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Public Transport Infrastructure

By lemonsparkles Jan 06, 2011 1585 Words
What are your views on the development of public transport infrastructure in enhancing the future economic growth and development of the 2 countries? This issue shall be discussed together in context of 2 case studies, China (Article A) and Malaysia (Article B). Economic growth and development of a country go hand in hand; development of a country is a process of change and the growth of the economy will inevitably bring about urban change in an environment which aims to improve the standard and quality of living of the people. Infrastructure is the basic network of public facilities upon which nearly all economic activities depend on. In a narrow context, public transport infrastructure refers to transportation services which facilitate movement of people, goods, services and trade. Going by these definitions, yes, with better city planning of public transport networks, a country can accommodate both higher economic activity and a higher quality of life for its residents. The efficiency of public transport is in that it has the capacity to accommodate the increasing demands for travel, as seen in a simple analogy that a train can carry much more passengers than a car. As reported in Article A, the “ageing national railways in China have long been straining under the growing weight of rising numbers of commuters and cargo.” Traffic congestion as a result of inadequate transport networks being unable to cope with the demands of an urbanizing population, has been identified as one of the urban challenges faced by many developing cities. The increased time and distance to make a journey can be a major economic handicap to businesses and puts its workforce at a competitive disadvantage. When more people use public transport such as buses and trains, the volume of car traffic on roads would be reduced significantly, leading to less traffic congestion. As stated in Article A, journeys previously taking up to 16 hours have been shortened to 3 hours with the construction of efficient railway networks such as the Wuhan-Guangzhou train. People now take a shorter amount of time to travel and this has a direct effect on the individual’s level of labour productivity which is defined as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per man-hour as valuable hours are not lost while travelling. With a better level of productivity, it enables sustainable economic growth by producing outputs—in this case, GDP with every input—a country’s workforce as efficiently as possible. Moreover, urban space is a precious commodity and public transport consumes it more efficiently than a car dominant society, allowing cities to be built more compactly than if they were dependent on automobile transport. A country not only has to host its businesses and industries but also all of its residents’ needs—utilities, homes, schools within a finite amount of land. As quoted from Article B, one can “only build so many flyovers and new roads, the future for all big cities like Kuala Lumpur is an efficient inner-city train line.” Due to the land constraints that every country faces, it is vital to optimize land use to make room for future growth. Buses utilize roads more efficiently than private cars as they carry more passengers and trains run under or over valuable urban land. With less land used for providing transportation services, more land can be freed up to support economic activities which can serve as the big focal point for economic growth. Therefore, to support sustainable economic growth, it is essential for a country to minimize land needed for providing transportation services and make strategic shifts towards higher value-added and more land-efficient economic activities. In general, the increase in accessibility of an area provided by an additional transport infrastructure is usually reflected in higher land values, as predicted in Article B, that “when the railway extensions are completed, homes located near the railway extension will increase in value.” This is even more compelling when in today’s context; the existing transportation demand exceeds the transportation capacity, evident in Article B where “hundreds of thousands of people in the fast-growing Klang Valley take the Light Rapid Transport (LRT), often leading to overcrowding.” Subject to budget constraints, a householder will bid higher prices for housing that best embodies the characteristics they desire, such as a desirable location and availability of transit services. This degree of fluctuation in property prices also enables a stable property market to meet the specific needs of a diversified economy in a responsive manner. However, while transport accessibility in an important component of land value, it clearly is not the only one and not necessarily the most important. Transportation networks will allow better integration of the economies across different parts of the country. Integrating industries will remove barriers that may impede the flow of land resources from less to more land-efficient economic activities and this is key to ensuring a country’s leadership as a business and financial hub. Businesses are the economic lifeblood of a city. It produces the jobs and the wages that allows a country and its residents to prosper. Thus the needs of businesses can be regarded as central to one of the most powerful driving forces of the economy of a country. A country must provide choice and diversity of business locations if it wants to be a base for both multi-national companies (MNCs) as well as future global small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This diversity and choice is needed to support the whole value chain of activities of businesses, as well as to cater to the different needs of MNCs and SMEs. An efficient transport network in that location will be a pull factor to foreign investors to set up companies there as their businesses depend on this high level of public transport efficiency whereby economic potential need not be wasted spending time on travelling, contributing to greater economic efficiency. It has been reported in Article A that the express railway network from Beijing to most provincial capitals will connect most major transport hubs, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Taiyuan and Nanjing and provide an alternative to cargo routes. This network will make it easier to send raw materials and manufactured goods quickly from the port or the factories to where they are in demand and manufactured goods to the port for export. Personally, I take issue with what a public transport expert had said, that “while the high speed lines are concentrated in the more populous, prosperous parts of the country, they will eventually have an impact on the country as a whole.” To development enthusiasts, it is worth taking notice of China’s plans, that “by 2020, China plans to have high-speed railways covering 70% of its key cities”, as informed in Article A. May I draw your attention to the fact that the network will be covering only the key cities by 2020? Yes, improving the public transport network will provide improved mobility to the population, but having the network cover only the key cities will mean that the mobility of people living in the inner city will not be improved. Sensing the spatial variation in the level of development between the regions, the more well-to-do, those with greater purchasing power who have the means to move from the inner city nearer to the city centre will chose to do so. As people moved from the inner city, they sell their houses to the less wealthy and this leads to a drastic structural change within cities whereby increased mobility has caused a rapid increase in segregation of the population. The loss of the upper and middle class population will be a considerable worry to the inner city government because it leaves the local government serving only the low income and disadvantaged communities. Many of them may live on welfare aid of the government and their purchasing power parity is low. At the same time, factories and businesses which used to drive that area’s economy may relocate to more suitable locations with the shrinking of its consumers market. The less mobile population may not be able to keep their relocated jobs because they may not be able to afford the high costs of travelling to the Central Business District areas to work, causing a dramatic increase in the level of unemployment. All these are cumulative factors but these factors—lower purchasing power parity, increased levels of unemployment, lower incomes combined hinders the growth of the economy and restricts the ability of the government to improve the standard of living. In some cases, the inevitable consequence may be the formation of ghetto areas and slums. I would like to question, how can this then enhance the economic growth and development of a country as a whole? In fact, this would only lead to greater spatial variations of development within a country and not an equal quality of life for the residents in all areas. Global economies should work towards sustainable development; it is an imperative for people to balance between economic growth and social development for the welfare of the population. Whatever the risks of developing public transport infrastructure, the risks of not doing so are higher as not adapting to meet the needs of industrialization creates an unsustainable economic growth. There will be ups and downs, and twists and turns, in this process of urban change but when the ultimate aim is higher standard and quality of living for all, the change should be worth undertaking.

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