Some Myths About Transportation Busted

Sudhir Gota

Policy makers in Asia still execute piecemeal solutions to reduce the traffic externalities without considering long term impacts.  This article tries to clear some of the misconceptions about transportation. Many research reports over the last decade have debunked some of the traditional approach towards solving transport problems.  It’s clear that the policy makers should investigate the various implications and look for co-benefits before executing the solutions.  There needs to be a paradigm shift of approach from an early emphasis on motor vehicles towards recognizing the role played by the design of urban complete infrastructure, non-motorized transport and other factors.

1.    “Banning Cycle rickshaws and Two Wheelers reduce congestion”

Dhaka and Delhi are two metropolitan cities which have used congestion as a reason to ban cycle rickshaws from the primary arterials. But, research[i] conducted in Dhaka has proved that banning a mode of transport such as cycle rickshaw does not improve speed but in fact increases the congestion and fuel consumption. Before and after studies conducted on some roads in Dhaka has proved that there was no travel time gain for fuel dependent vehicle was achieved due to rickshaw ban but instead over the years the travel times for buses did undergo significant deterioration with a 26.1% increase of travel times. Also for shorter trips, there was significant increase in travel time due to non availability of transport-mode. Also it is to be noted that researchers have indicated that that rickshaws in Dhaka city save fuel worth Tk 5,000 crore[ii] every year.

Even banning two wheelers as a silver bullet solution for reducing congestion does not seem to work. Guangzhou[iii] is the only city with data on the modal shift patterns that resulted from banning motorcycles. In Guangzhou, before motorcycles were banned they constituted 20% of total trips in Guangzhou. Walking accounted for 25%, buses accounted for 30%, bicycles for 10%, cars for 5%, taxis for 5%, and other 5%.  After the ban in January 2007, of the 20% motorcycle trips,
·         51% shifted to the bus,
·         18% shifted to the bicycle,
·         18% shifted to cars or taxis,
·         9% shifted to walking,
·         2% shifted to the metro, and
·         2% shifted to other modes.

Sharp decline in average traffic speeds was observed in major arterials. In the view of local traffic engineers, the motorcycle ban combined with gradual increasing car use to push the corridor close to the 80% saturation level that leads to sudden deterioration of road speeds.  One can only control two wheelers by providing good public transport facilities, NMT facilities and by pricing the transport optimally.

2.    Small increase in two wheeler ownership tax can reduce the demand

Many consider that small increase in tax level can make significant impact on ownership levels. This may not be true. One needs to apply carrot and stick strategy i.e. stringent taxation with good public and NMT transport. Consider the case of VietNam, preference surveys[iv] here have showed that a household is less likely to buy a motorcycle ONLY when the costs of holding a motorcycle are much higher than its annual income or savings. The costs include purchase cost, VAT (5 %), and registration tax (5% in 2005). The survey also revealed that with current registration tax of 5% of the purchased price of the motorcycle, growth rate is about 16% per year.  With even 150% tax, the ownerships would drop down to only 7% per year.  Thus only charging motorcycle users at the time of motorcycle registration cannot restrict the desire to own two wheelers.

3.    “Green Roads” or “Carbon Neutral Roads” can be built by using appropriate materials and techniques – The closest one can imagine for a green road or carbon neutral roads are low volume rural roads which cater for the village traffic.  In case, if somebody is arguing that a high speed road catering for huge volume of intercity traffic is a green road or carbon- neutral on account of its material and construction technique, then it’s definitely a hoax. Researchers[v] are now arguing that the construction emissions can be considered as peanuts to the giant watermelons i.e. operation emissions.  It has been found that the construction emissions can range from few months to maximum 2 years of operation emissions. So by just by adding few additives and changing the machinery, one cannot construct green roads.

4.    Building expressways help environment by reducing emissions - Many engineers believe that expressways improve environment by automatically reducing congestion.  Well, to be honest, it’s true that the increased capacity allows speed improvements but this does not necessarily imply that it may lead to emission savings.  The impact depends on the extent of induced traffic generated. Latest research[vi] from ADB indicates that by considering induced traffic, the emissions are 17 to 58% more than the scenario with no induced traffic. Thus, in some of the case studies it was found that without considering any induced traffic, the expressway would show reductions in emissions when compared with no improvement scenario and if induced traffic is considered, the emissions actually increase from the without scenario. 

