Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Creeps and Weirdos

“People in South Africa associate mass transit with poverty.  Cars are status symbols.  You haven’t ‘made it’ – you’re not successful – if you don’t own your own vehicle.”

I heard the above comment at the HUB sustainability discussion last week.  But this is not a problem that is isolated only to South Africa.

Look at the advertisement that GM ran in a Vancouver, BC, newspaper in 2005:

Seriously?

(Side note: I played with the TransLink Planning Department’s ultimate team last summer.  Guess what their name is.  That’s right! “Creeps n’ Weirdos”)

So how do we try to change the social values infused with transportation choices?

Education.

Education.

Education.

Just like I learned the importance of recycling when I was young, we need to teach our children the importance of public transit.

Unfortunately, that’ll be difficult in a country where many high school graduates can’t even read.

Another suggestion:

Advertising.

Advertising.

Advertising.

My transportation planning professor at UBC, Dr. Jinhua Zhou, told us about a London advertising campaign that he was involved in.  If my memory is correct, they surveyed London residents to determine how people generally felt about cycling/cyclists.  They then ran a long campaign showing hot models with bicycles.  In the follow up survey, they discovered that people’s opinions of cyclists had improved.

Simple, but effective.

Would an advertising campaign work in South Africa?  At this point, I doubt it.  There isn’t enough infrastructure to support cycling.

That being said, I often see groups of cyclists in the affluent areas.  But it looks like they’re cycling for fitness, not commuting, which doesn’t actually cut down on the number of cars.

I think South Africa needs a two-pronged approach: education/advertising and infrastructure improvements.  Even though both solutions are expensive, the problem itself is not insurmountable – it just needs some political willpower behind it.

Like 99% of the other issues in this country.

Like 99% of the other issues in any country.

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2 thoughts on “Creeps and Weirdos

  1. Great post. Public transit is always an interesting issue. I’ve always sort of dreamed of running advertising campaigns for cycling – sweet to hear someone actually did. Was that course interesting/worthwhile?

  2. I loved CIVL 441. Dr. Zhao is a great professor! When I took it, the class was a mixture of engineering undergrads and masters students as well as SCARP, which led to many interesting discussions regarding transportation policy and planning. Highly recommended.

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