david-tm.jpgBy 2025, another 10% of the world's peoples will become urban dwellers. The UITP warns that if nothing is done, road traffic will soar by 60% compared with 2005. If our cities are struggling to cope today, it doesn't take much imagination to think how difficult life will become, with endless traffic gridlock, appalling pollution, and soaring accident rates.

UITP president Mr Alain Flausch says achieving PTx2 will cost around $US 20 trillion. On the other hand, the benefits in terms of improved mobility, lower levels of pollution, and the ability to sustain our economies, will be huge, so the return on the investment will be very good.

But there is a lot more to achieving PTx2 than simply expanding public transport capacity. Flausch recognises this and set out a five-point plan covering perception, funding, politics, business culture, and incentives. As he observed in his home city of Brussels: "public transport ridership has doubled in 10 years, but we didn't do a huge amount to achieve it." Nevertheless, Brussels is now drawing up a strategy to reduce car use by 20% by 2018 compared with 2001.

All too often public transport has a poor image. Many people prefer to sit in the comfort of their own car in a traffic jam, rather than enter a crowded train or bus, even if the latter will get them to their destination more quickly. Increasingly, people's expectations are rising. As Flausch says, "the new generation hate anything that looks like collectivism, they won't tolerate inconvenience, they are not interested in timetables, and they expect instant and accurate information."

Much of the technology required to meet these aspirations is already available. For example, fully automatic driverless operation means metros can adapt services quickly to meet fluctuations in demand, making rigid timetables a thing of the past. As Thales reminded delegates at the UITP Congress in Dubai, it is now 25 years since the world's first driverless metro opened in Vancouver.

But there are still cities building metro lines with manual operation because they won't take the risk of this proven technology. There are also a lot of operators that either do not see the benefits of full automation or shy away from clashes with their staff in trying to implement the technology. Such attitudes must change, and fast.

A plethora of systems is rapidly becoming available to impart accurate information to passengers at home or in the office, while they are on the move through their mobile phones, and at stations or on trains.

Similarly, the way passengers pay for travel is changing rapidly. Divorcing passengers from having to pay cash for each trip through the use of smart cards and other devices, makes public transport simpler to use and far more attractive. The challenge for operators is how to implement such systems quickly.

As Flausch reminded delegates, "we have smart competitors trying to cope with the new challenges with the development of electric cars and mobility packages, which sounds something like what we are doing."

The question of how to determine the appropriate fare came up in discussion at the UITP Congress, and it is usually linked to how systems are funded. Nevertheless there is often a political element in the decision-making process. Clearly there is a huge range in the level of fares charged in cities around the world. The trick is to try to set fares at a commercially-attractive level which makes public transport competitive.

There is little point in setting fares below the commercial rate if it results in the operator being under-funded and inhibits its ability to meet demand or finance investment. Equally, it is possible to charge a premium for good service without deterring passengers.

Not all cities need to increase public transport usage because they already enjoy very high market shares. In Hong Kong, a staggering 90% of people use public transport, with the metro at the core carrying 44% of riders. It is not simply the continued high-level of investment in public transport and attention to detail to make it work efficiently that makes Hong Kong so successful, but also the very high cost of owning and using a car which means car ownership is unusually low.

Moscow also enjoys a high level of public transport usage with about 80% of Muscovites travelling by public transport every day. But here the challenge is to retain this in the face of an onslaught from road and a shrinking tram network. The metro has also lacked investment for many years, but now Moscow plans to build 75km of new lines by 2016 coupled with measures to curb car use.

Malaysia isn't content with PTx2 as it wants to quadruple public transport usage, although it is starting from a low level. It sees three components for success. There must be political will from the top, a long-term strategy, and some good wins to gain public acceptance. This sounds like a pretty good recipe for success, which others would do well to emulate.