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Latin America & Caribbean

Preparing transport for an uncertain climate future: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I have a computer

Julie Rozenberg's picture
Photo: Alex Wynter/Flickr
In 2015, severe floods washed away a series of bridges in Mozambique’s Nampula province, leaving several small villages completely isolated. Breslau, a local engineer and one of our counterparts, knew that rebuilding those bridges would take months. Breslau took his motorbike and drove the length of the river to look for other roads, trails, or paths to help the villagers avoid months of isolation. He eventually found an old earth path that was quickly cleaned up and restored… After a few days, the villagers had an alternative to the destroyed bridge, reconnecting them to the rest of the network and the country.

What happened in the Nampula province perfectly illustrates how a single weather event can quickly paralyze transport connections, bringing communities and economies to a screeching halt. There are many more examples of this phenomenon, which affects both developing and developed countries. On March 30th, a section of the I-85 interstate collapsed in Atlanta, causing schools to close and forcing many people to work from home. In Peru, food prices increase in Lima when the carretera central is disrupted by landslides because agricultural products can’t be brought to market.

How can we help countries improve the resilience of their transport networks in a context of scarce resources and rising climate uncertainty?

When cities forget about pedestrians, big data and technology can serve as a friendly reminder

Bianca Bianchi Alves's picture
Photo: Lazyllama/Shutterstock
Paraisópolis, a nationally famous slum area in São Paulo, Brazil, is one of those bustling communities where everything happens. Despite being located in the middle of the city, it managed, unlike other poor slum areas, not to be reallocated to make room for more expensive housing or public infrastructure. The area boasts vibrant community life, with more than 40 active NGOs covering issues that range from waste management and health to ballet and cooking. Recently, the area also benefited from several community upgrading programs. In particular, investments in local roads have facilitated truck access to the community, bringing in large and small retailers, and generating lively economic activity along with job opportunities for local residents.

As we continue our efforts to increase awareness around on-foot mobility (see previous blog), today, I would like to highlight a project we developed for Paraisópolis.

While most of the community has access to basic services and there are opportunities for professional enhancement and cultural activities, mobility and access to jobs remains a challenge. The current inequitable distribution of public space in the community prioritizes private cars versus transit and non-motorized transport. This contributes to severe congestion and reduced transit travel speed; buses had to be reallocated to neighboring streets because they were always stuck in traffic. Pedestrians are always at danger of being hit by a vehicle or falling on the barely-existent sidewalks, and emergency vehicles have no chance of getting into the community if needed. For example, in the last year there were three fire events—a common hazard in such communities—affecting hundreds of homes, yet the emergency trucks could not come in to respond on time because of cars blocking the passage.

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.

Are roads and highways the Achilles Heel of Brazil?

Frederico Pedroso's picture
Also available in: Português
Photo: Ricardo Giaviti/Flickr
Over the past three years and a half, our team has been working on a transport project with the state of São Paulo in Brazil. The project involves a lot of traveling, including frequent commutes between the World Bank office in Brasilia and the State Department of Transport in São Paulo (DER-SP)—a journey that is estimated to take 2 hours and 40 minutes. This includes the time to drive from the World Bank office to Brasilia Airport, flight time, and commuting from São Paulo’s Congonhas Airport to the State Department of Transport.
 
Let’s say that, on a typical Wednesday, the team needs to attend a meeting in São Paulo. To ensure we can make it on time, we plan our day carefully, book our flights and define the right time to leave the office in Brasilia. With a plan in place, we leave the office at 10:00 am and head to Brasilia Airport. The first leg of the trip takes 35 minutes and we manage to arrive early for our 11:00 am flight, which, unfortunately, is delayed by 20 minutes. We land in São Paulo, quickly get out of the terminal, and manage to hop on a taxi at 1:20pm… not bad! We are now on the last leg of our journey, a mere 14-kilometer drive between Congonhas Airport and the meeting place, which is supposed to take only 20 minutes. However, there is a short thunderstorm that floods the city and closes off key streets. This single event leads to complete traffic chaos along the way, and our planned 20-minute transfer from the airport turns into a 1-hour-and-15-minute ordeal. These traffic disruptions have a serious impact on our meeting as well, as some Department of Transport staff cannot join and some items of the agenda cannot be discussed.
 
This incident may seem anecdotal, but it is a good illustration of our extreme dependency on transport systems and the weaknesses associated with it. Because transport is so critical to our social and economic lives, it is extremely important to understand, anticipate, and minimize the different types of risks that may impact transport systems.

How have recent bus reforms changed accessibility in Bogotá?

