29 January 2006

Jakarta public transport: the good, the bad and the ugly?

News about Jakarta's public transport during the week included some highs and lows.

The Good?
Two new busway (or BRT) corridors opened last week to join the original TransJakarta Blok M to Kota route. News reports (as shared on sustran-discuss) highlighted how far the busway has come since its shaky start, that is has won over many sceptics and overcome numerous obstacles. The new routes were apparently widely welcomed.

The Bad?
Transport commentators in Jakarta, such as ITDP's Darmaningtiyas, welcomed the new corridors but worried about the remaining problems, especially difficulties with feeder buses who often refuse to honour the common tickets that are supposed to allow a discounted transfer from busway to feeder bus without buying a new ticket. I commented on this on the sustran-discuss list.

... something caught my eye in the coverage of the new BRT corridors in Jakarta (which John Ernst posted on 19 Jan).

"As it is, the integrated ticketing system for both feeder buses and the busway does not work properly. In my experience, after buying the higher-priced tickets, conductors on the feeder buses still demand a fare because they do not recognize the integrated ticket," he said. {that is, Darmaningtiyas, of Intrans and
ITDP Indonesia said}

Can anyone who knows the project explain more about how the integrated ticketing was supposed to work and reasons for it going wrong?

In some ways I find it impressive and ambitious that they even tried to introduce integrated ticketing given that the regulatory framework for buses in Jakarta (from what little I know) seems an unlikely context for integrated ticketing reforms...

John Ernst then responded with further information.

Such problems and issues are common to many developing cities. {warning - outrageous generalisations to follow...} Public transport systems in developing cities is usually of low-quality at low-price, but usually plentiful (even though often overcrowded). The mainly bus and minibus-based systems have minimal formal integration (no free or discounted transfers, little or no information for passengers, little explicit cooperation between operators) and serve primarily low-income captive customers.

How can they do better? Retaining market share as incomes rise will be impossible unless public transport improves. Doing this without breaking the bank on subways (or monorails - see below) will mean the bus and minibus systems have to improve drastically. BRT is a new hope but can only be part of the solution. I suspect that better integration is one of the key strategy that can help. But it is not easy, as the news from Jakarta reminds us, alas.

The Ugly?
Ugly or sexy? Depends on your point of view I guess. But speaking of breaking the bank ...

Another twist in the tussle over who will build the Jakarta Monorail project (and with what technology) was reported in the Straits Times (26 Jan. 2006). The delay in financing has prompted the city government to give the existing consortium, under PT Jakarta Monorail (JM), a deadline of tomorrow to submit their financial closing, following which it would award the contract to another party.

The choice of technology suppliers has also been vexed. Monorail News Briefs reported last year (based on reports in the Jakarta Post) that:

Siemens is the latest in a series of companies that have been in the running to build the system. Malaysia's MTrans, Japan's Hitachi and Korea's Rotem have all been favored for the system at different times, but reportedly costs and other factors have created a manufacturer musical chairs game.

According to the Straits Times (26 Jan. 2006), Korea's Rotem system uses maglev technology and was to have been supplied by a Singapore-led consortium which was sidelined last month after months of dispute with the Indonesian partners over the cost of its system (US$826 million) versus rival Siemens and its Indonesian partners (US$496 million).

The system consists of 2 lines totalling 29 kilometres in length, with a claimed passenger capacity of 270,000 people per day.

My white elephant radar is beeping loudly. But I would really like to see some careful analysis of the relative merits and 'bang for the buck' of recent monorial. This seems urgent because of a recent rash of monorail proposals seeking to add to the short list of Asian systems that includes the venerable Tokyo system and Kuala Lumpur's short city-centre system. India alone is seeing a rush into monorail apparently! I have seen news reports on monorail proposals for Bangalore, Delhi, Kolkata, Goa and Chennai).

26 January 2006

Pedestrian environment in Jakarta - little report

I just stumbled across a short report by Andi Rahmah of the Indonesian NGO Pelangi, Indonesia. It is entitled "Creating Pedestrian Environment as a Strategy in Developing Livable Jakarta".

It is based on a small study by Pelangi and ITDP that was prompted by the initial bus rapid transit ('TransJakarta Busway') project in Jakarta. {By the way, Jakarta has just opened two more Busway corridors. ITDP also has a lot more about the Jakarta Busway story over the years on its website.}

This pedestrian report includes some fascinating photos and diagrams. Here is one describing pedestrian movements near the Kota Station in the old centre of Jakarta. I am not sure if the pedestrian environment has changed since this survey was carried out in 2003.

