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Hop on the car and zip down to La Paz

Mauricio Ríos's picture
During a visit to my hometown of La Paz in December I was able to witness the construction of the first cement pillars that will sustain “Mi teleférico”, the new cable car system connecting the cities of El Alto and La Paz.

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.

Is Public Transport Affordable?

Julie Babinard's picture
When planning transport systems in developing countries, one of the main challenges is to evaluate the proportion of income spent by poorer households on transport as well as in understanding transport patterns in relation to residential location, travel distance and travel mode. High real estate prices in urban centers often force low-income households in developing countries to live farther out in the periphery, with consequences on the way urban agglomerations develop and with subsequent effects on the levels of motorization, congestion, local air pollution, physical activity and the expansion of urban poverty.

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.

A Global Check-up: We Need Safer and Cleaner Mobility

Marc Shotten's picture
Many years ago in Bangkok, on my first World Bank mission, I made an error in judgment by taking a Tuk-Tuk, the ubiquitous three-wheeled "golf cart" taxi, in order to experience local transit patterns in a more intimate manner. At least that's how I retroactively justified what was nearly a fatal decision as the driver weaved in-between two buses which narrowly avoided squashing the tiny vehicle. What struck me more than anything at that time were the overall chaos of the transit system and the lack of safe mobility, unfortunately both quite common in a majority of low and middle-income countries which shoulder 90% of the world's road crashes.

In this context, and to better assist countries achieve safer and cleaner mobility, the World Bank,  in partnership with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), has issued a new report: Transport for Health: The Global Burden of Disease from Motorized Road Transport. The IHME is the home of the Global Burden of Disease study, widely considered among the preeminent global health metrics publications.

The Transport for Health report, for the first time, quantifies the global health loss from injuries and air pollution that can be attributed to motorized road transport. The results are stark and call for immediate action: deaths from road transport exceed those from HIV, tuberculosis, or malaria; together, road injuries and pollution from vehicles contribute to six of the top 10 causes of death globally. Moreover, road injuries are among the top-10 causes of death among women of childbearing age and the fourth leading cause among women aged 15-29.

Use, transparency and reuse – how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Also available in: Español

Follow the author on Twitter: @shomik_raj

On a recent trip to Mexico City, I had the pleasure of participating in three events that really brought home the transformative power of the open data and open source eco-system that is becoming an ever more important element of our work in transport.

First I joined the Secretary of Mobility for Mexico City to inaugurate an open data-based system for alerting public transport users in this city of 8 million of any disruptions to the city’s multimodal transport system consisting of an extensive metro system, a suburban rail line, 5 lines of the Metrobus Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT), an electric trolley system, as well as a substantial publicly operated bus system.  The alert system was built using open-source software on an open standardized data set of schedules supported by the Bank last year (read more about that initiative led by my colleague Catalina Ochoa).  Not only does this service deliver value for Mexico City commuters immediately, but it also allows any other city that has its data organized in a similar standard GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) format (over a 1,000 cities do) to use the same code developed for Mexico City off GitHub, a web registry.  Moreover, the open standardized formats let developers in Mexico City or elsewhere build apps that use this information. The market for these applications is potentially global, spurring innovation for user-oriented applications in public transport: there are already many hundreds of GTFS based applications.

Air Traffic Surveillance – How can a Boeing 777 vanish without a trace?

Charles E. Schlumberger's picture
Nearly two weeks ago, a Boeing B777-200 of the Malaysian flag carrier Malaysia Airlines vanished with no trace. Flight MH370, the regular daily flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, carried 239 persons on board and was under the command of a highly experienced crew. The flight never reached its destination, and an unprecedented search for the overdue aircraft was launched. Initially the search concentrated on an area in the South China Sea where the last position was received. However, the search area was progressively enhanced covering the Bay of Bengal, large parts of the Indian Ocean, and several territories over China and Central Asia. NASA was involved to scan the earth surface analyzing every object over 30 meters, and even the public at large is invited to analyze satellite data on the internet.
 
Was the aircraft victim of an accident or was its disappearance a result of terrorism? Was it shot down, hijacked by intruders or the crew, did it ditch and sink rapidly as a consequence, or did it land successfully at one of the 634 runways on its theoretical pathways suitable for  a B777 to be stowed away and held for ransom? We might not know the answer to these disturbing questions for months and years to come. However, the travelling public is astonished to learn that the B777 of flight MH370 was not under active surveillance. How can it be that in times where anybody can be located homing on a cell phone a commercial airliner just gets lost?

India’s First Crash Test Results Show Vehicle Safety Challenges

Dipan Bose's picture
In most developed countries, you might have a good sense of how safe your new vehicle is. Or at least you will be able to access information on safety standards and independent crash test results at the time of purchase. But if you live in a developing country this information either does not exist or is not readily available.

Few consumers in developing countries are aware of the standard safety features in vehicles, and in most cases, the government has failed to mandate the minimum crashworthiness safety standards as recommended by the UN. But the situation is starting to change, and it is exciting to see some progress since the last time I wrote about this important topic. In that blog, I had mentioned how the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) in Latin America highlighted the fact that new cars sold in that region were 20 years behind in safety technology compared to similar models sold in the US and the European Union.

Earlier this year in New Delhi, the Global New Car Assessment Program, a consumer-awareness non-profit, presented for the first time independent consumer crash test results for five of India’s most popular small cars. Besides increasing awareness among Indians about safety performance of the cars they buy, the event also explored how regulatory standards, in combination with consumer information and incentives, can create a ‘market for safer vehicles’ in the rapidly motorizing nations of the developing world.

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