Xinhua News Agency, Globe¡¯s Interview with Ralph Gakenheimer on 'China Urban Motorization and Sustainable Urban Transport Development'. Ralph Gakenheimer is the CPN Advisor, Professor at MIT and Chair of International Scientific Committee of CODATU.
(China Urban Motorization and Sustainable Urban Transport Development,Globe,429,60-62.)

Interviewed by GUO Zhan, CPN Executive Commissioner
Edited by CHEN Yushan, Congress Organizing Committee

 

Globe: Thanks for accept our interview.

Ralph: It¡¯s pleasure.

Globe: Today¡¯s interview is about the Motorization or the Sustainable Urban Transport in China. So the first question is, in terms of urban transport, could you give us a general picture what¡¯s the current trend world wide in terms of the development of urban transport and also, what¡¯s the emergent issue in this area world wide.

Ralph: World wide, the situation is rather a matter of considerable concern, because the number of motor vehicles is increasing very rapidly, particularly in the so-called developing world in many countries, motor vehicles are increasing at a rate exceeding 10% a year, and as you know in China, it¡¯s considerably higher than that, maybe 16% in general, and private cars much more rapidly still. In the course of this, one has to ask why it¡¯s happening. The reason it¡¯s happening is because the style of using an automobile is rising, because incomes are rising everywhere, especially in China, because the trip rates are rising everywhere, just because people are becoming more custom to take the advantage of opportunities outside of their home, for example the trip rates in China, at the present time I believe are around 1.8 or 9 trip per person in medium size cities, in United States are around 3.8, more than twice of that, and the indication in China trip rates are growing fast, it¡¯s about the whole population not just the population who own automobile. The consequence is that congestion as current, there no way that more space can be added sufficiently rapidly to accommodate all these automobile, the consequence of spatial enlargement of cities is acquiring rapidly at a faster rate than their growing populations. Just for one international example, in the northwestern South America, in Ecuador, for example, the cities are doubling in size every 20 years or so, and during that period, they are tripling in area, and this is going on everywhere and has demonstrated by serials of mankind image. The cities¡¯ areas in spatial terms are growing very rapidly indeed. It¡¯s reasonable the surpassing China, that they are growing faster still, because Chinese cities by world standards are traditionally very high-density cities, exceeding 200 people per hectare up to 250 people per hectare, and these are density that which the new technology, rising income, the development of automobile, will attempt to generate a lot of additional urbanized land in the case of China, of course, the agricultural land is already scared, and urban development is observing agricultural land indeed, because in the agri-country, the cities turn psychically could be the center of the best agricultural land, because they are history began, as a commercial center for farmers and agricultural interests. As a Consequence when the city expends, it often occupies, by urbanization, from the best of the agricultural land in the country.

Globe: In general, car ownership is a big concern worldwide, in terms of the motorization, as you said, with income increase, we see the car ownership increase. So they turn to be common rules that each country tend to follow. But for the developing countries, do they have, after the developed countries have, like the ownership almost at the factual emergent level, will the developing countries follow their similar path to replicate the similar mistake they made, or they have the opportunity to developing or alternative path to reach a more sustainable transport.

Ralph: The issue of developing an alternative path is complicated and efforts to do so have not been very successful. I think it is important to understand if an alternative path is to be developed. The Chinese nation is going to have to rely on its traditional capability from string and discipline to keep the worse consequences from happening. What I think the alternative is to constrain urban development and to require it to retain reasonably high density, and no efforts to do that in China are been made by national authority. But it requires a great deal of efforts to do this in the presents. At greater different from the city and using automobile to reach them. Occasionally, we also have to attract people to the use of public transport even know they own an automobile will instead owning one in the case of the people they could. The experience of this has also demonstrated that require a considerable amount of special discipline and regulation in order for let that happen. The third issue of course is the possibility of congestion simply controlling the total amount of motorization. That would be an unfortunate way to do it. In further, it turns to be the evidence that simply congestion doesn't do it except in a very long term. You can put your case like New York.

Globe: In the case of China, because China is a so big country, what¡¯s the unique is of motorization China and what¡¯s the impact to the world, and what¡¯s the perception from the west when they heard like more than 10 million in household for the possession of the car in the past years. So what¡¯s the potential consequences or what¡¯s the perception from the outside world to this phenomenon?

