Taiwan Mission Recommendations : 23–30 January 2014 (Peer Review and Commentary)

taiwan - taipei - scooters at stop light

 A morning like all others in Taipei traffic

Lyon, 3 February 2015

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It had been a year and a half since I last worked in Taiwan, the longest separation since I started collaborating with colleagues there in 2009. During much of this interval, in addition to my teaching, editorial responsibilities and advisory work, I have been working on a most challenging new book under the title “General Theory of Transport in Cities”. The book aims to set out what I believe to be a much needed, consistent base for planning, policy and investment decisions in this important and fast changing field where ad hoc decision-making by unprepared politicians and ambitious interest groups has all too often prevailed.

This last year has been a period of deep reflection on my accumulated experience in the transport and sustainable development fields in cities around the world over more than four decades. As a result of this ongoing process, I find myself this time looking at the issues in Taiwan from this broader international perspective. My keynote address to the International Forum on Livable City & Eco-Mobility in Hsinchu on 29 January was the first in a series of international “road tests”, which are giving me a precious opportunity to present some of the main arguments from the book before expert audiences to test them and seek their critical comments and views.  The lively discussions that took place in Hsinchu during the forum and my four days there proved to be most valuable.

My visit this time put me in touch with a number of the leaders in the field, including mayors, deputy mayors, Director Generals of transportation and urban policy, distinguished university professors, journalists and a wide range of experts in the field in the cities of Tainan, Taipei, New Taipei City and Hsinchu — a splendid range of city sizes and approaches which have helped me to get up to date on the issues and approaches to which they are presently giving attention. Since I have been visiting Taiwan and meeting with and learning from leaders in the field for more than half a decade, I have been able to develop some not-inconsequential, pretty well informed “outsider” perspective on what is going on there. It is against this background that I am pleased to share with you here the main findings, consultations and recommendations that I have to make upon conclusion of this latest visit (and which I intend to test now through informal critical reviews by experts in Taiwan and beyond).

Four quick points about what follows before we dig into the details.

For the record I have to say right here at the outset that my point of view is not entirely neutral.  I do have a concrete point of reference, and that is the innovative experience and many lessons  learned at the leading edge in European cities over the last fifteen years or so. (We refer to this as the New Mobility Agenda – click http://wp.me/PsKUY-xq for more.) The recommendations I make here are not intended as encouragement for simply copying their approaches, mo matter how well they may work in those other places.  Rather I invite you to reach across the planet, study them from up close and learn from the experience of the best. And then get down to work with your high skills to make them better yet in Taiwan.

Second, please understand that none of the ideas set out here are entirely original to me. Many of my colleagues in Taiwan are already looking into, working with and recommending similar approaches. My hope is that since in this case this encouragement come from an external voice, this just might help reinforce their cases.

Third, what you have here are strictly my outsider conclusions and you will therefore understand that they are based on incomplete information. (But that is perhaps not so bad, since in fact decisions making in the face of incomplete information is what transport and city planning and policy is all about.)

My last proviso is that what follows is just a start, and in each case to be fully understandable requires far more information than the few lines that appear here to introduce each of these points. For now however please permit me to stick with these short introductions, to get the ball rolling. That said, the interested reader may find it comforting to know that I am more than available to go into further details on any of these points if that might help.

The recommendations that follow may appear to be bold to the point of rudeness. Please, they are not intended as such. They represent my best attempt to draw on my experience and vision, and in this to be useful to the people and cities of Taiwan. The English poet William Blake wrote two hundred years ago that “Opposition is true friendship”. Good point, and I believe that is every bit as true today.

Now on to my ten recommendations, along with this invitation for your comments, corrections and counsel. My email address and phone number appear below.

I look forward with real interest to hearing from you.

Eric Britton

M. +336 5088 0787 | E. eric.britton@ecoplan.org | S. newmobility

# # #

Taiwan 2015 Recommendations

1. Motorised Two Wheelers:

A full-fledged, multi-point, comprehensive strategic analysis and plan is now called for, both at the national and city levels. And it is not too early for this!  M2Ws (mainly two-stroke scooters) are often seen by public officials as a problem, which in my view is most definitely NOT the case. I regard these independently chosen, personally financed, flexible, space-efficient, cost-effective personal vehicles as a tremendous and as yet poorly understood mobility asset, which if we are ready to look closely open up vast possibilities of better, safer, cleaner, less intrusive, and more harmonious mobility for all. And that not only younger people and lower income groups, but also increasingly car owners who are turning increasingly to M2Ws as an affordable and more time efficient mobility option at a time when governments in most cities in the world continue to fail to put their traffic problems into the cage.  But in the case of Taiwan’s cities there are a certain number of good signs. Despite the unabashedly Asia-style cowboy (and girl) driving, the scooters themselves are clean and there seems o be 100% adherence to the law requiring helmets and left hand turn practices. Also, while parking offers a huge urban space problem, in most cases the vast majority of the vehicles are neatly arranged. That’s a start. (If you undertake this with success — which I cannot doubt will be the result if you do – you are going to make a huge contribution not only to cities and people of Taiwan, but also to cities in other parts of Asian and the world who are facing these same problems and badly in need of your shining examples.)

