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Mexico

The transition to low-carbon buses in Mexico: It’s not (only) about the money

Alejandro Hoyos Guerrero's picture
Credit: Taís Policanti/WRI
Transitioning from diesel buses to cleaner technologies can significantly contribute to tackling air pollution in cities and reducing the carbon footprint of urban transport. As alternatives to diesel are getting more and more viable, many governments and development partners are encouraging bus operators to make the switch, mostly by offering financial incentives such as example 1 or example 2.

However, after promoting cleaner buses in Mexico for five years, we have seen firsthand that financial incentives alone are not enough. Specifically, there are three main obstacles that impede the expansion of cleaner bus fleets, and should be addressed appropriately.

New technologies and risk aversion

In general, private bus operators tend to be very risk averse when it comes to experimenting with new vehicle technologies. This is not exactly surprising: according to our own calculations from different projects in Latin America, variables related to vehicle performance—like fuel and maintenance—make up over 2/3 of costs over the life cycle of a conventional diesel bus. In that context, operators who are not familiar with the performance of new vehicle technologies can understandably perceive the transition to a cleaner fleet as a huge financial gamble.

Maximizing finance for sustainable urban mobility

Daniel Pulido's picture
Photo: ITDP Africa/Flickr

The World Bank Group (WBG) is currently implementing a new approach to development finance that will help better support our poverty reduction and shared prosperity goals. This crucial effort, dubbed Maximizing Finance for Development (MFD), seeks to leverage the private sector and optimize the use of scarce public resources to finance development projects in a way that is fiscally, environmentally, and socially sustainable.
 
There are several reasons why cities and transport planners should pay close attention to the MFD approach. First, while the need for sustainable urban mobility is greater than ever before, the available financing is nowhere near sufficient—and the financing gap only grows wider when you consider the need for climate change adaptation and mitigation. At the same time, worldwide investment commitments in transport projects with private participation have fallen in the last three years and currently stand near a 10-year low. When private investment does go to transport, it tends to be largely concentrated in higher income countries and specific subsectors like ports, airports, and roads. Finally, there is a lot of private money earning low yields and waiting to be invested in good projects. The aspiration is to try to get some of that money invested in sustainable urban mobility.

Are hybrid and electric buses viable just yet?

Alejandro Hoyos Guerrero's picture
Photo: Volvo Buses/Buses Fan
Hybrid and electric buses may be the future of public transport. But today, they are costlier than their diesel equivalents. Therefore, their implementation requires that private operators be subsidized, or that the higher costs for public operators be covered. For now there are more efficient alternatives for reducing GHG and local emissions.

The most significant emissions reduction will not come from the vehicles; it will come from people leaving their cars at home.

Let’s take the example of a Mexican commuter who chooses whether to ride a bus or drive to work each morning. If she drives, her commute will generate 8kg of CO2, vs. only 1.5kg when riding a diesel bus. By making the greener choice, she is saving up to 6.5kg of CO2. With a hybrid bus, that same ride would emit 1kg of CO2, and zero emission with an electric (assuming zero-emission grid)—translating into additional savings of 0.5kg and 1.5kg over a diesel bus, respectively. The extra savings are welcome, of course, but they pale in comparison to the emissions reduction generated by shifting from a private car to a public bus.

If we analyze a whole system instead of an individual, technology’s potential to reduce emissions gains importance, but is still lower than that of modal shift. That means we first need to focus on providing incentives for drivers to leave their cars behind and turn to public transit. When a bus system with exclusive lanes opens, for instance, 1%-5% of passengers are likely to be new riders who used to drive and made a conscious decision to switch. This proportion can increase to 10-15% with the right ancillary interventions, such as providing non-motorized transport infrastructure, improving accessibility and service quality.

Another great source of emission savings is a more efficient system. We have seen reductions of up to 30% in vehicle-kms after a system reorganization. The following graph compares the potential emission reductions of modal shift and fleet rationalization by shifting vehicles to hybrid (left column) or electric (right column) technology.

From Nairobi to Manila, mobile phones are changing the lives of bus riders

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture

Every day around the world, millions of people rely on buses to get around. In many cities, these services carry the bulk of urban trips, especially in Africa and Latin America. They are known by many different names—matatus, dalalas, minibus taxis, colectivos, diablos rojos, micros, etc.—but all have one thing in common: they are either hardly regulated… or not regulated at all. Although buses play a critical role in the daily life of many urban dwellers, there are a variety of complaints that have spurred calls for improvement and reform. For users, the lack of information and visibility on services has been a fundamental concern. Having to pay separately for each ride disproportionately hurts the poor traveling from the periphery, who often have to catch several buses to reach the center. The vehicles are old and sometimes unsafe. Adding to concerns about safety, bus drivers compete with each other for passengers in what is known in Latin America as the “guerra del centavo” or “penny war”. Non-users, planners, and city authorities also complain about the pollution and accidents caused by these drivers as well as the congestion generated by the ‘wall of buses’ on key city arterials.
 
