Whispers: Thinking of going back to Kota Kinabalu next year... AirAsia having promotion right now...
I read this article last week and found it a very good one to share... so here it is...
Sunday Star, Star-Mag, Sunday June 22, 2008
By ELIZABETH TAI
The hike in the price of oil has successfully done what environmentalists have been trying to do for decades: forced the public as well as the Government to seriously consider public transportation options.
EARLIER this month, Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop announced that a more efficient public transport system will be among the main thrusts of Budget 2009.
“We will be improving public transport not only in Kuala Lumpur but also in other areas,” he was quoted as saying in The Star’s news pages on June 13.
According to the minister, only about 20% of Malaysians use public transport; in some developed countries, between 50% and 70% of the population do so.
“We hope to double (Malaysia’s) figure to 40% in the next five years, but we need to come up with a plan to encourage more people to use public transport,” he said.
May we present public transportation systems in five cities that do just that? Hopefully, the highlights of these efficient systems that we offer here will inspire ideas on how Malaysia could improve its own systems and achieve that 40% figure.
Portland, Oregon, United States
Strangely, in a country where most towns are planned around the use of cars, cars are not king in Portland. Instead of building freeways and widening roads, Portland chose to invest money in better public transportation.
But it was a very different story 30 years ago.
Back in the 1970s, Portland was choking on its polluted air. According to a 1987 New York Times article (Portland: So long cars, hello people), the city’s “air quality violated (US) Federal standards” 275 days a year on average, in the mid-1970s.
But in 1978, the city made a radical move: passenger cars were banned from two main streets in the downtown area and a “cap” was placed on parking spaces in the city.
As a result, residents were forced to take public transport, but city officials eased the pain by providing thousands of parking bays around the city and – a radical concept! – free public transport in the “no cars” area, which is appropriately called “Fareless Square”. Today, it covers most of downtown Portland and the Lloyd District.
Portland now not only enjoys better air quality – it also has a stellar public transportation system. So stellar that in 2006, it was dubbed the best in the world by The best public services in the world segment on the BBC’s Newsnight programme.
According to the show, use of public transport in Portland rose 65% in 10 years, 1996 to 2006.
In the city, people have a number of highly integrated transportation options: buses, trams, the Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) light rail, and streetcars. There’s even an aerial tram that connects the South Waterfront district to the main Oregon Health and Science University campus and hospital.
And if they so desire, people can opt to bike around the city. Portland is one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities and has a network of bike lanes to ensure that it’ll be a safe ride all the way. Bicyclists can also take their bikes on the MAX or on buses. In those 10 years Newsnight looked at, cycling traffic increased by a staggering 257%!
And it doesn’t end there – because roller-blading and skateboarding are also encouraged, there are skateboarding lanes too!
Back in 2006, when over 2,000 travellers from around the world voted that London had the world’s best public transportation system, many Londoners snorted in disbelief – understandably, since the announcement came after a series of strikes had disrupted underground subway services in August.
(The survey by travel website TripAdvisor gave the second spot to New York City, third to Paris, and fourth and fifth to Washington DC and Hong Kong respectively. The worst system in the world belonged to Los Angeles – though some Malaysians may want to dispute that.)
Despite its win, London’s public transport is also considered one of the most expensive. And its system of underground trains and stations (called the “Tube”) are accessed through a network of narrow stairs and tunnels that are not very disabled friendly.
Still, as one British newspaper, The Independent, puts it, while the Tube is not perfect, what makes it a gem is that it goes everywhere people want to go.
For one, the Tube, being the oldest underground train system in the world, has 268 stations and 400km of tracks. It connects to a train system that makes it easy for commuters to not only travel into and out of London but around all of Britain, too.
In 2003, London’s mayor, Ken Livingstone, introduced the controversial congestion charge to reduce traffic congestion in central London.
When a vehicle enters a congestion charge zone between 7am and 6pm, the driver is charged £8 (about RM50). Because there are cameras at every entry point that can record license plate numbers with 90% accuracy, drivers cannot skip payment; and if they try, they face a stiff £250 (RM1,600) fine.
London is the largest city so far to adopt congestion pricing, and it’s certainly paying off. According to the 2007 edition of Sustainable Transport, the congestion charge has increased London’s bus patronage by 32%, bike use by 43%, and now some 70,000 fewer vehicles enter the charging zone on a daily basis.
