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A great time to end fuel subsidies

Many countries control the price of motor fuels.

This got their budgets into deep trouble in the first half of 2008. The high price of oil caused massive budget blowouts. Malaysia, Indonesia, China and India among various others faced the politically painful necessity of raising gasoline and diesel prices or face deep budget cuts.

Yes, the parking lot is Giant too!
Cheap fuel, cheap cars and cheap parking have helped create a
remarkably car-dependent landscape in Malaysia's urban areas.
But what should these countries do now that the price of oil is way down near US$50 per barrel? Unfortunately some are cutting fuel prices again. The Indonesian Government will cut the price of gasoline from Rp6000 to Rp5500 per litre on Monday. India probably will in late December. Malaysia has already cut the price four times since its big June price rise.

Isn't this a bit short-sighted? We all know how hard it will be to raise prices again if (or when) oil prices rise again.

Would it not be smar…

From fuel taxes to 'pay as you drive'

The US has started trials for distance-based charging mechanisms aimed at ultimately replacing the gasoline tax.

Motorists in several US cities are being recruited to try out a new mileage-based road user charge system. The Public Policy Center of the University of Iowa is leading the trial. This is very good news (although I realise this trial is only the first step in a very long process with no gurantee of political success).

Smart folks like Bern Grush and Robin Chase have been calling for usage-based pricing for a long time and pointing out that motor fuel taxes are gradually failing us. The Netherlands, Singapore and the UK apparently have plans for distance-based charging too. Germany and Switzerland already charge heavy vehicles based on distance and weight.

There are spin-off opportunities here. I hope they don't get missed!

It would be natural for people to be suspicious about having 'extras' that piggy-back on a new user charging system. But I think it would be a gr…

Bus systems that work

Buses may not be sexy (least of all Delhi's buses like the one above). But most cities desperately need to improve their basic bus systems.

And I am not talking about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) this time. No matter how much BRT you put in, neglecting the basic bus system will undermine your efforts. Jakarta is finding this.

The same goes for urban rail systems. These work best when complemented and fed by a good bus system. Seoul realised this in 2004. Unable to expand its subway, it turned to bus improvements for a dramatic boost to its system.

Maybe the only thing less sexy than a bus is bus regulation!

But if you care about public transport it is time to get interested in regulatory questions likethese: Who should plan the system? Who should own what? What roles are best for the public sector? What roles are best for businesses? How should they be rewarded? What kind of competition works for city buses?

Getting the regulatory framework right is at least as important as the enginee…

Places worth loving (and protecting from traffic)

What is "success" in urban transport policy?

A common answer used to be "keeping vehicles moving and avoiding traffic jams".

But by now, most people involved with urban transport realise that "keeping the traffic moving" is NOT a useful goal.

Mobility, especially mobility for vehicles, is just a means to other ends. It should never be seen as an end in itself. If we make preventing congestion our goal, we are confusing ends with means.

OK. So what is the real goal of urban transport planning then?

Most of us tend to answer "accessibility"! Planning for accessibility involves trying to make it easy to REACH the things we want to (like contacts, services, goods, jobs, education).

This seems like progress. Here we have a much more coherent purpose for transport planning, right?

Unfortunately, accessibility doesn't seem to excite many people. Despite decades of lip service to accessibility planning most cities still have way too much traffic-focused t…

How do those Dutch do it?

You probably know that the Netherlands has lots of cycling. They sure do! An amazing 27% of ALL trips* in this rich country in 2005 were by bicycle.

Riding in the Netherlands is also remarkably safe.

Safety in numbers (from "Cycling in the Netherlands", p.13)

So what is their secret?

How did the Netherlands get to be such a cycling paradise? There are several rather unhelpful theories.
"It is a flat country": No doubt this helps. But there are plenty other comparable flat places with much less cycling. "The Dutch have a long-standing 'bicycle culture'": Certainly they do. But is this a cause or an effect? So did many other countries at some point in the 20th century. Yet most of them somehow lost their 'bicycle cultures'. "They have good weather for cycling": I hear this when I talk about cycling in hot and sticky Singapore. But I suspect this theory is only popular among people who have never spent any time in a damp and windy Dutch …

BRT Dos and Don'ts (Part One)

Is your city considering Bus Rapid Transit? If so then you are in fine company.

As more and more cities implement BRT, we are gradually learning what works and what doesn't.

