Several countries in Asia like Japan and Singapore are widely known for the cleanliness and efficiency of their public transit systems. Especially in cities with high population densities, a substantial demographic are reliant on public transport as a way of life. Despite the multitude of benefits that come with commuting through public transport, there seems to be a rapid surge in the number of people using private transport in Southeast Asia. 

Car ownership and the public transport market in Southeast Asia

In Vietnam, the automobile industry recorded an exponential rise of 38 percent for the year 2012 to 2016, with Hanoi and HCM City contributing to 45 percent of the country’s car ownership. That equates to a total of 16 cars per 1000 people, with a projected growth rate of 18 percent in 2017. As for other Southeast Asian nations, the increase was speculated to be 19.2 percent in the Philippines, and 20.4 percent in Cambodia. 

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Perhaps this growth is due to urbanisation and nations becoming more affluent and industrialized, resulting in deleterious effects on the environment. To make matters worse, the transport infrastructure in many Southeast Asian countries are still severely lacking, such as highways and railways. This has resulted in more automobile accidents as cars, motorcycles and other vehicles have to jostle for space on the overcrowded expressway.

Even in Singapore, where there is substantial government effort to regulate the automobile industry and reduce congestion on roads, 6 in 10 Singaporeans own a car. Singapore is the most expensive city to own a car, due to costs like COE (Certificate of Entitlement) and a yearly road tax, which has proven to be a deterrent for potential car owners. 

It goes without saying that an efficient transport system will drastically improve the quality of life and bring economic benefits to the typical traveler. Moreover, amidst conversations about environmental health, public transit systems provide commuters with a sustainable and fuel-efficient solution.

Why don’t more people take public transport?

When it comes to public transport in Southeast Asian countries, there is an element of unpredictability: train breakdowns, buses which do not come on time, and the list goes on. Most apps do not provide real-time updates for commuters, in the case of an emergency. 

Quite often, navigation services also provide the wrong instructions or are confusing to use. Hence, locals and travelers turn to private transport rather than risk being late or going in the wrong direction.

As border restrictions ease and international travel starts to pick up, Southeast Asian countries can expect to see an increase in leisure and business travelers. When visiting a new country, tourists may face difficulty navigating the local public transport system. Language barriers and being in an unfamiliar environment, paired with having to switch between several transportation modes as well as toggling between different kinds of applications could be a hassle. 

Depending on the sheer size of the country, even locals may find it hard to get around. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where Bestmap is based, people can get around by walking or through their extensive public transit system. 

In other rural states in the US, or cities that have not developed their public transport infrastructure, commuters end up getting lost or taking longer than expected to get to their destination. It is also common to have multiple transport vendors at locations like the airport, bus stations or train stations.

Nobody wants to spend hours downloading separate apps and calling up transport operators to buy tickets and make bookings. This could leave a negative impact on what was supposed to be a pleasant trip. Some would rather take taxis or private hire cars instead of risking their personal safety.

There has to be a way for locals and travellers to get around cheaply and reduce their carbon footprint. That is, of course, without compromising on efficiency. Here at BestMap, we have developed a one-stop solution for a seamless and easy transport experience. Using real-time data from a wide range of service providers, the algorithm is able to detect the most efficient transport routes possible. Integrating the services of over 300 partners, users can also book train or plane tickets, and even private hire cars when needed.

Mobility as a Service, building new transport rail networks and new transportation modes

The opportunity for a robust mobility system has led to an emergence of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) to enhance commuter travel. With the industry expected to grow to $372 billion USD by 2026, the mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) is shown to be a growing industry catering to the needs of travellers. 

By aggregating the functionalities and integrating partner services into a  single application, MaaS platforms like Bestmap aim to provide an ease of instruction, convenience and alternative travelling methods that may be more eco-friendly or economical. Additionally, the partnerships would also mean that travellers would no longer have to constantly re-register as Bestmap will share their travellers information to the partners, increasing the convenience of using transportation in a foreign city or country. 

As countries develop and expand, commuters can also expect better transport infrastructure, such as new transport rail networks and new roads. 

In light of this, some apps or providers may not be updated fast enough to keep up with the country’s developments. Ultimately, a healthy attitude towards public transportation goes beyond the technology and infrastructure – it is about a seamless user experience. MaaS solutions can revolutionise the transportation industry in Southeast Asia, making it easy for commuters to get from Point A to Point B.

While North America dominates the global market, regions like Asia-Pacific are still somewhat new to the MaaS concept. However, the paradigm shift and increasing demand for a holistic mobility solution, as well as the entry of MaaS providers, is seeing a potential for growth in this area.

The future of mobility in Southeast Asia 

In a region of over 655 million people, the pain points and unique challenges faced by Southeast Asian countries when it comes to public transportation could potentially change the world when addressed. By ramping up public transit usage, we can see a decrease in issues like congestion, air pollution and accidents.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a major turning point in the region. Consumers are now more open to new technologies and adopting digital solutions faster than ever. This makes the area a feasible market for Silicon Valley startups like Bestmap to establish their presence and provide consumers with mobility solutions. By partnering with accelerator programmes like 500 startups, Bestmap will be able to localise its solutions and speed up their go-to market to cater to commuters.

This article was contributed by Anatoly Corp, the CEO and Founder of Bestmap

About the author

Anatoly made his first company profitable in Silicon Valley in #energy at the age of 21. He founded Bestmap, a Mobility Metaverse that aggregates all transportation in one app, became president/investor of EV charger manufacturer ChargeLink that sells chargers for electric vehicles in the U.S. / U.K / Russia and the first youngest publicly traded human.

Anatoly likes technologies related to mobility, energy, transportation, robotics, nano, biotechnologies, AI, and Space.