Nov 30, 2008

A great time to end fuel subsidies

Many countries control the price of motor fuels.

This got their budgets into deep trouble in the first half of 2008. The high price of oil caused massive budget blowouts. Malaysia, Indonesia, China and India among various others faced the politically painful necessity of raising gasoline and diesel prices or face deep budget cuts.

Yes, the parking lot is Giant too!
Cheap fuel, cheap cars and cheap parking have helped create a
remarkably car-dependent landscape in Malaysia's urban areas.

But what should these countries do now that the price of oil is way down near US$50 per barrel? Unfortunately some are cutting fuel prices again. The Indonesian Government will cut the price of gasoline from Rp6000 to Rp5500 per litre on Monday. India probably will in late December. Malaysia has already cut the price four times since its big June price rise.

Isn't this a bit short-sighted? We all know how hard it will be to raise prices again if (or when) oil prices rise again.

Would it not be smarter to take this golden opportunity to end these unwise price controls? Now seems like a relatively painless moment to shift to letting gas prices rise and fall with the global price of oil. Then next time the price rises and people start to scream, DO spend money to help the poor who will be hurting, but please DON'T control fuel prices again.

I do realise that this would not eliminate political pain if oil prices go up. The politics of fuel prices are nasty. But they are especially nasty if the prices are a government decision and not a market phenomenon.

So is this change happening yet? There are strong signs that it might be!

Malaysia seems set to shift to a 'managed float' system for fuel prices. Confusingly, it has also promised a RM0.30 subsidy but there is talk that this may be made to only kick in 'when necessary' (when oil prices are high). An announcement next week may clear up the confusion. I have argued before that fuel subsidies are a bad idea but a subsidy with floating prices is maybe not quite as pernicious as a fixed price I guess.

China was also reported last week to be considering some kind of managed float for fuel prices. But only so long as oil prices stay below some threshold, such as US$130 per barrel.

[Update: I now notice that Indonesia is thinking of doing the same.
"In the future, we expect (subsidized fuels) to follow (the market prices) automatically up to certain ceilings (prices)," the ministry's head of fiscal policy, Anggito Abimanyu, told reporters.]

[2nd update: Armin Wagner of GTZ recently wrote a short discussion paper on exactly this issue: "EXPLOIT FALLING MARKETS: a contribution to the debate on fuel pricing mechanisms". It was written as part of GTZ's International Fuel Prices Survey process. It is available for download via HERE. Thanks Armin!]

Nov 1, 2008

From fuel taxes to 'pay as you drive'

The US has started trials for distance-based charging mechanisms aimed at ultimately replacing the gasoline tax.

Motorists in several US cities are being recruited to try out a new mileage-based road user charge system. The Public Policy Center of the University of Iowa is leading the trial. This is very good news (although I realise this trial is only the first step in a very long process with no gurantee of political success).

Smart folks like Bern Grush and Robin Chase have been calling for usage-based pricing for a long time and pointing out that motor fuel taxes are gradually failing us. The Netherlands, Singapore and the UK apparently have plans for distance-based charging too. Germany and Switzerland already charge heavy vehicles based on distance and weight.

There are spin-off opportunities here. I hope they don't get missed!

It would be natural for people to be suspicious about having 'extras' that piggy-back on a new user charging system. But I think it would be a great pity if the mechanisms chosen for mileage-based user charging cannot exploit other important spin-offs as well, while still protecting privacy.

Exploiting all of the spin-offs could amplify the benefits and make "Pay as you drive" (PAYD) charging more cost-effective.

Any distance-based charging mechanism should be flexible enough to ALSO:
  • allow for performance-based parking pricing and handle per-minute parking pricing (see Grush)

  • help with PAYD Insurance applications

  • allow registration fees or 'road taxes' to be turned into PAYD fees

  • charge differentially for driving at different times and different places (and hence provide for congestion pricing)

  • provide for reliable measurement of total vehicle mileage, so that distance-driven can become a reliable part of vehicle depreciation calculations and reduce odometer fraud in the used vehicle market

  • even allow time-of-purchase taxes to be 'variabilised' if necessary (as I argued in a paper - see here for publisher site and here for pdf preprint - this would allow such fees to send their usual signal to vehicle buyers but would prevent them adding to fixed costs by turning them into a variable cost).

If I am not mistaken, there are technologies already out there (ask Bern Grush and Robin Chase) that could do these things AND still ensure privacy. The Iowa system may also have these features, but I am not sure. Can anyone confirm?

Oct 24, 2008

Bus systems that work

Buses may not be sexy (least of all Delhi's buses like the one above). But most cities desperately need to improve their basic bus systems.

And I am not talking about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) this time. No matter how much BRT you put in, neglecting the basic bus system will undermine your efforts. Jakarta is finding this.

The same goes for urban rail systems. These work best when complemented and fed by a good bus system. Seoul realised this in 2004. Unable to expand its subway, it turned to bus improvements for a dramatic boost to its system.

Maybe the only thing less sexy than a bus is bus regulation!

But if you care about public transport it is time to get interested in regulatory questions like
these: Who should plan the system? Who should own what? What roles are best for the public sector? What roles are best for businesses? How should they be rewarded? What kind of competition works for city buses?

Getting the regulatory framework right is at least as important as the engineering. Maybe more important!

It is hard to get people to focus on this but better understanding of the key choices would save most cities a whole lot of trouble. Certain ways of regulating and organizing a bus system can set the scene for long-term success. Certain other ways are dead ends that work well only if you have a large number of captive users, who have no other choice.

Take a look at the categories below.
They are from a recent paper I wrote on this [Update: It is called "Public Planning with Business Delivery of Excellent Urban Public Transport" published in Policy and Society, vol. 27, no. 2, 2008. See a preprint pdf here and here is the journal's link].

Which one fits your local bus system best? Do these categories work for your city? Feedback is welcome, since this typology is a little different from the usual approaches.

  1. Public monopoly:
    Services are owned, planned and operated by a publicly owned enterprise. Strangely enough, this is the option that is still most common in the United States (despite the fact that 'socialism' is a dirty word there). An urban region may have several of these state-run operators. In theory at least, the state takes total responsibility for the outcomes here and there have been successful state-run bus systems. However, good intentions do not always lead to strong and ambitious systems.

  2. Proactive planning with service contracts:
    Services are planned by a state agency, so the public sector takes primary responsibility for the planning of the network and for many of the service outcomes. Nevertheless, operations are procured from independent businesses (either private or state-owned) under service contracts (which can be issued via competitive tendering). In the most strongly planned systems, the state agency collects fares and pays operators for bus service provided, sometimes in combination with other incentives payments. Examples include Helsinki, London, Seoul (since 2004), and increasingly many others. Singapore appears to be headed in this direction too - something that I had called for (pdf). Unless I am confused, Indore in India may even be an example.