Camila Rodriguez's picture
Photo: Galo Naranjo/Flickr
Bogotá has received a lot of attention for its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, known as Transmilenio. Today, many cities are looking to replicate the Transmilenio experience, and an extensive body of research has documented the impact of the system on users and on the city as a whole, highlighting benefits such as: significant travel time savings; more affordable commuting options, particularly for low-income users now pay a single fare for their trips; and an overall decrease in congestion, pollution, and accidents.
 
However, much less is known about the impact of the Sistema Integrado de Transporte (SITP), a more recent reform to modernize and integrate all of the city’s bus services, eliminate the old, sometimes unsafe traditional buses, and put an end to the guerra del centavo—a phenomenon whereby drivers aggressively compete for passengers at the expense of everyone’s safety. The reform introduced a number of sweeping changes:
  • The multitude of small private operators were required to form companies and to formalize their drivers and maintenance personnel
  • Services were contractualized via concession arrangements
  • The overall number of buses on the roads was reduced
  • Bus routes were reorganized
  • Old buses were replaced with a more modern fleet
  • Cash payment gave way to a smartcard system
  • The city applied stricter quality control, regulation and enforcement.
To implement this model, Bogotá opted for a gradual roll-out of the SITP, as opposed to the “Big Bang” approach followed in other cities like Santiago de Chile.

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.

Traffic jams, pollution, road crashes: Can technology end the woes of urban transport?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Photo: Noeltock/Flickr
Will technology be the savior of urban mobility?
 
Urbanization and rising incomes have been driving rapid motorization across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While cities are currently home to 50% of the global population, that proportion is expected to increase to 70% by 2050. At the same time, business-as-usual trends suggest we could see an additional 1 billon cars by 2050, most of which will have to squeeze into the already crowded streets of Indian, Chinese, and African cities.
 
If no action is taken, these cars threaten literally to choke tomorrow’s cities, bringing with them a host of negative consequences that would seriously undermine the overall benefits of urbanization: lowered productivity from constant congestion; local pollution and rising carbon emissions; road traffic deaths and injuries; rising inequity and social division.
 
However, after a century of relatively small incremental progress, disruptive changes in the world of automotive technology could have fundamental implications for sustainability.
 
What are these megatrends, and how can they reshape the future of urban mobility?

To measure the real impact of transport services, affordability needs to be part of the equation

Tatiana Peralta Quiros's picture

Differentiating between effective and nominal access

A couple of months ago, one of our urban development colleagues wrote about the gap between effective and nominal access to water infrastructure services. She explained that while many of the households in the study area were equipped with the infrastructure to supply clean water, a large number of them do not use it because of its price. She highlighted a “simple fact: it is not sufficient to have a service in your house, your yard, or your street. The service needs to work and you should be able to use it. If you can’t afford it or if features—such as design, location, or quality—prevent its use, you are not benefiting from that service.” To address this concern, the water practice has been developing ways to differentiate between “effective access” and “nominal access”—between having access to an infrastructure or service and being able to use it.

In transport, too, we have been exploring similar issues. In a series of blog posts on accessibility, we have looked at the way accessibility tools—the ability to quantify the opportunities that are accessible using a transit system—are reframing how we understand, evaluate, and plan transport systems. We have used this method that allows us to assess the effectiveness of public transport in connecting people to employment opportunities within a 60-minute commute.

Incorporating considerations of cost

Yet, time is not the only constraint that people face when using public transport systems. In Bogota, for example, the average percentage of monthly income that an individual spends on transport exceeds 20% for those in the lowest income group. In some parts of the city, this reaches up to 28%—well above the internationally acceptable level of affordability of 15%.

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.

Visiting Ecuador’s very first metro

Sameh Wahba's picture
It’s easy for me to take public transport for granted: a mere 5 minutes’ walk from my office at the World Bank Headquarters, I have access to 2 metro stations served by 4 different lines that offer easy connections to many parts of the Washington DC area. There is a sense of comfort in knowing that, despite the occasional hiccups that we all love to complain about, metro provides a safe and reliable way for me to commute to work every day.
 
In Quito, Ecuador, many people don’t have that luxury. Granted, there is the notable Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that operates high-frequency services on dedicated lanes and has significantly reduced travel time. But the system is already crowded, and has exceeded its capacity: during peak hours, each bus carries an average 175 passengers, well above the 165 maximum capacity leading to overcrowding due to a huge flow of passengers.
 
According to 2010 figures, Ecuadorians owned 71 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants, significantly higher than countries like Bolivia, Nicaragua, Egypt, and Angola, which were respectively at 68, 57, 45, and 31 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants. In 2010, the government introduced Road Space Rationing, a plan that aims to reduce traffic by limiting the number of vehicles on the road within a certain area based on license plate numbers. These are great initiatives, but more is needed in view of how fast Quito is growing.

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