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Resilience in urban transport: what have we learned from Super Storm Sandy and the New York City Subway?

Ramiro Alberto Ríos's picture
Photo: Stefan Georgi/Flickr
Back in 2012, a storm surge triggered by Super Storm Sandy caused extensive damage across the New York City (NYC)-New Jersey (NJ) Metropolitan Area, and wreaked havoc on the city’s urban rail system.

As reported by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the subway suffered at least $5 billion worth of damage to stations, tunnels and electrical/signaling systems. The Port Authority Trans-Hudson network (PATH) connecting NYC to NJ was also severely affected, with losses valued at approximately $871 million, including 85 rail cars damaged.

In the face of adversity, various public institutions in charge of urban rail operations are leading the way to repair damaged infrastructure (“fix”), protect assets from future similar disasters (“fortify”), restore services to millions of commuters and rethink the standards for future investments.

NYC and NJ believe that disasters will only become more frequent and intense. Their experience provides some valuable lessons for cities around the world on how to respond to disasters and prepare urban rail systems to cope with a changing climate.

Urban transport: Lagos shows Africa the way forward (again)

Roger Gorham's picture
Photo: Ben Eijbergen
With a metropolitan population approaching 23 million, Lagos is the economic engine of Nigeria and one of the largest cities on the African continent. Rapid growth, unfortunately, has come with a myriad of urban transport challenges. To get around, most residents rely on the thousands of yellow mini-buses that ply the streets—the infamous "Danfos"—and on a growing supply of three-wheelers. These limited options, combined with endemic congestion, make commuting in Lagos a slow, unreliable, and expensive endeavor.
 
But this entrepreneurial city cannot afford to be stuck in traffic. Things started moving in 2008, when Lagos introduced Africa's first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor with technical support from the World Bank under the Lagos Urban Transport Project. The corridor was referred to as BRT-lite, a local adaptation that did not apply all the "classical" features of a BRT (level loading, fancy stations) but was well integrated with the local environment and became immediately successful. In fact, the operator was able to recoup its capital investment in the bus fleet in 18 months even without banning competitor services. The BRT services demonstrated that improving the erstwhile chaotic system was indeed possible.
 
Building on this success, Lagos has taken steps to improve and expand the reach of the BRT. The Second Lagos Urban Transport Project (LUTP2), supported jointly by the World Bank and the French Development Agency, provided about $325 million in 2009 toward building a 13-km extension of the BRT corridor between Mile 12 and the satellite town of Ikorodu. In addition to the BRT infrastructure, the project financed the rehabilitation and widening of the road from four to six lanes, the construction of pedestrian overpasses, a bus depot, terminals, a road bridge, measures to enhance flood resilience, as well as improved interchange and transfer facilities.

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%.

Can transit-oriented development change travel behavior in cities?

Wanli Fang's picture
Photo: Marius Godoi/Shutterstock
It is pretty easy to understand how and why land use patterns around public transit stations can influence the way we move around the city.

As more and more people live and work in a neighborhood with a limited land area, it becomes increasingly challenging to drive around without encountering congestion or to find a parking space easily. In this situation, public transit and non-motorized transport (NMT) become attractive alternatives for people who otherwise are reluctant to give up the comfort and flexibility of driving.

Conversely, as street blocks get bigger, people may find it takes too long to access public transit stations, which discourages the use of public transport facilities.

As straightforward as the logic may sound, the nature and magnitude of such influence are yet to be evaluated with solid empirical evidence. To take a closer look at the linkages between land use and travel behavior, I decided to study the case of Boston in the United States. I chose Boston because it boasts an effective public transit system, and was one of the first American cities to embrace transit-oriented development (TOD), an urban planning approach that promotes compact and mixed use development around public transit facilities.

