May 31, 2010

Singapore-Malaysia cross-border transport agreement and opportunities

Singapore's bicycle community has noticed that last week's agreement on the Malayan Railways (KTM) corridor could create a wonderful bikeway opportunity. So far, this angle has had no media attention. More on this at the end but first I want to reflect on the wider issues in the agreement.

A few years back, in my geographer days, I wrote about the surface links between Singapore and Malaysia. These are both international transport and urban transport at the same time. After a long saga, the two countries have finally reached an agreement on several important cross-border transport issues. 

At the time I studied this about 5 years ago, it was an intriguing tale and a case of remarkably problematic cross-border cooperation. I am glad that win-win resolutions look like emerging. 

My 2006 paper on this (pdf; publisher site) discussed three main aspects and the latest announcement relates to all three (as well as several other issues, such as cross-border taxis, buses and revived plans for a cross-border mass transit system to connect with Singapore's MRT). 
  1. The big news is the resolution of the dispute over land in Singapore leased to Malayan Railways on a 999 year lease for its rail line running south from Johor Baru across the causeway to Tanjung Pagar next to Singapore's CBD. This corridor will apparently now revert to Singapore government control. Adjacent significant land plots or land of equivalent value will be transferred to a joint venture by sovereign wealth funds from both countries for development.
  2. The announcement also includes plans to reduce the tolls on the Second Road Link at Tuas, which has always had rather low traffic due to its high tolls. These arose from a lack of cooperation and compromise between the two countries in the crucial early days of the bridge. 
  3. The third case was the Mahathir proposal to replace the old causeway with a bridge. When Singapore failed to agree, this morphed into his plan for a 'crooked half bridge' or so-called 'scenic bridge' to be built unilaterally by Malaysia. This was dropped by Mahathir's successor as Malaysian PM, Abdullah Badawi, to Dr M's great annoyance. The latest agreement is to move the terminus station to Woodlands, just over the straits on the Singapore side. This suggests no bridge to replace the causeway in the short term but does not necessarily rule it out in the long run.

So will Singapore seize the opportunity to create a new Park Connector along the Malayan Railways corridor? There is no news on that for now. 

The KTM corridor would make a wonderful "rails to trails" type project. It would be tragic not to preserve this right-of-way for non-motorised transport. Such a park connector could provide a direct, flat, bicycle route free of road-crossings all the way to the edge of the financial district at Tanjung Pagar from Woodlands via Upper Bukit Timah, Ghim Moh/Holland Village, Biopolis and Queenstown. Right now, the PCN network is rather disjointed (see the map below).

View NParks Park Connectors, Singapore in a larger map

[Update:  I made some small corrections to some details in this post 9 hours after first posting.]

May 20, 2010

Parking prices from a different angle

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

Is $400 per month for season parking outrageous or reasonable?

Well, it depends ... But what does it depend on?

One suggestion: the price of a hamburger! This rule-of-thumb for hourly parking prices comes from Pete Goldin at the Parking World blog yesterday, citing Dr Adhiraj Joglekar, founder of the website Hmmm. I guess they are alluding, tongue-in-cheek, to the Big Mac Index from the Economist. This index uses burger prices to correct for differences in the purchasing power of money in different countries.

But seriously, what is the right comparison?

Purchasing power is obviously not the only issue here, since parking prices usually vary from place to place within every city. Prices range from zero in many suburban parking lots to 'expensive' in the city centre. But the last time I looked burgers were not free-of-charge in the suburbs.

How about comparing parking prices with property prices?

After all, parking is a use of real estate, right? Space that is not used for parking could be used for some other real-estate use. India’s National Urban Transport Policy says explicitly that public parking prices should take account of land prices (although it doesn't say how to make this happen).

So, as part of the Asian cities parking study, I compared city-centre parking prices with office rents.

This was helped by nice data from Colliers International on both CBD parking prices and Grade-A office rents for many cities around the world. The graph below is the result, using their 2009 data.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Interesting, no?

The contrasts are striking (even allowing for possible inaccuracies in the data and other quibbles).

