As traffic congestion continues growing in urban areas, more and more cities have realized that investment priority should be given to public transport modes, such as metro trains, bus rapid transit systems (BRT) or buses, instead of personal vehicles. Simply put, public transport modes are more efficient than personal vehicles in terms of carrying and moving people around. However, international experiences also tell us that building more metro lines or putting more buses on the road alone may not be able to get more people to use public transport modes.
There are several non-transport factors, or urban design factors, that play a critical role in a traveler’s decision on their best travel mode.
The first critical factor is density. As illustrated in a famous study done by Alain Bertaud, a former World Bank staff, density is the primary reason why 30 percent of daily trips are carried out by public transport in Barcelona, but only four percent in Atlanta. Barcelona is about 30 times denser than Atlanta, so it is therefore much easier to provide same level of public transport services in Barcelona than Atlanta.
One lesser-known factor is accessibility. Just having a high population density may not guarantee more people to use public transport.
Civil society has been dealing with the problem of sexual harassment in public spaces in innovative ways. Creative marketing campaigns are popping all over the world, including Take Back the Metro in Paris, Chega de Fiu Fiu in Brazil, and Hollaback in 84 cities around the world.
The problem seems to stem from strong, ingrained cultural beliefs. Unfortunately, the problem might be getting stronger as formal barriers to the participation of women decline, as suggests Marty Langelan, a World Bank consultant, professor of American University.
Specialists know that the complexity of the problem requires changes in social norms, and that this can only come from comprehensive approaches and time. Some governments may acknowledge the same; however, they still have to deal with the pressing urgency of the theme, and therefore adopt quick, pragmatic solutions.
Currently, countries like Mexico, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, and Nepal all have some form of women-only cars in public transportation.
While there are strong arguments that these women-only cars are effective temporary solutions, in the long-term they could reinforce the stereotypes of uncontrollable men and victimized women. They also remind us of the United States Supreme Court decision Plessy vs. Ferguson, which considered constitutional segregated black and white populations in public facilities under the idea of “separate but equal.”
The first step in any transit planning process involves understanding the current supply and demand of transit services. In most of the countries where we work, understanding the supply of services is a messy, costly and lengthy process, since most cities have little knowledge of bus routes, services and operational schemes.
Having a digital map (GIS) and General Transit Feed Specifications (GTFS) details of a network allows a transit agency to do better service planning and monitoring, as well as provide information to its users. A traditional GIS software approach often requires a team of consultants and months of work. Last month, however, we were presented with the challenge to use innovative tools do the same work in less than two weeks.
This was our first visit to Cairo, Egypt, and there we were tasked with the goal of mapping the city’s entire bus network (approximately 450 formal bus routes) in order to conduct an accessibility analysis with our new Accessibility Tool. At first hand this task seemed daunting, and a few days after arriving we were not certain that we could accomplish it in two weeks.
Before our trip, we had agreed on a somewhat flexible work plan, laying out an array of potential open-access, free tools that we could use depending on the scenarios we would encounter, mostly dependent on the availability of data.
Accessibility analysis is an essential element of understanding cities and public service delivery. Activity‐based accessibility measures relate to the distribution of activities (for example, jobs or schools) in a given space, and the ease of reaching these activities. This type of measure directly relates to the qualities of a multi-modal transport system (e.g. transport network, speeds and costs), but also includes the qualities of the land‐use system (e.g. distribution of land uses, and thus activities), and allows for a spatial temporal multi-modal analysis based on changing land uses.
Accessibility offers a powerful lens to assess how a mobility system is serving an urban area. For example, road congestion is a more severe constraint in a dispersed setting with few transit, walking and cycling options (such as the Atlanta metropolitan area), compared to traditional mixed-use downtowns (such as New York City), where residents can access jobs and other opportunities walking, cycling and using mass transit.
Accessibility indicators are not just conceptually powerful – they are also easy to operationalize: the number of jobs accessible within a 60-minute timeframe is a popular and powerful indicator to evaluate how well the mobility system is serving a particular spatial area, or group of people (such as the most vulnerable).
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.
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.
For fun, suppose you were a software developer, and you came up with a terrific idea to communicate public transit information. For example, imagine your city experiences frequent floods, and you have devised an automated system that sends SMS texts to passengers, advising them of alternative transit routes during emergencies.
How much revenue do you think you could earn for that software? How many people could you positively impact?
What if I told you that today, by taking advantage of one tiny revolution in open data, you could take those numbers and multiply them by 350, turning $100,000 into $35 million, or 1 million people into 350 million? Sounds pretty good, right? If you are in international development, sounds like a promotion…
Since May, the Internet has been a-buzz with the “bridge bus”, a never-before-seen public transit contraption scheduled for a 186 km route pilot in Beijing later this year. The bus straddles existing roadway lanes, creating a moving tunnel-like effect for the vehicles underneath. The vehicle’s Shenzhen-based designers claim that the system can move up to 1,200 passengers at a time (300 per bus), without taking away from existing road space, while at the same time reducing fuel consumption (the bridge bus runs on electricity, partially supplied by solar panels), and at a lower cost than building a subway. A revolution!
I am a big fan of entrepreneurial innovation in transit. And when I see something truly innovative and different come out of one of the countries where we work, I get very excited! But there is something about this concept -- something that doesn’t seem quite right…