybe take in a train that's an hour long. The bike share station that exists outside of Waterloo Station is the most used bike share station in the city. You'd watch people get off the train, walk to that bike share station. It was completely embedded as part of their routine and their commute.
One of the things that I'm really excited about is trying to bring that level of control to cities in North America. There is a huge opportunity for us to think about how the system, network design, and how we place stations and how we introduce e- bikes, and all of these things really enable growth for both bikes and scooters but also public transportation. In theory, if you have a really well- designed micro mobility system, it makes it easier to use buses, it makes it easier to use trains and light rail, and high speed rail.
Mariam Sobh[12:38] Are there any places where you're seeing this play out in the right way that we can look to for a model?
Josipa Petrunic[12:45] There are loads of cities in Europe, and we can always point to Europe, but we're not Europe, right? We're in North America. We can't operate on that analogous basis. So if we look at North American cities where land is cheap, and we've vomited suburbs left, right and center now we've built up these mass expanses, we can point to our cities that are setting the right targets and starting to invest in the right way. Example, Toronto. If we look at electrification, really big fleet. One of the biggest transit fleets in the country. One of the most complicated to electrify, but they're going full electric and they've said 2040 will be zero emissions. They've got 60 on the road already, another 300 in the works, and they're figuring out how to do battery and hydrogen fuel cell electrification across a really complicated real estate market.
If you look at TransLink out in Vancouver, they're doing a great job working with the province and with the municipal jurisdictions to make sure people don't get stuck on the small streets of Vancouver trying to get in and off the island and around town. What they're trying to do is move more people through the SkyTrain and then more nodes of connectivity, and they're taking an inclusivity approach to make sure that everybody has a walkable, feasible mobile city in the next couple of decades. Those are some of the appropriate action plans, but in North America it is challenging because if a pilot does fail, it is very hard to bring it back. So in those cities in Toronto, in Brampton, (inaudible) , Vancouver, Edmonton, these are some of the cities that are really dealing with electrification, hydrogen fuel cell tech or autonomous shuttle projects where their people have dedicated themselves to making sure this stuff will launch come what may, and that's where I think we're going to see some of the best examples.
Mariam Sobh[14:16] Josipa, I want to know more about where we are heading when it comes to transportation. Let's tackle that after we hear from Kat Hanna.
Kat Hanna[14:24] If we move beyond a city or a London level and look about, for example, how people move across the country, you will frequently see people on Twitter saying, "I was looking in for train tickets from London to Manchester. It's going to cost £500 for myself and my family to get a train. Whereas we could pay £150 and we could all get on a plane." You could be the best train operating company in the world, but I imagine it's still going to be a bit of a pain.
However, if you're then looking at, well, what can we be doing to dissuade people to take a car, that then also becomes, again, in that system of trade- off, for example, is it just much better value? Is a service really reliable so you actually know it's probably going to be quicker than the car anyway? Have you got a really high quality train station? So, actually you maybe turn that in itself to part of the journey, that becomes a destination. So there are things you can do that do both help improve the experience within limits, but also mean there are other factors that make sustainable travel more appealing.
Mariam Sobh[15:24] Stay tuned for the next part. And just a reminder. Changing Places is a podcast brought to you by Avison Young, that continues to explore and question our complex relationship with the built world around us. I'm your host, Mariam Sobh. I hope you're liking the show so far. If so, please share Changing Places with your friends.
Welcome back to Changing Places. Before we get back to my conversation with Josipa Petrunic, let's hear from Kevin Quinn, CEO of TransLink.
Kevin Quinn[15:56] We already have a really large fleet of around 350 all electric trolley buses, and our SkyTrain's all electric. About a third of our passengers every day are on a zero or near zero emission technology. If we're going to move to, say, a battery electric bus technology, every single one of those bus depots needs to be completely renovated, completely rebuilt. To accommodate that, that's a big transition, and that's going to happen over a couple of decades.