To address these issues, cities have attempted to reform these informal bus services by setting up concession contracts and bring multiple bus owners and operators together under formal companies (refer to the attached note: Bus Reform in Developing Countries—Reflections on the Experience thus Far). But even though some of them have made great strides in revamping their bus services (particularly by implementing Bus Rapid Transit systems), the overall success of these attempts has been limited, and unregulated buses remain, in countless cities, a vital component of the urban transport ecosystem.
 
However, we are now witnessing a different, more organic kind of change that is disrupting the world of informal buses using ubiquitous cheap sensors and mobile technology.

When good transport alone doesn’t bring jobs closer to women: insights from Mexico City

Karla Dominguez Gonzalez's picture
An affordable, safe, and good-quality transport system brings social and economic value to everyone, and is key to increasing access to services and opportunities. But is it enough to bring women closer to jobs?

A World Bank study in Argentina highlighted that women “have more complex travel patterns, travel more, and have more travel needs at off-peak hours, which are often not related to work and associated with fixed destinations (e.g. child care).” As a result, they are constrained to smaller commutes and, by association, fewer employment opportunities. In addition to using public transport at different times, frequencies, and for alternate purposes, data from other countries also indicates that many women face significant security challenges when using public transport.

To dig deeper on this and identify what kind of complementary interventions could help ensure mass transit investments bring women the best accessibility benefits, we conducted preliminary research in Mexico City with support from the World Bank Youth Innovation Fund.

Our primary objective was to figure out what encourages or inhibits women’s use of mass transit systems, and to understand how these systems influence their decisions to find employment or better employment.

“No one helps…nadie me hace el paro”; preventing violence against women in public transport.

Karla Dominguez Gonzalez's picture

Also available in: Español

“As a young woman, I feel powerless and exposed when a man harasses me in the bus.  One feels more vulnerable because people don’t react to the situation.
No one helps… NADIE  ME HACE EL PARO.”
 
The above-mentioned quote comes from a sixteen-year-old girl who participated in one of the focus groups organized by the World Bank for a pilot project to prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Mexico City’s public transport. What she and other women described about their experience was clear: when we are harassed no one does anything. The name of this pilot project reflects that: “Hazme el Paro” which is a colloquial expression in Mexico to say “have my back.”
Poster of the Campaign. 

The focus group discussion, part of an exercise to design a communication campaign, allowed us to discover that bystanders refrain from intervening not because of lack of will, but because they do not know what to do without putting themselves at risk. That’s when the project team saw a unique opportunity to try to give public transport users tools to enable them to become active interveners without violent confrontation.

The proposed intervention has three components:
  1. A marketing campaign, which provides information to bystanders about what they can do to interrupt harassment in a non-confrontational way
  2. Training for bus drivers on non-confrontational strategies for intervening when harassment occurs, and,
  3. A mobile application, which enables bus users to report when they are either victims of harassment or witnesses to it.

​Smart measures in transport: Moving beyond women’s-only buses

Bianca Bianchi Alves's picture
Civil society has been dealing with the problem of sexual harassment in public spaces in innovative ways. Creative marketing campaigns are popping all over the world, including Take Back the Metro in Paris, Chega de Fiu Fiu in Brazil, and Hollaback in 84 cities around the world.
 
The problem seems to stem from strong, ingrained cultural beliefs. Unfortunately, the problem might be getting stronger as formal barriers to the participation of women decline, as suggests Marty Langelan, a World Bank consultant, professor of American University.

 
Bus operators receive harassement
response training.
Specialists know that the complexity of the problem requires changes in social norms, and that this can only come from comprehensive approaches and time. Some governments may acknowledge the same; however, they still have to deal with the pressing urgency of the theme, and therefore adopt quick, pragmatic solutions.

Currently, countries like Mexico, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, and Nepal all have some form of women-only cars in public transportation.

While there are strong arguments that these women-only cars are effective temporary solutions, in the long-term they could reinforce the stereotypes of uncontrollable men and victimized women. They also remind us of the United States Supreme Court decision Plessy vs. Ferguson, which considered constitutional segregated black and white populations in public facilities under the idea of “separate but equal.”

Want Healthy, Thriving Cities? Tackle Traffic Safety First

Jose Luis Irigoyen's picture


Every year, more than 1.2 million people die in traffic crashes worldwide, equivalent to nearly eight Boeing 747 plane crashes every day. As developing economies grow and private car ownership becomes more mainstream, the number of associated crashes and fatalities will continue to rise.
 