Before the charge was introduced, Londoners spent 50% of their time in traffic snarls, which cost the city around £2mil to £4mil (RM12.8mil to RM25.6mil) every week.
Besides reducing traffic and improving air quality (there was a 16% reduction of road traffic CO2 emissions), the congestion charge also raise a gross revenue of about £213mil (RM1.3bil), with £90mil (RM576mil) covering operating costs.
These initiatives won the city the 2008 Sustainable Transport Award, given out by the US-based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
Another way in which London ensures efficiency is by working with private bus companies (it has more than 20 years experience doing so) that are closely monitored.
The city hires community activists to electronically record bus arrivals and publishes the results on the Internet. The private transit operators are paid for the number of passengers they carry and on-time performance.
Recent incentives for the three private operators to grow subway customer base has resulted in a 50% increase in capacity.
And, of course, those iconic double-decker buses also provide an increased customer base.
Curitiba’s public transport system is non-subsidised, cost- and energy- efficient, and well designed – it is no wonder that it is hailed as a model for the rest of the world to follow.
The Brazilian city of 3 million received the United Nations Environmental Award in 1990, the Worldwatch Institute Prize in 1991, and the CITIES Award for Excellence in 2002.
The man responsible for putting the city on the world map is former three-time Curitiba mayor, Jamie Lerner. Lerner, an architect, was responsible for developing Curitiba’s “bus rapid transit” (BRT) system over 30 years ago.
This system is said to be the most efficient, cost-effective public transportation system in the world, and more than 80 countries have adopted it.
Mini buses pick up people from residential neighbourhoods and “feed” them to buses travelling in dedicated bus lanes that circle the city. Passengers alight and get on buses from tube-like bus stops that have outlets such as post offices and public phones. To speed up the movement of buses and passengers, passengers pay their fares at these bus stops rather than on the buses.
“A system of bus rapid transit is not only dedicated lanes,” said Lerner in a 2006 interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (From Brazil: A different kind of bus system, April 12).
“You have to have really good boarding conditions – that means paying before entering the bus, and boarding at the same level. And at the same time, having a good schedule and frequency. We have a system where you don’t have to wait more than one minute. That defines the quality.”
Besides the BRT, Lerner also used the space in the city to effectively support the transportation system; for instance, houses for the elderly were built near public transportation hubs.
“Seventy per cent of the population of Curitiba uses public transportation and bicycles because we have made it easy and convenient for them,” he said in an interview with design website Design 21 last year.
Land use in the city has actually been planned so that it supports public transit systems. For instance, buildings along the dedicated bus ways are up to six stories tall, with that height gradually lowering within a few blocks until it’s down to single storey homes. Mixing densities like this ensures enough of the population is within walking distance of bus stops.
According to the 2005/2006 article Curitiba’s Bus System is Model for Rapid Transit, Curitibanos spend only 10% of their income on travel, which is way below Brazil’s national average.
Lerner puts it best: “If you provide good public alternatives for private transport, you won’t have traffic problems. Can you imagine how much better the city could become with 30% fewer cars running in the street?” (from the same Seattle Post-Intelligencer article).
A few decades ago, Paris was about to make itself a car-centric city. But in 1974, newly elected French President Valéry Giscard-d’Estaing refused to continue an expressway project; it was a radical step, perhaps even a politically risky one, but Paris moved in a new urban planning direction.
Instead of using an inefficient system that primarily utilises cars (that would create traffic jams and require massive amounts of parking space), Paris began developing its public transportation.
This development was energised when Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë and deputy mayor of transportation Denis Baupin came into power in 2001 with aggressive initiatives that have made Paris greener and less car dependent.
The moves helped Paris share the Sustainable Transport Award in 2008 with London.
The changes made to Paris:
·Quartier Verts (Green Neighbourhoods) programme: In order to revitalise neighbourhoods and make its streets safer, squares and plazas were renovated, sidewalks widened, pedestrian-priority shared streets were created (where legal speeds limits were lowered to 15kp/h) and crosswalks were added. Free parking was eliminated. On some roads, traffic was slowed down by reducing the speed limit from 50kp/h to 30kp/h. There, cyclists were allowed to roam.