Ralph: I think it is important to understand that outsiders from the north turn to perceive rapid motorization in China as a terrifying phenomenon, because they are thinking that, you know, China currently has relatively low rates of motorization per thousand population on the national basis. If it is going to resembling this in the United States, about 750 vehicles per thousand population, then the eternal incursion into the environment as green house gas is going to be simply terrible. However, at the next level important to ask the question of what¡¯s going to happen in China in the future as regards motorization, in the first place, in the traditionally industrialized countries, the rural areas turned to be more motorized than urban areas, the reason is that the rural population have perhaps more incomes and they need more mobility because they are further from destinations. In China, of course, the countryside is very little motorized at the present time, the tendency has then for urban incomes to rise and within urban areas, a limited class of people, they are in the early stages of motorization, so the increase seems to be extremely large and percentages of annual increase also seem to be very large. But the question is where will this end, will the economic expansion continue to include, continue so as to include rising incomes of people in the cities of relatively low income, many of them are recent immigrants from rural areas, will they continue in such a manner and to include people in agricultural areas who will have in the future automobiles or wish to will auto-vehicles that will be added to the national fleet, or will this not take place. It depends a lot on policy and it depends a lot on the shape of the economy. In any case, one way to put this is let if it applied. The eternal amount of motorization in the vertical access with a curve increasing incomes on the horizontal access, you get a curve resembling the logistic curve, which is a X-shape curve, in which motorization grows very very slowly to people of low income, but when it reaches a critical level of income, then it shoots upward and then reaches a point where further income dose not increase, particularly levels of motorization, it may increase the value individual motor vehicles, but that is not an issue will concern about here. The point is that this logistic curve is X-shape has some kind of a S-shape at the top, that is the curve at the top of the X begin to decline somewhere, and the question in China, where is that level, that where is the level of the population which increases whose income is rapidly increasing at the time, and will in the perceptible future. This is also an index to the extensively control will be necessary in order to keep unfortunate thing from happening.

Globe: In terms of the car ownership from the national government upon to view they may want to see the rapid increase of the car ownership for the sake of the auto-manufacture industry which is one of the pillar industry in China. So the question is any solutions to make the industry of development and the sustainable transport having together no conflicting to each other.

Ralph: It is understandable that government values the auto-motor industry as their growth industry, because it is close related to the development of many sub-industries, after all, automobiles are made of everything, they made of ship metal and other foundry work, like electronic and robber and plastic and glass and everything. So that they are growing automobile industry to stimulate many other elements of industries which serve other national purposes. However, the issue is perhaps the limiting the total emphasis of the industry which is on-the-roads creating congestion and creating environmental hazard. One point is that although motorization in terms of auto-ownership may grow, it may be possible to constrain the actual use of these vehicles to socially responsible use under circumstances of high level of motorization, and that can be done by congestion pricing or by no-drive day, it can be done by making sure that good levels of high speed public transport are available and things of that sort. Another policy or opportunity, of course, is concentrated on foreign market for the sell of these automobiles. I give the example of Korea until the early 1980s. In Korea, they were making automobiles and authority enormously funded them, in a fact using the automobile industry in Korea as the pillar industry. But exported most of these cars to other countries, relatively few were on the street in Korea. This came to an end during 1980s when the initially rather demanding prices of motor ownership were gradually diminished by the growing of economy. Eventually people were able to afford the high-price cars. And shortly after the early 1980s¡¯ congestion air quality became quite polluted in Korea. But it is not too late in China to adopt the earlier policy there and to be sure that many of these new automobiles are finding market else where in the motorizing world.

Globe: Professor, you mentioned that the public transport as one of the solution. In China, the government has just passed a national policy and they wanted to focus on the development of public transport. As you know, many cities are building the rail system and they are, like, exploring Bus Rapid Transit in all kind of investment. How to make the public transport and the increasing car ownership compatible, do you have any suggestion?