2. Step up partnership with land use and urban design

The transportation planning and policy functions in most parts of the world has been too far held apart from the inseparable underlying issues of land use and urban design. Spatial organization lies at the heart of the need for movement. Transportation is properly viewed as a public service, and access depends critically on how the city is structured. These co-functions need to be united at both city and national levels. This will become increasingly important as new city structures emerge – epicities of different sizes which spring up around the central agglomeration, with the potential of being more self-contained and thus more appropriate for low-carbon mobility. An historic opportunity not to be missed.

3. Give up on the broken American model

It is my impression that despite many serious efforts on your part, that you have yet to abandon the American model (basically priority to cars) for the European model (basically , priority to fair and efficient mobility for all, at the price of reducing street space for motorised traffic). To be a bit aggressive, I would say that from an on-street perspective your cities just (a) have not perhaps fully appreciated to what extent the old model is broke, and (b) that the new one really does work. Public attention and investments should be refocused on projects and programs which favor more space efficient, cleaner and safer technologies, modes and services.

4. “Understand the “Uber Revolution”

The sudden, striking and entirely unexpected appearance of organizations in the private sector offering new and at times radically different mobility packages needs to be seen not as an unpleasant detail but rather as an extraordinary opportunity to study and bring about a major and much-needed paradigm change from the old broken model. Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Curb, YongChe, LeCab and a fast growing group of solo and shared ride contenders, as well as more traditional taxi operations starting to rise to the challenge, is the fastest growing new mobility alternative to unsatisfactory taxi or other transport services. This movement perhaps signals the outset of a major paradigm change of how we deliver mobility in and around our cities all over the world. It deserves close study, negotiation and careful experimentation.

5. More safe cycling
Achieved by (a) taking space now allocated to inefficient and toxic motorized traffic, and by (b) creating low speed zones and routes across the city which offer safe havens for cyclists.  There is a huge body of experience on how to get this right, which is there for you to consult, study and adapt to the needs of your city.

6. Civil Society

Taiwan has an exceptional advantage in the form of outstanding university programs and professors who are world level in their fields of expertise and actively lead the contributions of Civil Society or “The Third Force” which is essential to ensure both efficiency and democracy. We would like to see more high profile activity from NGOs, associations, environmental and neighborhood groups, consultants, bloggers, schools and the media including investigative reporting. More participation and feedback is needed in order to ensure that all the voices are being aired and interest served.

7. Car Free Day Audits

Time to move to a new way to put the Car Free Days idea to work in new strategic ways. In addition to whatever events are organized on that Day, it is recommended that once a year a “new mobility agenda audit” be carried out by participating city governments. The audit present identify in summary terms the status of key sustainable transport modes and indicators, and on the Car Free Day the city mayors can provide (a) a concise summary of progress made on the New Mobility Agenda over the last year, and (b) while at the same time announcing, for example, five specific targets to be set and “what” met in the year ahead.

8. Walk/Bike to School

For reasons of health and social development it should be a national priority to ensure that every child Taiwan be able to safely walk or bike to school every day. There is no good reason that such a program cannot be successfully engaged. For very reason that might be advanced arguing that this is not possible here or there, there is an experience-proven response.

9. Gas Prices

No matter what the thousand explanations, justifications and complications might be, this resource needs to be fully and fairly priced to take fully into account the high externalities of motorised transport. From the vantage of more efficient and cleaner transport in cities, this should be a no-brainer.

10. Join Europe

The leading edge of integrated transport and city planning and practice in the world today is firmly in Europe, and it is my contention that one of the best ways for cities, institutions and programs in Taiwan to sharpen their policies and practices will be through closer association with the best groups, projects and mobility approaches in Europe. There is an excellent ongoing program which could provide the vehicle for such cooperation: EPOMM, the European Platform on Mobility Management, a network of governments in European countries that are engaged in Mobility Management (MM). They are represented by the Ministries in their countries and are wide open to new ideas. Given Taiwan’s level of excellence in the sector, this could be a most creative partnership for both sides.

Here are two good references on EPOMM to get you started:

* * *

There you have my 2015 conclusions and recommendations. I would very much like to have added recommendations on such important opportunities in Taiwan such as  low speed low-car ecozones, getting full value from the taxi industry, and  research into underlying issues of behavior and choice along the full chain of actors (including government) , but my present information is still too short in these areas —  and in any event this list is doubtless as long as it needs to be for now at least.

