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HKU PhD graduate wins best PhD thesis on urban mobility in developing countries

The University of Hong Kong

Dr Muhammad Adeel, a PhD graduate at the Department of Urban Planning and Design of the Faculty of Architecture, the University of Hong Kong, won the CODATU Prize for the best PhD thesis on urban mobility in cities of developing countries with his thesis "Transportation Disadvantage and Social Exclusion in Pakistan".

Dr Adeel is a Pakistani. He received an Internationalization Postgraduate Studentship from HKU to pursue PhD studies at the University. Under the supervision of Professor Anthony Yeh, Chair Professor of HKU's Urban Planning and Design Department, he completed his thesis and graduated in 2015. He is now working as a Research Officer in the Cities programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK. He is one of the successful examples of HKU's Internationalization Postgraduate Studentship programme in carrying out research in other international regions outside Hong Kong.

CODATU (Cooperation for Urban Mobility in the Developing World) is a not-for-profit international organisation based in Lyon, France established with an aim to promote sustainable mobility policies and knowledge sharing between the developed and developing countries. The CODATU PhD prize, which Dr Adeel shares jointly with Dr Digvijay S. Pawar from India, aims to encourage young researchers in the field of urban transport mobility in developing countries and to reinforce the interaction between researchers, professionals and policymakers.

The Prize Committee consisted of six distinguished professors and experts in the field of urban mobility. It particularly evaluated how the thesis matched theory and practice and what transferable lessons could be learnt for other developing countries.

There were more than eighty applications received from across the world for this first launching of the prize. In their adjudication, the jury remarked: "The PhD thesis of Muhammad Adeel deals with crucial issues of transportation disadvantage and social exclusion. The challenge facing this topic is the limited information from the developing countries where, unlike the developed countries, the vulnerable population might be in the majority and the dimensions of the problem are more complex due to context-specific social and developmental conditions. In this respect, the thesis addresses important matters relating to transport disadvantage and connections between mobility, services/infrastructure and social exclusion in urban and national contexts. "

Dr Adeel was presented a formal Certificate from CODATU and a money prize of 500 Euros. He was invited to deliver a speech on his PhD dissertation during the closing session of the CODATU XVII Conference held in Hyderabad, India from November 4 to 6, 2017.

His award-winning study reveals that gender, income and residential location are the three most important determinants of transportation disadvantage and social exclusion in Pakistan. Furthermore, socio-cultural context plays an important role in shaping the complex links between them. A majority of the population, including women, students, rural residents and low-income groups seem to be disproportionally affected. Women generally avoid travelling out of the home and they also make fewer daily trips than men due to safety and privacy concerns under the Muslim culture of Pakistan. Their families also do not prefer their mobility without permission, veiling or escort. Adult women in cities depend more on personal automobile rather than public transport, particularly for their education and work trips. There is a widening of mobility gaps between gender and urban and rural areas that result in reduced discretionary travel and higher transportation expenditures for vulnerable social groups.

The national and city level analysis reveals multidimensional nature of transportation disadvantage and social exclusion in Pakistan. The analysis further reveals that both the issues reinforce each other in the gender-sensitive social economic and cultural context of the country. Pakistan's built environment, including its land use and transportation systems, are less responsive to the context-specific mobility needs of its vulnerable population, especially women, and constantly put them at a comparative disadvantage. The study concludes that there is a need for an integrated land use and transport management perspective with the focus particularly on the gender dimensions to reduce poverty and facilitate the disadvantaged to access to the economic resource and promote social inclusion in Pakistan.

Dr Adeel has generated a number of papers from his research findings. They were published or have scheduled to be published in top academic journals, including Transport Policy and Transportation.

Findings from Dr Adeel's PhD research published in international journals

One journal paper that will be published by the journal Transportation later this year used the 2007 Time Use Survey of Pakistan for national level examination of the problem. Analysis of 38,000-time use diaries from the survey reveals wide gender differences in daily mobility and activity participation in the country including:

More than half of the surveyed women did not report travelling out of the home on the survey day.

Mobile women made half fewer trips as compared to mobile men.

Age, marital status and presence of children also influenced the female mobility more strongly than men.

Adult women exhibited higher reliance on personal automobiles for daily mobility.

In a country where most of the trips are made walking and car ownership level remains very low, automobile reliance among women reduces their access to opportunities and basic services such as education and healthcare.

The findings of field surveys in the cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, published in another journal Transport Policy earlier in 2016, confirmed that the issues of transport disadvantage decreased the social and recreational activity participation among the disadvantaged population. Issues of public transport availability, quality and affordability were found to have a significant effect on women mobility and access to activities in both cities.

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