Editorial: Do monorail projects deserve fair treatment? Part II Dragging them into the cold light of day.

Malaysia KL monorail Sentral Station

It is our position here at World Streets that the challenges of sustainable transportation are so many and so important that we need to ensure we maintain focus on concepts and policies that are going to be up to the task and the priorities at  stake. The following just in from Brazil summarizes the author’s expert views on this particular mode. We have left it in his colorful language, making this a lively as well as informative read. Again, our objective here is to make sure that no one, particularly no one in the developing world, wastes any more time with approaches that are very clearly inappropriate. We need to keep focus.

We invite the reader to have a close look at the author’s views of Malaysian monorail projects and dreams, where he shares some pointed  remarks which need to be borne in mind for any city having first thoughts about all the great things that monorail supporters claim they do for people, and for cities.

Now, from our archives:

Dragging monorail projects and propositions into the cold light of day

Dear World Streets readers,

Let me share my point of view coming from a developing city (Sao Paulo/Brazil) which saw some projects like the Mumbai Monorail trying to break ground here, and now is much happier to see that they won’t happen that easily.

For the carbon footprint discussion: if we add the total construction cost, which, by the way, should be at least 3 times what the Malaysian company Scomi is saying it would cost, plus operational subsidies, life cost analyze of the concrete, trains and energy consumption, which in India should be pretty bad (energy comes majority from coal, isn’t it?), after all of that, their CO2 reductions would probably not look that good at all. Even if they could construct it very cheap (which they can’t), private car use will only increase! We are in the developing world with huge population increase, economic growth and incomes going up (for some). Come on?

But the most important thing in my opinion is that the Mumbai project will most likely never happen at all! If you have patience to read on, I’ll try to show you how their numbers for the Mumbai monorail are unreal, and, as I explain briefly Scomi background (as well as JICA s monorail proposal) in Brazil, I’ll try to show my point of view that this monorail will never be completed, as soon as the costs become clear and couple of kilometers and win whatever election India might have this year, but after that, no way they will finish it Why?

Well. First of all, Scomi and JICA both use pretty rough numbers to make politicians believe that their monorail are good for them. But when the final costs turn out to be more than double, triple, and, even worst, when the City finally realizes the amount of operational subsidies it would have to pay, they will just give up on the project. (And I can only hope for us taxpayers that this will happen sooner and not later.)

It happened in almost all their projects here in Brazil. Scomi made many presentations in different cities in Brazil to foster monorails for the World Cup, using the magical number (17 or 37 mi/km which was the cost of the Kuala Lumpur monorail in 1997) sometimes in REAIS, sometimes in US Dollars. But the reality is that after one year of studies, most of their projects were abandoned as the prices have just skyrocketed.

Lula (Brazilian President) has just announced that BRTs are going to be built in 9 of the 12 World Cup cities, so most of Scomi’s investment to send people to Japan, Malaysia and India, to pay for campaigns and projects, will be lost The only two projects still alive at this point are: one in Manaus/Amazon Jungle (by Scomi) which should be soon abandoned, believe me. And one extra monorail for Sao Paulo (by Jica), which I’ll talk about later, as I’m positive that it won’t happen either, although there are many other issues involved, which are not technical at all.

Monorails to connect airport or leisure parks are different in my opinion. For these you don’t need high capacity and you can charge them 5, 10 dollars per way… But for urban transportation… come on?

Background Information: These Malaysian companies have a very controversial background in fostering and working with monorails around the World, if we look at real numbers and deliverables.

Well, let’s start with the Kuala Lumpur project, after JICA decide they wouldn’t finance the monorail project with Hitachi, so some Malaysian companies were born there to do that project. Kuala Lumpur (one of only three monorails that actually got built in the last decades) went bankrupt and the State had to pay for their debt. If you want to learn more on that, please take a look http://www.itdp.org/index.php/news_events/news_detail/special_report_monorails_back_to_the_future/

After that, they got some contracts with cities for the World Cup in South Africa, but these projects never went through, after the real costs and operational difficulties became clearer. Instead South Africa opted for BRTs and Rea Vaya is there to prove how BRT can deliver a much better economical solution for our developing world cities.