The challenge of traffic safety often flies under the radar in cities, where the social and economic challenges of accommodating growing populations take precedent. Without meaningful change, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects that traffic crashes could become the fifth leading cause of premature death worldwide by 2030. This takes a particular toll on cities, which are already home nearly half of global traffic fatalities. City leaders must prioritize traffic safety measures to ensure that their citizens have safe, healthy and economically prosperous cities to call home.
 
With Urban Growth Comes Traffic Safety Challenges
 
While there are a number of factors that contribute to traffic crashes, two of the primary challenges are rising motorization trends in cities worldwide and the issue of road equity: the most vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, are most impacted by traffic crashes. On top of that, these users, typically lower-income, don’t always have the power or capacity to create the necessary changes.
 
The number of privately owned cars on the road hit the one billion mark for the first time in 2010. If we continue business-as-usual, that number will reach an estimated 2.5 billion cars by 2050. All of these new cars will lead to an increase in traffic congestion in cities worldwide, increasing the probability of traffic crashes and resulting fatalities.

Próxima Parada: El Centro Comercial

Daniel Pulido's picture
Also available in: English
Sigue a los autores en Twitter: @danpulido y @IrenePortabales
 

Estación de Metro de Madrid esponsorizada
Muchos de los sistemas de metro del mundo no consiguen cubrir sus costos de operación con los ingresos tarifarios, mucho menos sus costos de capital. Una comparativa internacional llevada a cabo por las asociaciones de metros CoMET y Nova indica que, en promedio, los ingresos tarifarios de un sistema de metro cubren el 75% de sus costes de operación, mientras que los ingresos comerciales cubren aproximadamente un 15%, lo que supone un déficit del 10%. De igual modo, hemos hecho un cálculo de “números gordos” basado en los estados financieros de diversas empresas de metro de América Latina, corroborando que en promedio éstas presentaron un déficit en operación del 10% en el 2012, el cual asciende al 30% si se incluyen los costes de capital. Por supuesto existen ejemplos de metros que sí cubren sus gastos operacionales como son Santiago de Chile o Hong-Kong, pero otros como México DF necesitan subvención de la mitad de sus gastos de operación. Esta brecha de fondeo es un gran impedimento para mantener la calidad de los servicios y para ampliarlos para poder responder adecuadamente a las crecientes necesidades de desplazamiento.

Lamentablemente, el desfinanciamiento de los sistemas de transporte urbano es un problema generalizado, difícil de remediar con presupuestos públicos sobrecargados y/o soluciones inmediatas que aunque efectivas en teoría son difíciles de implementar en la práctica: el aumento de tarifas, por ejemplo, es una medida políticamente difícil y además genera mayor presión sobre los pobres, quienes más usan el transporte público; cobrar una tarifa que realmente cubra los costes socioeconómicos del uso del vehículo particular (tales como cargos por congestión) como instrumento de financiación del transporte público es también una medida impopular y difícil de implementar.

Dada esta situación, los operadores de transporte están continuamente buscando nuevas formas de recaudar fuentes adicionales de ingresos y así disminuir el déficit de financiación,  en muchos casos a través de asociaciones con el sector privado. A pesar de que muchos de los ejemplos se concentran en países desarrollados, algunos metros en América Latina y en otras regiones en vías de desarrollo están buscando aumentar sus ingresos no tarifarios:

Mind the (funding) gap, next stop: Making some extra money

Daniel Pulido's picture
Also available in: Español
Follow the authors on Twitter: @danpulido and @IrenePortabales
 

A branded metro station in Madrid
Most metro systems around the world are unable to cover their operating costs with fare box revenues, let alone fund capital expenditures. According to data from international benchmarking programs CoMET and Nova, tariff revenues cover an average 75% of operating costs, while other commercial revenues provide about 15%, resulting in an operating deficit of 10%. Similarly, a back of the envelope exercise that we conducted for Latin American metro companies showed that these had an average operating deficit of 10% in 2012. When including capital expenditures, this deficit grew to 30%. There are of course examples of metro systems that do recoup their operating costs, such as Santiago de Chile and Hong Kong, but others like the Mexico City Metro only cover half of their operating expenses with fare revenues. We should all mind this funding gap as it is a significant impediment to maintaining service quality and addressing growing urban mobility needs.

Unfortunately, the underfunding of transit systems can become chronic as public budgets are under growing pressure and the most direct solutions for increasing revenues are hard to implement: increasing fares, for instance, has proved to be politically difficult and disproportionately affects the poor, who use public transport the most; and charging a price that fully covers the social cost of private vehicle usage (i.e., congestion charges) as a way to fund transit is also politically sensitive.

In that context, transit operators are increasingly looking at new ways to tap additional sources of commercial revenue and make up for funding shortfalls, often through agreements with the private sector. Although most examples are concentrated in developed countries, some metro systems in Latin America and the developing world are looking at ways to increase non-tariff revenues:

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