21 December 2005

Paper finds mode shifts more cost effective than technofixes for climate change mitigation

I have just digested a recent paper:
Lloyd Wright and Lewis Fulton (2005) “Climate Change Mitigation and Transport in Developing Nations,” Transport Reviews 25, 6, 691–717 (click here for journal contents but full access is for subscribers only; or peek here for a possibly-naughty pdf of the full paper)
I found it is a striking read. Assuming its methods can stand up to scrutiny then governments and funders of climate change mitigation projects should take notice... Are you listening GEF and the others?

It makes a strong case that an emphasis on encouraging mode shifts away from private vehicles (or even just slowing mode shifts towards private vehicles) is by far the most cost effective way to mitigate greenhouse emissions. In fact, fuel focused approaches are simply not cost-effective. Yet these are the projects that are getting the lion's share of funding!

Allow me to quote from its conclusions, starting on page 715:

... The scenario analyses indicated that the cost of fuel-based solutions ranged from approximately US$148 to over US$3500/tonne of CO2. By contrast, shifting mode share from high-emitting sources (private vehicles) to lower-emitting sources (public transport and nonmotorized options) produced emission reduction costs between US$14 and US$66/tonne of CO2.

This research has thus indicated that fuel-based solutions alone will not likely achieve cost-effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The most cost effective means to emission reductions appears to be a diverse and integrated package of measures that promote shifts to lower-emitting modes.

Despite the transport sector representing the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, there has been relatively little project activity to address emissions from the sector. The number of transport projects under the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol and under the GEF is relatively small in comparison with other sectors.

While the projections of increased motorization indicated in the IEA reference case are a cause for concern, these trends are not preordained. An alternative is still achievable for most developing nation cities. The low-cost solutions that have emphasized public transport, bicycling and walking, and land-use changes in Bogota and Curitiba are certainly possible elsewhere. Whether the political will exists elsewhere is a question to be answered.

Other points in the paper that struck me:

  • the world is fast approaching 1 billion motor vehicles on its roads!
  • citing a study by the UNFCCC, Finland stands out as the only country to have decoupled transport sector growth from economic growth (with both the 'Nokia effect' in which a key economic driver is not transport intensive, and as a result of strong efforts to curb vehicle ownership and usage
The authors suggest a few plausible reasons for the popularity of technical fixes over efforts at modeshifting (quoting here from p. 715):
  • Technological solutions (tailpipe technologies, fuels, propulsion systems) can appear to be simple black-box solutions that are intrinsically easier for public officials to understand than a broader systems approach.
  • Higher-technology options may be perceived as being ‘modern’ by many political officials, while non-motorized transport may be perceived as counter to national aspirations.
  • It may be far more politically expedient to promote increased motorization rather than public transport and non-motorized transport.
  • BRT is a relatively new concept and there may be informational barriers to its wider application.
  • It is possible that simply improving the state of developing-nation footpaths could be one of the most effective long-term measures, from the perspectives of both cost and overall development. However, it is unlikely that any global footpaths initiative is on the horizon anytime soon.

18 December 2005

Should Asian governments try to slow down motorisation?

Should governments actively slow down the rate of increase in private vehicle ownership? This is relevant to urban transport predicaments in many developing countries.

It seems to be out of fashion (not to mention politically difficult) for governments to consider trying to influence the rate of change of vehicle ownership (or ‘motorisation’ in transport studies jargon).

India's recent draft national urban transport policy (go here for pdf) explicitly rejects slowing down ownership growth but suggests that urban areas contain vehicle use. Shanghai's efforts to contain car ownership through its licence plate auction are disapproved of by China's national government. Even Singapore now wants to 'strike a better balance between the ownership and usage costs of a car' (see Budget 2002). (BTW I have a relevant paper: go here for the journal page or here for a pdf.)

There seems to be a widespread consensus that transport demand management should focus on vehicle usage not ownership. There are various good reasons for this.