Now we come Brazil, oh yeah my beautiful and lovely Brazil We had JICA here! The Japanese cooperation agency came to Sao Paulo to help Hitachi exports some monorails. Sao Paulo is the paradise for large construction projects: we have BRTs, highways, bridges, subways, everything under construction. It’s an election year in Brazil, therefore, many projects are only launched and paid for the engineering stage, although we all known they won’t ever get built (because there is no budget available for the construction). Anyway, because SP has been achieving 15% increase in its budget per year these last years, they thought money wouldn’t be a problem.

Therefore, the Japanese found a good opportunity to foster their beautiful monorail here. Nobody wanted it here, they were all talking about BRTs and light rail to replace the subway projects, as their construction costs went really high this last decade for underground subways, but the Japanese gave us monorail project for “free”, sent everybody travelling to Japan, Scomi came in too, help them consider the monorail again… you known well, therefore, the Japanese guys start studying it and it would cost “only” US$ 37mi/km.

But then it became US$ 70mi/km, and now they are saying US$ 100 mi/km or US$ 120 mi/km, which would be very close to our subway cost, which vary around US$ 170 US$ 250mi/km. But besides the billions for the construction costs, they still need more 3 billion of private money to pay for the monorail! Come on… Just impossible They estimate 100% transfer mode from the buses to the monorail, and, in 2012, it would increase 50% the ridership!!! Come on?

AFD (France Cooperation Agency) also gave a free project to foster Light rail in Brasilia, but as the Mayor was caught in corruption receiving money (he was filmed and it was all over television) the project is now tied up in the courts and it will likely not happen. It’s illegal to have the same company doing (fostering) the basic project, and also doing the construction — so Alston (French) couldn’t have won the tender as they did. Now the federal justice has stopped their project and the same thing will happened in SP. There was no basic project to do a monorail in the extension of a BRT under construction.

I don’t think they are ever going to construct it in Sao Paulo anyway, believe me It was going to cost 1.5 billion for everything, now, it would cost 2 billion for the construction plus 3 billion in private financing to buy the monorail and how would the Japanese banks find someone to take that loan? There are no crazy guys enough to invest in this monorail… Oh no!! The only large scale PPP ever done in Brazil was less than 500 million… Now 3 billion? Impossible…

The reality is that they will only open the tender, pay 50 million for the company to do the basic engineering studies at an elections year, then after the costs have been elevated they would just forget about it You known, campaign, projects financing campaign, forget the projects! Normal politics for Brazil, and after that, they will continue to construct BRT, as they have normally done. SP has already 130 kms of open BRTs , with a lot of challenges to be done, but, since the basic network creation and integration done in 2004, it went from 5 million trips (2004) to 10 million trips/per day (2009) and many more BRTs still on planning… It s just a political/ election games… It looks good for the mayor to say they will do monorails all over the City… (Ah, and the Mayo’ s brother is the Director of the Metro, so the metro would construct the monorail and help the City finance it )

What about the other monorails touted or done around the World? Did they work?

The most recent elevated monorail done was the JICA/Hitachi proposal in Dubai. As Dubai didn’t have any financial problems, JICA was doing well to deliver. ArabeBussiness.com, said the elevated metro would cost US$ 3.38 billion (AED 13 bi) and then it became US$ 7.6 billion (AED 28 bi). The monorail inside the Palm Jumeirah, 5.4 kms, was tender by US$ 381 million, became US$ 550 mi, but really cost US$ 1,1 billion.

Source (1): Arabebussiness.com – Our city, our Metro – 19 September 2009 http://www.arabianbusiness.com/568075-our-city-our-metro
Source (2): Arabebussiness.com – Quiet please for region s first monorail – 07 April 2007 http://www.arabianbusiness.com/property/article/10716-quiet-please-for-regions-first-monorail
Source (3): Klalleej Times online – Nice and Easy, but Fares Not So Fair – 7 May 2009.

