Transit-Oriented Development? Cool Concept, Tough Job

Linking public transport to urban planning, housing and people remains a difficult vision to realize

By Christ Ponderosa
Tuesday, July 24, 2018

As Indonesia’s ambitious infrastructure development program continues, one of the buzzwords frequently used in relation to real estate and urban planning is the concept of transit-oriented development, or TOD. A TOD is a mixed-use residential and commercial area designed to maximize access to public transport. While many private developers and government agencies promote development projects in Jakarta as TODs, critics argue that only a few of these sites meet the criteria.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a think tank that provides technical transport and planning expertise to cities around the world, is among those critics. In September last year, ITDP Indonesia launched the its Bahasa Indonesia edition of the TOD Standards version 3.0 as an urban planning tool for the use of the general public, government, developers and urban planners in creating a more accessible city.

AmCham Indonesia sat down with the think tank’s Indonesia Country Director, Yoga Adiwinarto, and Research and Policy Manager Udaya Laksmana Kartiyasa to find out more about the TOD concept in Jakarta.

AmCham Indonesia: Tell me a little bit about TOD and its principles.

ITDP: In essence, TOD is an urban development concept prioritizing mobility for the people by means of public transportation or walking. A TOD is an area of predetermined radius centered on a station. The Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning and the National Land Agency define TOD as covering an area with a radius of 400-800 meters. A DKI Jakarta regulation determined the radius to be 350-700 meters from the center of a station. Globally, the radius can also be measured by the time taken traveling on foot. For instance, a TOD can cover an area within a 10-minute walk from the station.

The mode has to be mass transportation. Creating a TOD centered on a public station but requiring people to get to the station by personal vehicles undermines the effectiveness of the public transportation infrastructure and reduces the benefits that we can reap from having the TOD, because people would be easily tempted to drive or ride their personal vehicles to their destinations and skip the mass transportation altogether.

ITDP published the TOD Standard, which outlines eight core principles of urban design and land use comprising two main components: mobility and development. The principles of walk, cycle, connect and transit are focused on the mobility component; while the principles of mix, compact, densify and shift are focused on the development component. Within a TOD, there should ideally be workplaces and offices, houses and residential areas, stores and business areas, all within walking distance.

Therefore, for a TOD to be effective, there are three things to note. Access to different modes of public transportation has to be improved. This includes efforts to provide better quality of pedestrian walkways, both the infrastructure and the environment, within the TOD to encourage people to walk and utilize the available public transportation instead of driving or riding their own vehicles. This will improve overall mobility within the TOD. The second factor is to densify the development within the TOD area. The amount of investment poured into a TOD is huge. Densifying the development within the said TOD increases economic activities within the area, and thus drives up the utilization of the TOD. Finally, rising awareness and efforts to limit the use of personal vehicles within the TOD area are important.

Is TOD development in Jakarta in line with the principles you just mentioned?

TOD is a hot concept in Jakarta today, but it is mere lip service. What developers usually call a “TOD” is usually not, and those developers do not actually care about TOD principles.

In Jakarta, the concept of TOD is over-simplified, where the sole focus is on the density. They treat the “D” as if it stands for “Developer”, focusing only on one project, while they should be focused on developing an entire area. Common mistakes include lack of planning for the entire area. Oftentimes, developers only plan for the development of a site within the TOD. Another common mistake is to substitute TOD for TAD (transit adjacent development). Instead of developing the whole area, they develop only the site right next to the station, and disregard the need to provide access to the TOD through different modes of public transportation. At the end of the day, people still have to rely on private vehicles, because the public transportation is inadequate.

The development of a TOD project should not start with identifying empty plots of land. Instead, it should take advantage of areas with considerable existing density. For instance, take areas with adequate public transportation, and develop the areas surrounding the station. Focus on those located at the city center. To adhere to the principles of compact and densify, increase area capacity vertically instead of horizontally, because with horizontal development more energy is required collectively for the people to get to the center of economic activities within the TOD. This also supports sustainability, because outside the compact TOD areas we can set aside land for recreational activities, such as for conservation, hiking and other nature-related or outdoor leisure activities. In contrast, in Jakarta development usually focuses on sites at the outermost layers of buildings adjacent to main roads. As a result, we see that the vertical development adjacent to main roads continues with the horizontal spread of lower-story buildings or homes adjacent to those outermost layers.