However, there are also some arguments in favour of influencing ownership (especially slowing its growth).
  1. the practical difficulties of usage pricing in the context of low and middle-income countries
  2. by contrast, taxes and charges on vehicle ownership are common and feasible for most countries
  3. there are some valid budgetary and luxury tax arguments suggesting purchase or ownership taxes can be welfare enhancing
  4. household travel behaviour seems to change drastically with the purchase of a vehicle, with the ease of movement inducing extra travel
  5. and this effect seems difficult to reverse ... there seems to be 'hysteresis' with cars being seen as a luxury before they are bought but as a necessity after they are owned! (see Dargay, J.M. (2001) ‘The effect of income of car ownership: evidence of asymmetry’, Transportation Research A, 35, pp. 807-21).
  6. The sunk costs of vehicle ownership also contribute probably. A household has a considerable incentive to make good use of such a significant piece of capital equipment that is depreciating whether it is used or not.
  7. at the whole-metropolitan area level we can also see difficult to reverse changes:
    • once motorisation reaches highish levels a series of system-wide changes seem to start to happen in the transport system and the land-use system that may tend to 'lock in' continued high levels of car use (many call this the emergence of 'automobile dependence' or 'automobile dependency').
    • conversely, slowing down the rate of motorisation might buy time in which cities can enhance their ability to cope and enhance the various alternatives to private motor vehicles (Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo and others seem to have benefited from this effect, even if it was not always deliberate, and have been able to retain high levels of public transport use despite high levels of affluence).
  8. Finally, in the big picture it seems clear that motor vehicle use, fossil fuel use in transport, and other impacts of traffic such as road deaths, are all highly correllated with vehicle ownership. At the national scale, differences in usage per vehicle are relatively small (although in cities such differences can be larger apparently).
But what government could even consider taxing car purchases or ownership more severely? Doesn't everyone aspire to the freedom offered by private vehicle ownership?

Certainly the politics are curly. I wonder if the way forward is to look for the aspirations that lie behind the desire for car ownership?

People certainly do want transport to serve them very well... including many or all of the benefits that a private vehicle offers. But is it a car that most people really want? Or is it the convenient access to the contacts, goods, services and places that high mobility with your own car seems to offer?

Obviously none of the alternatives can match the attractions of cars on their own - even in the most transit-oriented places I suspect. Not public transport. Not even a wonderful metro system. Not bicycles. Not taxis. Not car sharing even.

But there are some signs that maybe a package of all of these alternatives, working in cooperation, MIGHT just start to offer people a level of mobility service that approaches car ownership's and which beats it on price decisively. Switzerland's car sharing industry has been leading the way on this. HannoverMobile in Germany seems to be taking it further - offering a mobility package that is competitive with car ownership.

If we can offer a vision of meeting people's real mobility aspirations without private car ownership then could a policy of slowing vehicle ownership actually become politically acceptable?

16 December 2005

A thousand pink elephants in the room? Should we be paying more attention to small and medium-sized cities?

Are we missing something by paying so much attention to large cities and megacities in urban transport policy for developing countries?

OK, it is currently a fact that a high percentage of the motor vehicles in low-income and middle-income countries tend to be in the largest cities (where the affluent people who can afford them live).

And sure, the big cities are the densely built-up places where motor vehicles (even in small numbers per capita compared with OECD countries) wreak the most havoc in terms of pollution, congestion, crashes, etc.

But I have been wondering if maybe we should be paying more attention to smaller and medium-sized cities such as those with populations between 100,000 and two million or so?

Here are a few reasons off the top of my head... thinking aloud here:

* A high proportion of the urban population is in small and medium urban areas. For example, Asia had just over 60% of its urbanised population living in urban areas with population 1 million or less. according to the UN World Urbanization Prospects 2003 Revision. By the way, this was not so much different from other regions and all regions are relatively stable over time in these proportions. Henderson and Wang in a work in progress on 'Urbanisation and City Growth' (download from here) say that in 2000 of all those people in significant urban areas (those of more than 100,000 people), 37.2% of them are in cities between 100,000 and 1 million and 28.9% of them are in cities between 1 and 3 million in population. So worldwide 66% of the people in significant urban places are in cities between 100,000 and 3 million. And they also argue that these proportions seem stable over time.

* It is harder to promote and improve public transport in smaller cities. Smaller cities lack dense corridors and face more difficulty building up their demand for public transport. On the other hand, Asia's big, dense cities probably have relatively limited options. Sooner or later they find that space constraints force them to bite the bullet and adopt policies to restrain private vehicles and promote the alternatives.

* The risk of an auto-oriented future seems greater for the small and medium cities. For those of us who think that ever-increasing motorisation is a threat to global sustainable development, smaller cities look like a tougher arena than big cities. They seem more likely than big cities to succumb to the temptations of accommodating private vehicles too generously. They are also more likely to 'get away with this' for a time. Many will muddle along, expanding roads and intersections, decongesting their centres and expanding car and motorcycle parking ... possibly until it is 'too late' and they have already 'built in' a dependence on private vehicles. In rich countries, the residents of small towns and cities are generally more automobile dependent than big city folks. Economic success in middle-income countries is likely to see motorisation in small cities catch up and overtake that of the megacities. For example, I am watching Malaysia closely on this. Kuala Lumpur's metropolitan area (with about 5 million people) is a very car-oriented place (considering its modest average income levels) but the public transport alternative is at least slowly improving. However, public transport is extremely poor in Malaysia's smaller cities, such as Georgetown, Ipoh, Seremban, Malacca, Kuching, etc. (as has been discussed recently in the msia-plan-transp yahoogroup).