Colombia says "Yipi" for public transit

Leonardo Canon Rubiano's picture
As many Colombian cities struggle to keep public transit ridership levels, one city is innovating using technology, gender-sensitive employment, and ideas from Asia to curb the “mototaxiing revolution” and restore ridership loss.
Moto-taxis in Sincelejo, Colombia. Photos: Leonardo Canon

An increasing “motorbike revolution” – represented by spectacular increase in motorbike motorization and reliance on door-to-door motorized services – has changed the rules of the game and cannot be obviated in transport systems.

Flicking through the Uber website, we found that the company used to offer an “UberMoto” service in Paris from 2012 to 2013. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the local Colombian newspaper headlines discuss the legislation forbidding male passengers on motorcycles in a number of cities in an effort to curb moto-taxis.

The impact of motorbikes cannot be ignored. Purchase of motorbikes and operation of moto-taxis have been identified as key drivers for a modal shift from public transit to private vehicles in many places around the world, including Colombia. The nationwide phenomenon of moto-taxis has revolutionized mobility in small and medium-size Colombian cities, and has become a source of income for many.

​“Smart Mobility”: is it the time to re-think urban mobility?

Ke Fang's picture
As smartphones have gained in popularity, so have such concepts as smart cities and smart mobility. This is not a coincidence – smartphones are changing how we travel in cities, to such an extent that we may need to reconsider the concept of urban mobility in the transport world. 
 
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:
  1. People need to move in order to access housing, jobs and urban services, such as education and entertainment.
  2. 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.
Those assumptions have already been challenged.

​Important experiences and lessons from integrated fare systems

Jorge Rebelo's picture
Although integrated modal fares are important innovations for low-income riders, these systems can be plagued by many problems.

For example, in Rio de Janeiro — despite efforts by the government to convene all transit operators during the planning stage —private rail-based operators were reluctant to participate in the design of the system because they feared that the bus system would stand to benefit more from integrated fares.  In the end, the government went ahead with its plans.

Today, although the integrated fare system benefits the poor, it fosters the inefficiency of inter-municipal buses that receive a subsidy that allow them to survive despite low load factors. Several of those routes should have been integrated with rail. There was also fraud by van operators using transport routes and the system’s smart cards. Consequently, the subsidy rose very quickly. 

Even so, Rio de Janeiro’s system is a blessing to low-income users, and overall ridership increased. If challenges are met, the system can work better for everyone. Efforts must be done to fine-tune the system, close loopholes, decrease fraud and reward the most efficient parts of the system.

In my previous blog entry, I wrote about nine suggestions for designing and implementing integrated fare systems. Now, in addition to the initial example from Brazil, I’d like to share a few other experiences and lessons regarding integrated modal fares.

When there is a regional transport agency, an integrated fare system’s level of service can be monitored from a central location, provided buses are equipped with GPS and smart card systems (as in Santiago, Chile).

Nine suggestions for designing and implementing integrated fare systems

Jorge Rebelo's picture
Integrated modal fares, which allow riders to access multiple forms of transit (such as trains or buses) using a single ticket or card, is an important poverty alleviation tool. This innovation is especially critical to low-income transit users that might be unable to afford the sum of multiple fares on their way to jobs, schools, health clinics or other facilities.

A wide range of local governments around the world have introduced integrated modal fares as a way to reduce the burden on low-income users. But the design of these systems requires a very thorough analysis of the urban transport modes being integrated. Bad design may foster inefficiency and lead to huge subsidies that the government, and ultimately the taxpayer, must pay for.

Here are some tips on how to prepare for the design and implementation of integrated fare schemes:

Co-creating solutions for smart cities

Victor Mulas's picture
Earlier this year, the World Bank partnered with Chile's Ministry of Transport and Telecommunication on a project to innovate technology and mobility solutions: Smart City Gran Concepción. So far, the project has met two milestones, ideation (in January) and formation of a diagnostic and strategic support plan (in March).

Last month, it was time for the project's third phase: a competition to surface new ideas for mass transit options, road safety and mobility information. This event, called the MueveTT Innovation Challenge, brought together 14 teams of people to brainstorm ways for the government, companies, universities, organizations, citizens, and others to work together toward the vision of smart cities.
 
Co-Creation of Solutions Competition

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.

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