As we look to expand the system, we're building a one brand new facility that's just for charging battery electric buses. That'll be online in a couple of years. But as we look to implement new technologies, it's a good question of where do you geographically site new facilities to best meet those needs, rather than just say, "Hey, we have a facility over there. Let's rethink. Does that really make sense to be over there? Or have we found over the last, I don't know, 50 years that it really needs to be on the other side of town? Is there land available for that?" It's a great opportunity to rethink comprehensively how our infrastructure is set up to deliver those services and question it as we go into a very brand new world of different types of energy propulsion with our buses.
Mariam Sobh[17:10] Now back to my conversation with Josipa Petrunic, President and CEO of Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium. Josipa, when we're talking about this electrification, switching from gas powered fleets to electrified fleets, how are cities handling this overall and how is this affecting the average person? I mean, does the average person even care? They're just getting on a bus.
Josipa Petrunic[17:32] The first thing I'd say is, it's not that this is affecting cities, it's that cities are affecting this. If I flip it around in that vector of causation, it's cities, to the credit of mayors and councillors, that have stood up in the last 10 years across Canada and the United States and declared climate emergencies and declared, "We will be net zero. We don't know how we're going to get there, but we will be net zero." They've set targets like 2030, 2035, 2040, and 2050, which is pretty much tomorrow from the perspective of fleet procurement. It's very quick. So, cities have actually driven a stake in the ground and said, "We're going to do this." They're leveraging their public fleets to do what they can, and they're leveraging the money they have, but where they need to go with it is finding new ways to make money, which brings us right back to road tolls and generating new revenues that cities can start pumping into the infrastructure that they know they need, which is ripping up old streets and putting in their place mixed use streets to new retail oriented hubs where people go not just to take transit but to live and have drinks and go to restaurants, and go on a date. Building these new kinds of cities does take cities not just saying, "We will be zero emissions and net zero." Whether it's Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver, then the cities we live in are going to be mobile, connected, greener, leafier, better to live in, safer, and ones where we don't have to own cars.
Mariam Sobh[18:53] Let's go back to San Francisco to hear from Sarah Barnes.
Sarah Barnes[18:57] Well-funded buses and trains really rock. I think oftentimes what we see when people do any type of international travel. Whether they're going to Medallin or Singapore or Montreal and Paris, people love to use public transportation there because it is so quick and efficient and well- managed and you can rely on it. When you design a well- run public transportation system, it does not matter where your income level is at because you're just trying to get to where you've got to get to as fast as possible. Public transportation can completely do that with all of the right support mechanisms in place, but we've just got to get there. We have to reduce the friction. We have to make it as simple and as easy and as wonderful as possible to use and just improve that user experience.
Mariam Sobh[19:48] At what point does the sunk cost of a fleet determine which type of transportation is offered in a city?
Josipa Petrunic[19:55] When you do the calculations and you deploy the electric buses, even though they're more expensive right now and you have to buy a bunch of chargers, and there's some real estate costs and civil works, they end up paying themselves off faster than the age of the bus. So it becomes very obvious. Pay a little bit more now, but it saves you tons of money over the 10, 15 lifecycle of that bus. It's not like rail where you buy a locomotive and you need it to work for 50 years; you've got like a 10 to 15 year period. That is a reasonable amount of time. So, transit agencies today that say, "Okay, we're going to be zero emissions by 2035, 2040," totally doable, because your bus fleet is going to age out anyhow in that time and your sunk costs will have depreciated anyhow. You won't be losing, you'll just be gaining. So the sunk costs are less of an issue than the misplaced future investments into roadworks. A lot of the sunk costs in transit do age out in the period that they need to be transitioned anyhow.
Mariam Sobh[20:48] When it comes to your preferred transportation methods, can you give us some insight on how you travel and what your preference is?
Josipa Petrunic[20:54] Yeah. I hate driving. If I give you what's the worst thing, maybe forcing me to go to a mall and go shopping. They're both up there in the worst things you can make me do. I hate losing time. I don't have enough time in life to do everything I want to do. I don't like being behind the wheel of a car. I will happily take a bus for an hour and a half to avoid driving half an hour, and that's because I can work. I can read. I take conference calls. I take calls from anywhere and everywhere. Because you can tether to your phone, you pretty much have the internet everywhere anyhow. Now, that also comes from a privileged position. I don't have kids by choice. If you don't have children by choice, or you just don't have children, you have the privilege of being late. I don't have to pick up kids at daycare. I don't have to drop them off to school. So as a result of that, for the single person, or I would say more importantly, the childless person... I won't even say the single person because couples can do it. But the childless person, you have a lot of options, as I do, in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton, and even Calgary. Outside of those cities you're struggling.
