HIGHLIGHT of the 55th UITP World Congress in Madrid last month was the signing at the closing ceremony of the association’s Charter on Sustainable Development. Described as a ’most important development’ by UITP President Wolfgang Meyer, the charter ’makes clear to everyone, including politicians, that sustainable development of our cities and our countries is only possible with sustainable mobility’ - for which read a bigger role for public transport.

The initial signatories include 38 operators, suppliers, associations and public authorities from 15 countries across four continents, but Meyer hopes that by the time the 2005 Congress is held in Roma the total will have passed 200. ’This charter is about putting value on our actions’, he explained; ’we must learn from each other and work together.’

The importance of public transport in shaping society had been underlined at the opening ceremony in a keynote address by the former Mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa Londoño. ’Transport is not a technical but a political issue’, he insisted. ’It is all about who benefits from the policies that are adopted.’

The world population is forecast to increase by 2 billion in the next 30 years, and Peñalosa warned that most of this would come in explosive growth of Third World cities where vast flows of traffic would offer huge potential markets for metro and suburban railway suppliers. But Peñalosa warned that ’before we can design our transport provision, we must decide what sort of city we want - a city is only a means to a way of living.’ He believes passionately that investment in sustainable mobility will help to empower individuals in a society where the economic gulf between rich and poor is far wider than in the developed world. Building more new roads would only benefit the limited few with access to cars, he said, but the environmental cost would fall on the majority. And at the same time reliance on cars would encourage suburban sprawl.

In contrast, the creation of pedestrian spaces, bicycle routes and segregated public transport corridors would help tie the community together. In a recent referendum, Bogota voted to ban all peak-hour car use from January 2015, once sufficient public transport is in place. ’The city has discovered pride in itself and hope for a better future’, he declared.

Rail’s environmental credentials should give it a head start here, but Peñalosa had a stern warning that the industry needed to get its costs down if it is to capitalise on this huge market. ’Rail is wonderful for prestige, reducing conflict and providing capacity on the core routes’, he acknowledged, ’but even at US$7m/km we simply cannot afford it.’ The 20 km first phase of Bogota’s busway is already handling more passengers than the entire 163 km Washington DC metro, he noted, but at just 100th of the cost.