5.    BRTS offers high emission savings –The impact depends on the design of the BRTS. In case, the BRTS offers only “bus lanes” like what Delhi does, the impact on emissions may be less. The basic philosophy is that the emissions savings would come as a result of – improved buses, shift from cars and two wheelers and impact on landuse and traffic. In case the quality of service is not good, the impact will be less and thus the emissions savings. Researchers[vii] have even argued that the impact of BRTS reduces by 74% with an incomplete system. 

6.    Future two wheelers would be “E” Bikes

Many believe that e-bikes would make the motorized four stroke two wheelers extinct. But researchers[viii] think otherwise. In order to investigate the potential of e-bike proliferation in the market, Chris Cherry el al. conducted a market survey analysis in Hanoi and Ahmadabad.  The analysis examined three different states of e-scooter technology: 1) current technology; 2) upgraded technology; and 3) cutting edge technology.   

It was estimated that in the best scenario for e-bikes i.e. cutting edge technology (best), high gasoline price, and e-scooter tax incentive, e-scooter market share reaches its highest level of 42%. With no active support, e-bikes would still hold on to 20% of market share.

7.    Bike Sharing Schemes would reduce existing congestion levels

If one argues that Bike sharing schemes would make a significant contribution in reducing current congestion levels than it’s not correct. Bike sharing schemes would definitely reduce the future motorization and enhance the existing land use but would not make a huge impression on existing congestion levels. Statistics[ix] reveal that the Bike-share programs bring substantial numbers of new people into bicycling. The evaluation of different schemes suggests that substantial number of public bike riders used to make bus trips (46%) earlier. The approximate shift from Cars, two wheelers and taxis is found to be only 12%.

8.    Fuel subsidies help the Poor

Some conservative estimates[x] suggest a global value of energy subsidy at far more than $300 billion annually. Governments assume that such subsidies help in getting popular support and allow poor people to save money on services like transport. But such assumptions are wrong.  Such subsidies help people who consume more i.e. rich.  In Indonesia[xi], it has been estimated that 40 percent of high income families benefit from 70 percent of the subsidy, while 40 percent of the lowest income families only benefit 15 percent. With increasing fossil fuel subsidy, the government’s ability to fund programs which are oriented to the improvement of lives for the poor is dramatically reduced.

9.    Higher Densities mean lesser transport emissions per capita

Many experts argue for increasing the densities in cities. The argument is correct. Higher densities lead to shorter trip lengths and provide a good recipe for better public transport facilities and non motorized transport.  But, it may not be true to presume that it’s always the case. Experience[xii] from India has shown that cities having higher density can have higher emissions per capita if the transport system is inefficient. For example Surat, Pune, Kochi and Madurai have approximately same area but different density.  Kochi and Madurai have less density when compared to Surat and Pune but they also have less energy consumption. 

10.  Motorization and Income have direct correlation

Motorization is heavily influenced by the government policy interventions and economic policies. Consider the case of Singapore which can be considered as a role model in demand management for Asia. It has shown moderate increase in number of vehicles even with enormous increase in disposable income.  For example, consider the case of Singapore and Malaysia, Malaysia has nearly twice the number of cars for 1000 people when compared to Singapore with approximate one fourth of per capita income.  Similar is the comparison of South Korea and Malaysia. Malaysia has more cars per vehicle than Korea even with 50% less income.  Similarly, one cannot assume that city having higher capita income would have higher emissions. Experience[xiii] from India confirms this. A city like Chandigarh has per capita passenger travel of 2 km/day but a city like Bhopal which has one fourth of per capita income of Chandigarh has a per capita passenger travel of 3 km/day. Surely, the policies have enormous impact.

Clearly, adopting infrastructure solutions to cater for the explosive growth of vehicles cannot be the right approach. Many myths surrounding the city transport solutions have been debunked. ‘Solutions’ catering for select few at the expense for majority poor would aggravate the situation.  Clearly, the impact on the poor and the co-benefits needs to be weighed before implementing the solutions. There is an immediate need to provide equal attention to institutional, capacity, financial, social, economic and environmental considerations.

[v] See
[vi] See
[vii] See
[viii] See
[ix] See
[x] See
[xi] See
[xii] See
[xiii] See

Air Quality and Delhi Commonwealth Games

Sudhir Gota

Nearly 6.5 billion USD is being invested in Delhi within a short period of time for the Common wealth games.  Transportation investments form a significant chunk of the total investment. Though the exact investment for transport is still being debated by experts, reports claim that nearly 35% of total budget has been allocated for the transport sector – this means whooping 2.2 billion USD. In fact, the Delhi city budget for 2010-11 has contributed 38% of its total budget i.e. nearly 1 billion USD on building transport infrastructure. I would not hesitate to make apples to orange comparison and state that “the proposed scale of investment is so huge that its equivalent to transport investment needs for next twenty years of 14 small cities having a population of less than 0.5 million!!”