DON'T put your BRT in an outer lane by the curb
Much more than median lanes, curb-side lanes are prone to delay from turning vehicles and stopping taxis and to conflict with bicycle users. So ...

DO put BRT in the median location
It simply works better in most circumstances.

DO have lots of doors ... and make them wide ones
Walter Hook of ITDP says that the "size and number of doors is more important than bus size" for speed and capacity of your BRT system.


Jakarta's BRT has boarding problems

DO have level boarding of the buses
Having no steps up when boarding makes for speedier boarding and universal accessibility.

DO have prepaid boarding in stations
This also speeds up boarding.

DON'T skimp on pedestrian access to the stations
Some people think this is only an issue for median BRT lanes. Wrong! Eit…

Everything you wanted to know about sustainable and equitable transport worldwide

Well almost ... especially if you are interested in Bus Rapid Transit or Non-Motorised Vehicle/Bicycle planning for cities in developing countries.

For a long time I have had a lot of respect for the work of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) which works on almost every continent to promote and provide technical assistance on 'sustainable and equitable transportation'.


I just noticed that ITDP's Information Center has been expanded and improved since the last time I looked. It contains a wealth of reports and resources in a number of languages. Just about every report ITDP has ever done seems to be there now.

Some recent highlights include:
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Planning GuideNonmotorized Transport (NMT) Training CourseReasons Not to Construct Bikelanes on Sidewalks (in Spanish)

Vienna's livable streets in photos

Vienna has been a pioneer of 'livable streets' policies since the early 1970s.

In July, I was lucky enough to visit Austria for a conference (where I presented a paper on 'car possession'). So here are some photos from my explorations of Vienna's public transport, bicycle facilities and pedestrian environment.

Hover mouse near top of slideshow to control speed or pause.

Click on an image if you want more information about it.

Update and addendum: The following quote from the indomitable Prof. Hermann Knoflacher might help you appreciate the photos:
In the early seventies a new transport plan for the city centre was developed (Knoflacher 1970) converting most of the streets in the city centre into pedestrian areas. This was realized in 1972 and since then the city centre of Vienna became an attraction for the region and for the country; it has become a global attraction and a global heritage. Two-thirds of the people coming into the city centre use the public transport,…

World Urban Transport Leaders Summit 2008

Singapore's LTA Academy has asked me to give a plug for this forthcoming event.

LTA Academy, Singapore, is organizing the inaugural World Urban Transport Leaders Summit from 4 to 6 November 2008 in Singapore.

This first of its kind high-level global summit is exclusively for top policy makers, transport chiefs, industry leaders, senior management of international organisations, and leading academics and transport professionals from around the world.

There will be no registration fee (delegates will make their own travel and hotel arrangements) and participation in the summit is by invitation only.
Visit the LTA Academy's Summit Website for more information or if you wish to be considered for participation.

New transport innovations blog

A new blog on transport innovations has appeared.

SMART's Inspire Mobility blog started in June. It is billed as "the official on-line innovations library of SMART (Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transformation) at the University of Michigan".

The blog depends on contributions from readers, so head over there if you think you have a transport innovation to submit.

What is SMART? More information here. It also has a lively series of events and speakers and a useful e-newsletter.

I like their 'five themes' approach to 'sustainable transportation'. The diagram above is from the SMART website here.

Should we (can we?) make our cars dispensible?

It's interesting to see the ideal of universal car ownership gradually eroding.

Don't believe me? There have been several books in recent years along the lines of "Divorce your car!" and "How to live well without a car". The rise of car-sharing has prompted some to see it as a potential alternative to car ownership. The car-free housing movement seems to be gathering pace and entering the mainstream of real estate development in certain places. Meanwhile, Shoupista parking policy reformists are increasingly questioning parking entitlements, including (gasp!) residential parking entitlements. Even William Ford Jr. of Ford Motor Company seems willing to contemplate a future in which cars provide a service rather than being primarily a product.

So more and more people seem to be asking the question, 'are our cars dispensable' or 'could we make our cars more dispensable?' But maybe a more positive way to ask the same question is, 'can we mak…

Planning is key to public transport excellence (but by all means delegate operations to businesses)

Vienna's public transport is an example of excellent integration and planning

I have long been interested in public transport systems in which a public agency takes responsibility for the excellence of a highly integrated system. This interest was provoked by Felix Laube's explanations of Zurich's public transport system and by Paul Mees' excellent book, 'A Very Public Solution'.