  3. Area franchises (well regulated):
    Operators are given the right to serve a whole area but with some obligation to do so in a comprehensive way and to meet service standards in return for exclusivity and discretion over many tactical details of service. Responsibility for outcomes is shared between the operator and the state. Hong Kong, Singapore (until 2009) and many Brazilian cities seem to have such systems. There is often no competition (or there may be competitive tendering sometimes) but effective regulation can help achieve a reasonably effective system.

  4. "Passive" route franchises:
    Operators are given the right to serve routes, usually with some simple service obligations and at least some exclusivity. Unfortunately, with this approach the public sector often takes little active responsibility for outcomes. The network often ossified into a set of moribund, long-established routes that no-one has an incentive to reform (or is willing to risk changing). Regulation tends to focus on fares and on protecting incumbents. This option gives the worst of both worlds - competition is prevented but it lacks the benefits of effective regulation or proactive planning. Buses in many Malaysian cities and Seoul's buses before 2004 are examples. Kuala Lumpur's RapidKL and Rapid Penang in Penang seem to represent recent attempts to shift to Option 3 but unfortunately only partially, without sufficient exclusivity.

  5. Deregulation:
    The state has little direct influence over service outcomes. Almost always, it is the vehicle rather than the route that is the subject of licensing. The most extreme form of deregulation involves vehicle licensing with little or no barriers to entry or exit. Simple quantity limits may be added to this, but still with no obligation to provide service. Jeepneys in the Philippines are an example as are South Africa's 'taxis'. Effective deregulation may also exist if franchises lack exclusivity or allow for sub-contracting, as in Bogota's buses outside its Transmilenio system. Outcomes with deregulated public transport in cities have generally been disappointing. The number of cheerleaders for deregulated urban public transport has nosedived in recent years.

I have argued that Option 2 is catching on and seeing lots of success, especially when combined with ambitious efforts at network integration. Of course, planning is no guarantee of bus system success (as many public monopolies show).

But success with urban buses is certainly elusive without strong planning. Options 4 and 5 are serious mistakes. The era of a strong push for deregulation of bus systems seems to be over.

Oct 5, 2008

Places worth loving (and protecting from traffic)

What is "success" in urban transport policy?

A common answer used to be "keeping vehicles moving and avoiding traffic jams".

But by now, most people involved with urban transport realise that "keeping the traffic moving" is NOT a useful goal.

Mobility, especially mobility for vehicles, is just a means to other ends. It should never be seen as an end in itself. If we make preventing congestion our goal, we are confusing ends with means.

OK. So what is the real goal of urban transport planning then?

Most of us tend to answer "accessibility"! Planning for accessibility involves trying to make it easy to REACH the things we want to (like contacts, services, goods, jobs, education).

This seems like progress. Here we have a much more coherent purpose for transport planning, right?

Unfortunately, accessibility doesn't seem to excite many people. Despite decades of lip service to accessibility planning most cities still have way too much traffic-focused transport policy.

Everyone seems to agree that accessibility is the real objective. But in practice, speeding up the traffic is what most urban traffic agencies work at hardest.

What are we doing wrong? Maybe accessibility planning seems too abstract and difficult to explain? It is hard to put into practice. Accessibility has defied efforts to measure it in practical, action-oriented ways.

The magic of great places

I wonder if PLACEMAKING offers a more compelling way forward than accessibility.

I have been excited about this since I heard Fred Kent and Kathy Madden, of Project for Public Spaces, speak at the World Cities Summit in Singapore earlier this year. I think they are onto something very important.

"A place worth loving" trumps traffic focused planning much more powerfully than the abstract idea of accessibility.

Cities that have done most to tame traffic tend to be blessed with places worth protecting. The historic city centres in Europe fit this bill. Rebellions against expressway building emerged when road projects threatened much-loved neighbourhoods in American cities from the late 1960s or Australian or Japanese cities in the 1970s.

Project for Public Spaces is working on bringing a placemaking perspective into US traffic engineering with catchphrases including 'context-sensitive design' and 'streets as places'.

I don't think placemaking replaces accessibility planning or proves it wrong. I think it gives access thinking a tangible and compelling focus to rally around.

The transforming power of these ideas shines through in this 10-minute StreetsFilms interview with Gary Toth the Senior Director of Transportation Initiatives with the Project for Public Spaces.

For those of us outside North America this video also offers some lessons on avoiding the mistakes that took the USA so far down an automobile dependent path.

Oct 1, 2008

How do those Dutch do it?

You probably know that the Netherlands has lots of cycling. They sure do! An amazing 27% of ALL trips* in this rich country in 2005 were by bicycle.

Riding in the Netherlands is also remarkably safe.

Safety in numbers (from "Cycling in the Netherlands", p.13)

So what is their secret?

How did the Netherlands get to be such a cycling paradise? There are several rather unhelpful theories.
  • "It is a flat country": No doubt this helps. But there are plenty other comparable flat places with much less cycling.
  • "The Dutch have a long-standing 'bicycle culture'": Certainly they do. But is this a cause or an effect? So did many other countries at some point in the 20th century. Yet most of them somehow lost their 'bicycle cultures'.
  • "They have good weather for cycling": I hear this when I talk about cycling in hot and sticky Singapore. But I suspect this theory is only popular among people who have never spent any time in a damp and windy Dutch winter.

A recent publication from the Netherlands might help.

"Cycling in the Netherlands" (pdf) is an easy, non-technical read and is visually very striking.

One of its key aims is to share with the rest of us the lessons learned from decades of experimentation with bicycle policy by various Dutch agencies and local governments.
Based on the frequent requests for information from policy-makers, politicians and NGO’s from all over the world, we decided to produce a comprehensive brochure about cycling in the Netherlands, giving an actual overview on the results and findings of relevant studies and experiences.
I also highlighted the document recently on the Cycling in Singapore blog.

So what CAN the rest of us really learn from Dutch bicycle policy?

Probably we can learn many things. But here is one key conclusion from the report ... bicycle policy works!
A direct link is visible in the Netherlands between bicycle policy and bicycle use. In the first place, good bicycle facilities are simply a necessity to facilitate the many cyclists. These good bicycle facilities keep bicycle use high and continue to grow. (p.6 Foreword)

... a consistent approach by Dutch policy makers to the bicycle has had a demonstrable effect. Municipalities which have had a focused bicycle policy for some time have a higher bicycle share than other cities. Traffic safety has also benefited from the bicycle policy. (p.19)

* the data cited at the top of this post was from the Cycling in the Netherlands report (p.9)

[Update: a new website, Fietsberaad, will also be of interest for Dutch bicycle policy insights. This is "
the brand new international website of the Dutch Fietsberaad (Bicycle Council), the expertise centre for cycling and all related subjects. This English website provides access to the most up-to-date information, the main facts and the best examples from the Netherlands and other countries."

