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Ten Trends To Consider in Building Resilient Transport Systems

Date Published
April 13, 2022

Ignoring trends or staying with the status quo in transport planning and management may lead to greater developmental challenges and costs for future generations. Photo credit: ADB

Transport planning is shaped by a wide range of factors, such as the environment, population growth, user behavior, and technology.

In Kuala Lumpur, a roadway doubles as a stormwater tunnel in the event of flooding.

In India, an 82-kilometer high-speed rapid transit system was built to decongest Delhi and to save 258,035 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually as well as to improve mobility and economic opportunities for women and other vulnerable groups.

In Viet Nam, there are now car-free zones in many cities, including Ho Chi Minh and Ha Noi, to give residents a reprieve from congested streets.

In all three, the projects were designed to respond to the needs of the public and as a way to mitigate the impact of climate change and other factors.

In the coming decades, there are 10 major trends that should be considered when designing transport projects, according to a new report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

“The social and technological changes of recent years have greatly altered the way transport systems are used, and some may no longer meet needs. Changes in the coming decades will be even more significant,” said Bruno Carrasco, director general and chief compliance officer of ADB’s Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, in the foreword to the report, Reimagining the Future of Transport Across Asia and the Pacific.

The report provides insights to help decision-makers in ADB’s developing member countries and their partners to build a shared view of a desired future for transport and mobility.

Ignoring these trends or staying with the status quo in transport planning and management may lead to greater developmental challenges and costs for future generations, Carrasco said.

1) Population patterns

Today, over 50% of the population of Asia and the Pacific lives in urban areas. Urbanization in the region, in fact, has been among the fastest in the world over the past 40 years with megacities increasing in both size and number across the region.

Asia is also challenged by its aging population. By 2050, the ratio of older persons to working-aged people will reach 2.5 times the current levels, raising the demand for health care.

Transport systems will have to be inclusive to cater to all commuters, providing safe, secure, and affordable transport for communities across gender, age, mobility, and other characteristics.

Without proper planning and a clear understanding of user needs, high congestion, poor user experience, and greater safety risks could arise, the report warned.

2) Behavior patterns

The shift to digital and e-commerce as well as to healthy and sustainable lifestyles and a growing travel market will also shape the future of transport.

The report noted that e-commerce doubled in value between 2017 and 2018 to $23 billion from $10 billion. Rising demand for e-commerce requires a rapid and reliable logistics network, particularly for last-mile and local deliveries. The rise of digital technologies will also influence and reshape transport behavior across the region over the coming decade.

The trend toward healthy lifestyles is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and avoiding the worst consequences of traditional transport modes. This entails walking, cycling, using personal mobility solutions, and integrating transport with initiatives to design and develop public spaces.

Thanks to greater spending power and a desire for new wellness, cultural, and entertainment experiences, Asia and the Pacific is now the fastest-growing market for travel and tourism globally. The People's Republic of China, Indonesia, India, and Japan are among the top 10 air passenger markets globally, according to data from the International Air Transport Association.  The increase in the number of travelers in the region means more global aviation-related greenhouse gas emissions. The report predicted that growing concerns about climate change may prompt travelers to try regional or local destinations instead of long-distance trips.

3) Integrated transport systems

In the coming decades, Asia–Pacific countries need to better integrate their transport systems to improve accessibility, system efficiency, and the overall user experience. And with greater availability of real-time system data and information, integrating transport systems has become easier, the report said.

Integrated systems, for instance, could aid land use and transport planning, which can reduce infrastructure capital investments by more than $3 trillion between 2015 and 2030, the report said. It cited a study that looks at a global scenario of developing more compact, connected urban centers.

The report said that over the coming decades, the region will continue to struggle with transport affordability, limiting people’s opportunities and preventing access to educational, cultural, and health-care facilities. To improve access and affordability, stakeholders need to look at new digital platforms for formal and informal service integration, mass public transit, and affordable electric mobility solutions.

4) Adaptive infrastructure planning

Asia and the Pacific will need to tackle its aging infrastructure and harness advanced technology to repair and maintain transport assets to get the most out of existing systems. This entails harnessing technology to repair and maintain transport assets.

Meanwhile, new infrastructure must be able to adapt to a changing climate, demographics, and economic requirements and uses. Developing more flexible and adaptable transport infrastructure strategies can help “future-proof” assets and investments.

The region needs an estimated $37 billion annually from 2015 to 2030 for climate adaptation of transport, including new infrastructure and maintenance investments, the report said. This is in addition to the planned $520 billion annual investment to meet ongoing and growing demand for transport.

5) Climate change   

The transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase significantly in Asia’s developing countries in the coming decades. ADB predicts that Asia’s share in carbon emissions from the transport sector will reach 31% by 2030. Aggressive and sustained action is needed to lower the sector’s s emissions, the report said.

Transport systems must also be resilient as climate risks continue to worsen over time. ADB said climate-proofing transport investments in developing member countries requires more than $37 billion annually.

Ensuring resilience of transport systems can reduce vulnerability by enabling evacuation, delivery of relief, restoring infrastructure, and continuity of economic activity following a disaster.

6) Environmental risk

Across Asia and the Pacific, economies continue to grow at the expense of the environment, which has repercussions on transport systems.

Environmental hazards such as flooding and soil erosion for instance can damage transport systems.

At the same time, the transport sector is a major source of pollution (air, water, land, and noise) and a key factor driving biodiversity loss.

Managing ecosystem services and applying nature-based solutions in transport planning and design can benefit biodiversity and enhance the sustainability of transport infrastructure, the report said.

7) Advanced technologies

Stakeholders should take advantage of digital technologies including data capture and analysis, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and internet of things in designing transport systems, the report said. Using such technologies will allow for the design of user- and outcome-led focus systems.

Deployed at scale, autonomous or self-driving vehicles, could lead to a reduction of front–rear crash rates by 50%, according to a 2017 study. Case studies in the United States have shown that AI and machine learning could improve traffic management by reducing travel times by 25%, wait times by 40%, and emissions by 20%.

The internet of things, meanwhile, is enabling new forms of real-time data capture and analysis that improves transport planning and management, maintenance of infrastructure and fleets, journey planning for commuters, and the adoption of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles.

8) Energy and resources

Competing demands for energy and resources from other sectors and changes in how the world powers, delivers, and consumes products and services also affect how transport systems are designed, built, and used in the region.

To be able to grow, the transport sector needs to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by switching to clean energy options like hydrogen fuel or relying more on a high-capacity and low-carbon power grid.

The global waste problem also has implications on the sector. How transport infrastructure and vehicles are built, maintained, and recycled at the end of their life need rethinking. This will require the transport sector to become more circular.

9) Economic and trade patterns

The Asia-Pacific economy is the fastest-growing in the world, accounting for more than two-thirds of global growth in 2019. This puts new demands on infrastructure as rail, maritime, road, and air freight increase.

Transport investments, thus, is key not just in connecting markets, but also in facilitating new growth opportunities within specific sectors.

The transport sector will need to focus investment on improving transport connectivity, particularly along emerging and established trade routes.

10) Geopolitics and policies

New frameworks, agreements, and wider political international relationships are shaping the growth of transport across the region, while local political situations affect the implementation and success of transport projects.

Trade agreements, internationally focused environmental agreements, and alliances increasingly influence geopolitics and cross-border infrastructure. For instance, national and international commitments on climate action underlines the central role that transport infrastructure plays in tackling shared challenges. This entails developing sustainable, zero-carbon transport systems that meet growing demand for moving goods and people across countries.