One of the biggest impacts of such measures would be definitely on Air Quality.  Unfortunately, Delhi is being daily terrorized by Air pollution. The impact is huge and people call it as India’s Asthma capital!!

However, news of arrival of many athletes to Delhi is doing wonders to air quality agenda and researchers are hoping that city would strive to get rid of choking pollution which is damaging people’s health.  In order to throw more light on the air pollution and Commonwealth games, I managed to catch up with Dr. Sarath Guttikunda who has worked on Air pollution in Delhi and Commonwealth games in his new research. The paper can be found here..

Dr. Sarath Guttikunda 

      Why such a big fuss over Air Quality and Commonwealth games? Does it matter to the citizens and should it matter?

Sarath - Games, for that matter any big event tends to bring a lot attention to the city - infrastructure, architecture, greenness, people, cleanliness, and air. We saw this end in flying colors in Beijing, which transformed itself, as far as the infrastructure goes and did very well in the clean air category, at least during the Games. The people and the media noticed that - general people noticed that the clean air is possible (in Beijing) and it is a fresh idea that matters the most in the long run. An added incentive of the city officials to focus on clean air is athletes health - for the outdoor games; and a good PR. 

2.       Why Air Quality is not a big agenda in City newspapers and other media reports?

Sarath- At least in case of Delhi, this can be attributed to lack of information (not enough monitoring; no set dissemination strategy; and lack of resources on emissions). The media can always report, "today traffic is very heavy, hence the pollution is bad or the winter inversion is low, hence the thick fog". Then, by how much, what is the scale, what are we comparing. The media can play a much bigger role in raising awareness on air quality, which is a growing problem in the city, if the right information is provided to them in the form that can disseminated in an easy to understand form.

3.    What kinds of actions are being proposed?

Sarath - The actions so far are dominated in the transport sector, including new CNG buses (AC and non-AC), closing down schools to reduce school traffic, new fleet of radio taxi's, banning trucks from entering (even at night) if the final destination is not Delhi, and dedicated lanes for the athletes movement to cut down on vehicle emissions along those corridors. Non-transport measures are possible closing of some industries (yet to be decided), more natural gas usage at the power plants, and even closing of coal based power plants. A measure that the planners are heavily banking on is the use of the new metro lines, with an incentive of free metro pass with every Games ticket.

4.    Huge investment with nearly 35% of total games funds are allotted on transport measures. Are the measures good enough? What would be the long term impact?

Sarath- All these measures are designed to address short term goals - clean air during the Games. Only measure with a long term vision is the sleek buses on roads, in addition to the metro lines connecting ~190 km across the city. If the athletes stick to the dedicated lanes, they will probably see a smooth sail, with no traffic and minimum exposure to pollution. The regular traffic will get diverted to other corridors, and it is a wait and see game for general public on how this plays in terms of congestion, additional fuel losses, extra pollution, and increase in exposure times. A lot of pavements are being done or repaired across the city, which is a good sign and hope that the city authorities will pick up this pace to support the non-motorized movement in the coming years.

5.   Would Delhi win the race to Clean Air?

Sarath - City currently experiences ~100 micro-gm/m3 daily average for PM2.5, compared to India's ambient standard of 60. Even if all the measures are in place, we can garner benefits only along the dedicated lanes and not for the city as a whole, which averages above the WHO standards for health effects (which they now say has no threshold at all).  The authorities need to address more of the low hanging fruit, for the Games period and long term, such as road dust, open burning of garbage, and public transport (put more buses on the road). Above all, we need to open access to information that shows where we are on the polluted or clean air charts.

Clearly, Delhi needs to find urgent solutions to its pollution and transport problems. Delhi lost a golden opportunity in 1982 Asian games when the strategies resulted in development of huge infrastructure but gave birth to several traffic externalities.  Let’s not make the same mistake again!!  

