Can ride-sharing 'unlock cities?'

TJ Manotoc, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 08 2017 09:05 PM | Updated as of Nov 08 2017 09:08 PM

More often than not, growth in the number of cars on the road also indicates economic growth. This means the middle class is expanding, gaining spending power and buying new vehicles. 

But nowadays, this growth seems to be coming at the expense of overall productivity, especially if the number of cars keeps rising without investments in more and better roads.

Traffic jams are now a staple in many of the major cities in the ASEAN region as well as other parts of Asia. Hence, it was high time to do a region-wide study on traffic and the possible solutions to congestion, like mass transport and ride-sharing.

Recently, ride-sharing service Uber commissioned a study with the Boston Consulting Group to look at the relationships between private car ownership, traffic and ride-sharing. 

The research, titled "Unlocking Cities," came out with staggering numbers.

Did you know that with the current growth rate of car ownership in Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh, these cities would come to a standstill in 5 years?

Jakarta alone would need an area the size of 24,000 football fields to park all its cars.

Ho Chi Minh’s annual estimates of CO2 emissions alone will fit their Bitexco Tower 8,000 times. 

Congestion during peak hours will worsen in Kuala Lumpur; by 2022 it's projected to hit 4.5 times of what it is today.

The average Singaporean driver wastes roughly SGD $5,000 or P188,000 per year just looking for parking.

In Taipei, during peak hours, there are 50 percent more vehicles on the road than what these thoroughfares were designed to handle.

Here in Metro Manila, a motorist wastes about 23 days (and P100,000) a year sitting in traffic and looking for parking. That's thanks to more than 2.3 million private cars plying the metro’s streets everyday. And during rush hour, there are 75 percent more cars on the road than on average.

And how about trying to park all the cars in Southeast Asia? We would need an area 25 times the size of Hong Kong.

These eye-popping road congestion-related numbers support earlier studies by other agencies. The latest estimates by the National Economic and Development Authority pegged productivity loss from Metro Manila traffic at P3 billion per day. The Japan International Cooperation Agency estimates that this would skyrocket to P6 billion per day by 2030, if we don’t do anything drastic. 

Uber Asia Pacific even thought of a humorous take on the sad state of traffic by making a video called “Boxes”. It shows the desperation and frustrations of private car owners and what can happen if the situation is left unaddressed.

But with ride-sharing linking with mass transport, ASEAN would only need half the number of cars we have today, according to the Uber-commissioned study.

It also estimates that to service Metro Manila residents, we would only need 65 percent of the cars we use right now. That's a million less vehicles on the road.

Brooks Entwistle, Uber’s newly minted Asia-Pacific Chief Business Officer, sat down with members of the media at the “world premier” of the “Boxes” video and the release of the full study of “Unlocking Cities” in Singapore. 

Entwistle agreed that government infrastructure is still the biggest piece of the puzzle in solving traffic and congestion. But he added that you can get creative in using this infrastructure to make things better. 

“Creativity on how we are using that infrastructure, how we think about the transportation network on the infrastructure, is really incredibly potent," Entwistle said. 

"We very much view ourselves as part of this transportation network, we’re not the biggest part, but we think right now we are an important part… we are the proverbial first and last mile, we link up the trains or bus system as we do in Singapore, as we do in Manila,” he said.

Interestingly, news recently came out that the city-state was capping car growth in 2018. 

That, Entwistle said, was a great move. He said they support zero private car growth, not just because of their core business, but also logically as part of the solution to traffic congestion. 

“It goes back to the core element of today: to get more people into fewer cars.”

Amid the rapid growth of car ownership and worsening traffic congestion, the ride-sharing industry is making a simple appeal: let’s all be part of the solution and let's ride together, literally and figuratively.

For those who want to view “Unlocking Cities” log on to https://www.unlockingcities.com