Monday, June 20, 2016

Seductive but destructive goals: congestion-free and affordable driving

Seductive but destructive goals: congestion-free and affordable driving
Urban transport decision-makers face huge pressures to keep driving uncongested and to keep it cheap.

But take a look at cities that have worked long and hard to get free-flowing traffic and affordable driving. I doubt you will like what you see.

This point was a central theme of my chapter "Achieving Sustainable Mobility" which appears in The State of Asian and Pacific Cities 2015 jointly published late last year by UN-ESCAP and UN-HABITAT.
The twin desires for congestion-free and affordable driving are understandable. They are politically seductive and play to motorists’ desires and the interests of car industries. But these desires are sending too many cities and their mobility systems down inequitable, costly and environmentally destructive development paths.

The results of preventing congestion and of keeping driving cheap

If private vehicle numbers rise quickly in a city with few cars, it is tempting to focus first on boosting road capacity. And, since such cities are not rich, it is also tempting to try to keep driving cheap.

The result, before long, is a "Traffic Saturated" city (increasingly filled with traffic but not yet well-adapted to cars). Such cities, such as Cairo, Delhi, Jakarta, Manila, and Tehran, have escalating problems:

  • street-based public transport mired in congestion; 
  • slow goods movement; 
  • increasing road crash casualties; 
  • health impacts of air pollution; 
  • blighted public places; 
  • shrinking space for walking or cycling; 
  • worsening exclusion of the poor, people with disabilities, the frail and the elderly; and
  • burdensome transport costs for municipal budgets.

Furthermore, if governments continue to work over decades to expand traffic capacity and to avoid cost burdens on motorists, they risk creating an increasingly "automobile dependent" city (thoroughly adapted to cars), such as Atlanta in the USA or Perth in Australia with:
  • Very high levels of car ownership and use.
  • Dispersed jobs and very low population densities, with long trip distances, making any rise in driving costs or any drop in speeds a serious problem, especially for low-income households living in car-dependent locations. 
  • People without a car are seriously disadvantaged because public transport has low service levels outside key corridors and outside peak times. 
  • High per capita negative impacts of traffic such as high-energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. However, air pollution is often quite dispersed in these low-density cities and less of a problem than in traffic saturated cities. 
  • High total costs per capita, requiring large investments by households (in vehicles and running them) and by governments (in roads and in loss-making public transport) and by developers (in required parking for example). 
  • It is difficult to shift away from such deeply entrenched car dependence, since high car use is profoundly embedded in technical systems, planning regulations, industries and institutions, parking space, life-styles and habits, as well as personal investments. 

So, focusing on easing traffic congestion and on keeping driving cheap will not help you get more sustainable urban transport.  What will?

The alternative? Strive to become more of a "New Transit City"!

Bogotá, Curitiba, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore and Taipei are examples of cities that have increasingly become New Transit Cities. Each was suffering as a Traffic Saturated city but took decisive steps to change direction, using efforts to:

  • Keep cars optional rather than a necessity. Politically, these cities often resist the cries of motorists that "I need my car". Instead they constantly improve the alternatives.
  • Face up to space and financial constraints as key reasons to avoid space-consuming car-dominated mobility priorities and to resist motorists' pleas to keep driving cheap. 
  • Make enhancing ease of access a central goal rather than enabling fast driving. Focus on space-efficient modes of transport and foster compact development so people can easily reach a wide range of destinations with few long journeys. 
  • Enable liveability gains and great urban places by avoiding car-dominated mobility. Preserving much-loved places or rescuing them from traffic impacts is a key benefit of transit-city policies. building much-needed public support. 

Which strategy do you think is best for newly motorizing cities or traffic saturated cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America?

If you are interested, this previous post has more on the "New Transit City" strategy.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Some carsharing optimism

Some carsharing optimism
I have often been a carsharing optimist.

But I am also often frustrated at the seemingly slow rise of the industry. In Singapore (where I live) for example, carsharing faced decline over several years, although it may now be reviving.

So it has been nice to see a spurt of carsharing good news recently.

First, news from Germany's Bundesverband CarSharing via Dave Brook on twitter that carsharing continues to boom in Germany. Most strikingly, there is spectacular growth in one-way carsharing (the dark blue columns). Dave writes the Carsharing.US blog.

