Nov 29, 2013

Singapore public transport - historical perspective on current issues

This post is to share a presentation on Singapore's Public Transport policies which I gave in Seoul in September.

This is my own take on the story, not any kind of official narrative. I took a rather long-term perspective, going back to the 1930s and emphasizing important changes in the 1970s. It is also a 'big picture' view. But some of the current debates are also there.

If you have any interest in Singapore's public transport story, then take a peek and let me know what you think.



If you can't see the embedded slideshow above, then try clicking Public Transport Policy in Singapore (a long view) 

By the way, Singapore has had a busy year of transport and urban planning announcements.

Early in the year, there was the controversial Population White Paper. That was followed closely by the Land Use Plan (basically the latest Concept Plan, Singapore's strategic plan that comes out roughly every ten years).

Later in the year came the Land Transport Master Plan 2013 (an update of the 2008 plan). Now the Draft Master Plan 2013 is out. The Master Plans make concrete the visions in the Concept Plans.

The Seoul event was the 3rd International Public Transportation Forum organized by the Korea Transport Insitute (KOTI).

I should also acknowledge the LTA as the source of some of the images in the presentation.

Aug 1, 2013

Attention newly motorizing cities! Look to NEW Transit Metropolises!


This diagram is from a new presentation (see below) in which I make the following claims:
  1. "New Transit Cities" are especially relevant for newly motorizing cities (such as India’s cities)
  2. Cities that are now New Transit Cities were, in the past, faced with challenging circumstances similar to those facing India’s cities today (namely a flood of vehicles causing traffic saturation at a time when they lacked significant mass transit that was immune from traffic)
  3. After flirting with accommodating cars, the New Transit Cities all resisted the idea that cars are a necessity and acted to make sure cars remained optional. 
Please take a look and tell me what you think in the comments. Let me know about any corrections or omissions. Do you agree?

If you can't see the embedded SlideShare version below, then download the presentation from the CSE India website (7MB pdf).



By the way, I presented this in Delhi last week at the invitation of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE India) for their workshop on 'Transport and Climate'. Day 2 on July 25 was on "Designing cities for sustainable mobility".

While in Delhi I also conducted a half day training workshop on parking policy. I will report on that over at Reinventing Parking.

Many thanks to CSE India and GIZ's SUTP for making the trip possible.

Jul 3, 2013

Singapore's urban mobility model: a slightly critical look

Don't be too starry eyed about Singapore's urban transport policies. 

Yes, they do offer plenty for others to emulate. But there are also problems and cautionary tales. 

In a recent book chapter I look at some of the problems with the current approach and speculate about a different overall strategy for Singapore urban transport policy.

High-speed one-way traffic in Singapore's new CBD. 

I have been here more than 12 years now and during that time I have been watching Singapore urban transport policy and practice pretty closely, as part of my research and as a user. I think I am well placed to offer a balanced perspective.

The chapter is called ‘Singapore’s Mobility Model: Time for an Update?’ and is published in the Institute for Mobility Research's 2013 book, Megacity Mobility Culture: How Cities Move on in a Diverse World, (Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer).

To give you a sense of my argument, here is the conclusion of the chapter:
Singapore is a useful case for the study of mobility models and public sector decision-making because of its relative coherence in policymaking and its unusual determination to accept sharp trade-offs.
Since the 1970s, Singapore’s transport and urban policies have been firm in facing up to the tight spatial imperatives of this island city-state. This has meant taking a long-term perspective to ensure space for urban development over many decades.
In a hard-nosed bargain, unpopular vehicle taxes and fees have greatly slowed the growth of the vehicle fleet and managed its use. The more popular payoffs of the policy were steadily improving public transport and efficient traffic movement. The resulting urban transport achievements have been widely praised.
However, the old version of this hard-nosed bargain contains some contradictions. The high level of service on the roads was justified primarily for the sake of commerce, but has gradually come to be seen also as a quid pro quo for motorists in return for the high costs they experience.
This has encouraged an overemphasis on high traffic speeds as an end in itself in road design, undermining the more important goal of space-efficiency.
The bargain also involves a rather narrow framing of its objectives, focused on efficiency of movement but ignoring potentially popular place-making and liveability payoffs that would result from containing traffic.
Finally, with such a premium having been put on speed over the years, it has proved difficult for policymakers to see the importance of the slower modes that are necessary in order to complement urban rail, which is understandably seen as the only alternative which has serious potential to compete with cars.
It might seem churlish to complain about a set of policies that have achieved so much. Nevertheless, it seems clear that Singapore may need a change of emphasis in its transport planning in order to build on its achievements, continue to face unavoidable constraints, and yet at the same time offer more appealing mobility choices to an increasingly demanding and informed population.
ERP or Electronic Road Pricing (Singapore's version of congestion pricing) is an emblem of Singapore's "hard nosed" approach to urban transport.