Should you wish to discuss, give your views or critique any of these, please know that you have a willing partner in France. My full coordinates appear below.

PS. One more new partnership: In work over the last year on the General Theory of Transport in Cities it has become increasingly clear that our sector, if we are to be sustainable, must shift sharply both to (a) high energy-efficiency mobility forms (exergy), and also (b) away from carbon-based systems to different forms of efficient electrical transport. However for this to be meaningful, there needs to be major investments and programs for greatly increased production from renewables. The transport sector in all its parts should now step forward to become a strong partner and supporter of renewables for which there are major and as yet unaddressed possibilities in Taiwan.

# # #

About the author:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is a public entrepreneur specializing in the field of sustainability and social justice. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest work focuses on the subject of equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions -- and in the process, find practical solutions to urgent climate, mobility, life quality and job creation issues. More at: http://wp.me/PsKUY-2p7

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eb rr stauin pi hsinchu 25jan15


2 thoughts on “Taiwan Mission Recommendations : 23–30 January 2014 (Peer Review and Commentary)

  1. Comment from Wayne Goa, Taiwan, via Facebook:

    Hi Eric,

    I finally took the liberty to read your conclusions and recommendations on the new mobility agenda to Taiwan. Firstly, thank you so much for a thoughtful work.

    I agree most of your recommendations except the point one on motorized two wheelers.

    I believe there are strong justifiable reasons why many scholars and transportation officers think the extremely high prevalence of motorized two wheelers are PROBLEMS in Taiwan (in responding to your CAPITAL “NOT” which I quote here: “M2Ws (mainly two-stroke scooters) are often seen by public officials as a problem, which in my view is most definitely NOT the case”.

    You conclude that the experience of motorized two wheeler usage is Taiwan’s shining example to other Asian cities and the world facing same problem. I am afraid that this should definitely not be the case given how quality of life and real life are compromised by this. For instance, other cities can go for slower and safer e-bike, especially share model, in stead of petrol-powered one, and one-person-one-vehicle model like Taiwan.

    On the contrary, my view is most definitely that this is a long top transportation problem and some innovative solutions urgently needed to change this. My points are as following

    1. Quantity/density issue. With a population of 23 million, there are 14 million petrol-powered two wheelers in Taiwan. This is nearly one two wheeler per adult, and more than half of them also own cars. Isn’t this completely against the idea of promoting the use of public transportation? Our experience shows clearly that once a young folk purchases a motorbike/scooter when he/she turns 18 yrs(many ride scooter before this age illegally anyway!) which they almost often do, they hardly ever use public transpiration regularly again.

    After all, two wheeler in Taiwan is extremely convenient. You can ride and park wherever you pleased, including pedestrian sidewalk and arcade. It is a door to door transit. It makes promoting mass use of public transportation a tough challenge if not impossible. This is also the main reason that even Taipei metropolitan, with its brand new, expensive, state of art subway system which has grown its network rapidly in the last 2 decades, plus a high quality free bike share program – U-bike run by Giant Inc, the percentage of trips made by personal vehicle has reminded high(supposed to decline given the supply of public transportation has been faster than the overall trips growth) and no sign of decline into 2030’s from a simulation study even the subway will continue to expand its network.

    2. You said they are CLEAN!? They are NOT. The average life of a two wheeler in Taiwan is about 14 years, many poorly maintained. Only 60-70% of them complied to the law for periodically exhaust gases checking. Among them, about 20% don’t meet the basic requirements. Those avoiding emission check are believed to be even more polluting. City like Taipei, where industrial production literally doesn’t exist, transportation sector is almost the only source of air pollution. It is a public health issue as well. In addition, due to technical limitations and low overall cost, two stroke scooters are actually much more polluting than most cars.

    3. Hidden external(cost) subsidization: You said they are personally financed, they are NOT, they are highly subsidized by the society if you take the overall cost into consideration instead of simply purchasing cost. Cost analysis study of different transportation modes have showed clearly that Taiwanese society has subsidized two wheeler the most in terms of per km, per person traveled. This includes free parking space, low licencing fees, road constructions and maintenance, its prone to accident, and cheap gas etc,. As far as I remember, about 40% of the cost riding a two wheeler is subsidized. This is more than subsidization offered to private car, and most unreasonably more than to public transportation such as bus and subway. This doesn’t make sense.

