In the wake of COVID, rebuilding transport is not good enough. We must bounce forward.

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Commuters waiting at a bus stop in Lima during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Victor Idrogo/World Bank
Photo: Victor Idrogo/World Bank


Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about making up for the lost time and minimizing the adverse impact of COVID-19. But what if, instead of just bouncing back, we used the current crisis as an opportunity to bounce forward and create a more sustainable, more resilient future?

The question is particularly relevant to transport: rather than return to the way things were before COVID, policymakers and practitioners across the sector are actively looking at ways to build back better. In the wake of the pandemic, this renewed focus on sustainable mobility could go a long way in boosting the recovery and addressing global challenges such as unemployment and climate change.

This paradigm shift was at the heart of the 10th Consortium Meeting convened by Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All), a 55-member global initiative working to support the transition toward a greener, safer, more efficient, and equitable transport. With members spread across different regions, the SuM4All takes the narrative of resilient recovery in transport beyond bouncing back. 

"We do not want transport to go back to the way it used to be before the pandemic," said Mohammed Alsayed from the Economic Infrastructure Division of Islamic Development Bank Group. "We want it to bounce forward."

He explained that, among other things, the concept of bouncing forward involves taking bold actions on decarbonization to position the transport sector as a solution to the climate crisis. Here are three takeaways from the discussions:


  1. Investing in knowledge to guide policy choices

Evidence-based knowledge is needed to produce the best possible outcomes for development. To support countries on their journey to sustainable mobility, SuM4All members have made significant contributions toward transport research throughout 2020, despite the challenges brought by the pandemic

As countries prepare their recovery and stimulus plans, there is a need for the international transport community to advocate for a green stimulus program, explained Binyam Reja, Manager of the World Bank's Transport Global Practice. 

"This is where the World Bank, other MDBs, Bilaterals, and financial institutions are formulating their support strategy to help countries recover," Reja said. Adding, "In that recovery program, we are likely to see transport sector financing an investment stimulus program…So here we have an opportunity to ensure that stimulus program is informed by good analytics, by good data, and experience. SuM4All [offers] the platform to do that…and come up with a strategy that will support a long term [and better] recovery process."

During the meeting, the coalition vowed to strengthen multi-sector partnerships to maximize the impact of this knowledge work. Some of the new reports being produced by SuM4All cover cutting-edge topics like digitalization and data-sharing between public and private operators, the energy and transport nexus, the sustainability of electric mobility, and the South Africa Diagnostic on transport.


  1. Turning knowledge into action

SuM4All has developed a range of tools to ensure its research leads to practical action on the ground. The Global Roadmap of Action toward Sustainable Mobility (GRA), for instance, allows countries to benchmark the performance of their transport sector, identify the policy measures that would be best suited to address their mobility challenges and build a concrete action plan. The GRA algorithm has now been upgraded to GRA 2.0 and it accounts for transport system’s resilience to shocks such as pandemics and climate change crisis.

“We had [to] be more explicit about these ideas of [the] resilience of the transport systems to shock and its ability not only to return back to normal but to bounce forward” said Nancy Vandycke, Manager, SuM4All. That complex idea of resilience to shock is now embedded in the GRA 2.0], Vandycke explained.

A year ago, South Africa became the first country to announce it would use the GRA as a guide for developing its new national transport policy framework. Reflecting on the ongoing partnership between SuM4All and her country, Boitumelo Mosako, Chief Financial Officer of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), expressed her gratitude for the ongoing pilot of the GRA 2.0 in South Africa. "Despite the challenging circumstances we found ourselves in last year with the pandemic, the SuM4ALL partners still managed to do extensive work and develop a draft diagnostic report. I want to express my gratitude and appreciation for the work that has been done thus far by the SuM4ALL partners," Mosako said.


  1. Harnessing the power of the SuM4All partnership

SuM4All activities for the year ahead will cover global advocacy, country engagement, and thought leadership. The initiative will continue collaborating with a wide variety of external stakeholders and actively engaging with the private sector.

While responding to a live poll about their expectations for this year, most SuM4All members said the initiative should prioritize the implementation of the GRA at the country level for funding. The poll results also showed that, even though SuM4All aligns perfectly with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is a need to be more explicit on how each activity can contribute to the SDGs. Also, there was a strong push for positioning SuM4all in the run-up towards COP26 and see more activities geared toward green mobility and transport decarbonization.

"I see this as a call to our organizations to look at how we build this transformative bouncing forward approach in our independent and specific areas of work," said Alana Dave, Director of Urban Transport, International Transport Workers Federation. Adding, "So that collectively we can achieve a holistic and complementary outcome." 

As the international development community directs its attention toward COP26, SuM4All will mobilize its partners to proactively advocate for green stimulus packages that include all modes and all dimensions of transport. In the words of Susana Zammataro, Director General of the International Road Federation, "partnership is a key for better serving [communities]…and that is what SuM4All does." 


Jennifer Okaima Piette

Communications consultant, World Bank

Yoomin Lee

Junior Professional Officer, Transport GP Global unit

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