At first my eyes could not believe it. Was this for real? A cable car system designed to connect two cities? I was well aware of cable cars at ski resorts, and other major touristic attractions like the Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro. But cable cars as a commuting mode between two cities seemed to me a different story.
If you have been to La Paz, the highest capital in the world at some 3,650 meters above sea level (13,000 feet), you know it lies in a canyon right below El Alto, another city built on the altiplano, a higher plateau. The population of both cities is around 2 million people connected by a single highway.
With narrow and winding streets, particularly in La Paz, traffic congestion can be awful for thousands of daily peak-time commuters. Because of the challenging geography, other transport infrastructure –such as additional highways or metro systems- were at some point considered, but were either unrealistic to execute because of the capricious topography, or simply too expensive or not commercially viable.
Editor's Note: "Notes from the Field" is an occasional feature where we let World Bank professionals conducting interesting trade-related projects around the globe explain some of the challenges and triumphs of their day-to-day work. The views expressed here are personal and should not be attributed to the World Bank. All interviews have been edited for clarity.
The interview below is with Ashish Narain, a Senior Economist at the World Bank Group’s Investment Climate Department. He is based in India from where he manages the World Bank Group’s South Asia Regional Trade and Investment Project. He spoke with us about his project, his personal connection with the region, and the evolution of regional trade facilitation in South Asia.
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.
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A commuter in Bogotá, Colombia
This situation points to one of the toughest challenges faced by public transport systems: how to reconcile financial sustainability and social inclusion? On the one hand, if fares do not cover operational costs, systems need subsidies to survive, which can pose serious financial and political risks. In some cases, transport systems operating with inadequate financial resources may experience system deterioration, safety problems and service curtailment. On the other hand, if fares are set to reflect the real price of transport services so that operators can recoup their costs without subsidies, then the poor are often priced out. This is exactly the problem that Bogotá is currently struggling with, despite its well-deserved reputation for innovation and excellence in public transport: fares of its state-of-the-art Transmilenio Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system are pegged at cost-recovery levels that may price out many of the city’s poorest. Recent studies show that the lowest income households in Bogotá (socioeconomic strata 1, 2, 3 according to the local classification) are already devoting 20-30% of their total income to transportation, spending more than US$2 daily. The situation may be even worse when Bogota’s city-wide public transit reform (the Integrated Public Transport System or SITP) is fully implemented, as bus drivers, with the adoption of smart cards, may no longer be able to offer unofficial discounts to passengers at their discretion, a common practice in the traditional system.
Construction of the Quito Metro
Photo credit: Dennis Thern
In Thailand, road accidents cause about one death every hour—but for a country of almost 70 million people, how does it fare compared to other countries?
Well, before we get to answering that; the good news for the country is that, according to Thailand Road Safety Observatory, overall road accidents, fatalities and injuries all fell roughly by a third over the past decade. But as for the bad news, the probability of crash victims becoming fatally wounded or permanently disabled is higher than ever.
However, the real bad news—despite the authorities’ efforts to prevent accidents—is that, according to the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013, Thailand continues to have one of the highest rates in road fatalities. In fact, with 38 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year, it ranks third in the world, just behind the African countries of Eritrea and Libya, at 48.4 and 40.5 respectively.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
The Transformative Impact of Data and Communication on Governance: Part 3
How do digital technologies affect governance in areas of limited statehood – places and circumstances characterized by the absence of state provisioning of public goods and the enforcement of binding rules with a monopoly of legitimate force? In the first post in this series I introduced the limited statehood concept and then described the tremendous growth in mobile telephony, GIS, and other technologies in the developing world. In the second post I offered examples of the use of ICT in initiatives intended to fill at least some of the governance vacuum created by limited statehood. With mobile phones, for example, farmers are informed of market conditions, have access to liquidity through M-Pesa and similar mobile money platforms.
Cashing in: why mobile banking is good for people and profit
Using digital finance to tackle development problems can improves lives, and offer innovative companies handsome rewards. Whether it is lack of access to water, energy or education, development professionals are well versed in the plethora of challenges facing billions of people. The traditional approach to solving these problems has been to think big – in terms of the millennium development goals, government aid programmes, or huge fundraising campaigns. But there are dozens of startups and larger companies with innovative ideas who are approaching these challenges in new ways using digital finance.
The EU-Turkey customs union (CU) has been a key catalyst in the economic transformation of Turkey over the past two decades and an effective mechanism for deeper integration between the two parties, according to a new World Bank evaluation of the CU.
While its supporters and critics may continue to debate in the political arena, this much is now clear: the CU has brought enormous benefits to Turkey and has done more to facilitate trade than a free trade agreement (FTA) would have. But more can still be done to both modernize the agreement and deepen trade integration between the parties.