Today we see private developers and the government promoting the sites they are developing as “TODs,” using “proximity” of 5 km between their sites and the nearest station. This is misleading; they do not really mean a TOD, because with the 5 km distance people are still expected to ride or drive their vehicles to the station. TOD is supposed to be a consequence, whose cause is the development of mass transit. So when we build a mass transit system, the area around it has to be developed to support its utilization. This does not work the other way around, where we identify empty lots and develop them as a TOD. Instead, we should identify TOD areas according to the movement of people, and the need for mass transit to facilitate greater mobility for people frequenting a particular area. It is bizarre that they built a parking building right next to the station in TOD Tanah Abang, which essentially encourages commuters to drive instead.

What causes the misperception of TOD in Jakarta? What factors are in play here?

Stakeholders have distinct and sometimes conflicting interests. These diverse interests have created a particular dynamic in Jakarta, where the central government has a development target to pursue. An important factor is the difficulty in acquiring land that is already in use, in many cases being able to afford it is not a guarantee. It is often easier to acquire an empty lot than to deal with the hassle associated with land acquisition. This is one of the cases where business sense and pragmatism actually hinder the development of what is good for the people.

For private developers, TOD is a label often used to increase property prices. For the TOD coordinator and main operator, PT MRT, the cash flow it can generate is the main factor contributing to the misperception of TOD. Building a mass transit system requires a huge investment. With the pressure to reach the breakeven point as soon as possible, PT MRT must explore revenue sources outside of ticket revenue, while it should really be focusing on figuring out how to cover costs by means of selling tickets. Doing so would be in line with the principles of TOD, because it would focus on how to increase the number of commuters using the mass transit service itself, which can happen if the areas around the station are developed in adherence with the eight TOD principles.

Unfortunately, the government is also increasingly interested in TOD for its potential as a financing source, which reinforces the misperception. TOD is also often misperceived as a means for land value capture. The government needs to understand that TOD is about the development of the entire area. So, land value capture is definitely part of TOD, but not the only element.

How is ITDP advocating for the adoption of a more accurate TOD concept?

ITDP has advocated for a more accurate TOD concept in Jakarta since the very beginning. ITDP provided a draft governor regulation on TOD, but when the government issued the first draft, PT MRT was already designated as the coordinator and main operator of TOD. ITDP then proposed for the authority to be given to the provincial government instead, along with the mechanism to certify buildings based on TOD principles. The idea is that once a building is certified, only then can the developers unlock further achievements, such as adding height to their buildings, etc. Achievements or incentives vary at different TOD levels or standards.

The advocacy was difficult because of the diversity of stakeholders and their interests. PT MRT became less open to external influences. The dynamic is complicated, and we understand why PT MRT went into isolation, because there are so many different stakeholders pushing for their own interests. But doing so only worsens things, which is unfortunate, but understandable.

While awareness about what TOD really is seems to be lacking, there has been plenty of dialogue carried out at the national level. But at the end of the day, stakeholders still champion their own interests above what is good for the people. There is no mechanism that can bridge the interests of the provincial government and the private sector yet.

What is the ideal role of government and the ideal stakeholder dynamic in fostering TOD development?

The current situation is that private developers are driving the government, not vice versa as it should be. When drafting regulations, the government does not always consider the bigger picture of the urban plan. It usually does it in isolation and with the main aim to satisfy developers. The government should be the main TOD champion. ITDP has provided the scoring system for TOD. Private developers, provided with both the policy and the scoring system, should execute what has been outlined according to TOD principles. The problem is no one really cares and talks about urban planning and development. Combine this with business pragmatism and diverse interests, and we get what we see today.

Having said all that, the role of the government should be to capture accurate TOD principles in regulations. Also, the process has to be participatory, and void taking shortcuts in the name of pragmatism. Here the government needs to do what is right and necessary. The mechanism to have dialogue and a participatory process is not in place yet, which should be provided by the government through its policy-making authority. When you look at cities with great urban planning, the provincial governments of those cities tend to have high capacity to make the necessary things happen despite the various stakeholder interests. Likewise, the provincial governments in Indonesia should play a key role in fostering interagency and stakeholder coordination, but their capacity is low. This is something that needs to be addressed, going forward.

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