We have cities near the diagonal line where CBD parking prices per square metre are comparable with Grade A office rents. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are prominent along with London City, Vienna, The Hague and Sydney.

At the other extreme, Delhi and Mumbai in the upper left part of the graph have expensive office space but extremely cheap parking. So much for having parking prices take account of land prices.

Jakarta and Bangalore at the bottom left have cheap parking and cheap office space.

I was a little surprised by Singapore's rather cheap CBD parking relative to its CBD office rentals. However, since 2003 the parking requirements were lowered drastically. So the CBD parking supply per worker is gradually decreasing now, which should push parking prices up.

Hong Kong and Tokyo are also intriguing. Their CBD parking prices are among the highest in the world. But from the perspective offered by this graph, such parking prices are not surprising given their expensive CBD real-estate generally.

What do you think? Are real-estate prices (rents) a useful comparison for parking prices? Can data like this provide any policy guidance?

In the graph both CBD parking prices and CBD Grade A office rents are shown on a rent per square metre basis. To convert parking prices per space per month to parking prices per square metre per month I used 19.5 sq. m. as a very rough estimate of the space required for a parking space, including aisles, etc. So $10 per sq.m. per month is about $195 per parking space per month.

The data for the graph came from:

  1. Colliers International. 2009a. Global CBD Parking Rate Survey 2009. Colliers International.
  2. Colliers International. 2009b. Global Office Real Estate Review: Mid-Year 2009. Colliers International.

May 18, 2010

Motorcycles squeeze into urban nooks and crannies

[Update: Looking for more parking policy information?  

Parking on the door-step (literally) in Hanoi

The space efficiency of motorcycles is important for many Asian cities.

Traffic engineers usually assume that motorcycles consume about half the road space of a car. In other words, two-wheelers' PCU value is typically given as 0.5 'passenger car units' in heavy traffic.

But motorcycle parking can usually squeeze in many more than two machines per car space.

These Taipei scooters may be an extreme case. How do they get them in and out?

For the forthcoming Asian cities parking study, we found motorcycle parking space norms of up to 10 two-wheelers per car space.
Singapore’s parking standards specify perpendicular car slot dimensions and its minimum and preferred size for motorcycle slots. Together these suggest that between 4.6 and 6 motorcycle spaces take the same area as a car space (Land Transport Authority 2005). In India, motorcycle spaces are assumed to take 0.16 of an equivalent car space, suggesting a little over 6 two-wheelers per car space (CSE India 2009). Viet Nam’s parking standards suggest a standard area of 25 m2 per car and 2.5 to 3.0 m2 per motorcycle, or about 8 to 10 motorcycle spaces per car space (Vietnam Ministry of Construction 2004).

The other extreme is one motorcycle per car parking space. Vancouver bikers did this recently when they protested the lack of designated parking for their machines by taking entire parking spaces, and paying for them. [Update: here is a more in-depth account of the Vancouver protest.] Image credit: Bobskoot's blog.

By the way, the space taken by moving motorcycles also depends on the situation. A recent UK study "suggested that the slower the traffic, the lower the PCU value for motorcycles. In fast traffic they are hardly more space-efficient than cars. The study found "the PCUs of motorcycles in congested flow to be 0.40, 0.55 and 0.75 when the speeds of passenger cars are ranging from 10 to 20, 20 to 30, and 30 to 40 km/hr respectively." Presumably lower PCU values at low speeds reflects the ability of two-wheelers to lane-split and make their way through stalled queues of larger vehicles - a common sight in Southeast Asian cities.

May 14, 2010

More on park-and-ride in dense parts of Asian cities

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

I asked the sustran-discuss list for responses to my post on park-and-ride being a bad idea. In response to the discussion so far, I tried to clarify some of my points. Here is an edited version.

1. My objection to park-and-ride is strongest when such facilities are within the dense urban fabric (such as 'inner city' areas).

It is in these dense areas that the opportunity cost of space is highest. Most of the other uses of station-vicinity space will do much more to build public transport ridership than P&R.

