According to Southeast Asia Infrastruc-ture Research, the upcoming urban transport network of about 2,190 km in the Southeast Asian region will entail an investment of about $182 billion, which will be financed through government funding or official development assistance from multilateral agencies or by private players.

Emerging trends shaping the sector

An intelligent transport system involves several components such as fleet management system, automatic fare collection, camera surveillance (CCTV), traffic priority system, IT infrastructure and other systems like help point and IP PABX, auto door and precision docking, push to talk, etc. In Indonesia, Transjakarta bus rapid transit (BRT) has deployed fleet management and passenger information systems, where the fleet management system uses the general packet radio service to collect real-time information on the exact location of buses and their scheduled time of arrival. A similar system is planned to be installed in the Da Nang BRT system in Vietnam, which is currently in the planning stage.

Countries have laid focus on not just developing a sustainable public transport network such as mass rapid transit (MRT) and light rail transit (LRT), but also transit-oriented development (TOD) to generate non-fare revenue. In Indonesia, three TOD designated zones in South Jakarta are expected to begin development: the Blok M-ASEAN, Lebak Bulus and Fatmawati MRT stations.T hese TOD projects will add mixed-use development, expand sidewalks and public spaces, install bike-sharing facilities and plant trees for a green belt. In Malaysia too, there are seven TOD projects along the LRT and Express Rail Link routes. More and more housing developers are preferring TOD projects as an alternative means to revitaliseproperty values. TOD is not only an effective model to incorporate affordable housing; it also helps generate a positive market sentiment that acts as a growth stimulus by raising property values with the injection of rail infrastructure, enabling developers to attract more public interest.

Another emerging trend is the innovation in fare ticketing systems. Quick response (QR) code-based mobile ticketing, launched by PT MRT Jakarta on the Jakarta MRT system, enable passengers to purchase tickets using the MRT-J mobile app. The app has been launched to minimise physical interaction to support the implementation of social distancing measures to reduce exposure to Covid-19. Similarly, AF Payments, a consortium of Philippines-based Metro Pacific Investments Corporation and Ayala Corporation, in collaboration with GCash, launched QR code-based ticketing on buses under the BGC Bus network in Metro Manila. QR code ticketing has rendered paper tickets obsolete. Passengers can now pay fares using the QR code generated via the GCash mobile app. The potential of cloud-based ticketing solutions for transit integration is huge and transit companies are changing their business model based on the perspectives and needs of customers and are identifying pain points on customer journeys.

Singapore emerged as a recent successful example of an account-based ticketing (ABT) system with the recently launched SimplyGo. SimplyGo is being expanded to include adult EZ-Link CePAS cards, beyond Mastercard, Visa and NETS Tap contactless cards. There are many other operators that are keen to open the door to ABT as a means to achieve interoperability with different fare media and, longer term, adjacent services.

A lot of focus has been laid on the development of urban transport systems on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis. Cities like Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have already planned projects under the model. Recent well-known PPP projects in Thailand include the Bangkok Mass Transit System  Sky Train and MRT Metro, which were partnerships between the private sector and the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority and the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand, respectively. The MRT Blue Line extension is another example of a PPP project currently under negotiation.

Key developments

China Railway 11 Bureau Group Corporation Limited, a subsidiary of the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), recently won a contract to undertake the construction for the first phase of the China-Thailand high speed railway. The group will be responsible for the construction of a 26.1 km section of the first phase of the project, including three railway beds, two bridges and a new railway station, as well as standard gauge upgrading and supporting facilities. The rail network’s 1.435 metre gauge tracks will enable high speed trains to travel at up to 250 km per hour in the future.  The first 253 km leg connecting the Thai capital, Bangkok, and the north-eastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima is expected to start service in 2025. The civil construction of Bang Sue Central station, which will serve as the hub of a high speed train connecting three airports (Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi and U-Tapao), as well as the 10 stations of the Red Line urban train route, has been completed.

The Thailand government has approved plans to develop the West Extension of the Bangkok MRT Orange Line on a PPP basis. The western section will span 13.4 km (fully underground) and cover 11 stations. It will be developed at an estimated investment of THB142.79 billion and passenger services are expected to commence by 2026.

The Ho Chi Minh City government has proposed the development of Metro Line No. 3A, running from Ben Thanh Market in District 1 to Tan Kien in Ho Chi Minh City’s outlying district of Binh Chanh, at a cost of around VND 68 trillion. The metro line will pass through eight districts and have 18 stations.

