Cities With Underbuilt Public Transportation

There’s a number of very big cities in middle-income countries that don’t really have strong public transport, and I’d like to go over some of their features. The archetype for this urban form is Bangkok, but I think this is pretty common in much of Latin America too, it’s ubiquitous in Southeast Asia except in Singapore, and Cairo has it too and I suspect most of the rest of Africa will as it moves into the middle income category. I’m fairly certain in what I am saying as far as Southeast Asia is concerned, following Paul Barter’s thesis; in Turkey I am less certain, and in Latin America and Egypt I am speculating. Of note, while those regions have some shared features, one feature that is not shared is cost: while Southeast Asian construction costs are very high, Latin American ones are not, and Turkish ones are very low. Of course low costs enable Turkey to build more subways, but it’s only doing so right now as it’s converging to the high income category.

Density with cars

Bangkok is a dense city. It is not to be confused with Hong Kong, but it is not to be confused with Atlanta either. That said, the density has not much structure, similar to the situation of Los Angeles – there is no single central business district, just a big central area with sub-districts with high-rise office and residential towers. Private vehicle ownership is high, and as of 2014, the modal split (source, PDF-p. 44) was 58% car and motorcycle (trending up), 37% bus (falling rapidly), 5% metro (trending up).

My understanding is that this pattern is also how cities like Manila, Lahore, Karachi, and Jakarta look, and even São Paulo, which has a decent-size metro system with pretty high ridership but it’s still undersized for how big the region is. Dhaka (which is low- rather than middle-income) and Cairo have especially high residential densities.

Slow metro expansion

All of these cities are building urban rail, but not particularly quickly (except Istanbul, where costs are unusually low). Bangkok is adding a few lines, but even under current plans will keep having an underbuilt system. The same is true for plans in Manila, Jakarta, Lahore, Cairo, and low-income Dhaka. In most of Latin America, too, expansion is pretty slow – the only city where I’ve seen really fast expansion recently relative to size is Santiago, which is both approximately the richest in the region and also has below-average construction costs.

The slow construction is an important feature. Some cities build quickly and can transition toward reliance on public transport. For example, Taipei only began building its MRT network in the 1990s, long after the most similar capital city to it in overall development history, Seoul, had had a multi-line network. It was a city of motorcycles in the 1990s and so were the other Taiwanese cities, but through fast (albeit expensive) construction has become a transit city, developing higher-intensity central business districts at key MRT junctions and turning its older unstructured density into a structured one.

I am also excluding India from this analysis for the same reason. Indian cities are making enormous mistakes in metro construction, chief of which are poor integration with suburban rail and high construction costs, but they are building, and even keep a lid on costs by building mostly elevated systems. The Delhi Metro ridership is flagging, but it’s a big system, about the same size as New York or London, and it’s expanding quickly; the rest of India is still only catching up, but the plan for Mumbai in 10 years is extensive. Tehran is in the same basket as Indian megacities, judging at least by its healthy pace of metro expansion.

Car domination

Even when most people do not own cars or even motorcycles, as was the case in Thailand until recently, the government prefers cars to public transport. This comes from the fact that unless the public transport is excellent, or only serves where the middle class works, richer people will use cars more than poorer people, and tilt government policy to their preferences. Lagos, for example, was seriously considering banning its jitneys in 2017, called danfos, even as car ownership was 150 per 1,000 people, and has periodically considered such a ban a few times since.

This domination exists even in very poor cities. Years ago, a cousin who was visiting Kampala described its traffic to me as a brutal pecking order in which cars fear trucks and pedestrians fear cars. If 5% of the population owns cars, that’s still the richest 5%, and they get to dictate the rules.

Is it governance?

Something most of those cities I’m describing have in common is a form of government called anocracy. It’s defined as an intermediate form between democracy and autocracy, but really should mean a system in which there is unclear authority – perhaps there are elections but they are not truly free, perhaps there is a deep state, perhaps there is a dictator but the dictator’s power is circumscribed by powerful magnates and norms that do permit some political criticism. Anocracies tend not to have very strong states – a strong state under a dictator rapidly becomes a stable autocracy, for example Russia’s transition to autocracy in the last 20 years under Putin, whereas a strong democratic state evolves enduring norms and institutions of civil liberties and pluralism, like Taiwan and South Korea starting in the 1990s.

I suspect there may be a connection here: anocracies do not really have the state planning ability to restrain local magnates, like these top 10-20% of the population who are drivers. They can build roads, because it takes much less state capacity to incrementally expand roads, often with local sponsorship, than to plan a multi-line metro system, let alone do the clever multimodal design integration between infrastructure and timetabling that Switzerland does.

This is not a perfect correlation. Egypt is autocratic and not anocratic, although its recent military coup suggests it may not be as stable as autocracies with full civilian control of the military like Russia and China. Vietnam appears even more stable, and showcased high state capacity through excellent management of the corona crisis (though coup-ridden Thailand has had an excellent response as well). Moreover, there is no correlation between anocracy and construction costs – even putting my finger on the scales and classifying Turkey as not-anocratic, the correlation between a dummy that takes the value 1 at what I think are non-Turkish anocracies and construction costs is 0.06.