Many mass transit systems in developing Asia are, for now, limited to these dense/mixed-use areas. In most cases, they don't yet extend out into the newest 'suburban areas'. P&R seems least defensible in these high-density locations with high property prices. Yet it is still being implemented in various dense urban localities in Asia.

The photos of Bangkok in the previous post are examples. These are in locations that are now considered to be inner-urban. They are not in a low-density suburban context.

2. My objection to park-and-ride is strongest when it involves a large subsidy from government or from the public transport company's budget.

P&R in dense areas with high property prices involves a very large subsidy (even if it is not obvious as in cases where government already owns the land).

[BTW, This objection actually applies to almost all of the parking (not just P&R parking) that local governments are trying to provide in Asian cities. That's another issue!]

These are extremely regressive subsidies in cities with low car ownership rates. For example, why should general taxpayers and the majority of passengers cross-subsidise the parking of the wealthy minority who drive to the stations of the Delhi Metro?

3. Park-and-ride is aimed at objectives which could be achieved more effectively by other means.

This is about making the best use of the TDM budget or the public transport budget (which need to be used wisely). It is certainly good to reduce Central Business District traffic and to get middle-class motorists into public transport. But it seems obvious that we could get more traffic reduction per dollar spent with various other initiatives than with P&R subsidies. [Has anyone seen serious analysis of this?]

Remember, I am still talking about dense areas for now. In such areas we can expect any (well-governed) city to be able to foster good bus-based transport to complement mass transit, to have plentiful taxi service (2-wheel, 3-wheel, or 4-wheel), and to have high-quality pedestrian environments. [Safe bicycle space seems harder but most of us do expect that too.]

Of course Mumbai came up in the sustran-discuss debate as a case where these conditions do not yet exist. But they should be the priorities. They help everyone. The P&R strategy accepts defeat on these and undermines ever achieving them. For example, in Mumbai is it really so hard to imagine small premium buses (with premium fares comparable to autorickshaw prices perhaps) bringing middle-class people to stations of the Metro when it opens?

4. Objecting to subsidised park-and-ride is not the same as saying there will not be any parking near mass transit stations.

But it does mean there would be no government-subsidized parking near the station.

A final thought:

If we stop subsidising parking at stations would drivers really just drive to their city centre jobs? I guess some would. But city centre parking is (or should be) very expensive [again that is another story!]. And mass transit is usually faster for commutes to CBD jobs in large congested cities. Mass transit stations are still pretty attractive even without P&R.

I suspect that Asian entrepreneurship can handle this challenge (if regulations allow). Taxis, auto-rickshaws and pedicabs already serve rail stations of course (even if imperfectly). In some cities, minibus businesses serve stations well. I wonder if valet-parking businesses might even arise just as they do in busy restaurant districts. They might store the vehicles at lower-cost parking opportunities nearby (but beyond the expensive station-vicinity itself).

May 12, 2010

Is park-and-ride a bad idea?

[Update: Looking for more parking policy information?  

Park-and-ride facility at Chatuchak, Bangkok
(This one is free-of-charge. And notice the institutionalised double-parking arrangement?)

The idea that car parking should be provided at mass transit stations has taken root in Asia.

The team that helped me investigate parking policy in Asian cities found active park-and-ride programs in Bangkok, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei. Park-and-ride facilities have been debated in Ahmedabad and Jakarta for their BRT systems. Delhi wasn't in our study but park-and-ride at Delhi Metro stations has been a hot topic there too.

Interestingly, we found no government-sponsored park-and-ride in the Tokyo region, although there are private parking lots used in this way (without public subsidy) in the outer reaches of the metropolitan area.

I doubt the wisdom of building park-and-ride in dense parts of Asia's cities.

That statement may shock some readers. Park-and-ride seems to have a halo of virtue and is rarely questioned. After all, doesn't it entice motorists onto public transport who might otherwise drive into congested city cores?

But ask yourself, is this the most cost-effective way to get people into public transport?