Ralph: We believe Bus Rapid Transit and possibly like round transit have little bit less important role to play. Up till now it is the ambition of many cities, particularly in China and else where as well to believe that the solution to their problem is to get a metro, a subway, heavy rail transit. The problem with that is, it¡¯s very expensive. It costs about a hundred million per kilometer to build the metro, sometimes more than that sometimes a little less. And that means, even the most assertive urban policy and the most assertive assets is not likely to be able to build sufficient kilometers of metro to significantly replace the automobile and the rest of the transit will still be the buses with the general traffic on the streets which are much lower than other forms of transit. And as a result while metros provide an important final function in the traffic, they actually don¡¯t accommodate that much of the traffic and leave most people to use their cars. BRT has a much better possibility. To build BRT is to some 3-10 million dollars per kilometer, a considerably less than 10% of the cost of metro, which means that it's possible to have the system that fairly widespread in the city and to especially perhaps provide parking space at the outer limit of the elements of the BRT system, so people can park down and change roads. And further, as congestion become too worse, it will be attractive for them to use it, because the BRT is an independent system to ride and automobiles are not, so that it will become much more efficient to use the transit. This is already been experienced in many cities such as Bogota in Columbia, such as San Diego in Chile and other cities. So it is an answer to the problem exactly and it will turn to reduce the total of auto-use as people simply take logical strategies realizing that if they are using a automobile in a city that they will face a lot of congestion and they¡¯ll face heavy parking charges, which is another instrument in reduce this.

Globe: Another idea you mentioned is land use, to integrate land use and transport is an emergent topic in the United States and the E.U. countries, such as transit on the development and find balance. So what do you think about the effectiveness of the land use strategy as the mobility tool, and how their application work in the Chinese context.

Ralph: First, speaking in the environment of my own country and of developing countries nowhere particular in Latin America. I must say they may surprise you. As an urban planner, I have serious doubt about the possibility for transport planning and such to significantly solve this problem. The fact is that if we want to solve the problem of urban congestion and consequences, it is important to do it in the direct form rather than to try to persuade people that they should live in densely-populated areas in order to avoid this problem which seems to them like an unpersuasive argument to make sacrifices in terms of their comfort and livability. So it is my believe that it is important to be concern about land use planning at the environment measure, but not as the original tools, the original tool has to be the control of trips, either by congestion pricing, by some sort of use restrain, by some sort of enticement, but by workable means of public transport. And then, on the circumstances in which one realizes that the automobile traveling plans are not working very well, then people will turn to be happier with a high density for settlement, because they are compatible with the higher cost of auto transportation. And then the pieces will fix together. My point is the first move is to restrain and the second is to increase urban density not the other way around, because it¡¯s too indirect and the indication in US no longer constantly talks and concern for higher density of a housing and which in the case of United States is much easier than in China, because urban density is tiny when compared with China. Still, it¡¯s not having in the United States much affects and it¡¯s not having much affects in the Latin America or in the Europe as far as I know either. Most of the countries have very affective land development density policies, places confined growth opportunities, such as Hong Kong and Singapore. Now, in principle may be possible for China to take advantage of its traditional perspective on land development to make this work though it hasn¡¯t work anywhere else, that is to say, government basically owns all land itself and since the land use rules might be reasonable easily controlled, there is a greater possibility in China to control those development of land, and there is in most other country, but my sense is that the liberation of the land market and the question of limiting the desired private developer, there¡¯s even overseas developer, is not easy to do this in China.

Globe: The pricing right now is very promising policy in the developed countries, you see some successful story in London, UK and Sweden. So do you see that is a very effective rule and how that policy can be applied in the Chinese context.

