It was with great sadness that we learned today that prominent Australian transport academic and public transport advocate Paul Mees has died following a 15 month battle with cancer.
Paul was an intelligent and passionate man, an accomplished academic, a remarkable public figure and a bloody good bloke.
Early in his career Dr Mees worked as a lawyer, specialising in industrial relations. Fighting alongside unions for the rights of workers is no doubt where Mees sharpened his wit and learned the craft of captivating and questioning an audience at the same time.
As president of the Victorian Public Transport Users Association for almost a decade he campaigned vigorously for investment in public transport services and greater mobility over inefficient roading programmes focused on congestion. He was also highly critical of the privatisation of public transport operations.
He subsequently entered academia, lecturing and conducting research at the University of Melbourne. His demand for evidence based transport planning and scientific rigour in planning research was consistent with his no bullshit approach to politics. Paul was not afraid to tell it like it is, or reap what he sowed. After being highly critical of the Victorian government of the day (describing the authors of one government report of privatisation as “liars and frauds who should be in jail”), Dr Mees was unceremoniously demoted in 2008 as the result of political pressure.
He chose to resign that post and took a position as Associate Professor at RMIT Melbourne instead. Personally I was very grateful for that once he ended up my new transport planning lecturer. He took the move in his stride, playfully referring to himself as a “political refugee from the other end of Swanson St”. His tenacity in politics was only matched by his wit and his resolve.
In the transport planning world he is probably best remembered by the maxim “density is not destiny”, tirelessly sloughing away old truisms about public transport in young new world cities. In his seminal work Transport for Suburbia Mees argued that the population density of Australasian suburbs is no constraint for a properly integrated public transport network. In fact Mees has even been cited as the creator of the ‘network effect’ in print (a claim he magnanimously denied, rightly pointing out that such a fundamental aspect of geometry has always existed).
He is also notable for his distaste for grandiose schemes and expensive technological solutions, preferring to focus on getting the nuts and bolts of service delivery right first.
Mees has written extensively on the topic of transport in Auckland and New Zealand, regulars here may remember him from the City of Cars video, an NZTA report on best practice for public transport in New Zealand, and his paper The American Heresy: Half a Century of Transport Planning in Auckland.
Dr Paul Mees