·Escapes Civilisés programme: Traffic-heavy roads were reshaped to reduce traffic. For example, at Boulevard de Magenta, which had 1,400 vehicles using it every hour in each direction, sidewalks were widened from 4m to 8m, granite separators were placed for a dedicated bus lane, bikeways were built, and trees, street furniture, and additional landscaping were added to beautify the area.
·More transit options: The Mobilien BRT travels along special bus “corridors” to avoid traffic jams. In 2006, trams made a comeback in Paris after a 70-year absence, and the famed 214km and 300-station Paris Metro carries about 4.5 million passengers a day. Access to these various transportation systems is made quick and easy by the high-tech Navigo magnetic card that can be detected quickly, even while tucked securely inside a bag!
In July last year, Paris introduced a mode of transport that has fired the transportation world with enthusiasm. It is ecologically friendly, tres cheap, and gives people a good workout too. It’s Vélib, a bike-for-hire scheme that has made bicycles the chic vehicle of choice in the City of Lights.
These pearly grey bikes can be picked up from one station and dropped off at another. The bicycles are used purely for short trips; it is free for 30 minutes, but ride it longer and one will be charged ?1 to ?4 (RM5 to RM20) per half an hour.
Vélib, which is a hybrid of the words velo (bicycle) and liberte (freedom), is an improvement over past bike-sharing efforts in Europe. In the 1960s, Amsterdam placed free bicycles on the street but many broke down and all were eventually stolen. Bicycle sharing schemes are also found in cities such as Lyons, Barcelona, and Copenhagen, though not one on Vélib’s scale.
By December 2007, there were more than 20,600 bikes in 1,451 stations (many made from converted parking spaces); basically, there’s one station every 300m in central Paris. Vehicles will shift the bikes around to ensure that there will always be bikes at the stations. The result of Vélib and traffic reduction initiatives? According to the US organisation ITDP, between 2001 and 2006, traffic volume has gone down: private vehicles by 20%, trucks by 11%, and tourist buses by 11%. More people are taking the bus, and 12% more people are taking the Metro too.
According to a Time magazine article two weeks ago (Bike-sharing gets smart, June 12, 2008), the Vélib programme has reduced Paris car traffic by 5%.
Humorously, Baupin has been called “Pol Pot” and “Khmer Vert” because of his tough policies, but not many are complaining since air quality in Paris has improved (C02 emissions were reduced by 9%) and despite the increase of two-wheelers, there are now fewer road accidents. (Between 2001 and 2005, injuries decreased by 25%.)
The Vélib programme has already inspired imitators. Washington DC will be the first city in the United States to have this form of public transportation. Its version, the SmartBike, is a high-tech bicycle implanted with chips to prevent theft and they have key card locks.
Because the island is very hilly, it has a high urban density, and limited land area (just slightly more than 1,000sq km). Obviously, building wide, multi-lane highways within city environs is difficult if not impossible. As a result, urban planners have been forced to come up with innovative ways to ferry people around.
According to the 2004 book Sustainable Development (by Lisa Hopkins), almost 90% of trips in Hong Kong are made via the public transportation system, which includes buses, trams, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR, equivalent of the Klang Valley’s LRT), Kowloon-Canton Railway, ferries, and light rail transit.
That makes it one of the most well used public transportation systems in the world.
With the stored-value Octopus Card, travellers can hop on to any of these transportation options quickly with just a wave of the one card.
Hong Kong also has the longest (covered) outdoor escalator system in the world; the Mid-Levels Escalator ferries over 50,000 people daily (for free, obviously) over a distance of 800m and a vertical distance of 135m. The escalator enables commuters to travel up and down the island’s hilly terrain without having to take longer surface roads.
It began operating on Oct 15, 1994, and consists of a series of stairs, escalators, and walkways that stretch from the central district of Hong Kong to the residential neighbourhoods at Mid-Levels. From 6am to 10.20am, the escalator ferries people downhill; it goes uphill from after 10.20am until midnight. The escalator has revitalised businesses near its path and has proven a godsend to commuters, not to mention a fascination with tourists.
However, it can be uncomfortably close to apartments, giving travellers more than an eyeful of a person’s abode. Critics add that it has not served its main purpose (to reduce traffic) and is very expensive to maintain.(Article and pictures courtesy of TheStarOnline.com)