Ulaanbaatar BRT

Far East Mobility has worked on the Ulaaanbaatar BRT planning and design throughout 2016 and up to May 2017, as a partial BRT conceptual design. Some updates on the project are available at the following articles: Ulaanbaatar BRT plans and designs taking shape (November 2016) and Smart cards provide accurate, comprehensive data in Ulaanbaatar (May 2016). This work was a follow-up to earlier BRT planning carried out by Karl Fjellstrom, Wenxuan Ma, Xiaomei Duan, Derek Trusler and others in Ulaanbaatar in 2011. Far East Mobility was also awarded a contract in 2018 to provide planning and technical input during the engineering design stage, but the postponement and what now seems apparent cancellation of the engineering design stage meant that this input never eventuated.

Between the earlier work in 2011 and the start of Far East Mobility's input in February 2016 there had been no progress made on the BRT planning, though major progress was made in supporting areas such as the establishment of a smart card system, formalization and organization of bus routes, implementation of improved bus stops, remuneration of operators on a time rather than passenger basis, bus fleet expansion, capacity building of the urban transport department, implementation of a traffic control centre, and other reforms. In addition, as part of a related study from February to April 2016, BRT Planning International and other consultants prepared a preliminary BRT business plan, though this was superseded by major changes to the BRT corridor selection in July 2016. In particular, after a change of government in June 2016 it was decided that Peace Avenue no longer needed to be considered off-limits for non-technical reasons. Far East Mobility revised the BRT plans to take this change into account, and the BRT phase 1 BRT corridor was planned along Peace Avenue and Namyan Ju.

During the years from the earlier BRT planning work in 2011, traffic conditions deteriorated greatly in Ulaanbaatar.

During the years from the earlier BRT planning work in 2011, traffic conditions deteriorated greatly in Ulaanbaatar, worsened by motor vehicle fleet growth combined with highly inefficient intersections throughout the central area, and unreliable and slow public transport service. Bus speeds throughout the central area average less than 10km/hr from 8AM to 8PM on an average weekday. There have been no significant pedestrian or bicycle facility improvements since 2011. Parking management is somewhat less chaotic than in 2011, but is not used effectively to manage traffic demand or to raise much-needed revenues. In short, while in 2011 the city officials were only lukewarm about the possibility of BRT, by 2016 conditions had worsened so much that officials were very keen to act to improve the situation. Political will is strong, and the potential time saving and other benefits from a well-designed BRT in Ulaanbaatar are very large.

A BRT Concept Design or BRT Preliminary Design study was never completed after the initial very limited concept design study in 2011.

In addition to the strong consensus on the need to drastically improve the public transport system, the city now has excellent demand and speed data availability from the smart card system. Smart card usage became mandatory in Ulaanbaatar on 1 April 2017, further enhancing what was already an excellent data source for BRT planning.

Despite this seemingly positive overall situation, however, a BRT Concept Design or BRT Preliminary Design study was never completed after the initial very limited concept design study in 2011, meaning that by 2017 the project had no firm foundation and was not yet sufficiently defined for the engineering design to start. Key decisions on corridors, vehicles and operations had not yet been finalized. There had been multiple sporadic inputs by consultant teams working on various aspects related to BRT, but no overall BRT Concept Design or BRT Preliminary Design. A Project Implementation Unit was formed in 2017, but was unfortunately unable to use the long periods of inactivity during bid preparation and other 'down times' to proceed with much-needed additional planning and design work.

BRT corridors and stations proposed by Far East Mobility in Ulaanbaatar based on a partial conceptual design prepared in 2016-2017.

Far East Mobility's preliminary BRT design work during 2016-2017 included corridor selection, demand analysis, bus speed analysis, intersections analysis and improvements, changes to traffic circulation, BRT stations (types, locations, access, dimensions, configuration, and access, though not architecture), and operational approach (though not operational plan). This work provided guidance for the planned BRT implementation in Ulaanbaatar, though much remains to be done to guide the engineering design and to complete the BRT concept design stage. Follow-up work is needed on stations, operations, architecture, demand modeling, modal integration, station access planning, and other areas.

The risk is that too many critical aspects for the project success will be left up to the engineering design team who may not have the required experience in BRT planning to ensure a successful project.

Some of the key intersections and corridor segments have not yet been defined, the multiple partial inputs in several areas by different consulting teams has not yet been packaged as a holistic BRT concept design, and work has not yet been carried out to prepare a BRT demand or operational model for Peace Avenue or the BRT station architecture, which is a critical issue in the weather conditions of Ulaanbaatar. Far East Mobility developed proposals for most key intersections and for the central area traffic network in early 2017 with input by two experts, and developed preliminary operational and station concepts, but this amounts to only a partial BRT concept design. Far East Mobility provided concepts and some examples for pedestrian and bicycle facility integration and for station area development planning, but the city needs to further develop these concepts, and integrate the BRT planning with other ongoing urban planning projects and policies. It would be highly advantageous for the City to at least carry out a complete BRT Concept Design study to address gaps in the planning and to bring together the disparate inputs by different consultant teams over the last couple of years. If this is not done prior to or in parallel with the early engineering design, the risk is that too many critical aspects for the project success will be left up to the engineering design team who may not have the required experience in BRT planning to ensure a successful project. The best combination is probably for the engineering design to be led by a local team, but with a smaller - and independent - international expert team addressing gaps in the planning and providing technical input and supervision through the entire project, up to the early phases of operation.

Major project presentations were held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Ulaanbaatar in November 2016 and April 2017, with recommendations positively received by both the government and the ADB, though much work still remains to be done. The BRT project was announced in the media following the meeting in April 2017, and received the endorsement of top officials. A different consultant team is preparing recommendations on BRT fleet specifications and procurement during 2017. A project implementation unit has been set up, and the bidding is currently being prepared for ongoing BRT planning / supervision and for the BRT corridor engineering design.

Additional inputs will be required to make a complete BRT conceptual design including traffic analysis, intersection design for all key intersections on and off the BRT corridor (especially in the central area), operational plan and bus route changes, BRT station architecture and renderings, modal integration, station area development planning, and other areas.

The BRT conceptual planning prepared during 2016-2017 by Wenxuan Ma and Karl Fjellstrom includes proposals to change road network circulation to reduce the number of intersection phases and improve traffic conditions for all modes in the BRT corridor. The intersection changes, however, can only be done as part of a wider road network revision, to ensure that alternatives are available to the left turn movements prevented at intersections, and are preferably done in conjunction with the BRT. The city trialled a two-phase intersection implementation at some major intersections in August 2017, but without the wider network adjustments. This was ineffective, and the changes along Peace Avenue were rolled back from 1 September 2017. A better approach is to implement the intersection phase changes and associated network adjustments together with the BRT system.