Paul Mees

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Paul Mees in 2006

Paul Mees OAM (20 March 1961 – 19 June 2013) was an Australian academic, specialising in urban planning and public transport.

Mees died on 19 June 2013, 14 months after the diagnosis of kidney cancer. He was 52.[1] At the time of his death he was an associate professor in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University.

A committed educator and prolific researcher, Mees was also well known outside academic circles for his advocacy and activism in support of public transport as a means of sustainable transport, particularly in urban areas. In both his campaigning and academic work Mees confronted powerful interests, questioned the status quo and challenged common community perceptions of good policy and practice – often courting controversy.[2] It was the distinctive fusion of his achievements as a scholar and as an activist that set Mees apart from many of his academic peers.

Shortly after his death, Senator Penny Wright, a fellow law student and debating colleague, paid tribute to Mees in the Australian Senate.[3] More recently he was recognised for his achievements in the Australia Day Honours of 2014, posthumously awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for "service to public transport and urban planning as an academic and advocate for creating sustainable cities".[4]


Mees began his professional career as a lawyer in the mid 1980s. Having graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws (Hons) from the University of Melbourne, he was admitted to practice as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria. He practised mostly in industrial relations law, first at Melbourne law firm Gill Kane & Co and later at Maurice Blackburn.[5]

In the early 1990s Mees left the law to return to study, his doctoral research at the University of Melbourne involving a comparison of public transport in Toronto and Melbourne, and his thesis accounted for the relative success of the former compared to the latter in the post-war period, given the otherwise physical and demographic similarities of the two cities. He gained his PhD in 1997. His thesis, which was later published under the title A Very Public Solution is considered an authoritative text in the field.[5][6]

After a period as a research fellow at the Australian National University's Urban Research Program, in 1998 Mees returned to the University of Melbourne to teach and research. In 2008, amid a public furore over academic independence, he was demoted by the university. Its key complaint related to public criticisms Mees had made about state government officials, although a subsequent investigation dismissed the university's complaints.[5][7] By that time, however, Mees had resigned to take up an appointment at RMIT University.[8] Promoted to associate professor in 2012,[5] Mees researched and taught at RMIT until his death.

Mees's work was principally concerned with the planning of public transport in cities. He was a strong advocate for public transport, but less keen on urban bicycles as a realistic mass transport solution. His work provided the basis for the European Union's 2005 HiTrans project on improving public transport in medium-sized cities and towns. He was also a member of the international advisory council for Paris's New Mobility Agenda Project.[9] His most recent research was on planning decision support tools for multimodal urban transport systems, and improvements to urban public transport planning in Australia.


With an early interest in environmental and social justice issues, Mees studied environmental law as part of his undergraduate degree. In the 1980s his interests segued to a focus on sustainable transport, and he became involved in public transport advocacy through the Public Transport Users Association in Melbourne, becoming president of the organisation from 1992 to 2001.[10]

Mees was a provocative and articulate contributor to public debates on transport planning in Victoria, Australia over three decades, and arguably the best-known authority on public transport and urban planning in Australia. In addition to the many public platforms he shared with experts and commentators, Mees was a sought-after media spokesperson, making hundreds of appearances in both print and electronic media around Australia over the decades. Only a month before he died he was interviewed on ABC TV's 7.30.[11]

Among the notable activist projects with which Mees involved himself were legal actions attempting to prevent the construction of expensive transport projects contrary to his views on what constituted good public transport policy. In the late 1990s he questioned the legality of aspects of the largest urban infrastructure project in Australia's history, the CityLink tollway system in Melbourne.[12] Mees unsuccessfully contested the building of a marshalling yard and a new tram "superstop" in front of the main entrance to the University of Melbourne's Parkville campus on Swanston Street, and opposed the building of the proposed Melbourne Metro Rail Project tunnel under the centre of Melbourne, on the grounds that much less expensive options are available to boost capacity on the Melbourne suburban rail network. In the early 2000s he also helped to establish the short-lived Public Transport First Party in Victoria, which campaigned in selected electorates on transport-related issues.[5]

In his final months, although seriously ill, Mees persisted in his campaigning endeavours. In 2013 he questioned the quality of research behind the Victorian Government's proposed east–west tunnel link in Melbourne's inner northern suburbs, recording a video presentation for a major public meeting a week before his death.[13]


Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Mees was an active member of the Australian debating community. He debated in competition from schools level, through university, to adult level. Mees served on the Executive of the Debaters Association of Victoria, adjudicated schools competition, and participated in selection and training of the Victorian Schools Debating Team. As an adult, he represented Victoria at the National Debating Championships, and was a member of the winning team in Hobart in 1992.[14]


In 1988 Mees married journalist, academic and teacher Erica Cervini.[5]

Mees died in Melbourne on 19 June 2013, aged 52.[5] Mees was survived by Cervini; his mother Roma and father Tom, a retired barrister specialising in industrial relations law; and his three younger brothers – Peter (also a lawyer), Bernard (also an RMIT academic), and Stephen.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Mees, Paul (1996) Do public choice and public transport mix? An Australian-Canadian comparison, Canberra. A.C.T. : Urban Research Program, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University (ISBN 0731525175)
  • Mees, Paul (2000) A Very Public Solution: public transport in the dispersed city, Carlton South, Vic: Melbourne University Press (ISBN 0522848672)
  • Mees, Paul (2009) Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age, Earthscan (ISBN 9781844077403)


  1. ^ Lucas, Clay (20 June 2013). "Mees dies following battle with cancer". The Age. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  2. ^ Burke, Matthew (20 June 2013). "Vale Paul Mees, Australia's leading transport & land use researcher".
  3. ^ Wright, Penny (26 June 2013), Vale Dr Paul Mees - Adjournment speech
  4. ^ Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the General Division (PDF), Governor-General of Australia, 2014, archived from the original (PDF) on 10 February 2014, retrieved 4 February 2014
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Brear, Philippa (22 June 2013). "Academic, champion of public transport". The Age. Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on 2 October 2013.
  6. ^ A Very Public Solution, Melbourne University Press, 29 February 1996, archived from the original on 22 February 2014
  7. ^ Paul Mees: Statement on controversy at University of Melbourne, National Tertiary Education Union website, August 2008, archived from the original on 22 February 2014
  8. ^ Lucas, Clay (20 May 2008). "Melbourne Uni demotes transport dissident". The Age. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  9. ^ Brear, Philippa (22 June 2013). "Academic, champion of public transport". The Age. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  10. ^ Dr Paul Mees OAM, 1961–2013, Public Transport Users' Association, 26 January 2014, archived from the original on 22 February 2014
  11. ^ Stayner, Guy (21 June 2013). "Video: Remembering Paul Mees". ABC News. Retrieved 28 July 2022.
  12. ^ Daniel, Zoe (2 March 2001). "Victorian CityLink operator lodges compensation claim". AM on ABC Local Radio. Retrieved 28 July 2022.
  13. ^ "Paul Mees on Trains Not Toll Roads". YouTube. 23 June 2013. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  14. ^ 21 June, Debaters Association of Victoria, 21 June 2013, archived from the original on 23 February 2014

Further reading and external links[edit]