Is parking really the best use of space near high-capacity, high-frequency mass transit systems being built in these cities? Is this the best use of precious public funds?

Bangkok MRT park-and-ride structure at Lad Prao and its dense urban context

Proposals for park-and-ride facilities in dense urban contexts should be subject to more scrutiny. In many Asian cities park-and-ride is widely assumed to be a good thing almost by definition. This is a mistake.

The opportunity cost of space near mass transit stations is high. In dense Asian cities it is especially high.

In such contexts it is easy to think of strategies that are almost certainly more effective, less costly and more space-efficient than car parking for commuters:
  • complementary bus service, including feeder buses
  • bicycle park-and-ride [these we do find in Tokyo!]
  • motorcycle-based park-and-ride, and
  • excellent pedestrian environments and links around stations.
So there you have it. I am wary of park-and-ride. I think Asia's planners should be sceptical too.

However, I can think of one kind of high-density neighbourhood which might be suitable for automobile park-and-ride.

If a station area is overwhelmingly residential then park-and-ride can exploit the complementary timing of demand for home-based parking and park-and-ride parking. In other words, park-and-ride might be a cost-effective daytime use of residential parking that would otherwise have low-occupancy in those hours. This kind of park-and-ride would not need expensive purpose-specific facilities. Singapore’s park-and-ride program seems to be an example. Many of its park-and-ride site being located in its HDB public housing estates and are not specially-built as park-and-ride facilities.

May 10, 2010

Car-sharing on steroids?

Recent posts by Robin Chase at Network Musings and Dave at Carsharing.US caught my attention for their expansive vision of car-sharing and its reach.

Robin has a broad vision on sharing. It is a theme explored throughout her blog. In a recent post on innovation in transport policy, one of her key suggestions is to:
Allow owners of private vehicles to accept money in exchange for renting out their own vehicle, driving other people in it, or accepting money from people ride-sharing. We need to recognize that sharing cars and maximizing the number of people using each vehicle and getting mobility satisfaction out of each car is vastly preferred over the current single owner status quo.

Dave at Carsharing.US shows that part of Robin's agenda is already happening - under the name 'Peer-to-peer carsharing and car rental'.

His whole post is worth reading but here are a few excerpts:
What is peer to peer carsharing? It's traditional carsharing using privately owned vehicles temporarily made available to a carsharing company for others to drive. Like traditional carsharing the vehicles are decentralized, they're available by the hour, and they include gas and insurance in the rates (ideally full insurance coverage, not state minimum coverage).

Dave tackles the question of why should we care?

Well, it's certainly a good deal for car owners, who can easily make several thousand dollars a year from their car ("Don't work for your car, make your car work for you," as Spride says.) Need I say more?
For the carsharing company it transforms a major expense (leasing or owning the fleet) into a variable cost that they only pay when the car is actually making money. And, the lower cost structure means that carsharing can be feasible in less dense, more suburban locations
A side benefit of p2p is that, in the same way that using carsharing instead of owning a car (or 2) can be a transition to car-lite lifestyle, renting a car out to others may also serve as a transition to a car-lite lifestyle for vehicle owners.

Dave suggests this might be a big deal. I hope so too.

It looks like another step towards eroding the boundary between having a car and not having one. Softening this boundary has interested me for some time. As Chris Bradshaw says, cars are a "feast or famine" proposition in most cities. Either you have one (which tempts you to use it a lot while still typically leaving it parked for about 23 hours per day) or you don't (which usually means very restricted access to car use).

By the way, I first came across the idea of peer-to-peer carsharing (but not that name) in this chapter, so it is not a brand new idea: Monheim, R. (2003). Visions for city traffic and mobility, in Tolley, R. (ed.) Sustainable Transport: Planning for walking and cycling in urban environments. Woodhead Publishing, Cambridge, 84-96.

Dave also tackles the question of 'Why Now?'. He suggests insurance and smartphones as possible answers:
Until now the hangup in getting peer to peer off the ground has been insurance. [...] Apparently, the economic climate has loosed up the insurance underwriters' grips on the reins at insurance companies.
Another reason may be the explosion of interest in the iPhone and smart phones in general, which I think will make finding and booking p2p vehicles much easier and more spontaneious ...

