Transport and Mega-events – How to get the most bang for the buck?

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ImageMega-events such as the Olympics and the World Cup can be catalysts not only for huge investments in infrastructure, but also policy changes that may induce positive behavioral changes.  Transport operations and mobility are particularly important for mega-events as they involve much planning and long-lasting infrastructure.  The question, however, is how to keep the long-term development vision and legacy in mind while meeting the shorter-term mobility needs of a mega-event (typically a 3-5 year horizon)? 

The experience in this regard is decidedly mixed.  Many cities invest heavily in stadiums and other facilities for the Olympic Games that go underutilized later on.  On the other hand, Beijing implemented travel restrictions for virtually all private vehicles during the 2008 Olympics and then kept a reduced version of the policy after the Olympics— a so-called 20% restriction regime, in other word, a private vehicle is able to circulate only 4 out of 5 weekdays per week.

Most experts would agree that there are general strategies for transport investment in anticipation of major events.  First, one should maintain focus on long-term impact, especially for the poor and vulnerable populations who typically use public transport the most.  Second, the focus needs to be on medium-term investments that optimize existing infrastructure capacity, such as:

  • Additional trains and system or signaling improvements to existing rail lines
  • Surface public transport improvements (BRT)
  • Integration investments (terminals, integrated fare card)
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems (control and operation centers, advanced traffic signal system, communications infrastructure)
  • Critical road links or improvements
  • Non-motorized facilities (sidewalks, bikeways) to complement existing or ongoing large infrastructure

These issues are already on the minds of transport planners and decision-makers in Brazil as it prepares to host the next World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.  Certainly a lot will also be learned from the experience of South Africa in the World Cup later this month.  

Photo: Peak hour traffic congestion on Beijing’s Third Ring Road just before the 2008 Olympics (Courtesy of Sam Zimmerman)


Georges Darido

Lead Urban Transport Specialist, World Bank

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