Building Partnerships: Visit to South Africa by Eric Bruun

June 10, 2016

In May 2016, Dr. Eric Bruun made a visit to South Africa for a research proposal meeting and workshop on non-motorized transport safety. Funded by FinCEAL+, Eric had an opportunity to meet up with colleagues from the University of Capetown and India. Here are some highlights from his trip.

I have had a long standing relationship with the Faculty of the Built Environment at University of Cape Town (UCT).  I co-taught a one week course on Railway Planning annually between 2008 and 2013.  I gradually became involved in their research about the informal public transport sector in three case study cities of Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Cape Town funded by the Volvo Research and Education Foundation. Together with faculty at University of Nairobi and University of Dar es Salaam and a few international experts, we completed Phase I, which was a study of the minibus industry business practices, governance, service quality, and so on. Together with a few European SMEs and universities, our team prepared a Horizon 2020 application.. This was to fund Phase II, a search for modestly priced solutions to some of the identified problems, using smartphone technology. We did not score well on the criterion about commercial potential for European industry.

In our recent meeting, to which I am very grateful to Finceal for support, we discussed submitting another application to Horizon 2020 in an upcoming call. We concluded that we had not yet found a way to potentially improve our score. We also discussed the European Development Fund. We saw some potential for an SA-centered project, but concluded that due to high teaching loads at UCT and no dedicated research assistance staff, it would be hard to make all of the contacts and other preparations for an involved proposed process.  We however saw the possibility of getting local South African funding to support the use of state-of-the-art Finnish electronic travel diary and Mobility as a Service (MaaS) apps to test some reforms within Cape Town on a pilot scale.

The research proposal meeting was timed with a non-motorized transport safety workshop together with a delegation from IIT Delhi. I had the chance to present info about the aforementioned e-diary technology that could help to study how a sample of the population moves about in their daily lives and the MaaS app that could promote integration of the informal and formal PT sectors in "hybrid” services. At the conclusion of the workshop, I presented a public lecture "Choosing the Right Public Transport Mode,” which can be a highly controversial subject. It was based on a paper prepared together with Duncan Allen of IBI Group in Boston, USA and Moshe Givoni of Tel Aviv University.

One observation is that partner institutions in Africa don’t have access to the same level of research support staff, which makes application to European funding sources a strain, especially if the probability of success is low. It would be helpful if different evaluation criteria were applied to research that had a city improvement focus.   

Story by Eric Bruun

Dr. Eric Bruun has most recently been a visiting professor at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Aalto University Espoo, Finland. He was adjunct faculty at the University of Pennyslvania and taught short courses at several universities around the world. He is the author of Better Public Transit Systems: Analyzing Investments and Performance, 2nd Edition, and co-author of Introduction to Sustainable Transportation. He recently participate in a research project that aimed to find ways to improve informal public transport in the cities of Sub-Saharan Africa together the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorized Transport at the University of Cape Town.

Photo by Vee Satayamas cc.