Diverse urban challenges in Asia’s megacities

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Asia is currently home to some 17 megacities, which is expected to grow to an unprecedented 22 by 2030. This rapid growth raises many urban challenges, such as congestion management, sustainable transport and the use of technology to improve mobility in densely populated cities.

Ensuring financial sustainability

In order to ensure long-term financial sustainability, cities in the region are looking beyond traditional revenue sources. Hong Kong’s transport strategy has a strong focus on integrating transport and land use planning, with railways playing a back-bone role.

Its Government grants ‘Land Development Right’ of sites planned for new railways and in return the operator MTR pays a land premium. MTR also partners with property developers to develop areas around stations; MTR benefits from the rising property value and the community benefits from an affordable world-class rail service and high quality sustainable development along the railway.  

Challenging perceptions

The undesirable public perception of public transport in Asia, especially in developing cities, poses a challenge. As disposable income increases, as does a tendency to purchase private motor vehicles; what’s more, in a bid to encourage economic growth, some governments subsidise their automobile industries and/or fuel costs, creating barriers for public transport.

Over the years, Malaysia has flourished into one of the fastest growing countries in Southeast Asia. Presently, public transport modal share is only 20% in urban areas; this is partly due to the government’s large subsidies to the Malaysian auto industry. The Prime Minister, however, recognised the need for a national reform on public transport in 2010.

China’s push for electric

From the early 1990s, the automotive industry has been considered one of the pillar industries of the national economy in China. In 2015,vehicle ownership had reached 279 million. The automotive industrial policy has undoubtedly driven economic growth but the costs are progressively severe congestion and pollution.

In recent years, boosting public transport’s modal share has become one of the main highlights of China’s sustainable transport policy. China’s newly released ‘13th Five-Year Transportation Development Planning (2016-2020),’ aims to increase public transport’s modal share to 40% in megacities, 30% in big cities and 20% in medium and small cities by 2020 and to support the development of integrated transport hubs, ITS and clean energy buses.

Continued debate on market structure 

There is an ongoing debate on the market structure of public transport market in the region: what is the best balance between optimal social service and ensuring economic benefits? Countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia have bus systems that are owned and operated by a large number of small operators whereas many cities in China have a single publicly owned entity that provides all transport services. There is increasing recognition that the best industry structure falls somewhere between the two, with Singapore’s new model as the benchmark.

Growing customer expectations

As with many services, once cities reach stability in public transport, customers start to expect more. Asian cities with more mature and comprehensive networks such as Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taipei have also started to focus on active mobility to close the first- and last-mile gap.

From problems to opportunities

From cities with world-class public transport to those with minimal or non-existent public transport, each city in Asia faces unique, yet common problems. These challenges also present many opportunities for the industry. With a population of over 4.7 billion, equivalent to approximately 60% of the world’s population, Asia plays a crucial role in exploring opportunities in planning, implementing and promoting sustainable transport.

This is an abbreviated extract of an article that was published by Passenger Transport magazine, part of a special focus on Singapore in the context of the upcoming Singapore International Transport Congress and Exhibition (SITCE), 19-21 October 2016. For more information: www.sitce.org 

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