It is not all criticism. I also make some suggestions for a new strategic approach.

Here are some brief excerpts from the 'ways forward' section (with some links added):
The old bargain was a technocratic one. Any successful update will need more widespread appeal and can only emerge from a much wider debate.
... Singapore needs an update which poses a more positive vision of success, rather than being so Spartan in its focus on efficiency...
Hold up a More Positive Alternative
The unpopular elements of Singapore’s TDM policies might be more palatable if making the non-car-owning lifestyle an attractive and high-status option becomes the focus of much more strenuous and integrated efforts. This could involve promoting a broad vision of a ‘combined mobility package’ or ‘mobility mix’ that can compete head-on with car ownership ...  
Emphasise Place-Making Payoffs from the Bargain
Greater emphasis on the positive payoffs from hard-nosed mobility policies could involve more focus on liveable places, including streets, as central parts of the public realm. Singapore currently gives most of the ‘dividend’ from its strict TDM policies to existing motorists by keeping traffic speeds high and delays to a minimum. It might be better to give more of this dividend to place-making.
...
Transcend the Obsession with High Traffic Speeds
These changes would require Singapore to overcome its obsession with high traffic speeds. This would need to involve changes in road design priorities for most streets except the high-level arterials and expressways. A key measure that would reclaim space for the public realm, without imposing overly harsh restrictions on private vehicles, would be taking a smarter attitude to speed in road design priorities ...
... Singapore is rightly praised for avoiding widespread congestion on roads whose central purpose is mobility. But its emphasis on speed goes too far in its aversion to the slowing of traffic on multi-purpose streets where lower speeds and an acceptance of delays for the sake of access movements, pedestrians, buses and cyclists would be entirely appropriate.

Any comments, especially if you know Singapore well, would be much appreciated. 

Jan 3, 2013

What is Reinventing Urban Transport trying to achieve?

For the last year or two, most of my work (and blogging) has focused on parking (see the Reinventing Parking blog or on facebook).

But now I also want to revive this neglected blog and to use it to stay mindful of what really motivates my work (including the parking work).

So what exactly is it that motivates my transport policy work?

The statement below is an attempt to capture what I am trying to achieve as clearly as I can. A mission statement for my professional life, if you like. Yikes.

You will see signs of these motivations throughout this blog, its predecessor, in my tweeting and in much of my professional writing
I aim to help cities, towns and streets unleash greater success, equity and conviviality 
by focusing more on transport's 'ends' (such as placemaking, accessibility and mobility) than its 'means' (such as vehicles and traffic)
and 
by enhancing choice and choice-making in transport (especially by escaping or avoiding car dependence, which locks in just one choice and impoverishes other options).  
Does that sound a bit wanky? I guess 'mission statements' often do.

More of a problem perhaps is that it is too wonky. Oh well.

By the way, I am inspired to do this in part by a helpful little book by Tad Waddington: Lasting Contribution. Among many other things, he suggests injecting a dose of mythical, heroic quality into important life goals. They need to be dramatic.

Maybe a wonky mission like mine doesn't sound very heroic?

Not until you think about the trends it is up against.