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Africa

From Nairobi to Manila, mobile phones are changing the lives of bus riders

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture

Every day around the world, millions of people rely on buses to get around. In many cities, these services carry the bulk of urban trips, especially in Africa and Latin America. They are known by many different names—matatus, dalalas, minibus taxis, colectivos, diablos rojos, micros, etc.—but all have one thing in common: they are either hardly regulated… or not regulated at all. Although buses play a critical role in the daily life of many urban dwellers, there are a variety of complaints that have spurred calls for improvement and reform. For users, the lack of information and visibility on services has been a fundamental concern. Having to pay separately for each ride disproportionately hurts the poor traveling from the periphery, who often have to catch several buses to reach the center. The vehicles are old and sometimes unsafe. Adding to concerns about safety, bus drivers compete with each other for passengers in what is known in Latin America as the “guerra del centavo” or “penny war”. Non-users, planners, and city authorities also complain about the pollution and accidents caused by these drivers as well as the congestion generated by the ‘wall of buses’ on key city arterials.
 
To address these issues, cities have attempted to reform these informal bus services by setting up concession contracts and bring multiple bus owners and operators together under formal companies (refer to the attached note: Bus Reform in Developing Countries—Reflections on the Experience thus Far). But even though some of them have made great strides in revamping their bus services (particularly by implementing Bus Rapid Transit systems), the overall success of these attempts has been limited, and unregulated buses remain, in countless cities, a vital component of the urban transport ecosystem.
 
However, we are now witnessing a different, more organic kind of change that is disrupting the world of informal buses using ubiquitous cheap sensors and mobile technology.

Traffic jams, pollution, road crashes: Can technology end the woes of urban transport?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Photo: Noeltock/Flickr
Will technology be the savior of urban mobility?
 
Urbanization and rising incomes have been driving rapid motorization across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While cities are currently home to 50% of the global population, that proportion is expected to increase to 70% by 2050. At the same time, business-as-usual trends suggest we could see an additional 1 billon cars by 2050, most of which will have to squeeze into the already crowded streets of Indian, Chinese, and African cities.
 
If no action is taken, these cars threaten literally to choke tomorrow’s cities, bringing with them a host of negative consequences that would seriously undermine the overall benefits of urbanization: lowered productivity from constant congestion; local pollution and rising carbon emissions; road traffic deaths and injuries; rising inequity and social division.
 
However, after a century of relatively small incremental progress, disruptive changes in the world of automotive technology could have fundamental implications for sustainability.
 
What are these megatrends, and how can they reshape the future of urban mobility?

Climate-smart transport is a key piece of the sustainable development puzzle

Jose Luis Irigoyen's picture

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The modern tramway system in Rabat Salé, Morocco. Photo: LukaKikina/Shutterstock
When it comes to climate change, the transport sector is both a victim and a perpetrator. On the one hand, transport infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as higher temperatures, increased precipitations, and flooding. At the same time, transport is responsible for 23% of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and is one of the sectors where emissions are rising the fastest. This statistic alone makes it pretty clear that there will be no significant progress on climate action without greener, more sustainable mobility.

Yet, before COP21, the transport sector was conspicuously absent from climate talks. The strong, structured presence we saw last year in Paris and this year in Marrakech is finally commensurate with the urgency needed to address the transport-related issues on the climate agenda.

The rising importance of transport in the global conversation is reflected in major commitments like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. As an example, over 70% of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that countries have proposed to implement the Paris Agreement include transport commitments, ranging from increasing public transport in cities to shifting freight from roads to railways and waterways.

To Enable or Disable? That’s the Question in Transport Projects

Chris Bennett's picture
Most of us are familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s observation that “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  For many of us, we could also add physical disability. The World Bank has estimated that about 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability during their lifetime, and up to 190 million experience significant disability.
 
Persons with disabilities, on average as a group, are more likely to also experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities. They tend to have higher poverty rates, and be isolated from societies. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework includes seven targets which explicitly refer to persons with disabilities and six further targets on people in vulnerable situations which include persons with disabilities.
 
We in the transport sector have an important role to play in helping ensure inclusive development and mobility by removing access barriers. Recent work done in the Pacific Islands provides us with a relevant set of tools which we can be readily applied on our projects to achieve this inclusiveness.