    4. Road accidents: About 20 years ago, number of car accident related death were twice more than two wheeler related. Now it is opposite. I am trying to explain this lately. Since it does not make sense. Taiwan is getting richer so more and more people drive private car(unfortunately!). However car-related accidents(per 100,000 population or million km traveled) has declined significantly. However, motorbike/scooter accident has remained pretty much the same. We simply have no solution to this problem. The annual toll caused by two wheeler road accident are more than 2,000, mostly young male at productive age. For every one fatal two-wheeler road accident, there are about 100 times non-fatal injuries involving two wheeler according to our statistics. Among OECD countries, Taiwan ranked highest in terms of mortality and morbidity in road accidents. More than 60% of them are two wheeler related(I am talking about 3 to 10 times higher not just a few percentages). These are not just number or statistics! These are real LIVES lost, and friends and family members crying in the dark. For decades, we have had no answer for this tragedy(car-related accident on the contrary, have halved and halved again). If this is NOT a problem in transportation in Taiwan? What is it?

    5. Unfriendly biking and walking environments due to high vehicle density. I have estimated that more than 100 km exclusive, protected bike way can be built in Taipei if we can halve the number of personal vehicle into half. Petrol-powered two wheeler advocate group(supported by the industry who refuse to go for electronic-powered), often said, it is the number of car we need to reduce which I agree. However, it is two wheeler that are able to ride onto any sidewalk and pedestrian area in Taiwan making this country a pedestrian and biking unfriendly country. The space they’ve unproductively occupied in the city is enormous. Averagely, every personal vehicle is used only for 45 mins per day, about 8-10km in Taiwan. This means that 23 hours per day these two wheelers are pretty much useless only occupies precious city public space which could have been used as protected bike way and green spaces. Now they are occupied by personal vehicles for parking. I am talking about 14 millions of them in this tiny country. And still, in 2014, there are 0.7 million petrol-powered two wheeler sold, the highest in 10 years regardless the expensive investment in public transportation in the last decade )

    6. Climate change issue: With this amount of petrol-powered two wheelers, Taiwan will never meet the reduction target needed to keep our planet cool. Transportation is the toughest sector in terms of meeting the carbon reduction target since its carbon emission is, by all means still increasing rapidly. I also would like to see if you can give us some suggestions on shared green transportation, especially shared individualized transportation such as shared e-car/e-bike/e-scooters that are getting popular in Europe

    I rather quickly write down these points about two wheeler in Taiwan and will be happy to provide you with references.

    Thanks again Eric, for your other 9 good suggestions to Taiwan’s green transportation which I can’t agree more! Our views are about 90% agreeable if we count the points you have suggested this way!! I will send you a more formal review to your email.

    Cheers, Wayne

  2. Dear Wayne,
    First of all, I greatly appreciate your careful, well thought out response to my draft mission report in which you comment extensively and with great truth on the many difficulties associated with the huge boom in motorised two wheelers (M2W) in Taiwan’s cities, and of course likewise in other cities across Asia and, most recently, the rest of the world.
    The downside of motorised two wheelers are both many, obvious and often quite drastic. You have done a good job in your comments on many of them. Though in fact the list of problems that need to be faced is far larger still.

    That said, I was a bit surprised by your comments, not least because the points that you bring up have been very much in my mind since first recommending a major strategic study on the topic for the city of Kaohsiung back in 2010.

    To better understand why we may seem to be taking very different views on this important topic – which is I insist is NOT the case — , I have gone back into my working draft to see how exactly I put that recommendation. I quote the working draft of 3 February which was posted here- http://wp.me/psKUY-3Sl :

    • “A full-fledged strategic analysis and plan is now called for, both at the national and city levels. And it is not too early! “

    And then:
    • “(If you undertake this with success — which I cannot doubt will be the result – you are going to make a huge contribution not only to cities and people of Taiwan, but also to cities in other parts of Asian and the world who are facing these same problems and badly in need of your shining examples.)”

    What lesson can I take from this exchange? First, that I should have added a sentence to clarify the many downsides, which I had thought would be known to my Taiwanese readers, no least because all one has to do is spend ten minutes on the streets of your larger cities and just about all of them strike you in the face. But be sure, I will be more careful in the wording in the final version which I hope to compete today.
    To conclude, two things.

    First, I very much appreciate your analysis and propose to publish it as a Commentary in World Streets in the coming days. With your permission of course. I will write my usual short introduction as editor, and insert the above comments, but otherwise leave your words to speak for themselves.

    I also propose, again with your permission, to insert your text in a closing annex in the final report, as a reminder to the reader that not only the points about M2Ws but also every one of the recommendations made in such synoptic form require careful and compete statement if they are to be perfectly clear.

    Because at the end of the day I would very much like to see a truly in-depth, systemic analysis on this important issue, with a view to finding real solutions. And not just temporarily papering over a few cracks.

    That will be my good luck wish for Taiwan in the Year of the Goat.

    Cordially, Eric Britton


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