Diversity in Asia – every challenge comes with an opportunity

19 August 2016  •  Author(s): Sue Chan, Head of UITP Asia Pacific

Asia – as the world’s largest and most populated continent – shows great diversity in every aspect: economic condition, cultural practice, infrastructure development, institutional framework, and significantly, development of public transport. With ever-increasing globalisation, a sustainable and efficient public transport system is becoming the lifeline for many cities. Each city has its own public transport development challenges, but in the hustle and bustle of Asia some cities have turned these challenges into great opportunities to boost the economy, enhance communities and create a sustainable environment for its citizens.

The Asia region, currently home to 17 megacities, is expected to be occupied by an unprecedented total of 22 megacities by 2030. This rapid growth puts the spotlight on many urban challenges, such as congestion management, sustainable transport solutions, and the use of technology to improve mobility in densely populated cities. Some authorities have embarked on the journey of creating sustainable transport systems, such as Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul, and even looking forward to the next challenge to achieve greener integrated systems, such as Singapore and Taipei. Some cities such as Beijing and Kuala Lumpur have ambitious master plans for public transport reform, and are in a race against the clock with increasing urbanisation and motorisation rates. On the other end of the spectrum, developing cities like Jakarta and Manila are in the infancy stages of public transport and are heavily relying on informal means of public transport. Finally, the less developed countries such as Laos and Cambodia have experienced decades of political instability and have not had an opportunity to invest in their public transport networks.

In Asian cities rapid urbanisation and rising incomes are leading to a doubling of the motor fleet every five to seven years. One fifth of transport emissions are from developing cities in Asia. In Bangkok, for instance, the cost of traffic congestion is about 6% of GDP. Road crashes cost Asia Developing Bank’s developing member countries USD$96 billion annually1. Public transport is important for improving sustainable mobility in urban areas and, in general, Asian countries have considered it the right approach to encourage low-carbon growth in cities. Cities with sustainable transport systems, such as Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore have a high share of public transport – some as high as 80% of public transport – as well as walking and cycling. Other emerging cities like Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen (China) are also aggressively promoting the use of public transport services.

Figure 1: Development of Chinese electric and hybrid electric vehicles

Figure 1: Development of Chinese electric and hybrid electric vehicles

Like many other regions, Asia faces a diversity of challenges as well as opportunities in public transport. Each city is working hard to develop policies and solutions to ensure their city is developing in a sustainable manner.

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