As population and income rise, car and motorcycle ownership quickly increased in both megacities while mass transit is not developing fast enough, with serious consequences on traffic congestion, accidents and pollution. São Paulo has 150km+ traffic queues daily and losses of productivity, wasted fuel, health impacts and accidents estimated at around 2% of Brazil’s GDP in 2013, with three fatal deaths daily in motorcycle accidents alone. Mumbai, in addition to all-day road traffic jams, have an astounding six deaths daily from riders hanging and falling from packed trains which circulate with open doors to avoid reducing carrying capacity. The city comes to a standstill when the rail right-of-way is flooded by heavy monsoon rains.
Access to jobs and basic services in both mega-cities is extremely difficult – particularly for the poor, who often live far from major employment centers. The two cities need to act quickly and take drastic measures to improve mobility and access... But this is easier said than done: expanding the transport infrastructure in these megacities requires careful planning, massive investment, and may also involve relocating large numbers of people and businesses.
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“It takes over 40 minutes just to get out of the parking lot. There has to be another way!" Listening to Manuel, an executive from Sao Paulo, was the tipping point that convinced us to convert our theoretical analysis on the potential of “corporate mobility” programs into real-life pilot programs in both Sao Paulo and Mexico.
Corporate Mobility Programs are employer-led efforts to reduce the commuting footprint of their employees. Such programs are usually voluntary. The underlying rationale behind them is that improved public transport systems or better walking and cycling facilities are necessary but not sufficient to address urban mobility challenges and move away from car-centric development. Moreover, theory suggests that corporate mobility initiatives may have the potential for a rare “triple bottom line”: they reduce employers’ parking-related costs, improve employees’ morale and reduce congestion, emissions and automobility. In other words, corporate mobility programs are good for profits, good for people and good for the planet.
Photo: Sam Kittner / Capital Bikeshare
Recently, I was invited to join a panel on the sharing economy moderated by Prof. Susan Shaheen at UC Berkeley, focusing more specifically on shared mobility.
The panel acknowledged that shared mobility is already transforming the mobility landscape globally, but could go a lot further in increasing the sustainability of urban mobility systems. The panel identified a number of key research gaps that we need to pay close attention to if we want to create a policy environment that is conducive to mobility innovations. Three that I want to highlight are:
- Supporting open data and open-source ecosystems is critical considering the tremendous potential of open-source software and data-sharing for improving transport planning, facilitating management and providing a better experience for transport users (for more detail, please see my previous blog on how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data)
- Looking into shared-economy solutions for those at the bottom of the pyramid – solutions that don’t require credit cards and smartphones as prerequisites (see this blog on the bike-share system in Buenos Aires for a good example)
- The world of driverless cars is coming – which, depending on how policy responds to it, could spell really good or really bad news for the environment: if such technology is used primarily in shared mobility scenarios, it could greatly reduce the environmental cost of motorized transport; on the other hand, the possibility of “empty trips” with zero-occupancy cars could exacerbate the worst elements of automobility (see Robin Chase’s blog in The Atlantic Cities for a great discussion on this). That is why it is critical to create a policy environment that appropriately prices the ‘bads’ of congestion, accidents and emissions while steering the world of driverless cars towards sharing and resource conservation.
Construction of the Quito Metro
One of the shiny new Ecovía buses
One should not underestimate the importance of Ecovía, a new 30-km BRT corridor crossing Monterrey from east to west. The original goal was to create a high-speed, high-quality mass transit system that could provide rail-like performance at a fraction of the cost. If the first six weeks are any indication, Ecovía certainly has achieved that. At 30 km per hour, the average travel speed of the BRT is close to double that of regular bus lines across the city; an influential local TV host found that end-to-end travel times on the system were over an hour faster than by private car; ridership levels are higher than what government expected for this still partial roll-out (35 of the scheduled 80 vehicles are operating); and in a recent survey, 75% of the sampled riders judged the overall system to be an 8 or higher on a scale of 10.
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On a recent trip to Mexico City, I had the pleasure of participating in three events that really brought home the transformative power of the open data and open source eco-system that is becoming an ever more important element of our work in transport.
First I joined the Secretary of Mobility for Mexico City to inaugurate an open data-based system for alerting public transport users in this city of 8 million of any disruptions to the city’s multimodal transport system consisting of an extensive metro system, a suburban rail line, 5 lines of the Metrobus Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT), an electric trolley system, as well as a substantial publicly operated bus system. The alert system was built using open-source software on an open standardized data set of schedules supported by the Bank last year (read more about that initiative led by my colleague Catalina Ochoa). Not only does this service deliver value for Mexico City commuters immediately, but it also allows any other city that has its data organized in a similar standard GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) format (over a 1,000 cities do) to use the same code developed for Mexico City off GitHub, a web registry. Moreover, the open standardized formats let developers in Mexico City or elsewhere build apps that use this information. The market for these applications is potentially global, spurring innovation for user-oriented applications in public transport: there are already many hundreds of GTFS based applications.
- inclusive development
- inclusive transport
- Bus Rapid Transit
- transport policy
- transport economics
- fiscal incentives
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- transport planning
- energy use
- transport infrastructure
- public transport
- mass transit
- greenhouse gas
- GHG Emissions
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- road safety
- transport and land use
- land use
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- Millenium Development Goals
- sustainable development goals
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A Bus Rapid Transit – BRT – system is coming to Washington, DC in the spring of 2014. The proposed corridor will connect Crystal City in Arlington with the Potomac Yard in Alexandria.
This is good news for DC residents, who are currently dealing with the worst traffic in the country. DC commuters lose an average of 67 hours per year because of congestion, resulting in an additional 32 gallons per year per commuter of gasoline wasted.
BRT systems address traffic problems by creating dedicated lanes for buses. As shown in the above photo of Delhi, cars are physically restricted from bus lanes. This allows buses to travel faster than cars, making them a more attractive transport option for commuters and reducing car usage. Basically, a BRT is an aboveground subway, except that it costs 1/10th the price.