Southeast Asia (SEA) faces an increasing need for sound infrastructure creation. The region’s gross domestic product (GDP) surged to $2.79 trillion in 2017 from $1.19 trillion in 2000, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.13 per cent. With this increasing growth,  the region plans to deepen its economic integration through the promotion of regional connectivity.

Today, one of the greatest challenges faced by SEA is to provide effective, efficient, sustainable and economically viable infrastructure. As per Asian Development Bank estimates, the region will have to spend at least $200 billion a year on infrastructure upgrades. Indonesia alone intends to spend $425 billion on infrastructure over the next five years.

For the provision of sustainable and viable infrastructure, several economies in the region have embraced new technologies across several sectors, particularly transport and highways. New technologies such as smart cards, mobile ticketing facilities, and automated fare collection (AFC) systems have been used in the transportation sector. The leaders in modernising transport systems in the region include Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, while the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Brunei have yet to make much headway in this area.

Greater focus on technological innovations opens up tremendous opportunities for technology solutions providers. This would enable them to experiment with their products and projects, and create best practices in the infrastructure sector to develop sustainable options.

Intelligent transport systems

Disruptions in technology have paved the way for better knowledge sharing of existing and new infrastructure, leading to increased productivity of infrastructure development and deployment. One of the sectors in the region that has emerged as a forerunner in technology adoption is the transport sector.

A key technological tool that has extensively been deployed to attain sustainability of transport systems is intelligent transportation systems (ITS). It involves a combination of various information and communication technologies, such as wireless communication for signalling and train control; real-time operating systems for up-to-date passenger information; and sensing technologies including radio frequency identification (RFID) for fast and convenient transactions.

The application of ITS for fare collection and signalling, in particular, has become popular with transport operators and authorities.  AFC is a system in which contact-based or contactless cards are used, instead of the conventional coins or tokens. This leads to a reduction in administrative costs for operators. To the customer, the technology allows greater freedom and convenience with seamless intermodal travel.

Several countries of the region employ ITS across rail- and bus-based transit networks to improve the efficiency, safety and attractiveness of the transport system. The adoption of IT solutions for traffic management was initiated by Singapore. One of the notable technological advancements is the green link determining (Glide) system, used to coordinate traffic light signalling systems. Another is the Junction Electronic Eyes (J-Eyes), installed at major traffic junctions, to alert operators at the ITS control centre of any congestion or disruptions in traffic flow. ITS has been disruptive in the transport sector in Singapore and has helped it deal with increasing congestion. ITS has helped Singapore to be one of the least congested major cities, with an average car speed of 27 km per hour (kmph) as compared to 16 kmph in London and 5 kmph in Jakarta.

However, except for Singapore and metropolitan cities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, most cities in the region lack advanced systems for bus fleet management. Some of the cities that do have modern bus fleet management solutions and tracking devices based on the global positioning system (GPS) are constrained by limited coverage.

Bank cards

Another recent phenomenon for transit ticketing is the deployment of bank cards in the region. However, these are currently limited to transit agencies in countries with well-developed public transport systems such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand that are increasingly focusing on improving passenger satisfaction by simplifying fare payment methods. Other cities in the region, however, are struggling with the penetration of bank cards. Overall, only around 32 per cent of the population in the SEA region has access to bank accounts, and hence the use of bank cards (credit/debit) in public transit ticketing is low, with less than 18 per cent of the total cities in the region currently using bank cards for fare collection.

Bank cards for fare systems have been deployed in nine cities in five countries. These are Jakarta, Palembang and Semarang in Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Caloocan, Manila and Quezon in the Philippines, Singapore and Bangkok in Thailand. The deployment of bank cards has been driven by the move towards account-based ticketing (ABT), which offers several advantages of improved passenger experience and reduced fare collection cost.

Building information modelling

Another technology that has found greater application in SEA is building information modelling (BIM). It has been adopted by stakeholders of highway and infrastructure projects to help reduce design time and improve cost efficiency, without compromising on quality. BIM is one of the approaches that have emerged that helps automation of the design, construction and operation phases of the project life cycle. Within the road construction sector, it is being used in combination with geographic information system (GIS) for highway information modelling (HIM). It is also being deployed for metro projects in the region. Some of the projects engaging these technologies are the Pan Borneo Highway Project in Malaysia and the Design and Build of Road Bridge at Teluk Lamong Port Project in Indonesia. (For further details, see box)

The way forward

Up until now, technology adoption across infrastructure sectors was concentrated in certain areas within the infrastructure sectors. It has found more prominence in relatively developed countries of the region. Except for Singapore and a few other countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, technology adoption in the region across the transport, roads and highways sector is on a low level. Several plans for technology adoption within the transport sector are on the anvil. For example, the Malaysian government has announced the implementation of an integrated common payment system in Kuala Lampur and Petaling Jaya, which will allow commuters to pay fares through their MyDebit bank cards, Touch and Go cards and mobile payments by 2019.

Technologies such as ITS, BIM, HIM, coupled with other innovations, have helped stakeholders in projects across sectors such as metro, bus and rail-transit, roads and bridges, etc., in achieving better productivity. Going forward, the learnings from these country initiatives could show the path to others in the region for greater technology adoption in upcoming infrastructure projects.