I am also interested in the growing trend for such agencies to often delegate operation of most services to business enterprises under service contracts, often with competitive tendering.

Examples that I have blogged about include Seoul and Bogotá but many others are moving in the same direction, such as various Scandinavian cities, Adelaide in Australia and London famously. Even Indore in India has created a much-praised bus system with a similar regulatory approach.

This year, Singapore announced a shift in this direction too, something which I called for in an OpEd in Ethos Magazine (s…

Bogotá's BRT 'warts and all'

A stop on Calle 19 of Bogota's Transmilenio BRT system.
Photo by Kinori, taken 10 July 2004. Via Wikimedia Commons.

A new journal article provides a sympathetic but 'warts and all' examination of Bogotá's celebrated (and much emulated) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, Transmilenio, and the dangers that it is now facing.

Fresh from hearing former Bogotá Mayor, Enrique Peñalosa, speak at the World Cities Summit in Singapore last week, my interest was piqued.

The article, "Bus Rapid Transit: Is Transmilenio a Miracle Cure?", is in the July edition (vol. 28, issue 4) of Transport Reviews journal (paywalled, sorry). It is by geographer and expert on Latin American cities, Alan Gilbert of University College London.

The abstract explains:
... The article describes its main characteristics and applauds the improvements that it has already brought to urban transport in Bogotá. Naturally, the system is not without its flaws and these need to be drawn to the attention of thos…

Oil shock may not rescue cities from traffic

Linking expensive gasoline with city-friendly transport.
Cartoon via Streetsblog and Robert Ariail / The State.

It is tempting for advocates of green transport (and some economists) to gloat about high oil prices. It is perfectly understandable to see some glee from critics of automobile dependence as rising fuel costs undermine the economics of places planned around cars and start doing the job of the eco-taxes that should have been in place already.

(For a comedy twist on wishful thinking and oil see this video of James Howard Kunstler on the Colbert Report)

But we need to be alert to dangers here too. Please don't assume that high fuel prices will rescue cities from traffic. Oil at $200 per barrel will not automatically bring about a livable streets renaissance.

Here are some dangers of escalating fuel prices if your focus is a less car-focused urban transport policy
Rebound. Motorists may reduce fuel costs without reducing driving much. Sure, they are already driving less (at leas…

Free parking to ease congestion? I don't get it

[Update: Looking for more parking policy information?   Try Reinventing Parking.]
A Hangzhou boulevard (almost 10 years ago now)
The article below from the China Daily online suggests that the beautiful city of Hangzhou is planning to reduce the price of car parking "to ease congestion".

Oh dear ... I hope this is a case of 'lost in translation' but I cannot understand the logic of this proposal.

There may be some (twisted) logic here. The free parking proposal might indeed reduce the total number of cars that can visit the area each day. This is because making parking free will reduce the turnover of vehicles in parking spaces. Workers will take most parking lots early in the day, leaving few spaces for business traffic and shoppers arriving later. This would be very bad for shop-keepers in central Hangzhou. I doubt this is what is intended by the plan.

And would this mean less traffic? Unfortunately no. If public parking is made free, there will be a lot more traff…

Lagos BRT wins praise

Part of the new Lagos BRT system (Photo by Sam Zimmerman
of the World Bank, via WRI's City Fix blog).

The BRT concept has been having a tough time in India lately.

But according to the Nigerian Tribune on 29 May, World Bank officials are impressed with the success so far of the new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Lagos, which opened in March.
The World Bank Task Team leader, World Bank for the Lagos Urban Transport Project (LUTP), Mr. Ajay Kumar, who made the disclosure concerning the project being implemented by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) said the project had been executed beyond the imagination of the team, particularly against the backdrop of tough political and socio-economic environment of Lagos.Speaking during a recent visit to Lagos to assess the operations of the BRT, Mr. Kumar said he would rather send officials of cities seeking to implement the BRT system to Lagos than to Bogotá in Colombia or Curitiba in Brazil.“You have a tough environmen…

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 cityBy Azira Shaharuddin2008/05/28
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 en…

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 A…

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 ea…

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.
Cycle-sharing schemes reduce parking violations, raise profits The Yomiuri Shimbun (May. 19, 2008) 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 livin…

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 t…

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…

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 …