Sep 28, 2008

BRT Dos and Don'ts (Part One)

Is your city considering Bus Rapid Transit? If so then you are in fine company.

As more and more cities implement BRT, we are gradually learning what works and what doesn't.

DON'T put your BRT in an outer lane by the curb
Much more than median lanes, curb-side lanes are prone to delay from turning vehicles and stopping taxis and to conflict with bicycle users. So ...

DO put BRT in the median location
It simply works better in most circumstances.

DO have lots of doors ... and make them wide ones
Walter Hook of ITDP says that the "size and number of doors is more important than bus size" for speed and capacity of your BRT system.

Jakarta busway (BRT)
Jakarta's BRT has boarding problems

DO have level boarding of the buses
Having no steps up when boarding makes for speedier boarding and universal accessibility.

DO have prepaid boarding in stations
This also speeds up boarding.

DON'T skimp on pedestrian access to the stations
Some people think this is only an issue for median BRT lanes. Wrong! Either way, passengers need to cross the road safely. As I have explained before, regardless of where in the street the BRT is, someone making a round trip will end up crossing the whole road to finish their journey. Delhi's BRT is one that has faced disinformation on this issue.

DON'T put your first BRT where buses face no traffic delays
Walter Hook of ITDP points out that Beijing's first BRT route made this mistake. There is physical separation on sections with no congestion but no physical separation where there is congestion. So when we factor in the new need to transfer, the BRT system actually increased passenger travel times rather than decreasing them! So ...

DO put your first BRT corridor where buses are severely slowed by congestion
... so that BRT really makes a difference and so the speed improvement will be dramatic.

DO put BRT in corridors with lots of buses
If a corridor has a huge number of buses contributing significantly to congestion then a closed BRT that replaces all of those buses can improve speeds for everyone. This is very often the case in Latin America, where bus congestion has been common.

Metrobus, Mexico City
Mexico City's Metrobus BRT replaced large bus and minibus flows.
Fewer buses, higher system capacity.

DON'T plan an under-capacity system
If patronage is likely to grow then planning your system with inadequate capacity can be a mistake. Jakarta's Busway is an example of a system designed with relatively low capacity but which already needs much more, especially at interchange points. Jakarta's BRT buses have only one door, causing delays at all busy stations.

DO design for buses to pass each other at stations
This can make a huge difference to the capacity of the system. If space is tight, there may be a space-saving design that can achieve this.

Acknowledgement: Most of these tips are adapted from ITDP's work, and especially from a photograph-rich presentation by Walter Hook (pdf here). ITDP's BRT Planning Guide is a vital reference. Any mistakes are mine.

Sep 19, 2008

Everything you wanted to know about sustainable and equitable transport worldwide

Well almost ... especially if you are interested in Bus Rapid Transit or Non-Motorised Vehicle/Bicycle planning for cities in developing countries.

For a long time I have had a lot of respect for the work of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) which works on almost every continent to promote and provide technical assistance on 'sustainable and equitable transportation'.

I just noticed that ITDP's Information Center has been expanded and improved since the last time I looked. It contains a wealth of reports and resources in a number of languages. Just about every report ITDP has ever done seems to be there now.

Some recent highlights include:

Sep 17, 2008

Vienna's livable streets in photos

Vienna has been a pioneer of 'livable streets' policies since the early 1970s.

In July, I was lucky enough to visit Austria for a conference (where I presented a paper on 'car possession'). So here are some photos from my explorations of Vienna's public transport, bicycle facilities and pedestrian environment.

Hover mouse near top of slideshow to control speed or pause.

Click on an image if you want more information about it.

Update and addendum: The following quote from the indomitable Prof. Hermann Knoflacher might help you appreciate the photos:
In the early seventies a new transport plan for the city centre was developed (Knoflacher 1970) converting most of the streets in the city centre into pedestrian areas. This was realized in 1972 and since then the city centre of Vienna became an attraction for the region and for the country; it has become a global attraction and a global heritage. Two-thirds of the people coming into the city centre use the public transport, or come as pedestrians and cyclists. Since Vienna had no cycling tradition it had to be developed from scratch. Due to sound scientific research the city established a cycling department which built more than 800 kilometres of cycle tracks during the last twenty years. Today Vienna is one of the most famous cycling cities. Cycling brings money into a city, it makes the city attractive, it gives people health and is an excellent, cheap urban mode of transport.

Prof. Knoflacher with his famous gehzeug (or 'walkmobile') which he uses to illustrate the space consumption of cars, even parked ones. Photo uploaded by Muhwiki at Wikimedia Commons.

World Urban Transport Leaders Summit 2008

Singapore's LTA Academy has asked me to give a plug for this forthcoming event.

LTA Academy, Singapore, is organizing the inaugural World Urban Transport Leaders Summit from 4 to 6 November 2008 in Singapore.

This first of its kind high-level global summit is exclusively for top policy makers, transport chiefs, industry leaders, senior management of international organisations, and leading academics and transport professionals from around the world.

There will be no registration fee (delegates will make their own travel and hotel arrangements) and participation in the summit is by invitation only.

Visit the LTA Academy's Summit Website for more information or if you wish to be considered for participation.

Sep 12, 2008

New transport innovations blog

A new blog on transport innovations has appeared.

SMART's Inspire Mobility blog started in June. It is billed as "the official on-line innovations library of SMART (Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transformation) at the University of Michigan".

The blog depends on contributions from readers, so head over there if you think you have a transport innovation to submit.

What is SMART? More information here. It also has a lively series of events and speakers and a useful e-newsletter.

I like their 'five themes' approach to 'sustainable transportation'. The diagram above is from the SMART website here.

Sep 4, 2008

Should we (can we?) make our cars dispensible?

It's interesting to see the ideal of universal car ownership gradually eroding.

Don't believe me? There have been several books in recent years along the lines of "Divorce your car!" and "How to live well without a car". The rise of car-sharing has prompted some to see it as a potential alternative to car ownership. The car-free housing movement seems to be gathering pace and entering the mainstream of real estate development in certain places. Meanwhile, Shoupista parking policy reformists are increasingly questioning parking entitlements, including (gasp!) residential parking entitlements. Even William Ford Jr. of Ford Motor Company seems willing to contemplate a future in which cars provide a service rather than being primarily a product.

