At World Road Association (WRA), expert teams work together in committees on different subject areas over a period of four years. In 2016, Professor Dr. Christoph Walther, Head of Global Research at PTV Group, was appointed by the World Road Association on the Road Transport System Economics and Social Development Committee upon recommendation of the German Ministry of Transport and Digital infrastructure (BMVI). The committee met at PTV’s head office in Karlsruhe in July, after a kick-off meeting in the autumn of 2016 in London. In our interview, Christoph Walther outlines the work and achievements of the committee.
Compass: What is the special aspect about dealing with this kind of issue as a member of a global institution?
Christoph Walther: Investment in road infrastructure can have completely different economic and social impacts on various countries – depending on their regional conditions and economic standards, especially in less developed countries, where the focus is on accessibility of hospitals as well as on jobs and schools. In countries with very dense traffic and transport networks the so-called marginal benefit of any infrastructure expansion is rather low. The discussions among the WRA members contribute significantly to refocussing our activities in Europe.
Compass: What about the activities of “your” committee?
Christoph Walther: The committee consists of three working groups: Ex-post evaluations, employment effects and reliability of transport systems. I’m the co-chair of the working group along with a very dedicated colleague from Rome. Our aim is to provide a clear presentation of the theoretical principles on reliability (certainly not an easy task given the complex nature of the subject) and then analyse individual case studies by answering the following questions: What’s happening in the respective country? What is the perception of reliability in each country – irrespective of any theoretical assumptions? For example, transport reliability in Europe means to determine the precise difference between the actual and expected travel time, whereas in tropical regions people are happy if there is any kind of transport at all during heavy rains. To close the cycle, reports based on theory and case studies will be produced and presented in Abu Dhabi in 2019. These reports will be circulated to governmental organizations to support their efforts.
Compass: Who came to Karlsruhe and what was discussed?
Christoph Walther: More than 20 representatives from Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, Japan, Morocco, Papua New Guinea and several European countries attended our meeting in Karlsruhe. And there were representatives from the US who joined us via Skype. The focus of discussion was on the work progress in terms of theory and practice. This included a study from Mexico which aims to determine the value of the travel time in relation to the region and income level. And there was another interesting case study from Budapest. Here the goal is to measure inner-city reliability and to examine the travel time distribution between the business district and the historic city centre. South Africa provided case studies on the impact of green field investments, meaning the construction of new roads in previously unexplored areas.
Compass: What were the conference highlights?
Christoph Walther: I was amazed by the high scientific level of the discussions. And I think I speak on behalf of all participants when I say that in Karlsruhe, it was for the first time that we could feel this special spirit of everybody joining together as one. Given the different ways of life in the different parts of the world, this is not a negligible achievement.
The Karlsruhe bus tour up on the Turmberg and the dinner at Vogelbräu in Durlach certainly helped.
WRA is a non-profit organization that is supported by the governments of its member countries. The general objective of the World Road Association is to promote international cooperation in the field of roads and road transport. The association was founded in 1909, when it was called Permanent International Association of Road Congresses (PIARC). It brings together state governments, public authorities and individuals and has members in over 140 countries.
The Road Infrastructure Investment and Social Development Committee will meet in Morocco in November. Seminars in South Africa and Tanzania will follow.