17 February 2006

Transport information resource: global Transport Knowledge Partnership

I have just been alerted to another useful web-based information resource on transport, with a focus on development-related issues. It is the global Transport Knowledge Partnership (gTKP).

Why haven't I noticed it before? I guess I have not been paying enough attention!

The site includes a large number of useful documents in various formats. Note: you need to allow popups in your browser for the site to work properly.
"The global Transport Knowledge Partnership is an initiative to promote and disseminate sustainable transport knowledge, whilst encouraging greater participation from the developing world.

gTKP is currently sponsored and chaired by Peter O’Neill of the UK’s Department of International Development with an Interim Board that includes David Silcock (GRSP), Adrian Walsh (Roadsafe), David Ward (FIA), Charles Melhuish (ADB), Brian Williams (UN-Habitat), Madan G Maleku (HMG/N), Nu’uman Danbatta (MoT, Nigeria) and Dai Dongchang (TPRI, China), Peter Njenga (IFRTD, East and Southern Africa)."

16 February 2006

New urban transport news site with an Asia focus

I have posted before about news sources on urban transport issues in Asia.

There is a new site called Transport News to add to the list. Here is a recent sample of what you can find there:

Green logos tricky to spot [Shanghai, 2/16/2006]

Monorail project receives financial support from Bank Dubai [Jakarta, 2/15/2006]

Xiamen To Be World's Top Producer Of Mid-Large Passenger Buses [Xiamen, 2/13/2006]

Huge funds earmarked for transport construction in N. China province [Hebei, 2/13/2006]

ComfortDelGro reports 1.3% rise in full-year net profit [Singapore, 2/13/2006]

Mayor's stream project may face investigation [Seoul, 2/13/2006]

Group wedding ceremony in metro [Nanjing, 2/13/2006]

Guangdong Becomes No.1 Motorcycle Producer [China, 2/13/2006]

China's Bus Output Rises Slightly in 2005 [China, 2/13/2006]

Experts: China's urban poverty worsens [China, 2/12/2006]

LTA, Mitsubishi in road pricing services tie-up [Singapore, 2/10/2006]

Yutong Is China's Top Bus Exporter [China, 2/10/2006]

Beijing plans to build 3 more subway routes [Beijing, 2/10/2006]

Race on to get emission stickers as ban approaches [Shanghai, 2/9/2006]

Pudong trams may resume running [Shanghai, 2/9/2006]

More cameras for roads [Hong Kong, 2/9/2006]

China's Motorcycle Output, Sales Up [China, 2/9/2006]

Fewer plates sold [Shanghai, 2/8/2006]

Volvo India eyes Asia, Africa sales [India, 2/8/2006]

EIL launches seven electric bikes in Gujarat [Ahmedabad, 2/8/2006]

Public Refuses to Be Taken for a Ride [Penang, 2/8/2006]

12 February 2006

Singapore to shift to fully accessible buses

Today the Straits Times (subscribers only, sorry) reports that Singapore’s buses will progressively be made fully accessible to all, including wheelchair users.

Congratulations to all of you who have been pushing for this over the years
(some quietly, some noisily)!

They seem to be adopting a universal design approach.
The announcement by the Prime Minister involved accepting the recommendations of the Committee on Ageing Issues that were released last week.

"This process is already well under way in the stations, where new MRT and LRT systems come barrier-free and wheelchair-friendly. Older stations have been upgraded with lifts and ramps, with the last few to be completed soon.

Where the change is most dramatic is in the bus system. Despite repeated calls to make buses wheelchair-accessible, the Government had hesitated in the past because of the cost involved.

'It is expensive and it slows down the buses to have the wheelchairs go on, go down,' said Mr Lee.

But the environment has now changed, with the population ageing and more people needing such access. 'So, after reconsidering the matter, we have decided to go ahead,' he said.

Old buses will be replaced progressively with new low-floor and step-free buses that can take wheelchairs.

It will take 15 to 20 years to change the entire bus fleet, but significant numbers will be wheelchair-accessible 'within a few years'."

(from the Straits Times article,‘Every HDB estate to be elder-friendly’ by Laurel Teo, 12 Feb. 2006)

I wonder if it is really true that this will slow down the buses? Average boarding and alighting time should improve with wider doors and low floors making it easier for everyone. This time saving might outweigh infrequent delays for wheelchair users? I would be very happy to see any data on this.

By the way, an excellent starting point for anyone hoping to achieve the same result in your own country would be the Access Exchange International organisation, which promotes accessible transportation worldwide, especially in developing nations.

You might also like to refer to these UK guidelines on accessibility and buses.

In addition to making the public transport system accessible, Singapore also plans to progressively make every Housing Development Board (HDB) housing area barrier free. The HDB is Singapore's public housing agency that develops housing for the vast majority of the population here.