It's a convenience story, right? I'll give you two examples around that. One, it's a woman's issue. The majority of transit riders in this country are women. So over 60% are women, and we treat women the worst in transit. Have you tried to carry a laptop case in a tight skirt with high heels? You're walking through downtown and you're just trying to catch a subway, you're just trying to get to your next meeting. Impossible. Half the time the escalator is not working. That's an elite, privileged kind of view of it, right?
Now go down the line of you have a baby stroller. Good luck to you. There's not even signs where the elevators are. The escalators are narrow and not designed for baby strollers. There are not specific signs put up saying, " Give way to baby strollers or wheelchairs." So, add to that. Now add groceries and babies and kids, and all the things people need to do to live a normal life. Drop the kids off at school, go to work, pick up the groceries, pick up the kids, carry the groceries, get the kids and get home. That's a basic family structure, and add to it if you're a single parent. It is impossible in Toronto to do that effectively without breaking down.
It is hard. It is complicated. It's expensive. There's no good signage. That is predominantly a woman's life in this country. So put those things together and that's Toronto, the best transit system in the country. I don't say that qualitatively, it's just the biggest. They have to move the most number of people. It's the same story in Vancouver and Montreal. These are not easy things, and if we can't sort this, how the heck are we going to get hundreds of thousands of people out of their cars and into transit to save the city and to save the climate? We won't. It has to be faster, more convenient, and cheaper than your car or any other car- like option, and it's really not, especially for women right now.
Mariam Sobh[23:44] Before we get back to my talk with Josipa Petrunic, let's hear from Kevin Quinn about the future of transit in Vancouver.
Kevin Quinn[23:51] I think, first and foremost, public transportation is still recovering from the pandemic. TransLink Vancouver, we are leading North America right now in ridership recovery. I think, secondly, it's important to not take a break, to rest, and to focus just on ridership recovery. Let's not all get so hung up on rebuilding ridership back to that 100% level. This is what it is now, right? We just put out a $21 billion vision for growing transportation over the next 10 years. I think it's a bold, ambitious vision, and I think I'd encourage other regions to embrace a good, bold, aggressive transportation vision for the future. We've got to keep growing. We've got to keep building and giving people options.
Mariam Sobh[24:37] Before we wrap up here, I wanted to ask you about looking forward and what the future holds in store for public transportation. Are you seeing that it's completely dead or is it continually re- imagining itself?
Josipa Petrunic[24:49] Oh, no, it's the future. Despite all the challenges I just highlighted, I am also not just an optimist, I'm a realist. It's the only way. By the laws of physics and the laws of economics, you can kick and scream about transit all we want, but the reality is it's the only way to move that many people over that distance and that energy efficiency. So we can say, "Oh, right, we don't care about the climate. Forget Paris. We don't care about any of that." Sure, say that we don't care about the climate. But we care about moving people to jobs, because if people can't get to work, they can't pay taxes. They can't pay taxes, we don't have healthcare, schools, sidewalks, nothing.So we know that economically we need to move people, even people working from home, and that mobility is economics. You can't move, you can't work, you can't make money, and you can't live. So, I am a firm believer that it's not a should transit be invested it? There will be no other choice. There is no other way in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years of moving people efficiently to keep the economy going.
I do believe if you look at London in the United Kingdom, or New York, the subway goes down, the tube goes down, the national economy is hit, there's a GDP effect. It is not that much different in Canada. When the Toronto Transit Commission goes down and the subway goes down, there is an effect on the national GDP. If we start to measure that more effectively, we will know just how substantially our lack of mobility affects our ability to get rich and wealthy as Canadians. So, I'm a huge optimist because I'm a realist, and I realistically believe there's just no way by the laws of physics to get around without mass transit in the future.