So more and more people seem to be asking the question, 'are our cars dispensable' or 'could we make our cars more dispensable?' But maybe a more positive way to ask the same question is, 'can we make our relationships with cars more "provisional"?'

I've been thinking hard about these (and related) issues for a couple of years now, and one of the results is a draft paper which I presented at the TDM2008 symposium in July. The draft paper is here. And the poster presentation is here.

Here is the abstract, which should give you the flavor of my arguments:

The way cars are possessed has not had the close attention it deserves. The primary way of gaining access to cars has been assumed to be via owning one. Possession has thus been taken for granted, preventing us from seeing it as possibly problematic.

However, the link between car use and car possession is eroding, in both practice and in theory. High mobility had been widely assumed to require a car but it has recently become possible to envisage excellent mobility through an integrated package of services and modes, including convenient access to cars, without needing to possess one. This reveals possession (and its sharp contrast with being car-free) as a source of ‘rigidities’ that inhibit active choice making in travel.

Previous work is drawn upon in order to explain the main sources of these possession-related rigidities, which are grouped into two categories: reversible effects (‘stickiness’) and difficult-to-reverse effects (‘invasiveness’).

The paper thus builds a case for seeing car possession, the way it works, and its contrast with non-possession, as problematic for travel markets and for TDM policy. Possession-related effects are shown to be more wide-ranging and interesting than is generally appreciated.

Cars themselves are not seen as the problem so much as the ways in which we possess them. This focus on possession-related rigidities opens a possible policy agenda, focused on reducing such rigidities (or, equivalently, making our relationships with cars more ‘provisional’).

There has been a widespread taboo against devoting policy attention to car ownership but the policy possibilities here address both sides of the car possession divide and go well beyond merely constraining possession.

This diagram (from the TDM2008 poster) illustrates possible policy implications of the arguments in the paper (these need work).

If this has whet your appetite on this topic, a number of my previous blog posts relate to these issues and also link to other people who are thinking along these lines:
Furthermore, a number of elements of what Eric Britton calls the 'New Mobility Agenda' resonate with these arguments.

Sep 2, 2008

Planning is key to public transport excellence (but by all means delegate operations to businesses)

Vienna's public transport is an example of excellent integration and planning

I have long been interested in public transport systems in which a public agency takes responsibility for the excellence of a highly integrated system. This interest was provoked by Felix Laube's explanations of Zurich's public transport system and by Paul Mees' excellent book, 'A Very Public Solution'.

I am also interested in the growing trend for such agencies to often delegate operation of most services to business enterprises under service contracts, often with competitive tendering.

Examples that I have blogged about include Seoul and Bogotá but many others are moving in the same direction, such as various Scandinavian cities, Adelaide in Australia and London famously. Even Indore in India has created a much-praised bus system with a similar regulatory approach.

This year, Singapore announced a shift in this direction too, something which I called for in an OpEd in Ethos Magazine (see April 2007 edition).

I recently finalised a paper that reviews this phenomenon (pdf here). It concludes:
This story presented here seems to be one of an industry successfully discovering the appropriate role for the public sector. It would be misleading to imply that there are no more problems nor dilemmas. Nevertheless, I have drawn attention to the fact that many recent success stories in urban public transport have been associated with strong public sector planning and control, either ongoing or reasserted. For many, this has gone hand in hand with both competition (for the market) and a role for political deliberation and accountability mechanisms. This ambitious public sector planning has involved the creation of dedicated agencies that have been empowered to coordinate the system at a metropolitan scale. The most successful cases have devoted their ability to do proactive planning to seeking excellence via ambitious levels of network integration.

In the West, a shift towards this model is often seen as ‘privatisation’. However the international and historical perspective provided in this chapter reveals that proactive planning with service contracts should be better understood as a retreat from deregulation. More generally it is a response to the poor results seen whenever the public sector fails to take responsibility for overall system outcomes, such as under passive approaches to franchising. Recent European Union directives will give the model of proactive planning with service contracts a further boost in Europe. It will be interesting to see if it can also succeed in North America where such reforms have so far been very limited.

Questions of pathways were also addressed. Although some had suggested that public monopoly may be a necessary intermediate step for developing cities, we have in fact seen a surprising range of cities taking more direct paths towards this effective combination of public and private roles.

The question remains of how widely 'proactive planning with service contracting' can be applied, especially in the South. This review suggests that it may be possible in more developing country contexts than has previously been assumed. It will be important to watch those cities in the South that have adopted this model. Most of the cases discussed here were in middle-income or high-income contexts with reasonable prospects for mustering sufficient institutional capacity. However, we have also seen that this approach is now spreading to India where the case of Indore seems promising. However, it is not yet well documented. Indore’s bus system, and other Indian cities that may emulate it, will need to be studied to see if this model will prove to be an enduring and successful one for such low-income contexts. This would have important implications for public transport across the South.

Comments on the paper are welcome.

Jun 29, 2008

Bogotá's BRT 'warts and all'

A stop on Calle 19 of Bogota's Transmilenio BRT system.
Photo by Kinori, taken 10 July 2004. Via Wikimedia Commons.

A new journal article provides a sympathetic but 'warts and all' examination of Bogotá's celebrated (and much emulated) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, Transmilenio, and the dangers that it is now facing.

Fresh from hearing former Bogotá Mayor, Enrique Peñ
alosa, speak at the World Cities Summit in Singapore last week, my interest was piqued.

The article, "Bus Rapid Transit: Is Transmilenio a Miracle Cure?", is in the July edition (vol. 28, issue 4) of Transport Reviews journal (paywalled, sorry). It is by geographer and expert on Latin American cities, Alan Gilbert of University College London.

The abstract explains:
... The article describes its main characteristics and applauds the improvements that it has already brought to urban transport in Bogotá. Naturally, the system is not without its flaws and these need to be drawn to the attention of those who might copy the Bogotá example. ... There is a real danger that 'Transmilenio' will stagnate as its popularity declines and as demands for a metro increase. Given the strengths of the system that would be something of a disaster and, most certainly, not in the interests of the poor.

Some of the most compelling points in Gilbert's account focus on the power plays in Bogotá's public transport industry. A key feature of Transmilenio is its total transformation of the bus industry structure and regulatory arrangements. However, this transformation has been happening one phase at a time and huge swathes of the city have much the same kind of bus system they had before.

Gilbert highlights the ongoing battle with the
'traditional' bus industry as central to the dangers facing Transmilenio.

Winning over a portion of this chaotic industry has always been one of the most amazing things about the Bogota's BRT system's early successes. However, it now seems that this involved overly generous conditions for the operating companies. There are now increasing calls to 'democtratize' the ownership of the system.

