Monday, June 3, 2013

Beijing’s Friend in TDM

Beijing is partnering with a German public-benefit organization to study TDM strategies.
We all get by with a little help from our friends. When Beijing set out to reduce its VMT and auto emissions, it began working with a new partner with some expertise in the field and a fresh point of view.

The (Chinese) Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and the Beijing Municipal Commission for Transportation (BMCT) agreed to have their own Beijing Transport Research Center (BTRC) collaborate with the German Society for International Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, or GIZ), to work on the Beijing Transportation Demand Management project [1]. 
The partnership with GIZ is an interesting choice.  The GIZ, an organization that operates on behalf of the German Federal Government, aims to support developing countries in resource management and sustainable development and purportedly works on a public benefit basis.  While its work may be done for the public benefit, the GIZ is typically hired as a client by a state agency like the BMU.  Their services include things like organizing forums, producing studies and reports, designing training and education, and managing funds for efforts related to sustainability and development projects.  The German Government supports the GIZ as a means of influencing the course of Third World development, stating that “ global challenges such as combating climate change, structuring international trade and achieving international development goals can only be tackled successfully in partnership with these countries [2].”

In the case of their partnership with Beijing, the GIZ’s interest lies in the tremendous impact that a city of 20 million new car drivers can inflict on global greenhouse gas emissions (and thus climate change).  The stated purpose of the Beijing TDM project is to “build capacities and competencies to enable Beijing municipal authorities to quantify and model the impact of TDM strategies.”  More simply put, the project is investigating various TDM strategies in a Beijing context to find ones that would be the most effective at reducing auto emissions.

Together, the BTRC and the GIZ have released their first report entitled “Transportation Demand Management in Beijing: Work in Progress.”  It’s a surprisingly good read for a TDM report – the sections on China’s pre-car history and the influence of the 2008 Olympic Games on city policies would be as interesting to anyone with an interest in international affairs as to a transportation wonk.  The report goes on to catalog Beijing transportation policies in chronological order, current conditions fostered by those policies, and projections for future if those conditions stay static [3]. 
The cover of the Beijing TDM project's first report.
But couldn’t the government of Beijing have undertaken this investigation on its own?  What value does collaboration with a German organization bring to the table?

The answer is simple: the GIZ brings an outside perspective.  This organization is internationally respected and represents a partnership with a powerful Western economic ally.  The GIZ is therefor able to make challenging statements that internal Beijing government workers cannot.  A good friend will tell you things you don’t want to hear, and in the conclusions of the Work in Progress report the GIZ does just that.  Beijing has long celebrated car culture as a celebration of China’s newfound prosperity while ignoring the serious repercussions.  The GIZ, in its report to the Chinese government agencies, flatly calls out not only the obvious traffic congestion and environmental impacts but also the deep social inequity of the current system, the financial burden to the citizens, and the degradation of the quality of life throughout the city that is trademark of the status quo.  Its recommendations and justifications for new TDM strategies will be based on targeting all of these issues.

It’s hard to ignore statements like these from your international friend and ally.  Beyond insights on BRT, bike sharing systems, or congestion pricing, that’s the true value of this TDM partnership: the tough love that can help Beijing look realistically at its current situation and look to the future with a global perspective.


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