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.

May 15, 2008

High oil prices causing soul searching or pleas for relief?

High oil prices seem to be traumatizing societies that have become accustomed to cheap fuel. Some of the noisiest pain seems to be in the United States.

Pleas for relief have been a prominent response. But rising fuel prices are also prompting more interesting responses. Here I highlight a few from the North American blogosphere.

Robin Chase has some wise words at her Network Musings blog against subsidizing gasoline. She uses Indonesia as a cautionary tale.
As it stands now, we are already experiencing a gas tax holiday, every day of the year. Our gas taxes have 42% less buying power today than when established in 1993, which is why our road infrastructure is in such sorry state of disrepair. Imagine trying to keep your own life in good working order with 42% less buying power.

And indeed, filling up the gas tank is taking a significant bite out of the average family’s household budget, and is forcing difficult choices among those with the lowest incomes.

Is subsidizing the answer? It might be, for some very small slice of Americans. Which doesn’t mean it should be for all Americans.

Indonesia gives us an example of what this path holds. That country has been subsidizing gas for its population for years, initially certainly with good intentions of helping ease the cost of a perceived necessity. This year, Indonesia anticipates that these subsidies – 40% of the real cost of fuel -- will eat up 13% of its federal budget, more than it spends on education and health care.

Todd Litman reminds us that
yes, economic basics do still apply. Higher prices tend to reduce consumption, even of motor fuel, even in the United States. The effect is stronger over the medium and long term.

It turns out that the “law of demand” (the tendency of higher prices to reduce consumption) and the principles of urban economics (that improved accessibility increases land values) still apply. If we are smart, we can use these to help solve problems and benefit consumers.

It took a while, but there is mounting evidence that rising fuel prices are reducing fuel consumption and vehicle travel. Between 2006 and 2007 average Regular gasoline prices increased about 9%, from $2.53 to $2.77 per gallon, and according to Federal estimates, annual U.S. vehicle miles traveled (VMT) declined about 0.4 percent in total, or about 1.3% per capita, indicating a short-run elasticity of about 15%. Between Januarys 2007 and 2008, California average gasoline prices increased about 25%, from $2.62 to $3.30 per gallon, and gasoline consumption declined 4.5%Transportation Elasticities). in total, or about 6% per capita, indicating a short-run price elasticity of about -0.23. Long-run elasticities (more than five years) are typically about three times larger, or about -0.5 to -0.7, which is pretty typical historically (

Todd's policy responses to the fuel price spike might seem unpalatable or unrealistic to suburban Americans who live in places where alternatives to the car are unattractive. But they are much more constructive than the tokenism of a gas tax holiday or the US Senate's plan to suspend the topping up of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Todd says:

This is actually good news overall, if we act rationally (Appropriate Response To Rising Fuel Prices). Reduced driving and fuel consumption, shifts to alternative modes, and more accessible development help reduce many problems including traffic congestion, road and parking facility costs, accidents, energy production externalities, pollution emissions, and health problems associated with sedentary living. But achieving these benefits will require changing our transportation and land use policies to reflect shifting consumer demands.

CEOs for Cities released a report linking the collapse of the US housing bubble to rising fuel prices. Their blurb:

A new analysis shows that high gas prices are not only implicated in the bursting of the housing bubble, but that the higher cost of commuting has already re-shaped the landscape of real estate value between cities and suburbs. Housing values are falling fastest in distant suburban and exurban neighborhoods where affordability depended directly on cheap gas.

The report got quite a bit of press coverage. The Smart Growth Around America blog points out:

What makes the report so valuable, however, is that they don’t stop at merely pointing out that suburbs are struggling while city neighborhoods are holding their value. Cortright offers some concrete policy recommendations that will help make housing more affordable, while increasing the availability of housing in places where homeowners can have more options for getting to work, school or the grocery store than filling up the car with 4 dollar gas.

May 14, 2008

Which comes first: traffic restraint or mass transit?

Jakarta's core corridor with both TDM and BRT.
Neither is perfect but both are steps in the right direction.
The green sign reads "zone for cars with three occupants or more"
and refers to the so-called Three-in-One policy.

Hundreds of growing cities across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America are motorizing rapidly. Unlike large Western or Japanese cities when cars first flooded them, today's developing cities are mostly facing this onslaught without the safety valve of a large pre-existing rail-based mass transit system. This makes traffic growth a huge challenge.

