Public transport is an important mode of transport, especially for low-income populations. Cities, however, struggle to provide public transport services for fares that are both affordable and financially sustainable. Since meeting both goals is quite difficult, transport systems either end up relying on high levels of subsidies or charging transit fares that are too expensive for the city’s poor.
To tackle this challenge, the World Bank in 2013 supported the city authorities of Bogotá, Colombia, in designing a pro-poor transport subsidy scheme that would help low-income populations have access to more affordable public transport. In Bogotá fares for its new public transit system are set higher -closer to cost-recovery levels-, than in other cities that provide greater public subsidies to their operators. Despite having more sustainable fares, Bogotá risks excluding people from its transport services—in fact, households in the poorest areas of the city spend a greater percentage of their income on transport, between 16% to 27%, compared to a maximum of 4% in areas that are relatively richer.
I arrived with high expectations on what this event could mean in terms of re-launching international efforts to fight against this global epidemic that kills 1.25 million people, and maims another 50 million, every year.
For the road safety community, the Brasilia conference was a crucial moment to take stock of what has been achieved so far, and rethink the strategy towards the future so the international community can scale up action and funding to meet the UN Decade of Action targets and the respective SDG targets on road safety.
In these first five years of the Decade of Action (2010-2020), the initial objective, namely stabilizing road deaths, has been achieved: global road deaths (per year) have plateaued since 2007, as shown by the WHO latest report. We should note, however, that among the largest contributors of road deaths (China, India, Brazil, among others) there is significant potential for under-reporting.
In any case, we are still far away from the objective at the heart of these international commitments: reducing road deaths by half by the end of the decade. And we should also note that 90% of these deaths continue to happen in low and middle-income countries, affecting the youngest and most vulnerable.
How can improved roads change peoples’ lives? How much do people benefit from road projects? Answering these seemingly simple questions is, in fact, much trickier than it appears.
We recently concluded an impact evaluation to measure the socio-economic impacts of World Bank-financed municipal road improvements on poor rural households in the state of Tocantins, Brazil. After 10 years of study, what were the results and lessons learned? And how did we go about conducting the evaluation?
The study followed a methodology traditionally used in impact evaluations in the social sector and was based on a precedent in Vietnam. Throughout the state, one of the least-developed and least-populated in Brazil, most municipal roads are unpaved with inadequate maintenance. The World Bank’s municipal roads project helped construct 700 concrete bridges and 2,100 culverts crossing rivers and streams, providing year-round access to remote populations that once couldn’t access municipal centers during rainy season.
The anticipated result chain of the project was as follows: improvement of physical accessibility would contribute to increase travel demand to markets, schools and health services. This would, in turn, contribute to improved education, better health and increased business opportunities. Finally, it would result in long-term household income growth.
Our study aimed at measuring these impacts through a “difference in differences with matching,” a method that compares a treatment group (population benefiting from the interventions) and a control group (population that does not), while ensuring similar socio-economic characteristics (or comparability) between groups. An “instrumental variables estimator” was then used to confirm the robustness of the results.
The results show positive socio-economic impacts to rural residents, as well as provides for several policy implications:
Traditionally, urban mobility is about moving people from one location to another location within or between urban areas. Policy makers, urban and transport planners, and engineers spend huge amounts of time and money to improve urban mobility, based on two basic assumptions:
- People need to move in order to access housing, jobs and urban services, such as education and entertainment.
- People prefer motorized mobility to non-motorized mobility, because the former is economically more efficient than the latter, especially as cities grow and the society becomes more affluent.