Follow the author on Twitter: @shomik_raj
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.
In a report released today, Connecting to Compete 2014: Trade Logistics in the Global Economy, we summarize the results of the Logistics Performance Index (LPI), and examine some of the factors behind different countries’ performance. The index and report, which have been produced about every two years since 2007, rank countries on a number of dimensions of trade, including customs performance, infrastructure quality, and timeliness of shipments.
Nowadays the importance of efficient supply chains for trade integration is recognized globally. Most sources of friction in the global economy—trade costs—are attributable to logistics bottlenecks. These might be physical deficiencies, red tape, especially at borders, or a lack of quality services. The LPI has greatly helped the realization that policy does matter for efficient logistics, and is widely referred to as a guide by policy-makers, including in rich countries such as those in the EU. It has contributed to creating a dynamic of reforms in many developing countries where the Bank has logistics-oriented programs. We are just back from Georgia and Indonesia, and our team is currently in Rabat, Morocco, where we are promoting projects to integrate supply chains of the Maghreb.
A colleague of mine once told me that professionals who were responsible for designing public transport policies never used public transport themselves. This thought has been entrenched in my mind ever since. As a transport professional myself, I always try to use public transport whichever part of the world I visit, be it London, Delhi, Accra, Helsinki, or Colombo. It is one of the best ways to get a sense of how the public transport system operates in a particular city.
I joined the World Bank Nepal office some three years ago. I booked my temporary residence in a hotel through one of my friends. I had no idea how far the hotel was from my office so I took a taxi on my first day. Then I discovered that my hotel was close to a public transport route so I started using microbuses to commute to the office. On my way to work the microbus would never be full, so I could travel comfortably. But I hated my return journey as the microbuses would already be filled up at Shahid Gate and I would never get seats. Often I had to change buses and sometimes, if I stayed at work late, I had to take taxis as there were no buses after dark.
A lot of my Nepali colleagues also shared their experiences with me. A male colleague told me how he was mugged once. I also heard many unpleasant stories from my female colleagues on the experience of using public transport. I have to admit after this, I used public transport less frequently.
Was the aircraft victim of an accident or was its disappearance a result of terrorism? Was it shot down, hijacked by intruders or the crew, did it ditch and sink rapidly as a consequence, or did it land successfully at one of the 634 runways on its theoretical pathways suitable for a B777 to be stowed away and held for ransom? We might not know the answer to these disturbing questions for months and years to come. However, the travelling public is astonished to learn that the B777 of flight MH370 was not under active surveillance. How can it be that in times where anybody can be located homing on a cell phone a commercial airliner just gets lost?
From the outset, I was interested and intrigued by research on gender issues in public transport in Kathmandu. Familiar with the chaotic, noisy, and smelly traffic of Kathmandu, the everyday challenges people face in their commutes to work and school were as well known to me as regular excuses for colleagues being late to meetings; buses were ‘full’, ‘late’, ‘broke down’, ‘did not come’. But I was also aware that women in Kathmandu are often quite tough, feisty and assertive especially compared to those in cities of neighbouring countries I had experienced. What were the issues going to be?
My team of a dozen researchers comprised eight women and four men, all in their twenties and thirties. Most, but not all, had long abandoned using public transport themselves, preferring the reliability, control, comfort and safety of riding scooters or borrowing the family car. So, my first task was to get them all to experience public transport again. They spent a whole day travelling on different forms of transport all over the Kathmandu area, between them covering from day break until the last bus plied in the evening. As they travelled they chatted to fellow commuters. The following day the team re-convened and shared their public transport experiences. We worked through simulations of commuter behaviour - dramatizing what happens when waiting for, getting on, traveling on and getting off public transport. We noted the contortions required to avoid touching people in crowded and cramped spaces. We talked through what was acceptable and unacceptable.
All of this helped us draft a short questionnaire to capture the issues which emerged as important. We were very conscious that we would have to administer these in situ as people were commuting and that they needed to be simple. When we came to undertake the study, riding on transport ourselves and conducting approximately 500 interviews, we did not anticipate the enthusiasm with which people wanted to engage. Commuters, women and men, wanted to pour out their frustrations to the researchers and felt that the questions being asked went straight to the heart of the issues which concerned them. ‘Putting up’ with uncomfortable, overcrowded, unreliable, dirty, unhygienic, unsafe travel and the reckless driving, offensive banter between drivers and conductors, pickpockets and harassment had become normalized. Enough was enough.
Few consumers in developing countries are aware of the standard safety features in vehicles, and in most cases, the government has failed to mandate the minimum crashworthiness safety standards as recommended by the UN. But the situation is starting to change, and it is exciting to see some progress since the last time I wrote about this important topic. In that blog, I had mentioned how the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) in Latin America highlighted the fact that new cars sold in that region were 20 years behind in safety technology compared to similar models sold in the US and the European Union.
Earlier this year in New Delhi, the Global New Car Assessment Program, a consumer-awareness non-profit, presented for the first time independent consumer crash test results for five of India’s most popular small cars. Besides increasing awareness among Indians about safety performance of the cars they buy, the event also explored how regulatory standards, in combination with consumer information and incentives, can create a ‘market for safer vehicles’ in the rapidly motorizing nations of the developing world.
After more than two hours stranded at a small town train station near Tokyo, Japan, with record snowfall and freezing temperatures outside our windows, the train driver addressed us for the third time – no new updates. “Our personnel are working to fix the problem,” the voice said. At that moment, an older man seated next to me leaned over and told me, “We have to do our part; the people working in the snow are trying their best to fix the system, so we can move. We should remain calm and wait - we cannot be part of the problem.” I was starting to understand why Japanese are so resilient.
This adventure began last February, following my participation in the launch of the new, $100 million joint program between Japan and the World Bank for disaster risk reduction. This program, implemented by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), will benefit a large number of especially vulnerable countries around the world. As part of this new initiative, the World Bank also launched the Disaster Risk Management Tokyo Hub.
The launch for the Tokyo Hub was held at a high level symposium at the Japan Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) on February 3, which attracted more than 400 people and had substantial media coverage. The Senior Vice-Minister for Finance/Senior Vice-Minister for Reconstruction Jiro Aichi (a native of Sendai) spoke of Japan's commitment to disaster risk management (DRM) and thanked the World Bank for its strong support, before kicking off an intense program of inter-agency meetings to better utilize Japanese expertise in DRM practices.
My experience with Japanese solidarity and resilience, however, was best highlighted the day I was returning home. On February 9, as I was trying to get to Narita airport, more than 27 centimeters of snow fell on Tokyo and other areas of Japan, the heaviest of 40 years. Many buildings in the city collapsed, leaving at least 11 dead and more than 1,200 injured across the country.
Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic – Laura Tuck, the vice president for the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia unit, talks about her trip to Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and important issues related to the economic growth of the region that she discussed in these Central Asian countries.