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In whose interest?: a critical approach to Southeast Asia's urban transport dynamics

Townsend, Craig (2003) In whose interest?: a critical approach to Southeast Asia's urban transport dynamics. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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During recent decades, urban transport systems in Southeast Asia's industrialising high growth economies were transformed. The ownership and use of privately owned cars and motorcycles grew in all cities, simultaneous to the introduction of new forms of public transportation including rail rapid transit in the larger metropolises. While these cities all experienced dynamic change, the relative rate and direction of the changes to urban transport systems varied greatly as did levels of success.

Singapore emerged as a highly efficient transit metropolis whilst Bangkok and other cities gained notoriety as some of the world's great traffic disasters. Why these differences emerged, particularly given a regional and global context of increasing interaction and exchange of ideas and of capital flows, presents a compelling question largely unanswered by previous research. A review of the general state of knowledge about urban transport worldwide reveals fundamental disagreements over basic questions such as the social value of motorisation, the relative merits of specific modes and technologies, and prescriptions for change. However, there is a general consensus that interest groups or rent-seekers influence urban transport, which can not be understand in solely technical or value-free terms. A literature review focused on Southeast Asian cities finds that in contrast to theoretical perspectives on cities of the industrialised world, there is less acknowledgement of interests and values and more emphasis on instrumental knowledge which can be used to address immediate problems such as rapid growth in motorisation, traffic congestion, and pollution. Questions such as who wins and who loses from changes to urban transport systems are not systematically examined in the existing literature on Southeast Asian cities. In order to address this gap, a case study analysis of three key cities, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore is undertaken. This analysis utilises policy and planning documents, monographs and academic works, newspapers and archival materials, discussions with key informants, and participant observation, to reveal the significant actors and processes which shape urban transport.

The study finds that the presence or absence of actors and complexions of interests in the development of urban land, urban transport equipment, infrastructure construction and operation, and local environmental improvements are linked to specific urban transport outcomes. The findings provide a basis for future research, particularly in cities of the developing world characterised by economic growth, rapid motorisation of urban transport systems, and substantial inequalities of wealth and power.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy
Supervisor(s): Kenworthy, Jeff
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