Challenges for sustainable urban mobility

source : Harun al-Rasyid Lubis, Bandung | Sat, 09/24/2011 8:00 AM

The target to reduce greenhouse emissions by 26 percent in 2020 as stated by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Pittsburgh G20 Summit should be welcomed, and it remains for the government and public policymakers to detail the targets and action plans.

Surely this can be achieved partly through sustainable transportation. A “predict and provide” attitude to combat traffic congestion can no longer be effective. Building adequate (toll) roads to accommodate city traffic is paradoxical, as adding road capacity instead encourages the ownership and use of private vehicles. The results; roads are increasingly congested and polluted, thus environmental quality continues to decline.

Recently, efforts to encourage inter-agency coordination to monitor an agreed list of action plans to combat traffic congestion in Jakarta did not guarantee any service improvement. For example, the episode involving the Presidential Work Unit for Development Monitoring and Control (UKP4) to monitor inter-agency involvement finally ended up nowhere. Admittedly, a list of action plans as submitted by various responsible public agencies can not be delivered until an agreed time line has been reached.

Rather than attacking congestion directly, which in many cases has never succeeded, an alternative agenda called Sustainable Urban Mobility (SUM) or any other term known as Integrated Transport Strategy has been widely adopted in achieving sustainable urban transportation worldwide. SUM prefers to fully utilize existing infrastructure rather than new construction. SUM emphasizes more the outcomes rather than output. SUM emphasizes changing travelers’ behavior rather than purely physical or supply provision.

SUM is about cooperation and joint effort through working groups, involving parties and communities that are affected by the policies. Therefore, the aim of SUM is to provide a sustainable, safe, equitable, efficient transportation system for city residents and business people.

In order to achieve sustainability objectives in transportation, a common adopted strategy is to ensure that the development and improvement of public transportation takes place, whilst efforts in restraining use of private transport, such as cars and motorcycles, are also imposed. Various measures or policy instruments can be listed to support the realization of SUM. This relates to selecting measures so that carrots (honey) are mostly served for public transport, whilst sticks (poison) are kept for private transport.

Inconvenient public transport services have prompted households to own cars and motorcycles. The market share of the existing angkot and conventional buses has been absorbed by motorcyclists. The dilemma is that motorcycle production is considered partly an engine for economic growth, but its improper use may harm other road users and cause more accidents.

However, an initial pulse of sustainable transportation has spread to several cities in the country. These include, among others, urban rail revitalization, MRT plans, the provision of BRT (bus rapid transit/Busway) lines in several cities, creating cycle lanes and holding events like car free days. These are the beginning of a campaign that needs to be expanded and worked out more consistently with other enabling instruments.

SUM and its implementation have neither been legally binding nor entered the mainstream of policy dialogue. Perceptions amongst city managers and policy makers are diverse in every city. Many impediments have been found, the challenge lies in the fragmentation of planning and decision-making processes at various levels of public institutions.

Other obstacles include difficulty in integrating policy and coordination among public agencies. Furthermore, tariff and fiscal policy frameworks are still too weak to allow us to influence travelers’ choices, whilst collecting supporting funds. Legal and regulatory frameworks are not supportive yet. In some occasions opposition from the public or media to new policies should first be settled and dealt with. We need a solid national policy and roadmap to achieve the vision of sustainable transportation.

Each policy package may have a different and unique impact. In some instances two instruments of policy packages are counter-productive, or perhaps they are having a positive synergy. So, the success of designing SUM can be approached through two principles: i) the synergy between various instruments of policy packages, or ii) removal of barriers that impede the execution of certain policies, e.g. through new regulation or law.

The term synergy is interpreted to mean a complementary nature in which two policy packages when applied together will support each other and produce wider impacts rather than each being implemented separately.

To achieve sustainable urban transportation will inevitably require an integration of authority or coordination among public institutions to secure those synergies. Integration or effectiveness of cooperation among local governments in resolving the problem of public services all in one basket is hard to find and difficult to realize. The existence of BKSP (Development Cooperation Agency) in Greater Jakarta, for example, has neither been beneficial nor functioned effectively.

Considering that other metropolitan areas such as Bandung, Surabaya and Medan are also experiencing worsening traffic congestion, a quick response and more realistic initiative are necessary. As an alternative, a narrower scope of cooperation could be initiated soon by forming an agency or authority to deal only with public transit management, then expanded to cover all transportation issues whenever ready in the future.

With regards to land use, mushrooming shopping malls must be countered by first freezing new building permits if development plans have no access to mass public transportation. Properties and new development blocks along crowded city corridors should be bundled with public transit development plans so that transit operators may have sufficient revenues to guarantee convenient and sustainable transit services.

In terms of procedure, transportation planning processes and decision making should be institutionalized. This will secure a standard procedure for the continual development of transportation planning, within which sources of funding and collaboration amongst public institutions, private sector and community participation are managed.

Above all, to reduce fragmentation in the transportation planning process and decision-making, in near term the central government should release urban transportation planning guidelines together with soame amount of competitive grants for cities that are seriously willing to implement an integrated transport strategy. In metropolitan areas, such an initiative should be led by the governor in collaboration with mayors of the capital and outlying cities.

The writer is lecturer at the school of civil and environmental engineering at the Bandung Institute of Technology.

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