That said, there may be something to the fact that we see rapid expansion of metro systems in a developing country with relatively strong democratic institutions, i.e. India, and saw such expansion in turn-of-the-millennium Taiwan, and likewise we also see rapid expansion in relatively stable autocracies like Iran and China, but we see much less of it in countries without strong governments. And Moscow’s fast metro growth in Russia’s anocratic phase in the 1990s and early 2000s can be excused as having some strong-state planning institutions, inherited from the USSR. Egypt in contrast never had these institutions, with its imperfect state control of the military.


  1. Joe Wong

    With all of the monies spent on endless wars since 1990, the USA could of had invested it in a first class mass transit, commuter rail lines, and an improved highway system instead of a third world system that we have now such as the old noisy elevated structures, and the Cross Bronx Expressway which is frequently backed-up from Zerega Av interchange all the way to the GWB.

    • Alon Levy

      The US has spent plenty of money on mass transit, it just got wasted due to high construction costs and/or poor land use (Dallas’s light rail system is 2 km shorter than the Berlin U-Bahn and has about 1/10 the ridership).

      • michaelrjames

        But isn’t that another one of those things (high costs) that doesn’t correlate with domains (nations, states, cities) that build lots of transit? That is, being high cost by itself doesn’t stop a place having good transit. (It may inhibit the amount of good transit it has but doesn’t stop it.) Interpreting this is complicated by legacy structure, thus without their century of legacy transit London and NYC would be in truly awful state, instead of just terrible. And as we can all agree, even myself reluctantly, that London has recovered from their very low point post-war nadir (50s thru 80s) even as they have done a lot less than peer cities like Paris, Berlin (or most German cities) Tokyo and former colonies like HK & Singapore with these latter two showing that high cost doesn’t prevent building excellent transit systems.

          • michaelrjames

            Yep. At least the Victoria line in the 60s which was the first new line for 50 years. The Jubilee Line (extension) was only in the 90s.
            I suspect the catalyst for the improvements and investments, other than the removal of Thatcher, was the Kings Cross fire in 1987 (31 dead, 100 injured) that demonstrated how disastrously neglected and run down it was. There were decades accumulation of discarded packets from cigarettes and Mars bars under the escalators and the escalator that caught fire was timber!

          • michaelrjames

            OK. I remembered it as only new in name and assembled by shuffling of preexisting bit of lines but I see that some brand new bits were built to join some old bits and create the “new” line in 1979. Fair enough, though also note in my original comment I didn’t say London did nothing, just less than its peer cities. Also, the old part of the Jubilee line was like the rest of the system while the Jubilee Line Extension, ie. to Stratford opened in 1999, was dramatically different, and modern. I remember specifically taking it to Canary Wharf shortly after it opened (and in the year I left the UK) to see it.

          • Alon Levy

            The surface parts preexisted, but the tunnel to Charing Cross was new. This was a huge thing, until the line opened the most crowded Tube line in the morning was the Bakerloo, whereas today that direction has the least amount of crowding.

            London also had some neat postwar innovations like the use of cross-platform transfers (though to be honest Berlin had these earlier); these got exported in a much more systematic way to Singapore and Hong Kong.

          • yuuka

            To be fair, it *was* a period with ridership on the way down and expected to decrease further, hence the D78 stock were specified with single leaf doors (same for the 1983 stock) and the use of tube train-sized bogies. I believe the reason why the 1983 stock was thrown out was that it would simply take too long to load up considering ridership increase brought by JLE, and too expensive to rebuild.

            And the only new tunnel was Baker Street to Charing Cross because the intention was to reduce branching south of Baker Street on the Bakerloo line, which meant the line was forced to tube gauge, so I’d accept michaelrjames’ explanation. If not for the 1930s Finchley Road-Baker Street section, I’d have argued they should do something similar to the Northern City Line or Crossrail. In any case, I really don’t think the 1979 Jubilee line actually brought much new things to the table.

  2. Herbert

    An aspect in Latin America that is a bit curious is their relative reluctance to build light rail. Spain has quite a bit of it, after all. This imho inhibits the development of “national styles” in countries where only one city merits heavy rail but several cities might merit light rail.

    Of course the gutting of the railways inhibit regional rail…

    • Nilo

      National government are focused on big cities, which get metros is probably the answer. Though Brazil has recently had some light rail projects. Though I have zero idea if Brasilia or Santos Light Rail has been a good investment.

      • barbarian2000

        the Brasília light rail is in the planning phase

        both the Rio de Janeiro and the Santos light rail systems are very popular locally at least, though they’re constrained by high fares and (in the case of Rio at least) an almost total lack of fare integration with other modes

        • barbarian2000

          a lot of old legacy rail within northeastern cities (recife, sobral, crato/juazeiro do norte, joão pessoa, maceió, natal, fortaleza and sobral) has also been turned into ”light rail”, though the only similarity with the light rail you’ll find elsewhere are how the light rail vehicles themselves look, since they’re still single-track diesel lines

          • Nilo

            Yeah probably need to just build housing and electrify/double track those lines.

    • Mikel

      Cuenca (Ecuador) just opened a tram and La Paz – El Alto has a very interesting gondola network. But yeah, it seems like there’s some potential for light rail there. No idea about Brazil, but Spanish-speaking America doesn’t really look at Spain. And even if they did, there isn’t a “Spanish way of building light rail” they could learn from, because the implementations vary a lot.

      In addition to Nilo’s comment about Latin American countries being centralist (Spain is not), the urban geography is also generally different — mainland Spanish cities tend to be narrow, maze-like in the core and more gridded outside, whereas colonial cities tend to be the opposite. So Spanish experience is perhaps not very useful to them.

      • barbarian2000

        fwiw brazil doesn’t really look to portugal for examples, and only really looks to spain as it pertains to western europe as a whole – brazilian cultural cringe varies a fair amount depending on who you’re talking to, but generally elites are obsessed with the US to the detriment of everyone else (even other parts of brazil)

        • Nilo

          Rail systems seem to take a lot of inspiration from France these days (automation on linha 4 in São Paulo for example, and little branching). But yeah the original metro line designs at least used American designed rolling stock, and pretty large trains. Though IDK if the line design themselves was done by Americans. Rolling stock acquisition seems to be very international a quick look at the fleets of the Supervia, Rio Metro, CPTM, and São Paulo Metro reveals Chinese, Korean, and French manufacturers.

    • GojiMet86

      Guatemala has already started to plan a light rail line in the middle of the city. For those unfamiliar with Guatemala City (I’m going to guess most), the city lies on a high plateau. It has 4 identifiable axis (north, south, east, and west). The old railroad ran down north to south. Officials want to build the line using this the ROW. The Spanish IDOM was hired to help with the project:

      “For Guatemala, IDOM has designed and developed successfully a feasibility study of the system for the public entities ANADIE, PRONACOM, FEGUA and the Municipality of Guatemala. Based on this study, an international tender will be launched for the design, construction and operation of the system, under a public-private partnership agreement.

      In order to take full advantage of the possibilities offered by this rail corridor, IDOM has proposed a LRT (light rail transit) technical solution. Running along 21 km and stopping at 20 stations, it is expected that over 250,000 passengers will use the service on a daily basis. Known as Metro Riel, the corridor will connect the different points, on the north and south of the city, where passengers can interchange between the different modes of transport available. The line adapts to the urban environment through which it runs, either on a segregated track with overpasses, or along a dedicated tram lane which is shared with other modes of transport (using traffic lights to give right-of-way at the intersections).”

      • Eric2

        Guadalajara stared off the same way, with a partly isolated light rail line. Since then they have built two full metro lines. I wonder if they regret cheaping out on the first line now. Maybe it wasn’t worth it in the long term – you spend most of the money of a full metro, but only get the frequency of light rail…

        Guatemala City is somewhat smaller and I think poorer than Guadalajara, but still.

        • Herbert

          Frankly it’s half a miracle anything rail based got built at all. The rest of Mexico seems to have drunk rubber tired koolaids of some kind….

        • anonymouse

          Guadalajara actually started out with a trolleybus tunnel (with a turntable at the end!) which later got recycled for the first light rail line. I suspect the thing they regretted more than the surface alignment was building the platforms for only 2 car trains, which they later had to extend.

      • Herbert

        Costa Rica wins “tallest dwarf” by having the most comprehensive mainline rail network of mainland Central America (and then it’s basically a commuter rail system around San José) and apparently they have big plans of light rail and/or electrifying the heavy rail system….

  3. Lee Ratner

    A lot of these places suffer from the fact that they really started booming population wise when global car culture was at it’s height even in very poor countries. The car was associated with modernity and wealth while bus and rail transit were seen as relics of poverty and the past. The political elites and masses wanted car oriented transportation and cars for themselves. Even in countries not necessarily in America’s orbit like Egypt, there was a big love for the car.

    • Joe Wong

      Yep – this is OK until it becomes like the Cross Bronx Expressway’s style of TRAFFIC JAMS, as well as LA’s freeways which became parking lots instead.

      • Lee Ratner

        Non-Americans definitely love their cars but there was something about the car that really hit the American psyche a lot. I think it fit our self-image as a free wheeling and free dealing people that went where we want when we wanted to. Everybody got the car bug from the highest to the lowest. But I think transit advocates need to recognize why many people prefer to drive over take transit. Besides the ability of not being bound by schedule and being able to put things in the trunk, you generally don’t have to be annoyed or even terrified by bad behavior from too many other people. You drive and your by yourself or with people of your own choosing, unless you are a taxi driver. There is no reason to fear sexual harassment or crime or just people behaving obnoxiously and making the ride unpleasant.

          • Lee Ratner

            African-Americans got the bitten by the car bug just as much as White Americans but the fact that transit is associated with poverty and poverty associated with African-Americans doesn’t help.

        • Joseph

          Judging from what I hear people say in New York, reliability is a much larger issue than personal safety. If the subway was fast, easy to navigate, and clean people wouldn’t try to avoid it. Just recently there’s been an uptick in per capita crime on the subway but ridership is still slowly recovering.

          • Lee Ratner

            I lived in New York for most of my life. People definitely behaved a lot better on the subway than San Franciscans do on busses or people do on BART. Having somebody blare their music on a portable sound system isn’t an infrequent occurrence in the Bay Area. Same with a few loud all out screaming matches. These rarely happened on the subway.

    • Alon Levy

      But that’s equally true of South Korea and Taiwan and yet they’re not like this. And in India too drivers are wealthy and think they’re morally superior to the rest of the population, and there was even a lawsuit against a bus lane alleging that it was discrimination against drivers (it lost but the bus lane eventually got removed anyway for low ridership), but there’s way more investment in urban rail than in non-Singapore Southeast Asia.

      • Henry Miller

        India has traffic bad enough that companies provide buses for their employees, which are full of people making enough that they would have a car in the US. Public transit with good operations should do very well just because you are not tied to excalty when the company bus leaves.

        Cars are not the same expression of independence as other countries though. Those who own a car have a full time driver to drive it. (incomes that would barely be above the poverty line in the US support owning a car and paying for a full time driver if you want one). As such getting the wealthy to switch to transit shouldn’t be as hard, so long as the transit has good operations.

    • Joseph

      In Taiwan cars are assumed to be the default mode of transportation. All new buildings have a lot of parking, road-widening is still common, the highway network is being continually expanded, and car lanes are considered sacrosanct while sidewalks are expendable. Cars are even favored over mopeds, even though mopeds are practically an emblem of Taiwaneseness. Outside of the Taipei metropolitan area mass transit can barely break 10% mode share despite excellent conditions for mass transit. The difference from the US is that there is a cross-party consensus that more mass transit should be built, and failing to do so hurts politicians’ popularity.

      • aquaticko

        That’s somewhat true of South Korea, as well. Outside of Seoul and the Gyeongbu corridor, intracity rail use is relatively low, and although buses are generally very good, basically all new apartment complexes (including those within Seoul) have copious parking spaces, the highway network has expanded far faster than the intercity rail network, and the car absolutely does still stand as an emblem of success. That’s why Koreans drive such big, American sized cars in their incredibly tightly-built cities, despite the high cost of fuel.

        Seoul is definitely a good model to follow, both domestically and internationally, but most Korean planners are still of the mid-20th century planning mindset of cars before other modes. You can see it in those apartment complexes, too; a lot of them are still towers-in-the-park style, and a new town developments generally feature roads far wider than they ought to. This is all gradually changing, with major road diets ongoing or planned in lots of parts of the Seoul, and an increasing realization that more rail (and bicycle) usage will be necessary to abate climate change, and most importantly, the culture is certainly more amenable to that change than America’s.

        • michaelrjames

          Yes, cars are “preferred” all over the world. This notion that it is somehow American or part of the American dream is pure construct. Especially when it really began in Germany for motors, cars and autoroutes; and after a century European cars and design still dominate even in the US. Japanese, Korean and now Chinese cars are still advertised as “Euro” design and luxe cars remain European and even the all-time best selling 2-seater sports car, Mazda 5/Miata, was designed by a Brit based on his experience of those classic British sportsters.

          The success and patronage of metro systems in Europe is part accident of history with their highly constrained ancient city cores. Though Haussmann did create a hybrid system for Paris that does actually allow good vehicle flow thru a millennium old city. Then the Paris Metro provides an extreme density of lines and stations which makes it very efficient at getting anywhere within that core with proximity to final destinations (compare to London where you often have a 1+km walk at both ends). Of course it is reinforced by ‘punishment’ in that not only does the transit outperform private vehicle most of the day, but it is an immense pain owning and parking a car in these inner cores both in cost and inconvenience but again that is not so much by fiat or design as simple legacy of these city’s form. It’s not the case in their suburbs so no surprise that new mega-cities like Seoul were built to handle vehicles.

          One of the biggest problems in those mega-cities in the developing world is the pollution from the millions of small motorbikes or mopeds because these things pour out the worst kind of pollution (NOx) tens of fold more compared to cars. This is in absolute terms, ie. not just per litre of fuel burned; some of these motorbikes put out more than 90x the pollution of a SUV. If governments are unwilling to spend billions on building transit, they should subsidise e-bikes and charging infrastructure (by using higher fuel taxes to subsidise electric two-wheelers not 4-wheel EV). I’m not talking about e-scooters used by hipsters.

          • aquaticko

            I think that the extent to which automobiles are somehow “more American” than transit, it’s to excuse the crappy transit we have, and to excuse the natural-but-not-good predilection people have to use more resources than is necessary for a task. Developed and developing countries all over the world show that transit done well works better for moving people than cars do. However, it does require that people live closer together to work efficiently. Prototypical American says “I am entitled to more space than people in other countries, and entitled to travel more, and more conveniently, than people from other countries”, and transit works less well for that, despite it being quantitatively better for moving people places. So we make the contortion that, “oh, transit doesn’t let me do as much of what I want to, so it must be bad”, as though our wants and needs supervene those of others.

            Fortunately, this mindset seems more appropriately shamed in most other parts of the world that are sufficiently socially cohesive, and so even in dense, unequal places like Latin American and South/Southeast Asian cities, it doesn’t seem to last as long.

          • Tonami Playman

            Thailand is also the worlds second largest pickup truck market only behind the good old USA, but ahead of Australia and South Africa. Though it’s the 1 ton variety what would be classified as midsize in the US where Full size trucks dominate. In 2019 492,129 pick-up trucks were sold in Thailand while 2,847,000 were sold in the US.

            Surprisingly Thailand has a higher per capita sale of pickup trucks 142 units per 1000 residents compared to 115 units per 1000 for the US. Thailand sales charts feature 2 pick-up trucks in the top 3 and 4 in the top 6. The US charts features 3 pick-ups in both the top 3 and top 6.

            The reason for the popularity of pick-ups in Thailand is the low tax rate. For vehicles in the >200g/km CO2 bracket, taxes for pick-ups range from 5% for a Single cab to 15% for a Double cab compared to 35% for a passenger car in the same bracket. It’s no surprise that CAFE regulations in the US also drive the current behemoth size of pickup trucks as vehicles with larger footprint have a lower penalty.

          • Lee Ratner

            Europe was also helped by many of it’s residents being unable to afford the car until the 1960s. Same with the rest of the world. In America, Canada, and Australia more people could afford the car earlier than elsewhere.

          • Lee Ratner

            aquaticko, I don’t think this is an American trait so much as it is big not dense wealthy country trait. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and I believe for at least White South Africans, because of Apartheid naturally, you also have some rather generous living spaces compared to other counties.

          • Nilo

            This is a delightfully inaccurate history, but what are we to expect? Auto ownership grew faster and earlier in the US than virtually any other country. By 1929 every other American family had a car. Ownership declined somewhat during the depression and the war, but afterwards it boomed again. European ownership only booms in the postwar era. Really despite the autobahn there were not a lot of cars in Germany compared to the US in the 20s and 30s. And though America didn’t have a plan for national grade separated routes you see plenty of examples of grade separated highways very early in the US in both planning and implementation (Los Angeles, New York’s Parkways). And the US had plenty of walkable dense city cores. It just blasted most of them into oblivion because it could afford to in favor of the car in the postwar era. European countries were rebuilding and didn’t have the money to do stuff like that. High rail ridership in Europe isn’t an accident of history brought about by ancient city cores, so much as that Americans decided to blow their city centers to hell, and Europeans for the most part didn’t. Explanations for that fact come down to some combination of American wealth and automania, which are very much intertwined.

            Also most Americans drive Pick-ups and SUVs at this point, which really aren’t European designs.

          • michaelrjames

            It’s only inaccurate if you can’t comprehend what you read.
            I didn’t say or imply anything about US not being the leaders in mass car manufacture and uptake. I talked about who originated this stuff (none was American) and who were the real enthusiasts (which doesn’t mean “never mind the quality feel the width”) and which continues to this day. I also said nothing about popularity of SUVs* or otherwise, just about luxe and sporty cars. And if they couldn’t afford to buy cars en masse that didn’t stop the Germans, Italians, Brits and French being nuts about sports cars and racing etc. From the earliest days. It’s really quite incontestible. Next you’ll be telling me the Americans invented photography and cinematography/cinema just because they came to dominate the industry.

            *But if I were to comment about SUVs I’d say the clear predecessor is the Range Rover which has all the commonly accepted features, high clearance for off-road use but with high comfort (indeed, luxe, it’s really the Land Rover pimped up for better comfort & on-road use), 4WD and large load carrying capacity (so the landed gentry can fit a live sheep in the back apparently). I think you’ll find the classier movie stars and billionaires (and drug dealers) prefer Range Rovers over a Cadillac Escalade …

            BTW, you never admitted your error in citing Robert Severo. That too was a classic case of not reading what he actually wrote.

          • adirondacker12800

            t’s only inaccurate if you can’t comprehend what you read.

            He read what you wrote. It’s ahistoric. inaccurate and contradicts itself.

          • michaelrjames


            Ha, the Trump strategy of screeching Fake News at anything you don’t like the sound of.
            Do you pay your taxes:-)

          • Reedman Bassoon

            “We have the distinction of being the first nation in the history of the world that went to the poorhouse in an automobile”.
            Will Rogers – 1928

          • michaelrjames

            Reedman Bassoon:
            “We have the distinction of being the first nation in the history of the world that went to the poorhouse in an automobile”. Will Rogers – 1928

            Ha, I like it. And almost a century later, given that transport contributes some 40% to global warming it is more relevant than ever. We’re driving to our own funeral.

          • Lee Ratner

            Europe saved there dense city cores because they had more reasons to do so than the United States beyond money. The city corps contained much more important architecture and were bigger tourist draws than St. Louis or Cleveland would ever be.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            The city corps contained much more important architecture and were bigger tourist draws …

            It’s almost as if entire classes of human beings are somehow … negligible

          • Nilo

            I generally don’t read your replies Michael as I find what you write to be completely uninformative. So I’m not sure what you think I got wrong about Cervero, but I’m sure it’s not it. Anyways the first Parkways are at worst contemporaries of the autobahn.

          • michaelrjames

            How Trumpian of you. That’s a sure fire way to remain in denial about your perfect concepts and perfect criticisms. Just don’t read them. As it happens Cervero completely confirmed what I was saying. As so often the case the only explanation was that you misread him.
            Here’s the critical citation, directly from Cervero:

            [Table 7.2 ] Today, railway operations account for about 35 percent of the Tokyu Corporation’s revenues and real estate accounts for about 25 percent; however, the company’s real estate operations generate nearly two-thirds of the firm’s net profits.
            (Table 7.4). Still, every private railway made a profit, something few passenger carriers worldwide can claim. ..The major sideline business of most Japanese railway companies has been real estate. Table 7.5 shows that all companies earned at least a 30 percent return on real estate investments in 1993, though profits have recently fallen somewhat with the crash in Tokyo’s land markets in the early 1990s. Still, in 1993, real estate generated more than half of all profits for the Tokyu, Seibu, and Sagami railway corporations. … All except Keisei and Tobu earned more from real estate transactions than any other business activity …

  4. Nilo

    Feels like your anocracy is off the mark in South America, where besides Venezuela and now Bolivia, democracy is pretty common. As much as Bolsonaro wishes it he’s somehow a more ineffective authoritarian than Trump. Though I agree Brazilian institutions are a mess. Rio de Janeiro is probably going to end up with five straight governors going to prison on corruption charges. São Paulo is somewhat better, and I think it’s no accident that São Paulo has been the one system that’s managed to consistently increase in size and achieve high ridership/km numbers in Brazil.

    • barbarian2000

      são paulo politicians only stay out of jail because they have judges in their pockets

      wrt brazil being unstable…well, rio de janeiro has fascist death squads controlling fairly significant chunks of the city, which I wouldn’t really expect from a paragon of stability

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, it’s plausible, as I said I’m more familiar with the situation in Southeast Asia and Turkey (and to some extent South Asia) than Latin America. I feel like Brazilian democratic institutions are still weak enough that people were openly mooting a military coup around March when Bolsonaro seemed really out of it, but it’s likely that what people in the GayTowns Discord channel who have hammer and sickle emoji say about Brazil is not what Brazil actually is.

    • Herbert

      Honduras had a coup in the twenty first century, Argentina is in the claws of creditors, Nicaragua hasn’t had a widely accepted election since 2006, Chile will hopefully soon vote on a new constitution…

    • Nilo

      Herbert I specifically left out Central America, because it does seem like Alon’s criticisms of it are more accurate.

      Alon, yeah Bolsonaro seems to have more support in the military probably because unlike Trump he is one of them (army captain), but simultaneously his support among Congressional members and state governors seems much weaker since Brazil has many parties.

  5. yuuka

    Jakarta has a decent (electrified!) commuter rail network using mostly ex-Japanese trainsets, as well as one of the largest BRT networks in the world.

    I don’t disagree they should be building more rail-based public transport, but the investment itself raises large questions given how the city itself is suffering from severe land subsidence. It may be better to build new planned cities with good public transport from the beginning in order to depopulate Jakarta to a more sustainable level, even assuming the city makes it through climate change intact.

      • Eric2

        BRT can be real. The key questions are, how many passengers are carried, and at what speed? If these approach the numbers of a metro, then BRT is a real substitute for a metro.

        I get the impression this is the case in places like Bogota. Not sure about Jakarta.

        • barbarian2000

          Bogotá is a terrible example for BRT, it’s constantly dangerously overcrowded and locals try to actively avoid it if possible

          • Eric2

            “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” – Yogi Berra

            Yes they need a couple metro lines on the most crowded corridors to supplement it. It’s still a success despite that.

          • Herbert

            The crowding was predictable and they would’ve saved a lot of money if they had built rail to begin with….

          • Tonami Playman

            Indian cities were once BRT crazy touting the so called lower cost for similar functionality as metro with the movement culminating in the multiple award winning Ahmedabad BRT that nobody uses. Ahmedabads BRT only delayed implementation of metro with the cost of lost time and money. They are only just recently getting on the metro bandwagon. But BRT has lost its buzz in India and now every city wants a metro.

            Unfortunately Pakistan is still on the BRT trail. With Lahore and Islamabad having expensive low ridership systems. Despite both receiving technical advice from Istanbul’s Metrobus, they ignored the fact that the Istanbul Metrobus is complimentary to its existing metro. Then you have Peshawar spending metro money to build fully grade separated BRT instead of building metro from the start. Karachi does not want to be left behind and is also frantically chasing BRT despite the fact that considering it’s size, the only solution Karachi should be pursuing is metro and upgrading their circular railway corridor.

        • yuuka

          To be fair, the MRT line in Jakarta already follows the BRT Line 1.

          The thing is that unlike say, Bangkok, the Jakarta MRT plan only calls for two lines in an X-shape. There are some LRT lines further inland, but that’s the point – can any more rail infrastructure be built in time before the city meets its doom at the hands of climate change? The current plan really only covers MRT development till 2027 or something.

          • Eric2

            It’s not about climate change. 95% (IIRC) of the problem is sinking ground (due to overpumping of ground water), not rising seas.

            And the city will not “meet its doom”, if things go well it will build seawalls and protect itself, if things go badly there will be occasional floods in which thousands will die in poor districts, but people will still choose to live there for economic reasons.

          • michaelrjames

            Eric 2:” It’s not about climate change. 95% (IIRC) of the problem is sinking ground (due to overpumping of ground water), not rising seas.”

            That is quite true. Most of it (private wells) is not authorised but the reason it happens is that the city simply doesn’t keep up with infrastructure so people have little choice. Though Dog knows the city needs more transit independent of the appalling road congestion, water infrastructure probably should take priority. Since there is no real issue with water availability (in the sense of plentiful rainwater), it is the issue of building the infrastructure to bring it to the city and distribute it. They should also be treating waste water and pumping it back into the aquifers to reverse or at least stop its constantly dropping levels. Already it has dropped so much that parts are turning saline as it draws in sea water–which also points to the fact that sea walls won’t prevent this happening (all the action is underground, just like in Miami).
            One might have hoped (if one is an irredeemable optimist) that Jokowi would have done something, having come from being mayor of Djakarta ….

            Of course some parts of the rich world (Texas, Miami, the Veneto) can’t stop this same behaviour so I suppose it is a bit much for us to lecture the poor world on this.

          • yuuka

            Jokowi’s idea of “doing something” was to throw his support behind moving the capital to Kalimantan in Borneo.

          • Tonami Playman

            And if they execute the masterplan which looks like a copy paste of the Putrajaya cartopia then Kalimantan is going to be just another flashy new capital where good transit is an afterthought. They’re calling it “Forest Archipelago City” filled with excessive parkland and sprawled out building complexes

            Politicians love to do brand new things rather than fix the existing one. Jokowi’s excuse for not taking action on sorting out Jakarta’s water supply is that it would take years to clean the rivers.

          • michaelrjames

            Jokowi has been a disappointment because we had too high expectations as the first president outside the usual military or historic families and as very popular mayor of Djakarta. But being an outsider is probably why he became a disappointment because he wasn’t able to handle the military or the powerful family clans. And to get re-elected for his second term he did awful deals with the hardline Islamicists.
            I always assumed there was some retired general (or cabal of them) who owns the land where the new capital is proposed.

  6. Lee Ratner

    There are lots of what I call non-car car cities in the United States. Places that would have at least a tram system if they were in Europe but don’t because of America’s love affair with the car. These were places that got built up heavily before the car became big than dismantled their transit system. It shows in the streets. These include Oakland, Berkeley, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, etc.

    • Eric2

      Besides Oakland and Berkeley (part of the Bay Area), those cities are all too low-density, with no real prospect of densifying, to support significant transit nowadays. Transit worked in the past because the cities were higher-density then (before white flight and then black flight) and fewer people could afford cars. Those circumstances will not return.

      • Henry

        Seattle was also a very low density area until about the ’90s and then we had limits placed on urban growth and now we have the fastest growing transit ridership in the country and successful densification around present and future light rail stations.

        The change to suburban development happened over one or two generations. It’s not set in stone.

        • Lee Ratner

          Seattle and Portlands were the cities that actual grew after World War II for the most part. There were plans for subway in the 1960s that only got a slight defeat at the ballot box.

      • Lee Ratner

        Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland seem to be doing well. I agree about places like Cleveland and St. Louis. There is less of a need for regional mid-tier cities these days then there was in the past.

    • Alon Levy

      In Bangkok they don’t really come with drivers, Thailand is not that poor. You don’t get to 60%+ private transport mode share (mostly car but also some motorcycle) with everyone paying a driver.

  7. Tonami Playman

    Kuala Lumpur is seeing a lot of transit investment at similar level to Major Indian cities, but most of the lines suffer from low ridership. The LRTs are crowded and need more rolling stock, the MRT Kajang line has a daily ridership of 175k for 51km. Don’t know if the reason is the alignment or the system is not yet big enough to be useful to the wealthy car driving population along most of it’s corridor.

    On the other hand Jakarta has very high ridership on its commuter Rail and BRT network.

      • Tonami Playman

        Definitely from a per capita standpoint Jakarta’s ridership is far worse than Kuala Lumpur. Just looking at the numbers it 13 annual riders per capita in Jakarta compared to 18 in Manila, 27 in Bangkok and 38 in Kuala Lumpur.

        KL is by far the wealthiest in South East Asia excluding Singapore and has a more per capita km of infrastructure. I was just highlighting the relatively low ridership per km of rapid transit lines in KL compared to lines in other cities in the region.

    • Matthew Hutton

      Don’t all KLs lines compete with each other a bit and have different ticketing etc? That was my impression when I was there 10 years ago?

      • Tonami Playman

        There’s integration between the 2 LRTs, MRT and the monorail, but not between the KTM Komter and Express Rail Link.

    • yuuka

      The SBK/Kajang line has horrible frequency for a driverless MRT line – 9 minutes off peak is not what I consider turn up and go.

      Arguably it might just be a function of the bad ridership, or indicate that the line is overbuilt. It used to be LRT under government plans anyway, until they decided they wanted to emulate Singapore and have an actual MRT system, so they extended the line out and increased the train size. It’s probably faster to use KTM than the MRT from Sungai Buloh and Kajang anyway.

      It *might* get better with the SSP/Putrajaya line which does hit a fair bit of new rail catchment, but that’s been severely hit by austerity measures implemented last year under the previous government.

  8. Lee Ratner

    The fact is that a lot of people across the globe prefer private transportation over public transportation for many reasons. They might moan about traffic a lot but they still prefer it over the bus, tram, and subway. In order to get a higher mode of public transit you need to punish people out of their cars. There seems to be political will to do this in Europe, Japan, and South Korea but not anywhere else.

    • Henry Miller

      In most places the system is bad enough that you cannot talk about punishing people out of cars (even if you agree with the idea which I don’t). When the transit system doesn’t go where you want, or does only by a slow round about way, it is no wonder people don’t use it.

      Fixthe aboveaand yyou wwill seecchanges iin ridership.IIt will take years to see the changes, but you need years to build anyway. (unless it is just about rerouting buses, but even then buying more isn’t cheap)

      • Lee Ratner

        You generally need voters/tax payers to approve spending the money to create a transit system good enough to take people where they want to go. That sometimes happens but the voters seem to prefer fantasy solutions like building more roads in hopes that traffic doesn’t increase, etc. rather than do the right thing. You need to both improve transit and get people to use it.

        • Henry Miller

          That is a viscous circle. There isn’t good transit so it is hard to see how it can work. In the mean time there is a good road network so it is easy to see where it isn’t good enough (congested), and so it is easy to vote to fix it.

          Over priced construction makes it worse – for the amount of money spent we are not getting a good return. This hurts roads too, but not nearly as much since people at least see it making a difference to something they might care about.

  9. Eric2

    “Indian cities are making enormous mistakes in metro construction, chief of which are poor integration with suburban rail and high construction costs, but they are building, and even keep a lid on costs by building mostly elevated systems.”

    I really don’t see why you keep hating on Indian cities. Construction costs there are about the same as Berlin and Rome (PPP), or Madrid and Turkey (nominal). In other words, very respectable. Like you say this is mostly achieved by using elevated systems, but the functionality of an elevated system is identical to a subway so I don’t know why this has to be seen as a compromise. As for “poor integration with suburban rail”, in fact Indian metros almost never duplicate suburban rail ROW, and the metro-suburban rail transfers are generally pretty good (the percentage of missed transfers is no higher than in other parts of the world, as far as I can tell). What is wrong with India is the ticketing system – high fares on the metro to keep out the poor, and lack of fare integration to suburban rail. But that is not a *construction* deficiency.

    • barbarian2000

      Indian metros use 1435 mm gauge that’s considered the international standard instead of the 1676 mm gauge which is already common throughout suburban railways, making physical integration difficult at best (imported rolling stock has to be trucked in for instance, instead of going on the actual existing rail system). Brazilian metros have made the same mistake before (the Salvador metro uses 1435 mm gauge, and bizarrely the São Paulo metro uses both 1600 mm and 1435 mm gauge), but it’s not as common

      • Eric2

        There is no need for large Indian cities to integrate lines. They are so big that individual lines will be full to capacity without any branching or interlining. So it doesn’t matter if the various lines have different gauges. It’s no worse than NYC having the incompatible A and B divisions, or Vancouver using incompatible signalling for the Canada Line.

    • Alon Levy

      Construction costs for subways in Indian cities are a lot higher than in Berlin or Rome. India does keep a lid on costs by building els, but when Mumbai builds els for not much less than Berlin builds subways, something is wrong.

      The reason this is important is that els are typically built outside city centers. Densifying the core network generally requires subways, just as pre-IND New York was building subways in the core and els in Queens and outer Brooklyn.

      And as for integration with regional rail, Delhi has a lot of missed connections, and Kolkata just opened a metro on its best corridor for an RER tunnel.

      • Eric2

        The issue is not what is “typically built”, the issue is what *should* be built. The fraction of an Indian city which needs subways due to its beautiful/historic nature, or due to the lack of wide streets to build over, is very small. If

        Delhi barely has regional rail to begin with. Kolkata is truly mystifying in how bad the planning is, but it’s an exception. Most of the other cities seems to plan regional rail-metro transfers pretty well, although fares are not currently integrated.

        • Eric2

          [Rewriting the first paragraph]
          The issue is not what is “typically built”, the issue is what *should* be built. The fraction of an Indian city which needs subways due to its beautiful/historic nature, or due to the lack of wide streets to build over, is very small. If Indian cities manage to build the vast majority of their network at the same prices as Berlin, that’s pretty good. The small tunneled bits will be expensive, but they are a small fraction of the overall cost.

        • Tonami Playman

          Delhi has no regional rail because it ignored its regional rail corridors and is now building the flashy overpriced RRTS instead. And it has no active plans on connecting the metro network to existing mainline corridors. Bengaluru is also doing something similar.

          It seems other Indian cities are emulating Delhi’s hostility towards regional rail with the exception of Mumbai which has improved the reliability and capacity of its suburban rail network for minimal cost over the last 2 decades like switching from 3kV DC to 25kV AC and increasing frequency. Yet the image every other Indian city has of regional rail is poverty following Delhi’s lead of course.

          • Dist Watcher

            RRTS will cost Rs. 30,000 crores and upgrade of existing Indian Railways line will cost Rs 1500 crores
            RRTS is running to parallel to Indian Railways and is definitely NOT required.

            Delhi only needs Metro (no regional rail is required as metro can do better job now)
            AND HSR.

  10. Eromonsele Emmanuel

    Hey, impressive arguments here Alon. I reside in Lagos and I for one can affirm that the government is under investing in the potentials of metro systems for public transportation. Rail networks on ground are not robust enough to serve the many populous cities within Lagos and although the government continues to invest in maintaining a Bus Rapid Transit system and water transport. It cannot meet the demands of over 21 million inhabitants.

    Rail is the future and I hope they do realise this soon enough.

    Again, since Lagos is the commercial capital, it’ll make sense to direct some sea cargo to other neighbouring states to ease traffic congestion.

    Finally, cancelling danfos will not magically solve the problem. It’ll quadruple it, at least for now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.