But what are the keys to enhancing alternative to private cars and motorcycles in small and medium cities where sexy mass transit is clearly not an option?

And where will the political urgency for alternatives come from?

07 December 2005

Car Sharing in Asia?

Car Sharing in Asia?

A recent Transportation Research Board (TRB) notice on a new report caught my eye. The report from the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP), Report 108: Car-Sharing— Where and How It Succeeds, has an Executive Summary online. It focuses on the North American experience and finds:
Car-sharing is overwhelmingly concentrated in metropolitan cores – around 95% of members are found in these settings. High density, a good pedestrian environment, a mix of uses and parking pressures all help car-sharing to succeed. Most important appears to be the ability to live without a car – or with just one vehicle. Low vehicle ownership rates are the best predictor of a strong market for car-sharing. University campuses also provide an important market niche. (p.ES-3)

This reminded me that I have been wondering about the progress of car sharing in the Asia Pacific region, and which Asian cities might have conditions well suited to flourishing car sharing. It is certainly taking off in Singapore with three competing companies - NTUC INCOME Car Co-op, Whizzcar and Honda ICVS.

At first glance it would seem that many other middle and higher-income Asian cities also have the right characteristics (or at least those that have managed to achieve some decent public transport). Most are certainly dense and have mixed land uses. Parking is often in short supply. Car ownership is low to modest throughout most of the region (with the exceptions of Malaysian cities and Brunei).

A quick search for Asian car sharing examples revealed that it is indeed starting to catch on in Japan (including Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya at least) according to an article in the Japan Times and an excellent web article on Car Sharing in Yokohama and Fukuoka which also provides a good description of car sharing and its background.

But elsewhere I drew a blank. What about Korean cities? Seoul is as public transport oriented as they come. Taipei’s public transport has been steadily improving and its urban characteristics look ideal. Certain parts of cities like KL and Bangkok might even have potential? Other places?

Does this suggest there is a business opportunity for car sharing in numerous cities around the region?

25 November 2005

ITDP on negotiations over public space in Jogja

The lastest edition of ITDP's annual magazine is out and is a great read for anyone interested in urban transport in developing countries. You can download Sustainable Transport #17 as a pdf.

I was struck by the article "Pedestrianization in Yogyakarta: Transforming the Malioboro One Step at a Time". It offers a fascinating insight into the complex range of actors involved as local academics, the local authorities and NGOs try to launch a pedestrianisation effort in Yogyakarta's main street - Malioboro.
We had been warned by Electrowatt’s consultants that the real problem lay in the opposition from groups representing parking, becak, and street vendor interests. Instran began a dialog with these various interest groups, to see whether or not a plan could be developed that incorporated their concerns without sacrificing the public interest. This analysis showed that at least 13 groups were profiting from the appropriation of public space along Malioboro Road. These groups include all strata of society. Six were vendors associations that controlled specific localities. Several were becak unions. Several other were organized societies of street children who make a few pennies helping the vendors with minor tasks. One or two were legal chambers of commerce. The rest are basically protection rackets and criminal gangs, mostly controlling the parking, with connections all the way up to senior government figures who earn a few dollars by pretending not to notice the expropriation of public space by private interests.

Among those groups, the parking attendants and the groups that control them are clearly the most powerful and profitable. In addition, the structure of the parking industry turned out to be much more complex than anyone had imagined.

Wow! That is a little sobering. In such a context efforts to move forward with a pedestrianisation plan are obviously very complex, as the article discusses in some depth. Such insights are an important antitode to technocractic thinking for anyone seeking to transform public spaces in cities.

It will be interesting to watch as the story unfolds further.

23 November 2005

Urban transport news sources

It is not easy to keep up with news on urban transport policy issues around the region (or world).

Helpful compilers of urban transport-related news include SUTP's news page and the Clean Air Initiative-Asia (CAI-Asia) newsletter and some of the other links from there.

News, comments, announcements and debates on urban transport with relevance to Asia can also be seen on discussion forums, such as Asia-focused Sustran-discuss and often on the more general new mobility cafe.

Blogging on urban transport in Asia or for Asia

I keep a close eye on urban transport policy issues, with a focus on Asia, from a base in Singapore. I plan to use this blog to focus my mind and share some thoughts on the transport and urban issues that interest me.

All over the region people are desperate for better urban transport policy... and desperately trying to work out what that means.

I hope this blog can be useful and interesting for anyone interested in the role of transport in making cities and towns better for everyone.

The focus is Asia but I will also post things from elsewhere that might be of interest here in Asia.

It should complement the great work being done by people like the GTZ Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP), the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and many others.