Feb 29, 2008

Motorcycles on the Rise in Africa

Cheap motorised two-wheelers have long been ubiquitous in various Asian countries. Now their numbers are surging in Africa too.

Taiwan was apparently the pioneer of mass motor scooter ownership and use in the 1970s.

Scooters lined every footway in 1996 when I visited Taipei.

Today Vietnam's cities are the undisputed motorcycle capitals of the world. The volume of motorcycle traffic in Vietnamese cities is astounding!

Ho Chi Minh City = Motorcycle City

Motorcycles are also significant in (among others) Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, parts of China, and increasingly India.

We have seen in Asia that motorcycles can be both highly problematic and a boon for people who sorely need better mobility. The dilemmas often create ambivalence, which is reflected in the diverse policies seen in Asian cities.

Some welcome and accommodate motorcycles (as in Malaysia) while some seek to limit or even ban them (as in some Chinese cities). Vietnam's large cities have recently been trying to limit new registrations of motorcycles, apparently without much effect.

Rise of Asia-made motorcycles in Africa
Until recently, motorcycles were not a major feature of African cities. Except that is for a few places. These include Africa's motorcycle capitals, Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Bamako in Mali, where more than 50% of motorised transport is on motorcycles. For more on this, see this pdf of a World Bank presentation on urban transport in Africa.

However, an item last week from Kenya's Business Daily (Kenya: Bikes Rev to Beat Rising Fuel Costs And Traffic Jam) highlights the increasing role of motorcycles in eastern Africa, both as taxis and for personal transport.

The boda-boda of Uganda (both on bicycles and on motorcycles) are well known. Now it seems the boda boda business has also been growing in Kenya, especially since a recent crackdown on unroadworthy vehicles created a vacuum in transport supply. Motorcycle ownership by individual households seems also to be rising rapidly.

The article also highlights a growing role for motorcycles in rural areas, citing a recent study led by Paul Starkey (see here for a powerpoint summary: slide 10 focuses on motorcycles). Despite the obvious and serious safety issues, the report is positive about the contribution of motorcycles to African rural transport. (By the way, it also laments the policy neglect and hostility to bicycles, which are also increasing in importance)

The transport policy 'industry' doesn't seem to have any clear answers on what, if anything, to do about motorised two-wheelers. We are far from any consensus on what policies would be useful. Should we welcome motorcycles? And if so, what policies could maximise the benefits while reducing the harm?

I don't know but I wish I did.

[POSTSCRIPT: via the Urban Transport News site I see that the "Life of Guangzhou" reports that Africa is the top market of Guangzhou-made motorbikes (6 March 2008) .
The Urban Transport News comment/summary on this item reads:
Motorcycles have been completely banned in Guangzhou, and are in the process of being banned in all other leading Guangdong and Pearl River Delta cities including Shenzhen, Dongguan and Zhuhai. Yet at the same time, Guangdong is the largest motorcycle-producing province in China, overtaking Chongqing in 2006. Many other big Chinese cities have plans to phase out motorcycles and have stopped accepting new registrations. So where are the motorcycles being exported? 760,000 motorcycles were exported from Guangzhou in January 2008, a 16.6% increase on a year earlier - when the motorcycle ban first came into effect. 70% of the exports were destined for Africa. The 530,000 motorcycles exported to Africa is a 48% increase from January 2007.]

Feb 23, 2008

Median BRT does not force users to cross more traffic lanes!

This is a follow-up to my earlier post about Delhi's BRT project.

Now I do realise that this project may not be a perfect example of the well-proven BRT genre. But some of the arguments being thrown up against it are pure nonsense.

One foolish claim is that median-BRT will force bus users to cross more streets, or more lanes of traffic. This is suggested for example, by an anti-BRT article in India's Pioneer newspaper on November 7, 2007:
The most disconcerting aspect of the lunatic HCBS idea is the placement of bus stops in the centre of the road in those sections where the bus lanes run down the middle. ...

When the scheme becomes operational, passengers will be required to cross the road on either side to access the bus stop. In the best of times, this stretch is marked by unruly motorists/scooterists and even more unruly pedestrians. Once they are legitimately given the right to scamper across the road, the ensuing chaos can be easily visualised.

Gosh. I don't know where to start on the false assumptions there... So I will stick to my main point.

A few years back I heard Walter Hook from ITDP demolish this argument very simply and easily in a presentation to a conference in Agra. The same clarification is made in a report (by RITES) on a 2005 Stakeholders’ Consultation on Delhi's BRT (pdf). It is not hard to understand.
It is obvious if you think about it.

Without BRT in the median you will cross the whole road once in a journey (your destination must be on one side or the other, right). If your destination is on the same side of the road as your bus stop then you will not need to cross immediately after getting off the bus. But you will still need to cross later to get to the bus stop in order to make your return journey. With median BRT you cross HALF the street at both arrival and departure. But the total lanes crossed is exactly the same as before.