And today I see that a recent report by business advisory firm AlixPartners suggests a much larger than expected effect of carsharing on car purchases, at least in the leading USA cities for carsharing.
According to the study, which surveyed 1,000 licensed drivers in 10 developed metropolitan car-sharing markets in the U.S. and 1,000 drivers nationally as a control sample, car sharing in the 10 key markets appears to be displacing vehicle purchases at a rate of 32 to 1 (one car-sharing fleet vehicle displacing 32 vehicles that would have otherwise been purchased). That’s more than double the rate of many studies that have focused only on national averages. To date, according to the AlixPartners study, approximately 500,000 vehicle purchases nationally have been avoided due to car sharing. In addition, the study suggests that as car sharing grows in popularity, it could account for approximately 1.2 million more purchases avoided through 2020.

Finally, here is a slideshow offering great clarity on the various 'shared-use mobility options' and how they might come together as a coherent alternative to owning a car (something I have enthused about before).

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Singapore public transport - historical perspective on current issues

This post is to share a presentation on Singapore's Public Transport policies which I gave in Seoul in September.

This is my own take on the story, not any kind of official narrative. I took a rather long-term perspective, going back to the 1930s and emphasizing important changes in the 1970s. It is also a 'big picture' view. But some of the current debates are also there.

If you have any interest in Singapore's public transport story, then take a peek and let me know what you think.

If you can't see the embedded slideshow above, then try clicking Public Transport Policy in Singapore (a long view) 

By the way, Singapore has had a busy year of transport and urban planning announcements.

Early in the year, there was the controversial Population White Paper. That was followed closely by the Land Use Plan (basically the latest Concept Plan, Singapore's strategic plan that comes out roughly every ten years).

Later in the year came the Land Transport Master Plan 2013 (an update of the 2008 plan). Now the Draft Master Plan 2013 is out. The Master Plans make concrete the visions in the Concept Plans.

The Seoul event was the 3rd International Public Transportation Forum organized by the Korea Transport Insitute (KOTI).

I should also acknowledge the LTA as the source of some of the images in the presentation.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Attention newly motorizing cities! Look to NEW Transit Metropolises!

Attention newly motorizing cities! Look to NEW Transit Metropolises!

This diagram is from a new presentation (see below) in which I make the following claims:
  1. "New Transit Cities" are especially relevant for newly motorizing cities (such as India’s cities)
  2. Cities that are now New Transit Cities were, in the past, faced with challenging circumstances similar to those facing India’s cities today (namely a flood of vehicles causing traffic saturation at a time when they lacked significant mass transit that was immune from traffic)
  3. After flirting with accommodating cars, the New Transit Cities all resisted the idea that cars are a necessity and acted to make sure cars remained optional. 
Please take a look and tell me what you think in the comments. Let me know about any corrections or omissions. Do you agree?

If you can't see the embedded SlideShare version below, then download the presentation from the CSE India website (7MB pdf).

By the way, I presented this in Delhi last week at the invitation of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE India) for their workshop on 'Transport and Climate'. Day 2 on July 25 was on "Designing cities for sustainable mobility".

While in Delhi I also conducted a half day training workshop on parking policy. I will report on that over at Reinventing Parking.

Many thanks to CSE India and GIZ's SUTP for making the trip possible.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Singapore's urban mobility model: a slightly critical look

Singapore's urban mobility model: a slightly critical look
Don't be too starry eyed about Singapore's urban transport policies. 

Yes, they do offer plenty for others to emulate. But there are also problems and cautionary tales. 

In a recent book chapter I look at some of the problems with the current approach and speculate about a different overall strategy for Singapore urban transport policy.

High-speed one-way traffic in Singapore's new CBD. 

I have been here more than 12 years now and during that time I have been watching Singapore urban transport policy and practice pretty closely, as part of my research and as a user. I think I am well placed to offer a balanced perspective.

The chapter is called ‘Singapore’s Mobility Model: Time for an Update?’ and is published in the Institute for Mobility Research's 2013 book, Megacity Mobility Culture: How Cities Move on in a Diverse World, (Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer).