The power of the 'traditional' bus industry outside the system also remains very strong, both as direct competition to Transmilenio and as a set of lobbies opposed to its further expansion. Gilbert alleges that the new Mayor and his political party have close links with this transport lobby.

This is a helpful but sobering addition to the literature on Transmilenio. It highlights that transforming public transport in Bogotá remains an unfinished task. It also reminds us that the visually-striking engineering on the streets is not even half the story.

Formal reference: Gilbert, Alan (2008) "Bus Rapid Transit: Is Transmilenio a Miracle Cure?", Transport Reviews, Volume 28, Issue 4 July 2008, pages 439 - 467

Jun 12, 2008

Oil shock may not rescue cities from traffic

Linking expensive gasoline with city-friendly transport.
Cartoon via Streetsblog and
Robert Ariail / The State.

It is tempting for advocates of green transport (and some economists) to gloat about high oil prices. It is perfectly understandable to see some glee from critics of automobile dependence as rising fuel costs undermine the economics of places planned around cars and start doing the job of the eco-taxes that should have been in place already.

(For a comedy twist on wishful thinking and oil see this video of James Howard Kunstler on the Colbert Report)

But we need to be alert to dangers here too. Please don't assume that high fuel prices will rescue cities from traffic. Oil at $200 per barrel will not automatically bring about a livable streets renaissance.

Here are some dangers of escalating fuel prices if your focus is a less car-focused urban transport policy
  • Rebound. Motorists may reduce fuel costs without reducing driving much. Sure, they are already driving less (at least in countries where the full price rise has been seen at petrol pumps). But in the longer term, more fuel-efficient vehicles may make driving cheap again, so that traffic starts increasing again. I heard Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountains Institute speak in Singapore recently about 'hypercars'. If he is even 10% correct then driving could easily become cheap again via technological innovation, even if fuel stays expensive.

  • Backlash. Motorist anger over high fuel prices might make politicians too frightened to follow through on important pricing reforms aimed at reducing real impacts of traffic (such as carbon taxes or such like, congestion pricing, pricing parking rationally, distance-weight charges for heavy vehicles, and shifting fixed costs such as insurance to 'pay-as-you-drive', etc). There have been fuel tax protests in the UK and several other European countries. Indian, Malaysian, Indonesian and Taiwanese (and soon Chinese?) motorists are currently furious after fuel subsidies were reduced and everyone fears knock-on inflation. Opposition politicians are making populist noises to take advantage of this (Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia for example, and the far Left in India). Governments in these countries may take away the longer-term lesson that raising the cost of driving is always politically costly.

  • Equity-based backlash. First, I want to be very clear that cheap fuel, and fuel subsidies, do NOT help the poor. They mainly help rich people. (See an interesting IHT take on subsidies here.) But there is no doubt that low-income households are less able to cope with a sudden jump in inflation. More generally, food inflation is certainly hurting low-income people (and food price rises are linked with oil prices to some extent). The urban geography of income is also relevant. In many cities in Asia, Latin America, Europe and Australia, the poorer households tend to be in the outer areas, while inner cities are gentrified (or gentrifying). In some cases, such as Australian cities, the low-income outer suburbs, such as western Sydney or far southeast Melbourne, are also the most car-dependent and are suffering most as petrol costs soar. Green transport and liveable streets champions can easily be (and often are) painted as elitist idealogues who care nothing for the suffering of 'ordinary people'. Ideally, governments should target direct assistance to the most vulnerable households in order to ease the impacts of price rises (as Indonesia is doing while cutting back its fuel subsidies). But that is difficult to organise. The temptation is to simply backtrack on getting the prices right.

  • Public transport may not rise to the challenge. The financial situation of many public transport operators is being hit by higher fuel costs, just as they see passengers increasing. They may face other threats to revenue too if part of it comes from fuel taxes revenues (which are beginning to drop as less fuel is sold, and would drop even more if populist politicians reduce fuel tax). So many transit systems cannot easily rise to this opportunity without more public funds, which is a political problem obviously.

  • Complacency. Advocates of transport reform might get lazy and ease off from pushing for changes that will make a more lasting difference to traffic and its impacts. The case for different urban transport priorities and liveable streets still needs to be made in their own right, and not just for the sake of saving fuel.

Is it all doom and gloom then? No. There are also opportunities from this oil price shock for those of us who hope for less car-dominated cities. But only if the right choices get made.
  • Market opportunity for carsharing, bicycling. Some of the alternatives to solo driving are expanding as gasoline prices go up. I have seen various reports from many countries (mostly anecdotal so far) of increases in bicycle use, in car-sharing (car clubs in Britain) and ride-sharing ('car-sharing' to Brits). Each of these does better the more people use them (they reap network economies and club economies). Some of these improvements might last even if fuel prices were to drop again.

  • Opportunity to reclaim street space. Reduced traffic (in the short-run, before rebound kicks in) might open space (physically and politically) which could be claimed for public transport, walking and non-motorised vehicles. For example, on-road bus priority or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems might have a better chance for a while. We may be able to lock in a redistribution of street space. The benefits of this could then last even if traffic later rebounds.

  • Revolutionizing the whole debate. Finally, if this oil shock becomes a pattern-changing moment, which reveals the folly of past assumptions, and provokes real soul searching, then wonderful opportunities may open up. In other words, a fuel-price crisis might prompt some dramatic rethinking and constructive policy change away from business-as-usual. The 1973 oil shock did this in European countries, especially the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, whose transport policies then became much less car-oriented in their assumptions. Some cities and some countries may respond in a similar way now.

Any ideas on how to make sure we reap the opportunities and avoid the dangers from high oil prices?

Jun 6, 2008

Free parking to ease congestion? I don't get it

[Update: Looking for more parking policy information?  

A Hangzhou boulevard (almost 10 years ago now)

The article below from the China Daily online suggests that the beautiful city of Hangzhou is planning to reduce the price of car parking "to ease congestion".

Oh dear ... I hope this is a case of 'lost in translation' but I cannot understand the logic of this proposal.

There may be some (twisted) logic here. The free parking proposal might indeed reduce the total number of cars that can visit the area each day. This is because making parking free will reduce the turnover of vehicles in parking spaces. Workers will take most parking lots early in the day, leaving few spaces for business traffic and shoppers arriving later. This would be very bad for shop-keepers in central Hangzhou. I doubt this is what is intended by the plan.

And would this mean less traffic? Unfortunately no. If public parking is made free, there will be a lot more traffic. A large percentage of it will simply be searching for a parking lot (or 'cruising for parking').

The article mentions that motorists are already complaining about the lack of parking space. This suggests prices are too low, not too high. Of course car users will always complain about parking fees. But making parking free will make the parking shortage worse not better!

