Lincoln Paiva is founder and president of Green Mobility, a consulting company specializing in the development of mechanisms to improve the mobility of companies and governments aiming to operate as more sustainable entities, and Instituto Mobilidade Verde, a nongovernmental organization specializing in sustainable urban mobility. He is a member of several organizations, including the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT), UN-HABITAT’s Urban Gateway, Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-ASIA), and Cities-for-Mobility. Paiva also serves on the board of environment and transport at Brazil's National Association of Public Transport (ANTP). In November, in São Paulo, he spoke with Ligia Nobre about public policy and private-sector initiatives needed to move toward socially equitable and environmentally sustainable urban mobility.
What is green mobility?
Lincoln Paiva: Green Mobility, from a "means of transportation" point of view, maybe understood as cleaner and more efficient vehicles. From a broader point of view, green mobility is a set of indicators involving planning, energy grid, technology, traffic control, infrastructure, and transportation systems providing a better quality of life for people and causing less economic, social, and environmental impact. Green mobility is not a goal in itself. The modern urban way of thinking conceives mobility as a means to provide urban and social development to the population in an ecological way or, in other words, with as little environmental impact as possible. We cannot think of sustainable urban mobility only as the transportation systems (transporting people) and energy. The purpose of sustainable urban mobility is to provide local development.
Your company, Green Mobility, is meant to play a key role in promoting strategies and projects for sustainable urban mobility that combine both private and public initiatives. How does this work in Brazil? In particular, how does Green Mobility operate?
Paiva: We have been advising Brazilian cities to develop a more sustainable transportation policy and culture. The major challenge has been breaking paradigms about the low, medium, and high capacity transport systems, emphasizing the importance of creating a high-capacity network and not only systems. The cities have been implementing the wrong options, by taking only under consideration the data concerning passenger demand and neglecting socioeconomic issues, therefore leaving thousands of low-income people out of the transport system because of the tariff fees.
You did research on workers' modes of dislocation in part of São Paulo's service industries. Please describe your research and the specific actions that are being taken by the companies and their workers.
Paiva: The companies are still not willing to invest their money before they have a positive signal from the cities. Regarding projects involving the private sector, it will be important for cities to develop public policies that favor private investments. For instance, for a company to encourage people to go to work by bicycle, the city has to invest in infrastructure such as bicycle parking areas, bicycle paths, and security and also offer benefits so that the workers feel comfortable with the idea of pedaling a bike, exercising, and having a more positive attitude toward using the car less often.
In São Paulo, what types of operational and structural measures, in terms of sustainable urban mobility, are possible in the short and long term?
Paiva: The first thing to do would be to develop a municipal urban mobility plan, based on a more sustainable transport policy with short-, medium-, and long-term visions. Without it, it's virtually impossible to determine an emergency action plan. If you don't know where you are going to, all paths are alike.
Another of São Paulo's current challenges is the disarticulation between the pattern of land use and mobility, as for example the fast-paced construction of high-rise buildings and other large-scale developments. What are the socioterritorial and environmental consequences for the city and its inhabitants?
Paiva: I recently took part in a debate with [staff members of] São Paulo's municipal urban planning company. According to them, São Paulo is not among the most vertically dense cities in the world. I don't agree with the high-density proposals by urban planners, or in other words, the concept of Compact City, which is widely discussed in cities. In developing countries, this has caused islands of poverty and underdevelopment, because urban transport and work aren't dealt with as part of urban and social development, [which] will have to be [done as] part of a project involving several state-level departments. And that kind of cooperation is nonexistent in Brazil.
The World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 could be remarkable opportunities to set up new paradigms for sustainable cities in Brazil. How are mobility issues being handled in the cities involved? Are there areas for innovation?
Paiva: There's no innovation as far as I know. Unfortunately, the Brazilian cities will miss out on those excellent opportunities. What we nowadays foresee in terms of transport projects has to do with the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit. But, I insist, that one transport system is not going to solve the problems of Brazilian cities. Public officials do not understand that these two events can attract tourists, resources, companies, investment, and development. Their vision is focused on transporting people. I liked the idea of building the soccer stadium in the eastern zone [of São Paulo], but I haven't seen any project for local development or for the city's transport system. The subway is already there, with capacity for sixty thousand people per hour each way. Aside from the money to build the stadium, there will be no other investment in the transport system.
How can Brazilians improve their quality of life and make healthier cities?
Paiva: São Paulo has got a minority of upper-middle-class and better-educated people, especially youngsters between nineteen and twenty-five years of age, who understand that, in order to improve quality of life, it will be necessary to change the lifestyle that is deeply influenced by North-American consumerism, especially the car as a status symbol. With the improvement of the economy and encouragement from the federal government, a considerable part of the population can afford to buy a car. It's not fair that people have to give up on an asset that was widely promised as a symbol of achievement and status and go back to riding a bus or walking. So, as I see it, the wealthiest population in the city will have to give up driving their cars, because 80 percent of the drivers live less than ten kilometers away from work. However, the city must rethink its mobility strategy, by providing different means of transportation for short distances that can be used instead of the car. Alternative types of transportation are practically nonexistent in São Paulo.
How do you see the relationship between the automobile industry and urban planning and architecture?
Paiva: The automobile industry's vision of the city's future is a false promise in terms of urban planning. It's technological cities like in The Jetsons cartoon: The car talks to the driver, appears to be people's best friend, solves all the daily problems, moving around among glass-enclosed buildings and empty streets. We aren't searching only for more security, technology, or better energy efficiency. The industry will have to accept that its purpose is not only transporting people in a more efficient and environmentally sustainable way, but to offer solutions for the accumulation of cars in the streets, which makes driving itself difficult, slows cities' development capacity, and impairs quality of life. No one wants to slow down car sales, but, in the future, not everybody will own a car and not everybody will be able to drive their car at the same time. The industry needs to understand its responsibility to introduce private transportation as one of the solutions for the implementation of a network of transportation systems in a city. Automobile manufacturers are wasting their time and sources thinking in terms of imaginary cities that will never become real. It is necessary to rethink the current model of individual transportation.
How is climate change influencing public policies and private-sector initiatives in Brazil in terms of urban mobility? What are the main differences compared to other countries?
Paiva: Brazil could be a leader in this area due to its low rank in the list of countries with the highest motorization rates. In order to reach for that [goal], it is necessary to foster the development of new technologies that would enable a more comprehensive understanding of the public transportation systems and to create new systems oriented toward our own reality.