 “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience” - George Bernard Shaw

URBAN FREIGHT - A Victim of Policy Neglect

Sudhir Gota

“The existing urban freight policies and strategies are often conflicting and contradictory but finding a sustainable solution is critical… “ 

Many cities often forget freight issues when scripting the urban transportation plans and thus the result is haphazard implementation of solutions which are often iatrogenesis in nature.  The traditional approach for solving urban freight is to ban trucks during day times, build bypasses and truck terminals outside the cities.  Some of these solutions which provide priority to passenger transport over freight movement may provide short term relief but may induce long term adverse impacts. Both passenger and freight transport need inclusive policies and not conflicting strategies. For example, consider the future strategies being proposed by Indian cities as shown in below table. The lack of interest shown by the city to tackle the movement of goods is obvious[1]. 

CDP for City
The number of routes for goods movement is limited. There is also acute shortage of parking for goods vehicles.
Plans to shift some of the wholesale markets and create truck terminals on the periphery of the City.
The ring roads not fully developed, inadequate parking facilities, increase in vehicles
Improvements in road network, development of decentralized rail transport terminal
The high growth rate of vehicular traffic volumes on roads causing congestion, delay, safety issues, pollution, inadequate parking, Intermixing of local and regional passenger and goods traffic.
Development of goods and passenger terminals on the basis of directional
Improvements in Road network.
Agra has a transport terminal and it is being developed and improved. However many transport agencies are operating from various parts of the city, resulting in many cargo vehicles parked on the roads. This on-road parking hampers the smooth flow of traffic.
Development of ring road, parking facilities and truck terminals
 Makeshift Strategies adopted in the Development Plan for Urban transport improvement

Similar situation exists in several Asian countries and cities. The developed nations like Japan and Korea have provided the directions for streamlining the freight transport and improving the efficiency of the system.  For example, Republic of Korea is aggressively pursuing freight solutions to reduce the emissions. It is planning to make the freight movement environment friendly by building infrastructure supporting quality movement and eliminating bottlenecks. Eight integrated freight terminals and four inland container depots are being constructed. Since more than one-third of trips are deadheaded, a logistics integrated information system is being developed. The integrated system being built is intended to enable electronic data interchange (EDI) and provide freight traffic information such as real-time freight and vehicle location. Also efforts are being made to standardize the logistics-related facilities and equipment. 
The Government has adopted the “unit load system rule” that provides standardized specifications for containers, loading equipment, freight trucks and freight packages. Tax exemption for investments in logistics standardization is also allowed, in order to enhance the standardization process. As per the National logistics visions and policy for the twenty-first century and framework act of low carbon green growth – model targets have been set on freight movement. As per the target, by 2012, the railways share should increase from 8 to 15% and coastal shipping share should increase from 18 to 22%. The impact of such actions on urban freight would be huge.

Some of the strategies commonly adopted in Asia are

Strategy/freight action
Bypass construction
Experiences suggest land use development along the bypass thus leading to sprawl over long term. However, immediate impact with reduced congestion over short term on urban roads
Restricting trucks during day time on certain corridors
Loss of operation hours, heavy traffic impacts during night, increase in growth of light commercial vehicles, freight three wheelers, increase in PM concentration. The daytime traffic flow is improved. Increased use of NMT, two wheelers and three wheelers.
Regulation of delivery time

Delayed delivery, increase in VKT of trucks
Speed limits for trucks
Improvement in safety
Banning slow goods vehicle like cycle rickshaws
Loss of livelihood, traffic deterioration over long term, increase in use of two-three wheelers for freight delivery
Restricting parking space for goods vehicle
Increase of illegal parking, increase in trucks idling

Age restrictions for trucks
Environmental benefits, adverse impact to truck building industry
Increase of lane capacity of city roads
Generation of induced traffic and increased congestion over long term
Establishment of terminal in the inner city linking multimodal transport like railways/port, promoting urban consolidation centers
Leads to freight concentration in the specific zone, allows seamless flow of freight among different modes and may improve the efficiency
The use of ICT (such as RFID, vehicle routing
software or load sharing systems)
Reduction in VKT and improvement in traffic flows, environmental benefits
Strengthening vehicle emission standards and inspection and maintenance
Environmental benefits
Vehicle load restriction
Prevents adverse impact on urban road pavements
Congestion charge
Improves the performance of the network and improves air quality
Promoting small vehicles
Increases the mode share of NMT, two and three commercial vehicles and LCV’s.
Special zoning for logistic activity
Leads to freight concentration in the specific zone thus allowing consolidation of the freight network
Tax instruments – vehicle tax, fuel tax, green tax
Leads to improvement in efficiency of the system
Eco-driving training is adopted by large fleet owners and its impact on fuel efficiency is good.  However, there are chances of increase in VKT to offset fuel savings.
Improving Trucks Design and fuel efficiency
This leads to improvement in vehicle efficiency and thus environmental benefits.
Table - Strategies adopted in solving urban freight problems

