Editor’s note: This piece on city transportation advances in Asia by John Ernst, the Asia Regional Director of ITDP - The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy – provides an excellent overview of what is going on in some of the leading edge cities in Asia in the face of an enormous explosion of the numbers of cars on the streets. For years Asian cities have copied the long trusted old formulae of the old economies: forecast and build more roads. What is not least interesting about their innovative approaches is not only that they are showing results, but that congested cities in the older industrialized countries are now starting to look to them for examples.
Cities in Asia pioneer new solutions for transportation bottlenecks
One of the world's best examples of how to improve the problem of traffic congestion is in Asia -- the City of Singapore. It has combined extensive and high-quality public transportation with electronic road pricing, attaining a congestion solution virtually unknown in American cities. (London has implemented a similar formula for their downtown.)
Most Asian cities, though, cannot afford to make the same amount of investment in subways and elevated rail systems that Singapore has made. They rely on buses to provide public transportation, and the buses become caught in congestion.
A promising first step for Asian cities to solve their congestion problems has come from South America. This is an altogether new kind of public transit service called bus rapid transit. While it uses bus technology, the service is dramatically improved by key features including: 1) exclusive lanes, 2) multiple doors and rapid boarding at stations -- similar to a metro, 3) prepaid boarding, and a variety of other innovations tailored to the particular needs of a city. Bus rapid transit was first developed in the 1970s in Curitiba, Brazil, but reached prominence with the implementation of the TransMilenio system in Bogota, Colombia in 2000.
The former Mayor of Bogota who implemented the system, Mr. Enrique Penalosa, has been an international advocate for bus rapid transit and livable cities. His personal visits to cities in Asia have led to systems now under development in Jakarta, Delhi, Hanoi, Guangzhou, and several other cities.
The Jakarta bus rapid transit system opened its first line in 2004. It is the first fully "closed" system in Asia, i.e., the buses operate only in the reserved lane and do not enter or leave the system. ITDP was fortunate to be able to assist Jakarta in their planning. We are also helping develop systems in Guangzhou, Ahmedabad and Delhi. Other organizations are also involved in developing bus rapid transit in Asia, including the US Agency for International Development (through ITDP), World Bank (in Hanoi), EMBARQ (in Shanghai), Asian Development Bank (Manila), the India Institute of Technology - Delhi, and the Energy Foundation (China).
Bus rapid transit, like all public transit, is only the first step and will not in itself reduce congestion. Bus rapid transit provides a way for passengers to avoid congestion. The Jakarta system, for example, saves a full hour of transit time for its passengers. To reduce congestion itself requires providing a strong incentive for those causing congestion, i.e., car drivers, to leave their cars at home and take the new public transit system. Singapore's electronic road pricing is a key example of such an incentive. Jakarta is now considering a similar central area pricing scheme. Other options exist, such as increasing the cost of parking.
Jakarta has also improved pedestrian facilities. A surprising number of Asian city residents still walk significant distances, even though many cities have cannibalized their sidewalks to make way for the ever increasing motorized traffic. Cities like Jakarta have realized that a high quality public transit system requires high quality pedestrian facilities to go with it. Jakarta is considering increasing bicycle facilities as well. An ITDP survey in 2004 indicated that over 20% of the bus rapid transit passengers would use bicycles to get to the stations if secure parking were available.
These are some of the solutions emerging in Asia for the problem of congestion. I hope this is useful information for you.
John Ernst Asia Regional Director
ITDP - The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy