Number Crunching in Transport

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Crunching Numbers on Transport CO2 Emissions in Developing Countries

Sudhir Gota

Without reliable data, transport emissions forecasting is as good as “fortune telling”

We are investing millions of dollars in transport sector in developing countries with minuscule data and inconsistent arguments.  In order to understand the implications of poor data, limited capacity and institutional strength and black-box approach, let us consider the case of India.

The official estimates suggest that the total number of registered vehicles in the country has increased from 5.4 million in 1981 to 99.6 million in 2007. Some researchers argue that the total number of vehicles on road can be as high as 40% less than the total registered vehicles[1] (say 60 million in 2007) and some industry reports suggest that the on-road vehicular population exceeded 94.7 million in 2010[2]. The private vehicles once registered have 15 years validity. The information on actual number of on-road commercial vehicles is more or less accurate as they are registered every year. There is no annual record system of deregistration or scrappage. This results in a huge variation in estimating total number of active vehicles on road.

The most official estimate of transport CO2 emissions is the 2007 green house gas inventory[3]. It has been estimated that the road transport sector emitted, 121.21 million tons of CO2 in 2007. Surprisingly, the same institution which quantified the emissions had reported in a scientific journal[4] that the total number of motor vehicles in 2000 was 48 million and the CO2 emissions from road transport sector is 105 million tons in 2000. Interestingly, while the number of vehicles doubled in 7 years, the emissions increased by only 16 million tons i.e. mere 15%.

The below table summarizes the activity data availability at national level. This is true for other developing countries also.
Registered vehicles
PARC data (vehicles on road)
Fuel split
Technology split
Average age
Emission factor
Average VKT/Year
Average VKT/Corridor type
Average speed per Corridor
Average occupancy
Yes ( city)
Average loading
Yes ( at corridor level)

The data issues get magnified further in freight sector. For example, the general lack of data and reliable data for India’s freight sector makes it difficult to understand, plan and manage freight transport, and makes it virtually impossible to measure the effectiveness of any policies to improve competitiveness and efficiency. For example, at present there is no mechanism in place for regular collecting and reporting data on freight and haulage (ton kilometer or TKM). No comprehensive data on freight movement is available that indicates origin, destination, type and size of freight carried on roads by motorized transport[5]. Furthermore, freight transport is not segregated by different types of trucks such as light commercial vehicles (LCVs), two-axle, three-axle, etc. As a consequence, road infrastructure plans and investments and policies are based on projections that have a high degree of variation and thus uncertainty, as shown in below table for road freight activity in billion ton-km.

Different Projections of Road Freight Activity in India
Billion ton-km by road
Road Transport Demand Forecast for 2000 AD revisited and demand forecast for 2021
The working group report for Road Transport for the eleventh Five Year Plan
Interim report of the expert group on low carbon strategies for inclusive growth
Building India Transforming the nation’s logistics infrastructure

The below figures summarizes many studies (14 different studies by reputed institutions) which have looked at road transport CO2 estimation and projections for business as usual growth for the Indian road transport in future.

There is no consistency (except that emissions are set to grow) among results and such a huge variation in baseline for the CO2 transport emissions in future in India is shocking.
1.       The variation in 2030 is approximately three times i.e. from 395 to 1200 million tons of CO2 emissions.
2.       This variation in 2050 is from 743 million tons to 2300 million tons.

The problem is not with only the future projections but also current estimates. For example, the 2005 estimates vary from 98 to 216 million tons. (see below figure)

If it is not even possible to establish the baseline, how do we measure the impact of policies?

The discussion is not India specific and it applies to many of our developing countries.  There is lack of transparency with regards to data availability and quality which results in questionable outcomes. Unfortunately we see little discussion on data availability and quality even though they remain the cornerstone of policy formulation and investments in transport sector.

Friday, April 29, 2011


 Sudhir Gota

 I plan to document a series of interviews with people from different cities to understand “how to improve our cities”.  The idea is to absorb varied perspectives from different cities and stakeholders on various transport issues in order to capture the problems and solutions and provide a menu of options for policymakers, researchers and other stakeholders.  Cities in Asia are using different tools and strategies and thus I hope this experiment of using a series of interview would provide a good basis to understand the issues and solutions in cities without having to travel to the cities.

In the first part, I am concentrating on Manila transport by interviewing an expert from London - Stefan Trinder.

Stefan Trinder is a transport planner with around 8 years’ experience, primarily as a strategic planner at Transport for London. As part of a sabbatical to travel and experience some new cultures Stefan offered to spend 3 months with the MMDA (Metro Manila Development Authority) as a volunteer transport consultant. He recently finished his 3 months of crash course on Manila transport issues.


His sabbatical of ‘actually’ working in developing cities to understand the issues is a “win – win” situation for all. His experience and insights can provide a different dimension to our problems and thus he is the first expert to be interviewed in this series.

Why Manila city?

Manila transport system is rapidly evolving with time. The motorization growth is intense (vehicle double every 10 years) and travel time budget is constantly increasing with time.  Traffic congestion is so intense that in 2007, official sources estimated P140 billion direct and indirect economic losses. The public transport and non motorized facilities are deteriorating with investments dominating towards few mega projects.  The landuse policy by the government is very confusing and disconnected with transport system. The city landuse policy is decentralized and it is under control of local municipalities. Manila is probably the only city which i know where the two wheelers have outpaced car growth rates and in recent years two wheelers and tricycles have become dominant modes for the first time. This is in contrast to other cities where car growth rates are outpacing the two wheeler growth rates.  

Vehicle growth in Manila


Growth in CO2 emissions in Manila

 Interview with Stefan Trinder

1.       What do you think of the metro manila transport system?

Unorganised, unreliable and inefficient are the first adjectives that spring to mind. What makes it interesting for a transport planner like me is that there is so much potential for improvement. For me the most interesting challenge is improving quality of life by tackling the long and unreliable commute times endured by many residents, the ugly streets (e.g. gigantic billboards, very little greenery, potholes, litter) and the air pollution to mention just a few factors. The competitiveness of the city suffers because of congestion and freight restrictions and the impact on the environment is clear for everyone to see.


Have you traveled in Jeepneys and Tricycles in Manila? What do you think of them?

For a visitor they are great fun, but I’m relieved I don’t have to use them every day! Jeepneys dominate public transport in Metro Manila accounting for around 75% of trips. There are around 50,000 registered Jeepneys in the city, although over 80,000 are estimated to be operating. Jeepney owners are very powerful lobby group. Jeepneys provide both local and long distance services and have a capacity of around 20 passengers. Estimates suggest that over 90,000 tricycles operate in Metro Manila.

Both Jeepneys and Tricycles were great innovations of their time (converted army jeeps and adaptions of motorcycles). The original innovations have been duplicated and established as unique traits of the Philippines. Unfortunately the process of duplication led to little further innovation. We are now saddled with huge fleets of antiquated vehicles that don’t provide shelter from the fumes and dust of the road, are tricky to get in and out of if you are tall like I am and account for a sizeable proportion of air pollution. There are initiatives to modernise the Jeepney and Tricycle concepts, such as loan schemes to convert to 4-stroke tricycles and the Makati electric Jeepneys. I very much hope these initiatives are successful and adopted across the city.

(Literature on problems and solutions being tried out on tricycles can be found here )

3.       How do you visualize Manila transport System in say 2020?

The density of development in Metro Manila (around 20,000 population per km2) dictates that motorised transport must be dominated by public transport. Decision makers must recognise that aspiring to a transport system typical of a North American city is not possible and look closer to home at the likes of Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore. If this happens then I see a city in the midst of a mass rapid transit building boom (like Chinese cities now) and teeming with gleaming new air-conditioned e-Jeepneys powered by geothermal electricity. I see dedicated lanes on EDSA shared by pedal cycles and e-cycles and huge controversy about planned per km charges for private cars on top of the already introduced parking taxes. If the change in aspiration doesn’t occur then I expect Commonwealth Avenue to be repeated across the city in a frantic effort to build a way out of congestion 


4.       What should London learn from Manila? Any positives you see in the landuse-transport system?

Unfortunately, a lot of my observations in Manila illustrate the consequences of a lack of coordinated planning (e.g. the balance of planning power too far towards the 17 individual Local Government Units that form Metro Manila) and lack of effective regulation (both of public transport services and private traffic). However, I think the AUV/FX concept of point-to-point, limited-stop, demand-responsive service could be helpful in and around London. Especially for longer distance routes such as to and from London airports and between key centres in outer London

5.       How did you find walkability and cycling in Manila?

In a word – appalling. I’m a keen cyclist but never dared to try it partially because of the traffic and also because of the air pollution. I can’t immediately think of any dedicated facilities for cyclists other than the Marikina cycleways. There is great potential for cycling as it would be one of the quickest ways to get around the city. Conditions for pedestrians are no better. The potholed pavements are treated as spare space to park cars, dump garbage and even live. The smelly drains and limited road crossings (that generally involve climbing many flights of stairs) are other factors that deter walking. It’s little wonder that motorised transport such as tricycles are commonly used for journeys of walking distance.

       If you are the MMDA boss for next two years what would be your action plan?

It could be argued that MMDA is already overly transport focussed in comparison to the wide range of other responsibilities such as development planning, flood control, disaster preparedness and waste management. However, for MMDA to successfully fulfil its mandate it requires far greater powers to plan, implement and operate schemes across the metropolis with less interference from local and national Government. Therefore, lobbying for a transfer of strategic planning powers from local and national Government would be high on the list of priorities. Within 2 years I think it would be feasible to develop a strategy to transform Jeepney and bus services in the city and (with enhanced powers) have implemented the plan on a number of strategic corridors. In addition I would seek to produce a long term development plan for the city with the aim of attracting investment in transport and other infrastructure.

7.       How was your experience of working in a developing country?

Fascinating to experience at first-hand how planners attempt to get to grips with a metropolis as dynamic as Manila. I witnessed an enormous amount of dedication from colleagues and was warmly welcomed as part of the team. As you would expect there are fewer resources available. In my line of work the resource issue was particularly evident in the limited amount of data and evidence available to guide decision makers. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some Myths About Transportation Busted

Sudhir Gota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.    Future two wheelers would be “E” Bikes

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

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

7.    Bike Sharing Schemes would reduce existing congestion levels

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

8.    Fuel subsidies help the Poor

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

9.    Higher Densities mean lesser transport emissions per capita

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

10.  Motorization and Income have direct correlation

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

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

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

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