To give you a sense of my argument, here is the conclusion of the chapter:
Singapore is a useful case for the study of mobility models and public sector decision-making because of its relative coherence in policymaking and its unusual determination to accept sharp trade-offs.
Since the 1970s, Singapore’s transport and urban policies have been firm in facing up to the tight spatial imperatives of this island city-state. This has meant taking a long-term perspective to ensure space for urban development over many decades.
In a hard-nosed bargain, unpopular vehicle taxes and fees have greatly slowed the growth of the vehicle fleet and managed its use. The more popular payoffs of the policy were steadily improving public transport and efficient traffic movement. The resulting urban transport achievements have been widely praised.
However, the old version of this hard-nosed bargain contains some contradictions. The high level of service on the roads was justified primarily for the sake of commerce, but has gradually come to be seen also as a quid pro quo for motorists in return for the high costs they experience.
This has encouraged an overemphasis on high traffic speeds as an end in itself in road design, undermining the more important goal of space-efficiency.
The bargain also involves a rather narrow framing of its objectives, focused on efficiency of movement but ignoring potentially popular place-making and liveability payoffs that would result from containing traffic.
Finally, with such a premium having been put on speed over the years, it has proved difficult for policymakers to see the importance of the slower modes that are necessary in order to complement urban rail, which is understandably seen as the only alternative which has serious potential to compete with cars.
It might seem churlish to complain about a set of policies that have achieved so much. Nevertheless, it seems clear that Singapore may need a change of emphasis in its transport planning in order to build on its achievements, continue to face unavoidable constraints, and yet at the same time offer more appealing mobility choices to an increasingly demanding and informed population.
ERP or Electronic Road Pricing (Singapore's version of congestion pricing) is an emblem of Singapore's "hard nosed" approach to urban transport.

It is not all criticism. I also make some suggestions for a new strategic approach.

Here are some brief excerpts from the 'ways forward' section (with some links added):
The old bargain was a technocratic one. Any successful update will need more widespread appeal and can only emerge from a much wider debate.
... Singapore needs an update which poses a more positive vision of success, rather than being so Spartan in its focus on efficiency...
Hold up a More Positive Alternative
The unpopular elements of Singapore’s TDM policies might be more palatable if making the non-car-owning lifestyle an attractive and high-status option becomes the focus of much more strenuous and integrated efforts. This could involve promoting a broad vision of a ‘combined mobility package’ or ‘mobility mix’ that can compete head-on with car ownership ...  
Emphasise Place-Making Payoffs from the Bargain
Greater emphasis on the positive payoffs from hard-nosed mobility policies could involve more focus on liveable places, including streets, as central parts of the public realm. Singapore currently gives most of the ‘dividend’ from its strict TDM policies to existing motorists by keeping traffic speeds high and delays to a minimum. It might be better to give more of this dividend to place-making.
Transcend the Obsession with High Traffic Speeds
These changes would require Singapore to overcome its obsession with high traffic speeds. This would need to involve changes in road design priorities for most streets except the high-level arterials and expressways. A key measure that would reclaim space for the public realm, without imposing overly harsh restrictions on private vehicles, would be taking a smarter attitude to speed in road design priorities ...
... Singapore is rightly praised for avoiding widespread congestion on roads whose central purpose is mobility. But its emphasis on speed goes too far in its aversion to the slowing of traffic on multi-purpose streets where lower speeds and an acceptance of delays for the sake of access movements, pedestrians, buses and cyclists would be entirely appropriate.

Any comments, especially if you know Singapore well, would be much appreciated. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What is Reinventing Urban Transport trying to achieve?

What is Reinventing Urban Transport trying to achieve?
For the last year or two, most of my work (and blogging) has focused on parking (see the Reinventing Parking blog or on facebook).

But now I also want to revive this neglected blog and to use it to stay mindful of what really motivates my work (including the parking work).

So what exactly is it that motivates my transport policy work?

The statement below is an attempt to capture what I am trying to achieve as clearly as I can. A mission statement for my professional life, if you like. Yikes.