The item also says many cars are already parking on footways. This will only get worse when parking is free and people start hogging the legal places all day. Illegal parking of all kinds will just get worse as desperation and frustration over parking worsen.

I wish our friends in Hangzhou would take a look at Donald Shoup's ideas on this. This looks like a perfect situation for the "performance-based parking pricing" that he advocates. This involves having different parking prices at different places and at different times. At each time and place, the price must rise or fall until there are always some vacancies, so that no-one needs to search for a parking place.

The prices that emerge from performance-based pricing would give us very useful information. If they are low then maybe there was not such a parking crisis after all. But if the price that results is sky-high then, yes, the market is signalling that there is a problem.

Would that mean we need more car parking? Maybe. And private sector developers could then respond by building private parking lots. High parking prices also send a signal about a lack of diversified access to the area. Planners and public transport operators can act on this too by improving the other mobility options. This might be cheaper than increasing parking space if land values are high.

Hangzhou may offer free parking

By Lydia Chen (Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2008-06-04 13:49

Hangzhou may enact a new traffic policy next month that will provide 58,000 free parking spaces downtown to ease congestion that has drawn numerous complaints from the public.
Public opinions were sought about the plan, Legal Daily reported Tuesday.
The locations of these parking lots can only be approved when more than 50 percent of the public agree, the report said, citing traffic police authorities in the provincial capital of Zhejiang Province.
The policy is expected to take effect on July 1.
Under the policy, almost all public parking will become free in downtown Hangzhou, including those around the famous West Lake. Presently, parking costs about 20 yuan (US$2.88) per hour in downtown lots, the report said.
Parking fees may also be sharply reduced in other areas of the city, the report said.
Hangzhou had more than 400,000 automobiles by the end of last year, compared to 90,000 in 2000, the report said.
However, parking spaces in downtown Hangzhou reached 130,000 last year, an increase of 20,000 from 2003.
More than 1,000 drivers are fined for parking illegally on sidewalks every day in Hangzhou, the report said.
Pedestrians often complain that cars block sidewalks.
Drivers have complained that there are not enough parking spaces and that fees are too high, the report said.
The Hangzhou government said it will invest more than 100 million yuan to manage these free parking lots. The government may lose more than 20 million yuan annually after the policy takes effect, the report said.

Jun 3, 2008

Lagos BRT wins praise

Part of the new Lagos BRT system (Photo by Sam Zimmerman
of the World Bank, via WRI's City Fix blog).

The BRT concept has been having a tough time in India lately.

But according to the Nigerian Tribune on 29 May, World Bank officials are impressed with the success so far of the new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Lagos, which opened in March.
The World Bank Task Team leader, World Bank for the Lagos Urban Transport Project (LUTP), Mr. Ajay Kumar, who made the disclosure concerning the project being implemented by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) said the project had been executed beyond the imagination of the team, particularly against the backdrop of tough political and socio-economic environment of Lagos.

Speaking during a recent visit to Lagos to assess the operations of the BRT, Mr. Kumar said he would rather send officials of cities seeking to implement the BRT system to Lagos than to Bogotá in Colombia or Curitiba in Brazil.

“You have a tough environment here. The political, socio-economic situations are very tough. The environmental factor is also very tough. In spite of all these, you have been able to implement a system which is running and enjoying very high patronage,” he said.

Ajay commended the partnership LAMATA forged with the private sector, especially the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), which formed a cooperative to run the BRT system and a bank, which provided funding for the acquisition of the BRT buses.

The World Bank official was full of praises for Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) of Lagos State for the support he gave to the operations of the BRT with the release of additional 70 buses to the NURTW Cooperative to boost the system.

He called for a constant fine-tuning of the system so that imperfections that may be discovered in operations would be tackled promptly. Earlier, the Managing Director of LAMATA, Dr. Dayo Mobereola, told the World Bank team that the initial project was for the system to carry about 60,000 passengers per day, however, it now carries about 130,000 passengers per day.

The Lagos system has prevailed so far despite a great deal of early criticism, much of it remarkably similar to Delhi's.

Of course, it will be a challenge to keep the system working well but the signs look promising.

For more information on the Lagos BRT effort see this City Fix blog post which has a nice video link, some photos and a link to a presentation on the system.

May 30, 2008

Kuala Lumpur proposes congestion pricing ... again

Traffic on Kuala Lumpur's Federal Highway

I wrote before about the chicken-and-egg issues of road pricing and improvements to public transport.

I mentioned Kuala Lumpur's long history of regularly proposing travel demand management (TDM) and but then forever putting it off, while waiting for the public transport system to be 'complete'. As I said in that earlier post, they are still waiting.

Well, right on cue, here we go again! This is from Malaysia's New Straits Times:
Area road pricing proposed for KL city

By Azira Shaharuddin


Motorists may soon have to dig deeper into their wallets to enter and move within the Kuala Lumpur city centre. If what is proposed in the Draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020 is approved, motorists entering busy and usually congested roads will be charged a ‘user fee’ as part of an area road-pricing (ARP) scheme. Under the scheme, motorists would have to pay varying prices during set operation periods each time they pass certain entry barriers.

The measure is designed to control traffic within the city and achieve a more efficient use of road space in a bid to alleviate congestion, reduce travel time and limit air pollution caused by vehicular emissions.

However, Kuala Lumpur City Hall Master Plan department director Zainab Mohd Ghazali said the road area pricing would only be implemented when all public transportation facilities are in place.

“When all the public transportation are ready and there is still traffic congestion, we will then implement the scheme,” she said, adding that the scheme would be the last resort to alleviate traffic congestion in the city centre.

I don't think the journalist needs to worry about any 'digging in wallets' any time soon over this. City Hall seems to be already playing it down which makes it hard to imagine any politicians getting excited about this.

Show me the money! (and fix the politics in the process?)

My earlier post on this did not examine why Kuala Lumpur keeps chickening out of TDM. So here are some thoughts on what might be missing every time.

The glaring omission from every one of KL's TDM proposals over the years is the crucial issue of where the money would go.

No-one (except policy wonks!) will be keen on road pricing unless they see some tangible benefits, or even some cold hard money, out of the plan. You need to create some specific winners who will champion the idea. Phil Goodwin saw this many years ago with his 'rule of three' for allocating the benefits of road pricing. Donald Shoup's "parking benefit districts" proposal is similarly about creating local allies for performance-based pricing of parking. Actually, King, Manville and Shoup have also applied the same idea to freeway congestion pricing in Los Angeles, arguing that it would stand a much better chance if the revenue went to the neighbouring municipalities.

This suggests that road pricing in KL will never be more than a pipedream until it gets linked to a politically savvy plan for spending the money.