Median bus lanes have worked very successfully in many of Taipei's busiest streets since the mid-1990s.

Actually, in general it should be SAFER for pedestrians after most median BRT projects are put in place. This is because median refuges (the bus stops) will likely become more common than they were before. So pedestrians will not have to cross the whole street in one dangerous attempt. This enhanced refuge effect should help all pedestrians, not just the bus passengers.

Feb 20, 2008

A bad week for BRT in Delhi

{Update: this blog now has a more recent - 22 April- posting on Delhi's BRT}

A backlash against BRT has been hitting Delhi.

Delhi's BRT, or High Capacity Bus System (HCBS) as it is often known in India, has been facing a barrage of vitriolic newspaper attacks. These have included quite vicious assaults on the credibility of IIT Delhi academics, Dinesh Mohan and Geetam Tiwari, who have championed and helped design the system (if you follow the link, click on 'urban transport').

Anti-BRT headlines have included:
  • 'Experts' order serial rape of Delhi roads (in the Pioneer)
  • Will somebody wake up to stop this HCBS madness? (Pioneer)
  • Buses Hog Space, Cars Squeezed Out (Times of India, Nov 16, 2007)
Unfortunately, it appears that these and similar attacks have now drawn a political response. Yesterday, the Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, was reported (somewhat triumphantly by the Times of India) to have halted further BRT development beyond the initial corridor's first phase. Other routes will apparently need to wait until the initial project proves its worth. It is under construction and due to open in August.

See here and here for other viewpoints, for some of the text of the articles mentioned above, and for some analysis of this media phenomenon.

A model of part of Delhi's initial BRT corridor by the IIT-Delhi team.

Delhi is not alone in its BRT troubles. For example, Jakarta's busways faced setbacks late in 2007, with several corridors forced to open to mixed traffic. This was a response to media uproar over congestion that was attributed to busway construction and a poor level of bus service on the most recently-opened corridors. A Jakarta Post article provides some background (cache version here). If you read Bahasa Indonesia then consult the Batavia Busway blog for more insight and updates.

Guangzhou parking cure worse than disease?

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

Urban Transport News links to some troubling parking news from Guangzhou in southern China.
Guangzhou 50,000 new parking spaces for Guangzhou 2/19/2008 China Daily Parking Wang Dong, director of the Guangzhou urban planning bureau, said the local government plans to build large-scale parking lots at key stations to give motorists better access to the metro service and downtown destinations. "We will increase the total number of parking spaces in the city by 150,000 between now and 2010, with 50,000 coming this year," Wang said. In addition, Wang said the urban planning authority has introduced a new ruling that stipulates all new property developments must provide one car parking space for every 200 sq m of residential accommodation.
The first part is about 'park and ride' at urban rail stations. More on that another time perhaps.

It is the last sentence above that interests me today. OK, "one car space for every 200 sq m" does not seem like a very high parking requirement. My guess is that 200 sq m would typically mean more than two apartments in a Chinese city. So this requirement is probably for less than one car per two units on average. This is a far cry from some US cities that require a parking place for every bedroom!

Nevertheless, I can't help wondering if it is a good idea for Chinese cities to be getting into zoning for parking at all.

The result of parking requirements in Kuala Lumpur?

Do decision-makers in rapidly motorising societies everywhere need to rethink parking policy? There is talk of a "paradigm shift", at least according to Donald Shoup or Todd Litman. We urgently need to know what it will mean for motorising cities. Such places have not yet make the parking mistakes of North America but maybe they are about to?

In what ways might Shoup or Litman's analysis or Shoupista policies be relevant for developing cities such as Indian or Chinese ones?

By the way, Shoup suggests:

  • eliminate off-street parking requirements, so that parking becomes 'unbundled' from other real estate
  • price on-street parking to ensure a few vacancies and eliminate cruising for parking
  • return the street-parking revenue to local benefit districts.

You may say this is premature. Shoup's proposals are aimed at North America where the problem is the oversupply of parking. No-one would say that there is an excess of parking in Delhi or Guangzhou. And in any case, rich western cities have hardly begun to put his ideas into practice.

Traders in Delhi's Green Park are not Shoupistas (not yet).

Nevertheless, I think even cities with low car ownership should be paying close attention to these new parking debates.

Feb 18, 2008

Welcome Note

Here I am starting a new blog on urban transport. It is the successor to my older, now-dormant effort at Urban Transport Issues Asia. I am starting over because I don't want to be limited to Asian cities.

Why the name 'reinventing'? One reason is that I see a wave of innovation breaking and opening up important new possibilities to be seized. These are interesting times to be thinking about urban transport policy.

More soon.