Skip to main content

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 I guess that's not too bad for an unpublished thesis.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.


  1. Hey Paul,

    I decided finally to read you blog a bit.

    Given the number of cites, it seems like you could easily find a publisher for your thesis...

    Best, Boyd

  2. Hi Paul,
    I am interested in starting my Phd thesis about "Impact of urban form on sustainable transportation in Auckland NZ'
    just worried about the topic I am feeling this is not a hot topic for these days what do you think?


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Podcasts on urban mobility and urban issues: a LONG list

Here is my list of podcasts on urban mobility and urban issues.  Please use the comments to send tips or corrections. If you are not yet a regular podcast listener, you need to  download a podcast-listening app to your phone, tablet or desktop and subscribe to the podcasts that interest you  (it's free). UPDATE 1: This list has many podcasts but obviously I hope you will try mine!  They are  Reinventing Transport  and  Reinventing Parking . UPDATE 2: I have added FOURTY THREE  more since this was first published.

Transport-based City Types and their Trajectories

I want to help you get perspective on your city and its transport system with the help of simple city types based on their dominant transport modes, such as Walking Cities, Transit Cities, Bus Cities, Motorcycle Cities and Car Cities. This way of thinking about cities is a  heuristic  (an imperfect mental model or technique that is nevertheless good enough to be helpful). And it obviously is imperfect. For example, real cities often have various modes of transport, and modern cities are really all some kind of hybrid city type. But it is still useful, especially if we add the idea of a Traffic Saturated City , which is a very different beast from a Car City. It is important for change-makers in Traffic Saturated Cities to be aware they are not in automobile dependent cities yet. Options for digesting this:  Read the brief article below and study the diagrams. They complement the podcast.  For more depth, LISTEN to the 37 minute audio with the player above.  A full transcri

Help improve this map of global sustainable transport advocates

I am working to map global "sustainable transport" advocates (for want of a better phrase).  You can help! Submit suggestions or corrections via this google form . Here is the map so far. Please explore it and help me improve it.