Ralph: Whether that work or not in China is very much a matter of how things are seen by government and by people, it¡¯s peculiar sort of thing, China is a mixture of tremendous discipline for development which has been very practical and useful in the history of the country on the one hand, and on the other hand, also with a new revolution in the economy which has produced quite a resistance to discipline of the traditional way. So exactly how the Chinese possibilities of doing these such as congestion pricing, is a question. We talked about actually tolling the use of the city street, and paying a price for using them in a vehicle, by registering your car in some sort of a electronic fashion as you go down the street and getting a bill at the end of the month, or by some similar means. And in that manner, also pay more when you use the congested street or a less congested street, and there are otherways of doing this, and some of them are in action in China. I don¡¯t have a figure at hand at the moment, but the auto-ownership in Beijing is considerably higher than it is in Shanghai, and we must ask a question why people have settled Beijing as a less-density but basically, it appears to be the case that the government in Shanghai has taken a grab on the cars, of auto-ownership and use, in such manners as to dissuade people from not using automobiles. Again, I don¡¯t know the detail at the moment from authority to annual registration cars and taxes at time of purchasing a car, tolls for using the tunnels, in which there is some disagreement between the city of Shanghai and the higher levels of government over how much is the toll can be taken without limiting the development and land on the far sight, and things like that. But there¡¯s also the possibility of charges of parking, which is an important tool of controlling this. These as I said are techniques which without giving the name of traffic control and they are undertaken in Shanghai with in comparison with Beijing and leave the way for us to suppose that these could become a general policy.

Globe: So the pricing and land use development and public transport, those are perceived have a good affect to the general public. As we all know that China is famous for bicycles and pedestrian on travel, and in this area are a kind of neglected by the transportation planner and the government officials. So what do you see the rule of cycling and pedestrian in the sustainable transport in the future.

Ralph: This is a very difficult issue and I don¡¯t have a solution on this. Chinese have traditional use of bicycles a great deal, I have seen figures from the 1980s-90s, in which there were 1-8 bicycles per family on the national level, and a level of ownership characteristics from family of all incomes basically, except for the very poor. And certainly it¡¯s a very environmental-friendly form of transport, and recent actions taken in some cities in China to restrict the use of bicycles because of there are traffic consequences have been met by the environmental community with a great deal of criticism. On the other hand, it¡¯s obvious that when you have a 4-lane street with the two inner lanes occupied by 4-wheel traffic and the two outer lanes by bicycle, and then, this come to a inter-section where some people want to turn left and right, that are terrible consequences. And we have seen how bicycles turn when they need a left turn to move across the advancing 4-wheel traffic in their direction and then across diagonally, not until the traffic light turns green, and create a messy situation. I don¡¯t know if it is possible to have separated bicycles¡¯ streets count onto the traffic streets, it would certainly be a good idea. The potential solution to have elevated ways for bicycles, which is sounding because reaching them by put the top bar over your shoulder is a problem. But on the other hand, it¡¯s lot cheaper to provide elevated ways for bicycles than to provide them for 4-wheel vehicles. Maybe it is a possibility, even with elevator or something, I¡¯m not sure. This rather futuristic at the present time, but it doesn¡¯t require any advanced technology of course. And it¡¯s an ironic problem in Taipei, you know they make bicycles and ship them to the whole world. And in Taipei itself, it is hard to buy a bicycle and you don¡¯t see any on the street, because the bicycles have all been taken over by 2-wheel motor-vehicles which are heavy and fast and they would in danger of the life of the bicycler. So even in the home of bicycle, it has been impossible to preserve the opportunity for the use of them, and it certainly requires some policies or some kind of a new transport in order to make this happen.

 

Globe: The elevated bicycle lane is an interesting idea, what other, like the innovative solution in the western counties to deal with the congestion or transportation problems.

Ralph: I believe any of that I have reasonable confidence in have already been mentioned in this conversation. Those remaining include BRT or future possibilities for bicycle rides. What¡¯s more than these, I don¡¯t know, maybe like the cable cars and suspended vehicles, but they don¡¯t have a high capacity at least so far, and they turn to be used in very hilly situation if necessary. And they also have had a hard time because of the risk, of the possibility that the cable-breaking and the car-falling. So I don¡¯t see much future for suspended vehicles except in specialized environment. Of course it is important also to remember walking, because it has been also threatened by the traffic circumstances in many cities, it is extremely difficult to walk a kilometer or two, because the cars are all parked on the sidewalk. If you try to get out around them, you are in the running lane at risk of hit by vehicle. So that I think the concern of pedestrian ways is an important part of this whole picture, and can improve the quality of life.

Globe: I think all those have give us a general comprehensive image how to deal with the urban transportation problem in China. Thanks very much.

Ralph: It¡¯s my pleasure.

 

 

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