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April 2014

Replacing the car with a smartphone… Mobility in the shared economy

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @shomik_raj
 

Photo: Sam Kittner / Capital Bikeshare
The sharing economy has been around for a long time. But recent technological advances like the development of real-time transactions through smartphones and credit cards have taken the potential of the shared economy to a whole new level, and opened the door for substantial changes in the way we think about urban mobility.

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.

“Will you take me for a 1,000 pesos?”— Making sure public transport subsidies really target the poor

Camila Rodriguez's picture
Also available in: Español

Follow the authors on Twitter: @TweetingCamila and @shomik_raj
 

A commuter in Bogotá, Colombia
(World Bank)
When analyzing the modernization of Bogota’s extensive bus system, we read a lot of technical analyses on public transport business models, risks, incentives, etc. But in a city where 11,6% of the population lives below the poverty line, social reality trumps all theoretical studies. In a new report entitled The promise and challenges of integrating public transportation in Bogotá, experts from Embarq estimate that as many as 23% of bus users sometimes plea for discounted rides, asking the bus driver: “Will you take me for 1,000 pesos?”

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.

Building Metros in Latin America: Not all projects are created equal, but they all need strong institutions

Daniel Pulido's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @danpulido
 

Construction of the Quito Metro
Representatives from international and local commercial and development banks convened in Bogota, Colombia at the end of March for the Second International Workshop to discuss the First Line of the Bogota Metro. Bogota is currently undertaking the engineering studies required to develop the metro project but the key question remains:  how to develop it in a manner that reduces costs, mitigates risks and maximizes benefits for users? Together with other Bank colleagues, I was invited to the workshop to discuss the procurement and financing models adopted in other urban rail projects in Latin America (see workshop presentations here). My main take away from the discussions is that although there is no such thing as a single recipe for success, there is one widely recognized essential ingredient: strong government institutions with the sufficient managerial and technical capacity to prepare, manage and supervise these complex projects.

Ecovia in Monterrey -- How Bus Rapid Transit is Transforming Urban Mobility

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @shomik_raj
 

One of the shiny new Ecovía buses
Listening to Juan Ayala rave about how they only let the most talented bus drivers operate the shiny new buses on the Ecovía Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, we realized how fantastic our job is. Not only do we have the privilege to help plan and implement transformational projects such as Monterrey’s first BRT line, but we actually get to see the results of our work firsthand.

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.