09 February 2006

Mass transit debates in developing country cities

An entrance to the Delhi Metro in the midst of Old Delhi

This is an edited version of a posting I made this morning on the sustran-discuss email discussion group in response to a discussion there over public transport options that was sparked by the news of Chennai's debate over Monorail. The debate has included examples from Malaysia, Thailand, the USA, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Four key issues have emerged in the discussion that seem particularly important to me.


The specific mass transit technology gets a lot of attention but is often beside the point. If ALL reasonable options were fairly evaluated on a level playing field, some corridors would merit ordinary bus, some BRT, some LRT, some Metro (and perhaps some rare cases might even suit monorail?). Unfortunately, unsolicited proposals from purveyors of specific options often get evaluated in isolation.

A model in the TRIPP office of Delhi's yet-to-be-realised
High Capacity Bus System (HCBS), including kerbside NMV lanes


The criteria for evaluation must be framed with a keen awareness of the long-term land-use futures that are implied or assumed in each option. The implications for the future structure of the city are rarely an explicit part of the evaluation.

These urban structure alternatives need to be more often an explicit part of the debate. Singapore was mentioned yesterday as an exception. In the MRT debate in Singapore which took place in the 1970s and early 1980s, different expectations (and normative views) about the role of the city centre (number of jobs in CBD) became one of the central issues in choosing between MRT against the express buses on expressways option, which assumed and would have supported more dispersed employment.

Dinesh Mohan of TRIPP at IIT-Delhi once argued to me that numerous, middle-density BRT-based corridors would be more sustainable for Delhi (building on its existing structure) and would allow more affordable housing for the poor, than a small number of very dense (with expensive real estate) MRT-based corridors.


How do we judge 'success' of a mass transit system? There seem to be various perspectives here, resulting in some muddle I think. Some have implied that financial success is the key. This might be reasonable IF road transport was paying its full costs AND mass transit projects could capture their external benefits (especially in the form of property value increments). In reality these are never (rarely?) the case. In any case, fares should not be expected to cover the fixed infrastructure costs. This is because scale economies in most mass transit means that marginal cost pricing will never cover the full cost. In all conditions except an extreme crush load, the marginal cost of an extra passenger is always less than the average cost per passenger.

It is ECONOMIC viability NOT FINANCIAL viability that must be the test. Public sector investment in the fixed assets of mass transit can be justified, provided it is subjected to the best cost-benefit analysis we can manage (various problems with real-world CBA notwithstanding!). This is why it is a common model for government to build the fixed asset then contract out the operations (eg in Singapore). The World Bank Urban Strategy review document, 'Cities on the Move' (pages 121 and 122 for example) is worth a look on this point.

It is therefore extremely surprising that anyone ever tries to build capital-intensive forms of mass transit with private finance alone, as has been tried in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. This argument provides circumstantial evidence therefore that Karl is probably right in saying that the investors in projects like KL's LRT systems were bearing few of the risks, and cynically expected to be bailed out. Yes, it would have been better to get the public/private mix correct from the start. But it also means that it is overly harsh to say that a mass transit system has 'failed' its city if it cannot cover its capital costs from fares.


Despite all the rational planning notions that I have drawn on above, in reality, politics and power play a key role in these decisions. We cannot ignore the political economy of urban transport.

We can see this in many of the examples mentioned in the last few days on sustran-discuss. Rational analysis and evaluation is one tool in the game but it is often trumped by other tools (eg rallying public opinion, lobbying politicians, sweetening a deal with bilateral aid, etc) that are often wielded in the narrow interest of one powerful group or another.

So should we drop the analytical tools and just play the politics, focusing on winning the rhetorical battles? I don't think so. But it is probably naïve to think that the public interest and sustainable development aspirations will win out with rational planning alone. We need to be politically aware even as we appeal to careful analysis (AND scrutinise any evaluations that seem to be skewed by vested interests).

We should oppose politically driven disasters but may sometimes need to pragmatically support sub-optimal (but politically viable) projects that are better than the other politically possible alternatives (such as no improvement at all, or flyovers and expressway building). Telling the difference is not so easy however.

For some on the sustran-discuss list, such Metros seem to be a politically viable alternative to having no improvement to public transport at all, and provide a politically vital demonstration that public transport, not expressways, can be the attractive 'modern' centrepiece of urban transport, and need not be just for the poor. Some also argue that Metro's help bring about the land use structures that are more sustainable in the long run.

For others, metros in low-income countries (such as the Delhi Metro) smack of a disastrous white elephant with tragic opportunity costs, stealing scarce investment funds that could do so much more if pumped into BRT. Worse, some see Metros as part of avoiding difficult choices over space allocation ('we can't do BRT if it means taking lanes from general traffic'), and might actually complement a sprawling, private-vehicle-based transport system in the long-run.

Who is right? I don't know.

04 February 2006

Success Story: Seoul’s 2004 Public Transport Reforms (new article)

Sustran-discuss alerted me to a new paper, ‘Public Transport Reforms in Seoul: Innovations Motivated by Funding Crisis’ by John Pucher, Hyungyong Park, Mook Han Kim and Jumin Song, in the Journal of Public Transportation, Vol. 8, No. 5, 2005.