Malaysian planners and politicians are not stupid, so why have they not tried to create some allies for road pricing in this way? Maybe the problem is influence from nearby Singapore, which is unusual in simply putting its road pricing money into general revenue. Or the lack of a politically realistic plan is a sign that KL's leaders are not really serious about their TDM proposals? Maybe this is all just lip service to be seen to have a plan up their sleeves?

May 27, 2008

A Bright Future for Carsharing?

Carsharing is quietly growing and expanding to ever more cities. But will carsharing ever become mainstream?

Dave Brook at the US Carsharing blog recently outlined an optimistic vision for the future of car-sharing.

A Flexcar promotion in Seattle in 2007 (Flexcar is now part of Zipcar).
Image by Joe Mabel on Wikimedia Commons.

His scenario may not be quite as 'visionary' as Chris Bradshaw's ideas, which I have mentioned before, but is well worth a look. The comments discussion is also enlightening.

As you would expect, his focus is on American conditions.

Here are some highlights:
Carsharing will be in the suburbs, as well, and not just around transit hubs and regional centers where higher density mixed used development can support carsharing. ...

Car owners will be able to make their cars available to the carsharing members for a few days at a time and share the revenues with the service. ...

Carsharing will team up with public transit agencies, including a newly-invigorated Amtrak, to offer integrated regional mobility passes. [Note that this already happening in Europe] ...

As a result carsharing membership could grow to 10-15% of the drivers living in neighborhoods served by carsharing — up from the 1-2% now.

I wonder, would such ambitions require public policy effort? Without supportive government action could the industry achieve the critical-mass necessary to make these outcomes possible? Or are there market scenarios in which Dave's predictions will come to pass?

This reminds me to mention Singapore.

It has been hard to be optimistic about carsharing here recently. Two of the four main operators (Honda Diracc and CitySpeed) have closed shop within the last year (leaving the market to NTUC Income's Car Coop and Whizzcar).

This densely-populated island should, in theory, be fertile ground for carsharing but even here a nurturing role from government may be needed for the industry to grow beyond its existing small niche.

However, the authorities are not persuaded that they should do anything. They prefer to leave it to the market to decide. Are they right to take this hands-off approach or is this a missed opportunity?

May 23, 2008

More on public opinion of Delhi's BRT

[Update 31 May: CSE's Down to Earth magazine has a Cover Story on Delhi's BRT and in support of BRT in general.]

This is a short update to my earlier post on public opinion about the Delhi BRT project

The City Fix blog reports on another survey conducted in the relevant corridor between April 30 to May 5, 2008. City Fix also links to a pdf report on the survey.

EMBARQ's graphical summary of the key survey findings, as reported by CSE.

The survey also found little support for scrapping the corridor.

The survey was done by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) jointly with Delhi Greens and the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN).

I remain intensely curious to see a careful evaluation of this project. Whatever the results of such an evaluation, it does seem clear that much of India's media have misrepresented public opinion of the BRT in Delhi.

(By the way, this is not a BRT blog or a Delhi blog! But Delhi's BRT has been a hot topic lately. Here are some of my earlier posts on this issue).

May 21, 2008

Bicycle sharing easing parking problems in Japan - BICYCLE parking problems!

[Update: Looking for more parking policy information?  
Try Reinventing Parking.]

Shibuya in Tokyo. 'Bicycle pollution'?

You may be familiar with the argument that car-sharing helps reduce pressure on parking space.

You may also be aware of the meteoric rise of interest in bicycle sharing schemes, with Barcelona's Bicing and Paris' Velib the most famous.

This article from Japan connects bicycle sharing, which is on the rise there too, with parking issues. But the parking problems addressed are with BICYCLE parking not car parking.
OSAKA--While bicycle-sharing schemes are becoming common in urban areas as more importance is placed on the environmental and health benefits of cycling, such schemes are also seen as an effective countermeasure for the illegal parking of bicycles.
At a condominium in Konohana Ward, Osaka, which was completed in October, each of the 220 families living there was allotted a space for two bicycles. However, five bicycles are also available for sharing at the condominium for families needing to use more than two bicycles or for residents who do not have bicycles, but occasionally want to ride one.
Residents can use the bicycles at a cost of 100 yen for 12 hours.
"I only ride a bicycle once a month, so sharing is enough for me," said Ryosuke Goto, 27, a resident at the condominium.
Osaka-based River Industry Co., which sold the condominium, has introduced bicycle-sharing schemes at seven condominiums it has completed since 2006. The firm also plans to introduce such schemes at condominiums it is planning to build in the future.
"The scheme is effective at preventing residents from parking bicycles in nondesignated areas," an employee at the firm said.
An associated firm of West Japan Railway Co. was one of the first companies in the nation to introduce a bicycle-sharing service. The firm's bicycle-sharing business started in 1998 at JR Suminodo Station in Daito, Osaka Prefecture. Monthly fees range from 1,500 yen to 2,500 yen--close to the monthly fee for using a bicycle parking lot. The firm now offers the service at 19 stations in Osaka, Hyogo and Shiga prefectures. A total of 6,000 people use the service each day and sales from the business reached 170 million yen in fiscal 2007.
Hankyu Corp. and Kintetsu Corp. have also launched bicycle-sharing operations once it became apparent that they could be profitable as businesses. Some local governments, including the Yao municipal government in Osaka Prefecture, are also offering similar services at stations for citizens.

Bicycles are so popular (for short trips and to access rail stations) in Japan's large cities, and public space is at such a premium, that overflowing bicycle parking at busy locations has been given the label 'bicycle pollution'.

May 19, 2008

Is the Delhi BRT popular?

Could it really be that the Delhi BRT pilot is actually popular?

You would certainly not know it from reading the Times of India.

However, an early survey (reported in early May) suggested that even in its supposedly disastrous first week, the system had a very high approval rating among key groups - bus users and bus drivers. Even car users didn't dislike it in such huge numbers as certain newspapers have implied or assumed.

This report on an opinion poll by NDTV is a bit out of date and by now the unrelenting bad press may have swayed opinion against the system. But I want to highlight its stark contrast with the highly negative impression presented by much of the media.

BRT corridor: The great Delhi divide

NDTV Correspondent
Thursday, May 1, 2008 (New Delhi)

It's one of the most controversial infrastructure projects in the country but for all those who said that the Delhi Bus Corridor system was an out and out failure, here is a reality check.

A poll conducted by NDTV shows that there is a sharp divide in opinion on the success of the project between those who use buses on the corridor and those who drive cars on the same stretch.

Perhaps the big message here is that public transport must be considered a practical option for everyone, including people who cannot think about life beyond their luxury cars.

