Blog Poll: Links, Efficiency Key to Higher Public Transport Use

Commuters boarding a public bus in Yichang, PRC.
Commuters boarding a public bus in Yichang, PRC.

By Nana Soetantri

42% of ADB blog readers claim that improved connections would get people to use public transport more in Asian cities, while a further 40% pointed to efficiency as the most important deciding factor.

Vehicle sales continue to rise across an increasingly prosperous Asia, bringing ever lengthier traffic jams, dirtier air, and, unfortunately, the increasing number of traffic injuries and fatalities. Given these many downsides, the question is ­– what is needed to get people to use public transport more?

In ADB’s August blog poll, 42% of voters said that improved connections would be key to getting them to use public transport while a further 40% pointed to efficiency as most important. Safety was the main concern for 12% and the cost of travel only critical to a very small 6% of the 1,294 who expressed their opinion.

The question is particularly pertinent as cities around the region battle to find their own answers. In the Philippines the government is mulling emergency presidential measures to deal with Manila’s clogged streets, while traffic gridlock in Dhaka once again held up visiting dignitaries and millions of other commuters. Meanwhile, Myanmar and booming secondary cities around the region are looking to ways to avoid the traffic problems suffered in the likes of Jakarta, Beijing, and many other capitals. Around the world, the advent of electric vehicles, driverless cars, and even taxi-hailing apps raise additional complications.

The fact of the matter is, though, that we cannot avoid the issue. With some 120,000 people moving to Asia’s towns and cities every day and vehicle fleets doubling every 5 to 7 years, roads will become busier and other transport become ever more crowded. In Myanmar, the number of vehicles on the road has doubled in the last 4 years and road travel in Yangon has become 2-3 times slower. And, already costing 2%-5% of Asian GDP every year, congestion will become increasingly burdensome. Not to mention the estimated 700,000-plus road fatalities every year in Asia.

In cities, especially where land is at a premium, building more roads is not the answer. The car is the most inefficient use of space: for every 3.5 meter wide lane in the city, a car can transport only 2 people while a single lane bus can transport 20, and a suburban rail such as that found in Mumbai in India, can take 100.

In some ways, the issues of efficiency and improved links go together. For the vast majority of those living even in bustling cities, getting to work and school necessitates the use of more than one form of transport – a walk to a tricycle pick up point to travel to the train station and a walk at the other end to the final destination. For many more, it is more complex still. The fewer the connections that needed to be made, the faster the journey should be but unless buses and trains are frequent and punctual, the trip will continue to be frustrating. Convenience is everything for commuters.

We have focused for some time on what we call multimodal transport hubs, points where passengers can shift easily from one to another of a number of different types of transport going in many different directions that connect to other central points. In addition, of course, we must consider proximity to transport hubs and the availability of last-mile transport, both of which complicate the problem in cities. Certainly this is far from easy. The site of a hub needs to consider land acquisition and development needs depending on the size that is needed and the location relative to the city it will serve.

Data on passenger flow are crucial to determine the scale and layout of the hub. This is perhaps the most difficult part since it requires forward thinking to determine how the city and its surroundings will develop demographically, geographically and economically in the future as well as taking into account seasonal shifts such as massive passenger flow around key holidays, for example. As a study on hubs in the People’s Republic of China shows, a hub with up to 2,000 daily departing bus passengers needs only 6 bus lots but up to 10,000 passengers may need as many as 19 bus lots. Understanding traveler numbers and types is essential.

Core area layout and ancillary services need to be properly planned and designed too from ticketing and service counters, waiting areas and walkways to other services like proper signage, information displays, shops and waiting areas that makes using the hub an efficient and pleasant experience.

Proper planning in this way contributes to improved safety, certainly between journeys but also during journeys if most transport types are part of a bigger and well-monitored network. Well-lighted cycle lanes and wide, well-tended pavements can also help. And hub planning can bring down costs and make paying more efficient if, for example, a single pre-paid smartcard or app can be used to pay for all trips from home to destination regardless of whether it is a bus, tricycle, or commuter train. Then again, travelers may well be willing to pay more if they felt they could get where they are going more easily, more quickly, and more pleasantly.

The poll ran between 1-31 August ahead of ADB’s Transport Forum 2016 taking place on 12-16 September in Manila, Philippines.