Now, Dubai is having a hard time to pay the operational subsides and pay back the loan to the Japanese banks, therefore it won t be easy to find financing for a large scale monorail for Mumbai Google: Mitsubishi Construction, Mitzuo Bank, Hitachi and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group and Dubai World, monorail and you will see what I m talking about A good part of the Dubai default is related to the monorail/ elevated metro projects…

Seattle had the same monorail proposal. Their Green Line monorail went from 1.3 billion to 2 billion, plus more 7 billion in financing, therefore, US$ 9 billion of total cost, therefore, of course, it was cancelled by a public referendum with 65%… http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2002612604_monorail09m.html

I visited Seattle in January to see their small monorail done in 1962 for the World fair earlier in January 2010 because Scomi and Jica said it was a very successful example, so I went there and it was broken due to mechanical repairs, looking like a poor joke, but, it’s not funny.

Seattle has a tunnel downtown used exclusively to public transportation Their most important road downtown, the 3rd, is closed for cars on peak hours, and ALL buses are free downtown in the peak hours This was the result of the monorail project there

Bus improvements!!! Awesome! And BRTS are all over the West coast Las Vegas monorail was the same (more than US$ 100 mi/km then they abandoned the rest of the project). None of the other projects which JICA, HITACHI or SCOMI tried around ever really happened. Not even in Tokyo and Osaka they did finish the first projects as they had planned. So, if in Japan with the technology, capital and elevated roads everywhere, they didn’t do I . . . why would the Mumbai project ever actually happen?

It’s very easy to open a tender, sign a contract, ask the private initiative to come and deliver a huge mobility project, turnkey, but it normally doesn’t happen that easily someone has to pay, there is no free lunch! And in India, if I recall well, the bus fares are so low…. How would they pay for those huge subsidies?

My friends, I really want to continue these discussions, but you are all already tired (and bored) with such a long posting. But I would like to finish my thoughts on that topic and discuss it even further one day If you are interested in this issue, please take a look at a small report I did for the Secretary of Transport and the Mayor of Sao Paulo about the reality of the monorail. Now, I m sending it to the mayor (and the press) in Manaus. Let s see how far the project will go there…

If you can t read Portuguese or Spanish, just take a look at the pictures and data, and you will get the message. I also did some estimates of the amount of subsidies that Manaus and Sao Paulo would have to pay if the monorail was done, and the results are incredible!!! I did a small comparison with what they could do with the R$ 4.5 billion for the monorail in Sao Paulo, if it was a combination of BRT, sidewalks, cycle paths, and the numbers are good.

Could Mumbai pay for the real price of construction and operation? Brazilian cities couldn’t.  And you?

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About the author: 

Adalberto Felicio Maluf Filho

Adalberto Felicio Maluf FilhoCity Director Sao Paulo: Responsible to develop and implement strategy for C40-CCI (Clinton Climate Initiative) on the ground in order to accelerate identification and implementation of GHG reducing programs and policies in Sao Paulo and other C40 cities in Latin America. My work was to support the creation, delivery and maintain a comprehensive work plan, as well as to foster peer-to-peer and bilateral cooperation’s.

Supported cities on C40’s networks in Transportation (BRT – low Carbon Vehicles and Non-Motorized Transportation), Clean Energy and Efficiency, Efficiency, Methane Capthure and Sustainable Waste Management, Risk Assessment and Adaptation Policies, Green Growth and Green Infra-structure.

In these last seven (7) years, we were able to help Sao Paulo to make Brazilian’s first and most comphensive Climate Change Bill, the first bicycle master plan and many policies to improve bus operations and reduce emissions (pre-boarding, express-Lines, Bus Rapid Transit) and other TOD (Transit Oriented Developments) in partnership with ITDP, Embarq and WRI.As a member of some working groups at the Climate Change Committee in Sao Paulo, I had the pleasure to foster public policies for green buildings, clean energy and more sustainable city, helping to bring and deliver partnerships like Gehl Architects, ARUP and other NGO’s to foster principles of sustainable communities and “Cities for People Methodology” and “Sustainable Communities”.

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Editor’s note: Equal time

For readers looking for a more upbeat vision of monorails, we can suggest the site of The Monorail Society at http://www.monorails.org/. And Innovative Transportation Technologies at http://faculty.washington.edu/jbs/itrans/

We welcome comments, above all from those who do not agree with the points of view set out in this series and who are convinced that monorails really do have a legitimate place in our cities, and especially thus in the developing world.

And you if have not yet had the pleasure, let us point you to the short monorail clip which you will find at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEZjzsnPhnw. Tells the story quite nicely.

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