Nov 20, 2010

Download my thesis on urban transport and urban form in Pacific Asia

Despite its age (I finished it in 1999), I still get requests now and then for my PhD thesis.

The old link to download it broke some time ago but last week the Murdoch University Research Repository came to the rescue and put it back up. So you can again download it as a pdf via this page. Please forgive the shameless self promotion here!

I never turned my thesis into a book, as many academics do. Instead I simply made it available on the web. A bad move? I did have some doubts when I saw bits of it plagiarized once or twice. But it also has 61 citations according to Google Scholar. I guess that's not too bad for an unpublished thesis. Last year, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) picked up some of its ideas for their document, Changing Course: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Urban Transport [PDF].

The full title of my PhD dissertation is:  An international comparative perspective on urban transport and urban form in Pacific Asia: the challenge of rapid motorisation in dense cities

By the way, the data collection work towards the dissertation was part of the team effort that became the book: An international sourcebook of automobile dependence in cities, 1960-1990 by Jeffrey Kenworthy and Felix Laube (with Peter Newman, Paul Barter, Tamim Raad, Chamlong Poboon and Benedicto Guia, Jr.

Here is a summary of the key arguments in the thesis:
It focuses on nine major cities in Pacific Asia (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Seoul, Singapore, Surabaya and Tokyo). 
The study provides an international comparative perspective on these cities using a large set of data on urban transport, land use and economic factors, as part of a wider study on 46 international cities.
A historical review of transport and urban development between 1900 and the 1960s found that, by the end of the period, most of the Asian cities were more vulnerable to problems from an influx of private vehicles than Western cities had been at the equivalent stage in their motorisation. 
This greater vulnerability was primarily due to higher densities and greater dependence on road-based public transport in most Asian cities, which could be described as “bus cities”, an archetype that is developed in the thesis. 
High density offers the opportunity to foster successful public transport and non-motorised accessibility. However, it also means that very high levels of motorised traffic per unit of land area (and hence intense traffic impacts) can emerge quickly, even if vehicle use per capita remains low. Traffic congestion can also emerge rapidly as dense cities motorise. This is a result, not just of poorly developed road systems, but of the fact that road capacity per capita is inherently low in dense cities. 
This research thus challenges notions in the literature that congestion problems in Asian cities can be solved by road expansion. It establishes, through sound comparative urban data, that there are inherent limits to road provision in dense cities.
Contrasting urban transport strategies or models were identified within the Asian sample of cities. In particular, upper-middle-income cities, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, were shown to have experienced very rapid motorisation and to have had little success in increasing the relative roles of public transport and non-motorised modes. These trends have led to a severe mismatch between emerging car and motorcycle-oriented transport patterns and the pre-existing highdensity urban form, especially in Bangkok. 
This “unrestrained motorisation” model is contrasted with the experiences of wealthier Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo, which have all restrained and slowed the pace of motorisation to some extent and enhanced the role of public transport. In all four cities, 1990 levels of motorisation and vehicle use were low relative to their levels of income. This “restraint” model takes advantage of the transport opportunities that are inherent in existing dense urban forms while avoiding many of the problems. It is also shown to have encouraged, or complemented, the evolution of public transport-oriented patterns of urban development. 
Jakarta, Surabaya and Manila face the choice of following either of these models, but appear more likely to follow Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, unless policy changes are made.
The study then reviews key choices and policies in urban transport in the nine Asian cities over recent decades. It identifies which have been most decisive in defining the models “chosen” by each city. 
Although many decisions are important, the thesis argues that a particularly crucial choice is the decision of whether or not to restrain private vehicle ownership and use. The Asian cities following the “restraint” model began to restrain private vehicles at an early stage in their motorisation and generally well before they had developed high-quality or high-capacity public transport systems. 
This challenges the common view that a city must already have a first-class public transport system before traffic restraint can be effective or politically acceptable. In fact, this study suggests that early introduction of traffic restraint can facilitate the gradual development of well-functioning transport systems, including mass transit systems. Insights drawn from the results of this study potentially have important implications for transport and urban policy debates in low-income and middle-income cities everywhere, particularly those that are beginning to motorise quickly from previously low levels of vehicle ownership.

Nov 7, 2010

Taxi insights and fun

The newly resurrected Transport Blog has an interesting riff on taxis around the world. The post is an entertaining read, full of pithy observations (and quite a lot of speculation I suspect).

Yet it cleverly sneaks in some important points on the dry dry topic of taxi regulation. Which is great because improving taxi industry arrangements is an important but sadly neglected element of urban transport policy.

Hanoi's taxis feature prominently - hence the intriguing title "How to spook a Vietnamese taxi driver". You have to read to the end to understand the reference. There are brief comments on taxi service and its regulation all over the world. If author Michael Jennings is to be believed, taxis in Bulgaria and Buenos Aires are to be avoided if humanly possible.

Hanoi taxis in their natural habitat (a sea of motorcycles!)

Singapore's get a little nod too. Which reminds me that a few years ago I wrote something about Singapore's taxi arrangements. Singapore has 'deregulated' the taxi industry. But what does that mean?

First, there is now no cap on the number of taxis. And the numbers did indeed go up.
Second, there is no limit on the number of taxi companies (although complying with service standards means that tiny operators would have difficulty staying in the market).
Third, each taxi company can set fares to whatever the market will bear - provided they inform the government and the public in advance. Thus, deregulated fares does not mean unpredictable fares. The drivers must still use the tamper-proof meters. In practice, the differences among the companies are small and restricted mainly to the extras.
Most taxi drivers here rent their cab from one of the companies (at S$90 per day). The taxi companies are thus basically rental companies - with medium term rental agreements with the drivers of their fleet.
In this model, the drivers face an extremely competitive environment out on the streets. The companies are competing to keep drivers so that their taxi fleets are fully utilised.
Some of the details in my old post may be a little out of date but the basics remain accurate.

By the way, the Transport Blog is a libertarian take on transport policy from the UK but don't let the libertarian bit put you off checking them out even if that part of the political spectrum is not your thing.