: Last month, the Economist had a short article on peer-to-peer carsharing, followed by a blog post which ends, "So the time seems right, finally, for p2p car rentals to take off. What do you think?"

May 6, 2010

Are parking requirements the solution in Asian cities?

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

I left a comment at PT's Parking Blog in response to this John Van Horn item and its first comment.

My comment ended up quite long. I think it is worth cross-posting here.
I have been looking into parking policy around Asia. A report on it should be out next month (with luck).

It is true that Mumbai and Delhi have parking chaos and are now trying to follow the conventional suburban parking policy approach of minimum parking requirements with buildings. Dhaka, with car ownership below 50 per 1000 people, is doing the same. In a situation like that, is it really a good idea to force building managers and all of their customers to subsidize the parking of the tiny elite? So far, it is not working very well (see Off-street parking does not magically suck cars off the streets if the streets are easy and cheap to park in.

By contrast, Japanese cities mostly have rather low parking requirements (typically one parking space per 150 to 400 square metres of floor space). And Japanese parking requirements ONLY apply to large buildings. Modest-sized buildings (below about 1500 to 2000 square metres of floor space) usually have no parking required. The full requirements only apply above 6000 sq.m. (they phase in between 2000 and 6000 sq.m).

Yet Japanese cities don't have parking chaos. In fact, they have very little on-street parking. And since 2006 on-street parking rules are quite strictly enforced. Where do people park then? (they are not ALL using the trains or bicycles). Answer: spillover parking goes mostly into commercial off-street parking, which seems to be ubiquitous (and some city-owned parking lots, usually underground).

The Japanese parking arrangements are not perfect but maybe they point towards a workable solution that is akin to John's (and Donald Shoup's) market-oriented one. At least it suggests that high parking standards are not necessary to avoid parking chaos.

May 5, 2010

Tokyo's coin parking lots

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

I am planning more posts on the Asian parking study I have been doing. But the technical details and policy debates can wait.

First, some curiosities. A few days ago it was the parking predicament in South Asian cities, such as Dhaka or India's big cities.

Today: Japan's coin-operated parking lots.

Park a car at a coin-operated parking facility and a metal plate automatically rises to trap the vehicle (see photo below). Later, you pay into the machine (with coins, notes or prepaid card) to release the vehicle. No staff required on site.

The photos above are of the same lot in Ueno (central Tokyo). Daytime price: 200 yen for 20 minutes (around US6 per hour) which seems to be the norm in inner Tokyo.

Coin parking is a common use of small vacant lots. And Japanese cities have many small vacant lots (especially since the 1990 property crash).

Some coin-operated parking lots are VERY small.

This one has room for just one car!
In this case, someone found it too tempting to park for free at the alleyway entrance, rather than pay 100 yen per 10 minutes.

Vacant lot parking has some good points but can be deeply problematic too. I will say more on the policy angles some other time.

May 3, 2010

Hooray for TRANSIT, Malaysian public transport advocates

I am impressed by the rise of public transport advocacy in Malaysia, especially a group in the Kuala Lumpur metropolitan area called TRANSIT.

I am sure recent Malaysian legislation to set up a Public Land Transport Commission must owe something to TRANSIT's efforts.

Malaysian public transport policy has often been woeful but these reforms look promising. TRANSIT's detailed and critical analysis is a good starting point for understanding the changes. Their website is rich with information on Malaysian urban transport.

For several years now, this energetic group has been persistently pushing for better public transport priority, planning and budgets. Their attention to less sexy issues like regulation and institutional reform is also impressive.

I can see an enormous improvement in the level of public discussion on public transport policy in Malaysia since I lived there in the late 1990s. Much of the credit must go to the advocacy groups like TRANSIT (full name: ‘The Association For The Improvement Of Mass Transit’) .

Congratulations and keep up the great work.