You will see signs of these motivations throughout this blog, its predecessor, in my tweeting and in much of my professional writing
I aim to help cities, towns and streets unleash greater success, equity and conviviality 
by focusing more on transport's 'ends' (such as placemaking, accessibility and mobility) than its 'means' (such as vehicles and traffic)
by enhancing choice and choice-making in transport (especially by escaping or avoiding car dependence, which locks in just one choice and impoverishes other options).  
Does that sound a bit wanky? I guess 'mission statements' often do.

More of a problem perhaps is that it is too wonky. Oh well.

By the way, I am inspired to do this in part by a helpful little book by Tad Waddington: Lasting Contribution. Among many other things, he suggests injecting a dose of mythical, heroic quality into important life goals. They need to be dramatic.

Maybe a wonky mission like mine doesn't sound very heroic?

Not until you think about the trends it is up against.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Op Ed on Singapore's bus funding injection announcement

Update:  I appeared on a panel discussion of this topic on the Talking Point program on Channel News Asia TV. The full video can be viewed HERE (for a few months I think). It is the 21 - 03 - 2012 episode.

Singapore's Budget 2012 announced a large funding injection into the bus system. This has caused much debate.

I felt the need to write something to explain that I see a wider importance in the announcement. The initial Government explanations have focused on the need to improve bus services while we wait for the MRT system to grow further.  But I think the funds should be used strategically to enable two important reforms. In fact, I suspect that this may be the intention, although it has not yet been clearly explained.

So, with some trepidation (it has become a hot political issue since I started writing it), I submitted an Op Ed to the Straits Times. It appeared in the ST Review section on Thursday 1 March. Subscribers to the Straits Times Online can read it HERE

More of my writing on public transport regulation issues is hereherehere (PDF) and here (go to April 2007 edition).

If you want more background on why a simpler, hubs-and-spokes (or even better a grid) bus network would be an improvement even though it would force more transfers, the Human Transit blog is a good place to look. Or get the Human Transit book.

Here below is the text of the Op Ed. 

Straits Times, 1 March 2012. 

Don't miss the bus on that $1.1b
Funds for more buses will ease transition as system is reformed
By Paul A. Barter

THE $1.1 billion government funding injection for the bus system has ignited debate by seeming to skewer the taboo against operating subsidies. It has provoked calls to make 'cushy monopolies' face real competition. Some say the money just enriches shareholders. Others say: Nationalise!

This Budget bombshell is indeed important but for a reason not often remarked upon. To appreciate its revolutionary potential for Singapore's bus system, look at two policies from the 2008 Land Transport Masterplan (LTM).

The more important of these policies is to restructure the route network towards a more efficient structure. Rather than a complex tangle of 305 routes with much duplication, the idea is to have a simpler and easier to understand hubs-and- spokes network with fewer routes but more frequent services connected with each other. Once this is done and routes stabilise, the Government can proceed to the next stage, of parcelling out routes for competitive tender in a shift towards a so-called 'procurement approach'.

I hope the Government remains committed to these two interconnected changes. The bus system is now the weak link in Singapore's public transport. If pursued, these two shifts will be much more significant than a temporary boost to the bus system while the MRT expands.

And here is the key point: That $1.1 billion funding injection is critical to the success of these two reforms. But we will need to hold our noses and accept some messiness in the arrangement.

In fact, reform of bus routes has been taking place gradually since 2008. The shift to a hubs-and-spokes network means fewer lines but better service frequencies on each line and less waiting time. This shift was the key agenda behind the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) takeover of bus line planning to reduce wasteful networks, and the shift to distance fares.

But there is a political problem here. Reforming bus routes involves taking away some direct services commuters are used to. It requires more transfers. Such changes are unpopular and will spark howls of protest, especially when current bus frequencies are too low and improvements from reform take time.

So there is a need to boost bus frequencies first. Waiting times must be reduced and transfers made more attractive before planners go on to major reorganisation of bus routes. That $1.1 billion injection can buy buses to ease the pain of transition.

Once the network has been reformed, the LTA can continue the shift towards a procurement approach to industry regulation. Under this system, the Government would do more of the system planning, while private operators put up competitive tenders for the right to run bus lines.

How does this compare with the status quo and the alternatives raised?

Singapore's longstanding approach is a common one around the world. It involves giving out monopolies ('franchises') to private companies under regulated fares. Bus franchise holders retain some autonomy on timetables and routes, and do their own marketing. Some cities also keep franchisees on their toes with competitive tendering, as in Hong Kong.