Although this is a very brief report (and doesn't include much of the actual data collected) but still interesting since pedestrian studies in developing seem hard to get hold of.

I was interested that pedestrian bridges are a target of some strong criticism. I wonder how the Jakarta authorities responded.

There was a brief but interesting discussion on pedestrian overpasses at sustran-discuss in 2004.

17 January 2006

Challenges for Singapore's public transport?

I was invited to speculate on scenarios for Singapore's urban transport future for a seminar last week. Here is one aspect of what I said.

In the period from the 1970s to 2000 or so Singapore's urban transport policies have been remarkably successful in slowing the growth of vehicle ownership, restraining private car usage, improving the bus system, building a Metro (the MRT), and create transit oriented land-use patterns (eg see some effusive praise for the Singapore model here).

The Government already plans a gradual shift of demand management away from using high fixed costs (especially the Additional Registration Fee, ARF, and the Vehicle Quota Scheme, with its Certificates of Entitlement or COEs) towards a greater reliance on usage charging, especially with a revamped, more comprehensive version of Electronic Road Pricing - ERP Mark II. Car-like services that are primarily charged on a usage basis are significant too and have growth potential. Taxis account for over 10% of daily trips, and car-sharing is still small but growing fast.

In many ways, this shift towards usage-based pricing is a good thing and most transport policy makers would support it. But it is also likely to pose some unanticipated challenges to public transport.

One unfortunate side-effect of the focus (so far) on controlling ownership of private vehicles is that public transport operators seem (I am sticking my neck out a little here) to behave as if they are making the following assumptions:
  1. that very few public transport users have access to cars or can afford to use taxis very often, and
  2. that very few people with access to cars or who can afford to use taxis often ever use public transport.

I am basing this speculation in part on the fact that they seem to make surprisingly little effort to market public transport to people who can afford alternatives. This is not to say that the authorities are not trying to improve public transport. They are. The expansion of the rail system seems to be the primary strategy. Efforts through TransitLink to integrate the system would be the envy of many cities, although they seem to have stalled in recent years and still fall well short of best practice. Bus priority lanes are widespread - but appear not to have expanded in recent years. But to be fair, one small sign that the operators themselves may be changing their assumptions is the launch and subsequent expansion of SBSTransit's FastForward limited-stop bus services recently.

If it is true that operators are making the two assumptions above, it is not so unreasonable! I don't have data on this but anecdotally at least, it does seem that surprisingly few members of car-owning households use public transport regularly, especially not the buses. And of course, Singapore's motorists have more reason than most to try to 'get their money's worth' from their expensive vehicles (the average car here travels a surprisingly high 20,298km per year according to the LTA).

However, the shift to usage-based charging (among other trends) will mean that such assumptions will become less and less accurate. An increasing number of people will have more transport mode choice. For those who have a car already, high usage charges will prompt them to consider other options for some trips. Those who do not own a car will be less and less 'captive' to public transport (as the taxi industry, car-sharing, and other on-demand services expand). Increasingly public transport will face direct competition.

The last two years might provide a prelude of what to expect.
The price of COEs has decreased significantly since 2003 (mainly for market reasons, not yet the impact of policy) and other fixed taxes have dropped. So cars are cheaper than they have been since the 1980s. At the same time usage costs have risen, with further small expansions of the network of ERP gantries and high petrol prices eroding the savings from lower COE prices and taxes for typical car usage).

So with this slight shift of costs from fixed to usage-based costs, are there any signs yet that I am right? Perhaps. The Straits Times reported on 27 Nov 2005 that bus passengers are increasingly dissatisfied (especially with long waiting times and overcrowding (based on the latest bus passenger satisfaction survey by the Public Transport Council, which oversees service quality and fares). In addition, 2004 data on mode choices suggest that the bus system especially is having problem staying attractive and showed that public transport trips actually dropped between 1997 and 2004.

If my speculations are correct then public transport customers in Singapore will become more and more demanding as car costs shift even more to a usage basis. The pressure to improve public transport will hit the politicians too, since the political viability of increasing reliance on usage pricing depends on making the alternatives to cars sufficiently attractive.

It will be a challenge to start treating car owners as potential customers and its existing customers as potential defectors to other transport modes. It won't be easy and, for reasons that I may explain some other time, it may require significant changes to public transport regulation and funding approaches here.

But, since failure is not an option in the dense urban environment of Singapore, my prediction is that public transport policy makers will have no choice but to rise to this challenge. Which will be a good thing for public transport customers.