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National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Professor Marianne Vanderschuren

Professor Marianne Vanderschuren

South Africa desperately requires a safe, secure, accessible and sustainable transport system. Using modelling, project assessment and tailor-made decision support tools, professor Marianne Vanderschuren’s research focuses on transport improvements for vulnerable road users, resulting in more than 5 000 lives being saved since 2009. 

Professor Vanderschuren is an international leader in her field, and her considerable research outputs and capacity development initiatives have been recognised by her election as a Fellow of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), as a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers UK (one of 63 in Africa) and by the DSI-NRF/CSIR Smart Mobility Research Chair award. For 2022, she was appointed President of SAICE.

She holds a PhD in intelligent transport systems and an MSc in systems engineering and policy analysis, both from universities in the Netherlands. She is the University of Cape Town (UCT) Department of Civil Engineering’s only female full professor, and is the faculty’s Deputy Dean for Transformation and Social Responsiveness. 

“Road fatalities cost South African society more than R142-billion each year, which is 3.8% of the country’s GDP,” she explains. “Up to 60% of those fatalities are among the country’s most vulnerable road users — pedestrians. My research in the Western Cape and around the country seeks to understand the causes of road fatalities, and to identify ways to reduce them.”

Vanderschuren uses a unique combination of (big) data collection and analysis, macroscopic and mesoscopic modelling, assessment tool development and applications, as well as policy development and analysis to reduce the transport system externalities. Her research outputs include 28 journal papers, eight books, 16 book chapters, 68 peer-reviewed conference papers, and numerous other reports and publications.

She has also done ground-breaking work on personal security for women who use public transport, with other successful projects including research into cyclists and passing behaviour, a strategic model assessment for sustainable rail transport that saved R75-million for the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works, and the Walkability app, which gathers information on the state of infrastructure, perceived road safety and personal security. 

Vanderschuren is part of a consortium exploring sexual harassment in Africa’s public transport systems. The project will deliver a decision support tool that provides implementation pathways for five types of stakeholders (public authorities, policymakers, enforcement agencies, transport authorities, and non-governmental organisations) that is unique in the world.

She has also contributed to the management and growth in output of the Civil Engineering Department and Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at UCT, where she directly mentors six (academic) staff members. — Kerry Haggard

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

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