There have been many days of chaos, some days better than others but the debate has divided the city down the middle.

In an exclusive opinion poll, NDTV has asked car and bus drivers as also bus passengers whether this will work?

Car vs. bus drivers

# 65 per cent of car drivers feel the Bus Rapid Transit System(BRT) has made traffic congestion worse in the areas where the BRT runs.

# A whopping 75 per cent of bus drivers say the BRT is a huge improvement for buses.

# More than 50 per cent of car drivers say that the new bus stops in the middle of the road do not make driving more difficult.

# Bus drivers say it's easier to pick up passengers from the new bus stops and 72 per cent of them say the middle-of-the-road stops are working better than the earlier system.

# Most car drivers, 76 per cent, however, say that they are worried about hitting pedestrians crossing the road.

# 61 per cent of car drivers say driving is easier now that buses have their own lane bus drivers.

# 82 per cent of them say the new bus lanes for them make driving easier.

Bus passengers

# 88 per cent of bus commuters feel the new BRT and its buses are an improvement on Delhi's public transport system

# 71 per cent believe it will help in reducing travel time - most bus users say their commute time has already been slashed by 50 per cent after the BRT was introduced.

# 60 per cent of bus commuters say there are enough Marshals and traffic policemen to help guide them to their buses.
The report doesn't mention how NDTV obtained the sample unfortunately but does suggest that it draws from users of the pilot corridor itself, rather than from the broader population of Delhi.

Should bus users' opinions count?

Keep in mind that Delhi's modal split, as cited by Dinesh Mohan (with data for around 2000 I think), is:
37% walk or cycle
18% cars plus motorised two-wheelers
40% buses
3% paratransit
2% metro/rail transit
It is almost certainly still true in 2008 that buses carry a very large % of the motorised passenger trips in Delhi. So yes, the opinions of bus users (and bus drivers) who use the BRT system should count for a lot in a city like Delhi.

Does BRT just have an image problem?

How can there be such divergent perceptions of its success? Is BRT particularly prone to this kind of problem?

Does more attention need to be paid to image and marketing in its implementation? Would such PR effort have improved the Delhi experience? Perhaps the Delhi Government should have hired a top PR consultant (which they have now done) earlier in the process.

Context matters! Mexico City's 'Metrobus' (pictured) is a high-quality closed BRT line which attracts middle-income people and is seen in that huge city as an upmarket and modern mass transit system when compared with the metro system there, which is seen as downmarket. These attitudes contrast starkly with views of Metro and bus in Delhi.

The CityFix blog also highlights a fresh (and positive) perspective on BRT for Indian cities (with a great photo of part of the Delhi corridor too).

I don't know if Delhi's BRT will eventually prove itself or be widely acclaimed. It is after all a relatively unambitious open BRT implementation. I would really like to see some careful analysis of its current actual performance too and not just opinions about its performance.

But the reported survey above does highlight that we should be skeptical of the hype that Delhi's BRT is a universally loathed disaster.

Thanks to the folks chatting in the delhimetro yahoogroup for alerting me to this opinion poll.

May 17, 2008

Car ownership in Japan: Over the Hill?

Who needs a car?

I take statistics like this with a grain of salt, but apparently Japan's population of cars and motorcycles has just followed the human population by declining for the first time since records have been kept.

Reports said that the February total was 0.2% lower than a year earlier. With more than 600 per 1000 people, there are still a lot of motor vehicles in Japan.

But it is interesting that this news came on the same day that Japan's economy was reported to be growing at a faster-than-expected rate.

This reminds me of reports in January that Nissan is worried about the declining Japanese interest in cars. This was put down in part to economic uncertainty and a rapidly ageing population. (here is another comment on that report)

Even more interestingly, Japan's young people in particular are apparently less interested in owning cars than recent generations.
A survey last year of 1,700 Japanese in their 20s and 30s by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan's biggest business newspaper, discovered that only 25% of Japanese men in their 20s wanted a car, down from 48% in 2000. The manufacturers' association found that men 29 years old and younger made up 11% of Japanese drivers in 2005, roughly half the size of that group in 1993.

May 16, 2008

Video cameras in buses for bus-lane enforcement

"Our road users lack discipline!" is a lament I hear often, especially in developing countries. For example, differing views over road-user discipline have played a big role in the problems of Delhi's BRT project (try googling Delhi BRT discipline).

Alas, respect for most traffic rules depends on consistent enforcement.

It would be nice if all traffic rules commanded so much respect that they did not need to be enforced. But unfortunately most important traffic rules fall outside our internal moral codes. Even the rules with serious safety implications, like speed limits, do not seem like an ethical issue to most people. So without enforcement, many people ignore traffic rules.

Singapore's bus lanes are no exception.

Singapore, for example, is finding the need to beef up its enforcement of its bus lanes. Bus lanes are actually not the toughest enforcement issue in urban transport but they are an important one, despite their humble image.

Soon, Singapore will join other pioneers in using bus-mounted video cameras to record bus lane violations. The cameras are inside the bus and are activated by the driver at the touch of a button.

I wonder if they are using the same system that has apparently worked well in London, where:
... the enforcement of bus lanes has been very successful with the number of contraventions from bus mounted cameras between July 2000 and July 2005 per hour of viewed footage reduced from 12 to 0.1.

Photo by Terence Ong

Here is an excerpt from one of the news reports (temporary link?) on Singapore's bus camera plans:
CUT in front of a bus which has the lane all to its own and you risk getting yourself on tape - and a $130 fine.

Last year's Land Transport Authority (LTA) trial of video cameras fixed on buses to capture those who stray into bus lanes will go full steam ahead from June 2.

Eleven new stretches of road - all in the Central Business District (CBD) - will be made full-day bus lanes by then as part of efforts to get bus speeds up.

Ninety buses which use these lanes will have the cameras installed in front, next to the bus captain's seat.

Bus captains who spot other motorists in their way need only press a white button to record the scene unfolding in front of them.

The time and date will be recorded as well, followed by a five- to 10-minute clip. The video will go to the LTA and the errant motorist can expect a summons within two weeks.

Of course, camera-based enforcement depends on having a reasonably reliable vehicle licensing system with up-to-date driver addresses for mailing the fines out.

One nice thing about bus-mounted cameras is that they capture only violators who get in the way of an actual bus. This seems fair and well targeted.

By the way, Singapore's 'all-day bus lanes' mentioned in the report are a recent initiative that is now being expanded. "Singapore's Land Transport" blog has more on this and a nice map.

Finally, if all this talk of rules and enforcement irritates you, then you might like an earlier post which discusses the shared streets approach. At low-speeds, many road rules become redundant.