Most are trying to expand roads and to build mass transit but can't keep up with demand that is exploding. Meanwhile workhorse bus-based public transport deteriorates, due especially to traffic delays.

Slowing down the rate of traffic growth seems essential. But transport demand management (TDM) policies, such as congestion pricing or increased parking fees, tend to be difficult to sell politically.

This post looks at just one of the objections to TDM and offers an anecdotal counterexample.

Opponents of TDM often say 'we can't do it until we have a metro rail system'

A common objection to TDM that I have often heard in developing Asian cities says "we can't restrain traffic until our city has a world class mass transit system!" or words to that effect. I have heard it from time to time in India, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. I am sure it appears in many more places.

Mass transit in this objection means urban rail, such as metros or MRT or sometimes LRT. It could conceivably mean BRT but I have not come across any TDM opponents who call for busways to be built before traffic is restrained.

Is this objection a good argument? Is rail-based mass transit necessary or could humbler improvements to public transport be enough?

A look at the contrasting responses of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur might help.

Kuala Lumpur: still waiting for good enough public transport

Kuala Lumpur's decision-makers have repeatedly contemplated policies to restrain private car travel to the city centre. And repeatedly they have deferred a decision, saying such policies would only be possible when the public transport system improves.

This happened first in the late 1970s, when KL almost implemented a central cordon traffic pricing scheme much like Singapore's. The gantries had actually been build before the scheme was aborted at the last minute. At first glance, this rejection might seem fair enough, since the main commuting alternative at the time was a rather moribund bus system supplemented by new minibuses.

However, the same argument keeps appearing no matter how large KL's urban rail network becomes. I have heard it at regular intervals since the mid 90s. By then KL's rail system had started to open, so the question arose, can we restrain traffic now? But the public transport improvements never seem to be enough.

Malaysian urban transport policy: expand road (and rail) supply
with gusto, manage demand with extreme caution

There seems to be an unfortunate cycle in KL. When each round of expressway building fails to stem congestion TDM proposals emerge from time to time. For example, in the late 1990s higher city-centre parking fees were proposed. More recently there has been mention of congestion pricing of some kind. Each time, City Hall (Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur) and the Ministry of Transport consider the proposals and talk to the media about them. In the resulting furore people inevitably point out how ineffective and crowded public transport is ... and the idea is shelved until public transport improves.

What about Singapore?

Many transport folks from motorizing cities are well aware of Singapore's strong efforts to restrain traffic. But most of them seem to assume that this was possible because Singapore has a wonderful mass transit system, the MRT.

But the MRT system opened in 1986. Singapore's aggressive TDM efforts began in earnest in 1974 or so! Singapore did make significant improvements to its bus system, including bus lanes, at the time that it introduced its traffic restraint reforms in the mid-1970s. Singapore did not wait for MRT. In fact, the bus system had only just been beaten into some kind of decent shape and few saw buses as a good alternative to cars.

Singapore's Area Licensing Scheme (ALS) in action before
it was transformed into Electronic Road Pricing (ERP).
The left lane here is a bus lane.

Maybe it is not that mass transit makes TDM possible but the other way around

I think causality in Singapore probably ran the other way than people assume. Having strong TDM early on was a big factor allowing ridership to grow on its bus-based public transport and allowing the creation of public transport-oriented land-use patterns. By the time MRT finally came, it was assured of a mass market.

By contrast, by the time KL got an extensive rail system over the last 10 years, most of its residents already had cars and motorcycles and had organised their lives around private transport. KL's rail systems are popular but sadly urban rail has not transformed the modal split in favour of public transport. Nor has the mass transit system eased congestion in any obvious way.

What about politics?

Of course, restraining traffic is as much a political question as a technical one. And you might say Singapore has an unfair advantage because of its less-than-boisterous political system. Perhaps.

The Singapore story does show that there is no technical reason for demand management to wait for high-quality mass transit.

And Kuala Lumpur's experience shows that if you wait for mass transit to be good enough before you do any TDM, then you will probably be waiting for ever.

It is true that traffic restraint measures must usually be paired with visible improvements to alternatives or they will not fly politically.

But traffic restraint policies need NOT wait for rail-based mass transit. In fact, traffic demand management may be a great way to prepare your city for success with mass transit.