It describes reforms in 2004 that ‘completely reorganized bus services, installed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors, improved coordination of bus and metro services, and fully integrated the fare structure and ticketing system between routes as well as modes.’

Necessity seems to have been the mother of invention.

‘…the acute funding crisis of Seoul’s public transport system has prompted a complete re-examination of ways to improve service quality while keeping costs and subsidies affordable.’

Dramatic regulatory reforms behind improved integration!

High-profile physical changes, like the median busways and ticketing changes, are just part of the story. Please don’t ignore the important but unglamorous regulatory reforms that are crucial to achieving a more integrated public transport system.

‘the Seoul Metropolitan Government greatly increased its control over bus routes, schedules, fares, and overall system design. It introduced what it calls a “semi-public operation system” that retains private bus firms but leaves route, schedule, and fare decisions to the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Moreover, it now reimburses bus firms on the basis of vehicle km of service instead of passenger trips…’ (p.48)

‘Fares are now based only on distance traveled, with free transfers permitted between bus lines as well as between metro and bus.’ (p.51)

By the way, these changes are similar to those introduced on Bogotá’s TransMileneo BRT system and its feeders. A recent World Bank discussion paper praises such ‘hybrid’ regulatory arrangements for urban bus systems in developing countries. (A Estache, A Gomez-Lobo, C Santiago (2004) The Limits to Competition in Urban Bus Services in Developing Countries, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3207, see here for pdf)

's median busways (photo from ITDP)

Results so far?

The initial public response was actually disastrous, with a period of confusion and frustration! But after a month or so the confusion eased and teething problems with the ticketing system were ironed out. Public reactions then turned very positive.

Benefits claimed so far include impressive increases in bus speeds (especially on the BRT corridors), reductions in bus-related accidents, and an upward trend in bus passenger numbers (about 700,000 extra per day without a drop in subway use).

Operating subsidies for the bus system have risen however. But the authors argue that this should be set against reduced expenditure on metro/subway extensions with their associated debt servicing and operating deficits.

Seoul's future public transport expansion plans (to complement the existing enormous subway and suburban rail systems) are now mostly focused on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) with some LRT. By the way, the publictransit.us blog has a nice list of links to Korean mass transit sites.

Who to thank?

Seoul's Mayor, Myung-Bak LEE and transport specialists at the Seoul Development Institute (SDI) led by Dr Gyengchul KIM and Dr Keeyeon HWANG, apparently deserve much of the credit. At the recent TRB annual meeting, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) gave a special award to Mayor Lee for his contributions to Seoul's sustainable transport successes. International Association of Public Transport (UITP) has also honoured Mayor Lee and the Seoul Metropolitan Government a special award for “extraordinary success at implementing so many transit reforms in such a short period of time, integrating innovative technologies with new infrastructure” (p.58)

I suspect that some credit should also go to the long-term efforts of the green transport movement in Korea, led by the non-profit NGO, ‘Network for Green Transport’ (site in Korean only). Over more than a decade they have helped prepare the ground of public and expert opinion for reforms like these.

ITDP has a .wmv video on Seoul's recent sustainable transport achievements.

One question troubles me

I wonder if the bus reforms have had any effect beyond the boundaries of the City of Seoul? After all, the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s area accounts for only about half of the 22 million people or so in the wider metropolitan area, which includes Inchon and much of the province of Kyonggi-do.

03 February 2006

Battles Over the Future of Mass Transit in India

India's cities are struggling with rapid motorisation, increasing congestion and parking problems.

One response is a flurry of mass transit proposals. This is in line with India's new National Urban Transport Policy.

[By the way, see here for a critical review of the policy especially its mass transit aspects and its failure to consider seriously any restraint of private vehicle ownership (or even to slow growth in vehicle numbers).]

Delhi's Metro is operating and being expanded. Depending on who you listen to, it is a great success or an under-utilized white elephant.
Delhi had a BRT versus Metro debate but is now proceeding with a 'multi-modal' approach, with Metro, BRT, monorail and ordinary buses. The first corridor of Delhi's High Capacity Bus System (HCBS) has been approved supposedly but mysteriously keeps being delayed. Delhi has also approved a monorail project as a feeder to the Metro in certain areas.

Mumbai has long been trying to improve its very busy and heavily used suburban rail lines. It has more recently been debating elevated rail options, including monorail, 'skybus' and others.

Chennai (formerly
Madras) is currently debating monorail versus BRT.

Hyderbad has a metrorail project out for tender with bids coming in.

Bangalore has been fiercely debating various mass transit rail options for several years now but seems to have decided on Metro Rail.

Ahmedabad has reportedly approved a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), with technical assistance from ITDP.

There seem to be many others! I wonder how this will play out. For now Metro rail seems to have strong momentum, powerful interests behind it, and high-level support in governments. Can BRT prove itself the cost-effective option for many corridors? Can institutional arrangements be found to make BRT happen in South Asia?