Experts are now arguing that traditional strategy of banning trucks during day time or restricting truck movement or banning NMT freight may cause environmental damage.  The external costs of trucks are high and urban freight is as big a problem as passenger transport. Increasing population, economic growth, motorization and sprawl are all affecting freight movement as passenger movement. Following are some of the aspects that need to be considered before considering solutions for urban freight:

1.     High Intensity of urban freight movement – Research shows that in India, the urban freight VKT in total metropolitan VKT is substantial with 37% contribution. Latest research from China indicates that cars and trucks tend to be the largest contributors to CO2 emissions in urban areas. The larger cities with high industrial sectors or ports activity, such as Guangzhou, Chongqing, and Wuhan, tend to have at least half of their energy use and CO2 emission coming from trucks. In Bangkok, delivery motorcycles make nearly 4.6 million vehicle-kilometers per day. The main reason for such a high intensity is the existing traffic management strategies which are conducive for motorcycle freight. Investigations in Hong Kong reveal that on an average, goods vehicles made approximate 7.4 trips per day. Goods vans, light goods vehicles and heavy goods vehicles made an average of 7.7 to 7.9 trips per day. Medium goods vehicles made fewer trips per day (6.7 trips per day) while container vehicles made 6.4 trips per day. Interestingly, the total travel/day on an average was 87 km. 

2.     Myth about city registrations – Latest survey in Guangzhou, China shows that majority of trucks operating in the city/region is registered elsewhere. The number of heavy/medium duty trucks registered outside Guangzhou outnumber the trucks registered in Guangzhou by 2.6 : 1, to 36.7: 1. For light duty trucks the ratio is about the same, and for mini duty trucks the ratio is reversed.  At 2 cargo centers surveyed in Guangzhou, more than 95% heavy duty trucks were registered outside Guangdong Province. This shows that trucks registered outside Guangzhou contribute significantly to the freight transportation. This makes it very difficult to look for city based solutions.

3.     Composition of operating cost of city trucks - Survey in Hong Kong reveals that salary costs account for 60-70% of urban freight movement. Fuel costs are only 10-30%. This is a significant point often missed by policy makers.

4.     CO2 Emissions – Consider the case of Manila, experts have analyzed the impact of large freight restrictions and found that such measures are not effective from a regional point of view though may be effective from an area specific scale.  The researchers have found that abolishing the existing truck restriction would lead to lower traffic and environmental impacts among the scenarios, this alternative might encounter difficulty in implementation and resistance from the stakeholders.

5.     Air Pollution - Consider the case of Delhi, experts here used the traffic management option commonly adopted in Asia i.e. to ban truck movement in daytime. Though this initially reduced the PM levels during the daytime, however, due to the rapid growth in truck numbers during the night time, the contribution of trucks to day-time PM levels is increasing as night time emissions linger into the daytime. 

6.     Air Pollution – Experience from Bangkok and Tianjin shows that Trucks contribute 59% and 44% of PM emissions from transport.

7.     Research from Europe has indicated that a leading freight provider like La Petite Reine with 50 employees and 53 bikes by 2007 had transported 700,000 packages, a total of 210,000 km. In the process they displaced nearly 600,000 tonne-kilometres of van transport in Paris alone and saved 204 tonnes of CO2 emissions.  Research also indicates that the most customers for cycle freight cite the environment as a factor in their choice, but consider cost, speed and reliability to be of higher priorities.  This necessitates a discussion as to if the freight NMT transport share would increase if there is some kind of restriction on motor vehicles.

Finding solutions to urban freight is very important. Currently, in midst of urbanization and motorization, the policy makers are struggling to find solutions for sustainable urban freight and thus initiating policies which creates conflicts with passenger transport and which are contradictory in nature.  It’s not an easy task. Efficient freight solutions need careful planning and vision.

[1] It is also to be noted that research from India has in fact shown that the composition of freight vehicles in the total fleet is significant ( 5-30%) and the quantum of freight flow has exhibited no correlation with the size of city in terms of population and the dominant commodities were food products and building materials. The solutions for such commodities need to be different. The freight sector in general has been a victim of policy neglect.