Posts Tagged ‘globalization’
At Bloomberg View, Adam Minter suggests that the monorail might yet have its moment, flourishing in cities of the developing world as inexpensive mass transit systems.
Monorails may not have worked in sprawling, 20th-century Los Angeles. But for the dense, traffic-choked cities of the modern developing world — where populations are growing, pollution is worsening and public funds are limited — they’re ideal. If they catch on, they could change urban landscapes around the world for the better.
In China, they’re already starting to. Although China has built some of the world’s biggest and best metro systems, and plans to build more, subways come with plenty of problems. They’re geographically constrained, disruptive to build and expensive to maintain, especially for the smaller cities driving much of China’s local debt problem. Buses and cars are cheaper and more flexible, but contribute to air pollution and traffic jams.
Monorails could help on all counts. They run solely on electricity, and so are usually better for the environment. They’re built above ground, on relatively thin pylons that can be installed in road medians, and thus avoid the heavy costs of excavation and underground maintenance. BYD, a Chinese manufacturer backed by Warren Buffett, says its SkyTrain monorail costs one-sixth what a traditional metro would, and requires only one-third the time to install. For cash-strapped Chinese cities such as Shantou — home to 5.5 million people and (soon) a 155-mile monorail — that’s an attractive proposition.
More interestingly, monorails can navigate steep grades and sharp curves. This makes them ideally suited to downtowns, where they can easily be aligned with existing roads and landscapes. And it opens up new possibilities. The world’s busiest monorail — with nearly a million daily passengers — is located in the hilly metropolis of Chongqing in Southwest China, where it negotiates curves and hills that would’ve required tunnels for heavier rail. Though few cities are as geographically challenging as Chongqing, there’s plenty of demand for transit systems that can take people exactly where they want to go.
With Brexit set to diminish the prospects of the British economy and Trump’s policies seeming likely to harm the United States, there seems a real prospect of all of the rich countries of the world remaining stuck, with stagnant living standards and growing inequality. Less rich countries also face similar problems, with Russia and Brazil at best bottoming out their declines and China heading who knows where. The big economic boom that began after the Second World War and continued, with varying geographic emphases, even after the 2007-2008 financial crisis might be coming to an end.
Do you think it will? What do you think the consequences might be? People who feel themselves being immiserated, I would note, are often people who make more narrow and less generous choices politically and socially. I hate to raise the spectre of the 1930s gratuitously, but are we in fact heading for an epoch like this? (And then what next?)