the Motorization Rate

Published in The Freeman (Philippine Star), March 15, 2012

Last week, we ended up with a phrase – “walkable cities.” … going back to where we first came from. Yes, we’ll talk about that. … but not yet. Let’s look closer at the recent phenomenon of the modern car first.

The problem is that from the time we started mass-producing cars, it has become one of the more prominent goals of man’s lifetime. In the preceding decades, the car has overtaken all other modes of transport. This has given rise to yet another statistical figure called the “motorization index,” more commonly known as the motorization rate. Strictly-speaking, it is simply the number of motor vehicles per 1,000 persons in the population. But many people are actually more interested in the number of cars rather than all vehicles. In the world today, there are more cars than all the other kinds of motor vehicles combined, and they are the leading cause of traffic jams. The Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition, 30th Edition, of the US Dept. of Energy, reported that in 2009, there were 681 million cars registered worldwide and only 284 million trucks and buses, or a total of 965 million vehicles. Note, though, that in the US, cars registrations do not include US light trucks (SUVs, minivan and pickups). This is important because SUVs and the like are also used for personal travel, as opposed to public transport. The main argument against the car as a mode of transport, is that it is a “personal” transport instead of a common carrier, and hence, inherently inefficient.

Unfortunately, we don’t realize how bad motorization has become. In the Philippine today, Manila is a foregone conclusion – have you ever heard anybody who says there’s no traffic problem there? How about Metro Cebu? See the congestion creeping everywhere, and for longer periods, too. We can discuss the anatomy of the typical city traffic jam later, but for now, the present progression of traffic congestion would probably start some gridlock in Cebu by 2013. But what’s the motorization index of the Philippines? In 2009, it was estimated at 66 cars per 1,000 population. It’s probably more than 70 today. Now, suppose we double the total number of cars today. Imagine the massive gridlock and paralysis in Manila and Cebu if we consider 150 or more cars per 1,000 population!

And we are not even 1/10th of the US motorization index which is a whopping 800+ vehicles/’000. Among the top 10 worldwide are Monaco, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Australia and New Zealand, and Malta, all more than 700+/’000. Countries in Asia and Africa, in general however, have less than 100 vehicles per 1,000 persons. Japan has 500+, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia, 300+, and Thailand has 165/’000. In general, motorization rates follow closely per capita income figures, which is logical – family income has a direct relation to family car ownership. But more cars require more transport infrastructure. The US and Europe probably has 30 – 50 times the road density that we have, and we can’t even fix our roads. And recently, transportation science has started to realize that we can never solve transport woes by building more transport infrastructure. As often-quoted in sustainable transport circles, “Solving traffic congestion by building more roads is like treating obesity by buying bigger clothes!”

As a footnote, one thing worse that the actual number of cars on the road is the rate at which this number increases every year! The Philippines reported 6% increase in vehicle registration in 2009. But we have only a 2.3% population growth rate, and our increase in road space is even much lower than that. No wonder more and more places in the country experience traffic jams and for longer hours already. At its present rate, it’s only a matter of time before Philippine cities will experience 3 to 5-hour traffic jams. (to be continued)

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