This set-up served Singapore quite well over 35 years or so. But it is reaching its use-by date. Integration improvements have reached a limit. Necessary financial balancing across the public transport system faces obstacles. The route network was allowed to become too complex. Rivalry for passengers between the two operators can be wasteful.

So, according to the 2008 LTM, Singapore should move towards a procurement approach.

How might this work? One successful example is the 'Scandinavian model', practised in Stockholm, Copenhagen, London, Seoul and Perth. A government- owned coordinating agency plans the routes and timetables. Yet there is competition via regular competitive tendering. Private sector companies run the buses but there is a single logo and colour scheme. The companies are profit-making, yet there are usually operational subsidies.

This model is well suited to ambitious integration efforts. Apart from marketing and ticketing, it allows for cooperation with other industries, including taxis and car-sharing. Public objectives are set clearly, and the services procured in an accountable manner.

But what about other alternatives, such as nationalisation or open competition? We can quickly dismiss on-the- road competition where swarms of minibuses crowd onto lucrative routes but neglect others. The experience of Britain, which opened bus systems (outside London) to a more staid version of competition on the road was also disappointing.

As for government-run monopolies, many are inefficient and overstaffed, as in parts of India and North America. Some government-run public transport systems do much better, as in Zurich. Swiss-style public transport is actually similar to the Scandinavian model but with only minor private sector involvement.

Of the three, a procurement approach makes most sense for Singapore's efforts to improve the public transport system, not just the bus network.

But there is a more immediate issue: how to make sure the new funding works as intended, so that the $1.1 billion injection really lays the foundation for longer- term structural improvements.

Injecting funds successfully requires mechanisms to link the funding with clear public objectives. Current arrangements, which rely on quality of service standards as their main tool, may not be good enough.

A temporary arrangement is needed to link this funding with outcomes. One approach could be to use contracts so that payments are for specific, measurable improvements chosen by the LTA, not by the operators.

Ensuring that this $1.1 billion injection actually delivers better service is important not just to reassure the public. It is also a key to the success of crucial reforms to the route network and for a shift to a procurement model. These two reforms are Singapore's best hope of achieving a truly excellent bus system within the decade.

The writer is an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, at the National University of Singapore, where he teaches infrastructure policy, urban policy and transport policy.

The article is copyright Straits Times.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Carsharing: ongoing growth and innovation

Dave Brook's Carsharing.US blog has two recent posts that take stock of the continued rise of carsharing.

The first is a review of carsharing in 2011 and the latest looks at predictions for 2012. Both have an international perspective and are good reads for anyone with an interest in the reinvention of urban transport services.

A few highlights from Dave's assessment of carsharing in 2011: 
Are we seeing a demographic tipping point? — This was the year when the mainstream marketers admitted that many in Gen Y ("the Millennials") weren't thinking about cars the same way their parents were - they'd rather have their iPhone than a car.
Parking is fundamental - Parking is a fundamental but often under appreciated aspect of car use. It wasn't until Donald Shoup layed the cards on the table in his landmark "The High Cost of Free Parking" that most of us realized just how fundamental parking really is. And carsharing operators also know how fundamental parking is to the success of their business. That's why designated parking on public streets has been such a holy grail - convenient access and great marketing exposure. And, as you'll see in several items below, some carsharing companies are slicing the parking issue in new ways - car2go and Zebramobil, as well as RelayRides in San Francisco are opting for floating parking (among other things).
New service models — ... In 2011 on-demand, open-end, one-way carsharing really burst on the scene - in both Europe and North America. I think it's under-appreciated just how completely new on demand, open-end, one-way carsharing services like car2go, Drive Now and Autolib, really are. On-demand overcomes a significant consumer complaint about traditional carsharing - requiring a reservation and especially having to specify the end time of the trip.

His predictions for 2012 include:
P2P Gets Traction
Zipcar's Year to Prove Themselves
"One-way" Carsharing On a Roll
Continued Double Digit Expansion of Carsharing Worldwide ('... Carsharing has really taken off in Japan ... And China is taking its first steps in carsharing, as well. South America, hello?')
There is a lot more to both of these posts. So go take a look

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