Bombardier Transportation recently signed an agreement with Singapore’s MRT trains to provide long-term service support for 106 trains. The scope of work includes provision of technical support and supply of spare parts for repairs and upgrades or for replacement. The duration of the contract, which also includes an option to extend the contract by 20 years, is 10 years. Singapore’s  Land Transport Authority has approved plans to extend the Cross Island Line to Punggol. The extension will span 7.3 km (fully underground) and cover four stations. Construction is expected to commence in 2022 and passenger services are expected to commence in 2031.

The Philippines’ National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has approved plans to develop Manila MRT Line 4 at an estimated investment of PhP 59.3 billion. It will span 15.56 km and cover 11 stations. The construction is planned to commence in 2021 and passenger services are expected to commence by 2025. The project will also be financed by the Asian Development Bank.

The state government of Penang, Malaysia, has drafted the Penang Transport Master Plan, a blueprint to develop a modern, integrated public transport system in the state. The plan also includes investments in highways and roads. The Korea Overseas Infrastructure & Urban Development Corporation (KIND) and the Korea Rail Network Authority (KRNA) have signed an MoU with the Government of Indonesia-owned Nindya Karya to develop an LRT system in Bali. The LRT system will comprise one line that will span 4.78 km (fully underground) and cover four stations. The line will be developed at an estimated investment of $400 million (IDR 5 trillion).

Impact of COVID-19

In the wake of massive ridership declines, transit agencies have seen a reduction in farebox revenues, especially among larger transit agencies that obtain a higher percentage of their operating revenue from fares compared to other sources. Revenue losses could mean that it will take agencies that much longer to restore services.

PT MRT Jakarta faced a three-month delay in the construction work on Phase II of the Jakarta MRT due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The construction work on the project is not expected to be completed by March 2025. Besides, the construction of Phase 2A of the MRT rail stretch from Thamrin to Monas has been postponed due to Covid-19.

Public transport authorities are adopting new technology solutions to smoothen contactless travel for passengers. For instance, the Light Rail Manila Corporation has introduced a contact-tracing feature on ikotMNL, a smartphone app. ikotMNL uses bluetooth technology that detects passengers nearby and notifies the relevant government authorities about the commencement of contact-tracing procedures when passengers come in contact with a passenger who has tested positive for Covid-19. Many have put in extra measures such as disinfecting their rolling stock more often, protecting their drivers with appropriate equipment, indicating where people should sit or not sit to maintain minimum social distancing while seated, and some have removed fare payment and front door boarding altogether to protect the driver. These measures are not free and will severely affect their already strained budgets. They will be faced with even harder choices over the next few months between providing essential coverage and reducing service frequency and service overall.

Sector outlook: Opportunities and challenges

In the future, user safety will be of paramount importance, if companies and operators are to convince the public to start travelling again. In rethinking transport systems from a safety perspective, companies and governments have an opportunity to radically redesign how they operate in totality. There exists a huge opportunity for mass transit systems in the provision of information that can help plan safe journeys. Detailed travel information, such as crowding levels, time-in-transit and even frequency of cleaning, can be used to profile the risk level at a journey level to enable better decision-making.

Technological advances, big data, artificial intelligence, digitalisation and automation, combined with behavioural change that prioritises more sustainable transport options, offer fresh innovative solutions for the development of the transport sector. Smart technologies will also enhance customer experience with facilities like smart card ticketing, mobile applications for trip planners, passenger information display in BRT and MRT, as it will ensure cashless transactions, real-time information dissemination, and easy on-the-click services.

Southeast Asian countries are facing major challenges related to climate change, increasing population and urbanisation. As a result, the countries are working to preserve a greener and more sustainable environment. The Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines has announced fiscal incentives for manufacturers of clean vehicles in preferred areas of investment such as motor vehicle assembly including alternative fuel vehicles (hybrid, electric, flexible fuel, etc.). Other challenges are tackling capacity challenges in public transport in the context of safe distancing requirements because of Covid-19 and to regain public confidence to encourage a return to public transport.

For an increasing number of metropolitan regions, MRT will continue to evolve and will serve as an element of a larger multimodal transit system. Additional efforts will be required to reassure public transport users of safety precautions and demonstrate that public transport is clean and safe. Since mass public transport is the lifeblood of most economies, government policies and financial support are essential to enable public transport operators to stay viable and continue to support the movement of passengers and goods in a sustainable way.