Speaker 1[26:19] So, maybe make trains a lot cheaper, because I think we tend to get the bus because it's free, but it does take longer. I think that's it. When I decide how to get somewhere, I mainly think about the price. I think that's the main thing.
Speaker 3[26:39] Back home in Singapore, our trains go really, really fast and really efficient, and we have air conditioning everywhere. It was a huge culture shock coming here and realizing that like, oh, the trains are hot and the trains have no reception. A lot of my travel habits were suddenly changed ever since I moved here. So that was an interesting shift.
Mariam Sobh[27:02] Again, Sarah Barnes.
Sarah Barnes[27:05] Cities, I hope, will continue to focus on the common good by investing in protected infrastructure, by investing in flow streets. Public transportation, micro mobility, and infrastructure that changes the streetscape for all road users, changing the radius of a street corner, is as impactful as changing the mirrors on a car. That piece of infrastructure would actually change the streetscape for everybody, and not just protect one person but actually think of a larger change for our society. Transportation policy is housing policy, is private policy, and we need to really, I think, marry each of those as we think about when we're redesigning our transit system, to make sure you have housing policy there to protect the people who are currently based there and enable them to benefit off of that infrastructure, which would then help us towards our climate target, as opposed to displacing people into a situation where, A, it traps them and entrenches them in a lifetime of car ownership, and costly car ownership at that, and then also continues to produce ecosystems where we're just burning greenhouse gases and creating congestion and creating really unlivable cities. So, that's my hope.
Mariam Sobh[28:32] And finally, Kat Hanna.
Kat Hanna[28:35] If you look at cities like New York, to an extent cities like London, the risk could be if we're not able to keep funding public transport well and invest in not just maintenance but actually making capital investment in new projects, the quality of that service is going to decline. So if quality declines, or if they're not as clean, if they're not as regular, if they don't feel safe, all of these factors means people then start finding alternative methods to move around. That typically becomes a car. You then get this vicious cycle where you go, "Well, no-one's really using the public transport anyway, or the people that are using public transport probably aren't really going to vote. So, do you know what? Don't really see the point of investing in it." That, to me, that kind of downward spiral, is what is a somewhat managed decline, is really quite risky, particularly when we put in both the equity lens and who can afford these different modes of transport. There's also then thinking about how do we keep this course of changing behavior towards more sustainable transport as well? So I think that's also really about understanding people's living patterns as well, where they're living. We cannot separate this question of urban development from urban mobility. So, again, I think when we're asking what the future looks like, the future of transport is intimately connected with the future of what our cities look like as well, and I think that's one thing we'd do well to remember when we're thinking both about the development part and the transport part.
Mariam Sobh[30:01] I'd like to thank Josipa Petrunic, Kat Hanna, Sarah Barnes, and Kevin Quinn for joining us on today's episode. The issues, thoughts, and future of public transportation isn't set in stone, rather it's always evolving, always moving, never quite stationary enough for us to catch it, but always just within reach. As cities, regions and countries across the world consider where to provide transit, which kind of transit to invest or divest in, and how far it reaches from the guts of the city into the sprawl of the exurbs, this is a situation which reaches all of us.
For those of us who have the choice of catching the bus or firing up the heated seats in our car for a trip to the office, there are others who are forced into one mode of transportation or another. I think choice is what makes living in certain cities so enviable. Not being told how to transverse the city in one way or another is truly a hallmark of living in a well designed, balanced city. Some cities provide these options while others seem to refuse to consider it.
As the world moves towards a greener future, climate goals and rethinking how we power the very modes of transit which make modern life in our city's viable, maybe it's time to consider the cost and benefit to everyone. What good is an electrified fleet of buses if they run every 20 minutes on a good day? Is a train between two major cities an option if it costs more than a quick flight? Yes, not every country can provide such effective door- to- door options, but at what point do the options need to appear in order for people to decide which works best for them? I suppose that's something to consider as you wait for the tube, board a bus, and settle in for a scenic train ride through the majestic countryside.
I'm Mariam Sobh. This is Changing Places. Changing Places is brought to you by Avison Young. Our producer is Andrew Pemberton- Fowler. Our sound engineer is Patrick Emile. Our producer assistant is Hugh Perkic. Additional production support is provided by JAR Audio.