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Latin America & Caribbean

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.

To Enable or Disable? That’s the Question in Transport Projects

Chris Bennett's picture
Most of us are familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s observation that “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  For many of us, we could also add physical disability. The World Bank has estimated that about 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability during their lifetime, and up to 190 million experience significant disability.
 
Persons with disabilities, on average as a group, are more likely to also experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities. They tend to have higher poverty rates, and be isolated from societies. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework includes seven targets which explicitly refer to persons with disabilities and six further targets on people in vulnerable situations which include persons with disabilities.
 
We in the transport sector have an important role to play in helping ensure inclusive development and mobility by removing access barriers. Recent work done in the Pacific Islands provides us with a relevant set of tools which we can be readily applied on our projects to achieve this inclusiveness.

“Bike & Ride” to a cleaner environment and better health in Rio

Daniel Pulido's picture
Poor “Cariocas” living in the periphery of the Rio Metropolitan Region spend a very long time commuting. People from the city’s outskirts travel, on average, almost 90 minutes a day to and from work. Despite important improvements in the quality of mass transit in the metro region, Rio still has more to do to maximize the accessibility benefits of its recent major investments in rail and bus-based transit systems. Infrastructure still needs to be designed and upgraded to facilitate transfers between different motorized and non-motorized transport modes. And services (municipal and intermunicipal buses) need to be better coordinated and integrated with mass transit modes.

Bicycles can play an important role in solving the first and “last mile” problem (in fact, they offer a solution for the first and last three miles!) and in promoting sustainable transportation. The integrated bicycle-mass transport solution makes public transport much more attractive for users living within a radius of 5 kilometers from a mass transit station. At this distance, it would take a commuter 15 minutes to ride a bike to a station compared to an hour of walking. Not only does bike and rail integration improve quality of life by promoting health and reducing travel times and emissions, it can also result in benefits for transport operators in the form of increased ridership.

For this reason, in addition to financing new energy-efficient trains for the suburban rail system, our Project in Rio is supporting a bike-rail integration program, including financing for the development of the program’s business model and for the acquisition of a small number of bicycles to pilot the venture.
 

Who Cares about Running the Buses and Trains on Time?

Tatiana Peralta Quiros's picture
When we evaluate the benefits of public transport projects, we often focus on travel time (in terms of distance covered), vehicle cost savings, accident reductions and environmental impacts (air emissions and greenhouse gas reductions), which are all important dimensions of a project, but not the only ones. The reliability of transport services and information delivery regarding routes, frequencies and arrival time at each station, is not frequently included in the benefits of transport projects because it is difficult to gauge the significance and value of even a 5-10 minute difference in waiting time.
 
In light of this challenge, we began to explore the following question: what are the real implications of waiting time, frequency and reliability of transport systems in terms of improving access to urban opportunities such as education and health services?
 
In a series of blogs, we introduced a new tool that helps us quantify urban accessibility to such services. This tool allows us to calculate how many opportunities -be it jobs, schools, hospitals- become more accessible using public transport. The tool is also useful for comparing various transportation scenarios, modes of transport, service and infrastructure plans, as well as for better understanding land use and spatial patterns.

“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.

Sustainable cities, two related challenges: high quality mobility on foot and efficient urban logistics (Part I) ​

Bianca Bianchi Alves's picture
 
Peatonito is a Mexican transport specialist using humor to interact with drivers and create awareness about the need to respect traffic rules. Photo: Peatonito / Flick


Walking is the cheapest, most non-polluting, and possibly healthiest mode of transport. And dense cities seem to be a pre-existing condition for enabling us to meet our daily walking needs, along with diversified land uses, typically called “mixed-use development”. Densification and “mixed-use development” are currently seen as a strategy for designing sustainable cities, and many high-quality mobility plans, which consider the interactions between land use and transport, also pursue this type of urban development.

But densification and “mixed-use development” present (at least) two challenges. The first is how to provide quality pedestrian infrastructure that encourages non-motorized mode choices. The second is how to efficiently deliver the large quantities of goods required in these dense cities. These were the themes of successful seminars recently held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, thanks to a World Bank’s Global Environmental Facility grant.
The “mobility by foot” seminar was a four-day learning event on pedestrian mobility organized by Brazil’s Associação Nacional de Transportes Públicos.  In Brazil, as in most cities in Latin America, around 35% of people’s daily trips are on foot, and there is evidence that this number is underestimated given the limitations of current data collection methods. Given the priority in reducing the impact of our carbon “footprint” (or “carprint”), governments need more evidence and incentives to move the sustainability agenda forward.

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