​Lagos’ Bus Rapid Transit System: Decongesting and Depolluting Mega-Cities

Nicolas Peltier-Thiberge's picture
Photo:  Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA)

As Beijing is issuing its first-ever red alert due to record levels of air pollution, it is time for us to reflect on how we can propose cleaner urban transport solutions to large cities in the developing world.
 
The transport sector accounts for 23 percent of energy-related global CO2 emissions, second behind electricity and heat generation. Moreover, transport-related emissions are set to rise from 23 percent to up to 33 percent by 2050.

In Beijing, banning half of the car off the streets (except electric and hybrid vehicles) is one of the most radical measures that the authorities have taken to fight what some observers have called airpocalypse. To compensate, 200 additional buses have been added to the cities’ public transport system. Schools have also been closed and outdoor construction works have been forced to stop. The social and economic costs of airpocalypse are enormous. With particulates levels more than 10 times the recommended levels, there are serious health consequences for Beijing’s 20 million inhabitants.
 
As urbanization continues all over the world, many mega-cities are desperately looking for credible solutions to improve urban transport systems and reduce traffic congestion. Sophisticated but expensive systems like underground subways are economically out-of-reach for many large cities in the developing world. The good news is that there are some excellent alternatives that the World Bank Group and other international partners have been promoting.
 
One of these alternatives is the so-called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. Invented in Latin America and since then spread all over the world, BRTs have a particular relevance for fiscally-constrained, developing nations because of their relatively modest cost but also their dramatic benefits in terms of urban mobility and air pollution reduction. 

How does accessibility re-frame our projects?

Tatiana Peralta Quiros's picture
The increasing availability of standardized transport data and computing power is allowing us to understand the spatial and network impacts of different transportation projects or policies. In January, we officially introduced the OpenTripPlannerAnalyst (OTPA) Accessibility Tool. This open-source web-based tool allows us to combine the spatial distribution of the city (for example, jobs or schools), the transportation network and an individual’s travel behavior to calculate the ease with which an individual can access opportunities.

Using the OTPA Accessibility tool, we are unlocking the potential of these data sets and analysis techniques for modeling block-level accessibility. This tool allows anyone to model the interplay of transportation and land use in a city, and the ability to design transportation services that more accurately address citizens’ needs – for instance, tailored services connecting the poor or the bottom 40 percent to strategic places of interest.

In just a couple of months, we have begun to explore the different uses of the tool, and how it can be utilized in an operational context to inform our projects.
 
Employment Accessibility Changes in Lima,
Metro Line 2. TTL: Georges Darido

Comparing transportation scenarios
The most obvious use of the tool is to compare the accessibility impacts of different transportation networks. The tool allows users to upload different transportation scenarios, and compare how the access to jobs changes in the different parts of the city. In Lima, Peru, we were able to compare the employment accessibility changes that were produced by adding a new metro line. It also helped us understand the network and connectivity impacts of the projects, rather than relying on only travel times.

Understanding spatial form
However, the tool’s uses are not limited to comparing transport scenarios. Combining the tool with earth observation data to identify the location of slums and social housing, we are to explore the spatial form of a city and the accessibility opportunities that are provided to a city’s most vulnerable population.  We did so in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were we combined LandScan data and outputs from the tool to understand the employment accessibility options available to the city’s poorest population groups.

A major African step to make sustainable transport a reality

Roger Gorham's picture
Promoting Sustainable Transport Across Africa

The term “sustainable transport” evokes a wide range of images and perceptions among transport professionals and lay people alike. For some, it means a range of technology solutions – from diesel particulate filters to ebikes, Copenhagen wheels, or buses running on compressed natural gas.  For others, the term can refer to changes in behavior, like improving the way vehicles are maintained or driven, or efforts to carpool.  For yet others, the term implies even more radical changes, like wholesale shifts in the way cities are designed, and/or smart city approaches that use ICT technologies to fundamentally change the way people interact with their surroundings. “Sustainable Transport” can mean any or all these things, including expanding access to transport services in rural areas. 
 
But however the term is interpreted, it is not normally associated with Africa.  Indeed, in many respects, common images of African transport are synonymous with unsustainability – high rates of traffic growth and congestion (even in cities with comparatively low motorization rates), high traffic injury and fatality rates from substandard road safety practices, highly polluting vehicles, minimal formal public transport services, poor enforcement of road worthiness and vehicle overloading– and the list could go on.  
 
It is then very telling that the inaugural conference of the Africa Sustainable Transport Forum took place in Nairobi, Kenya in late October, with not only a great deal of interest but also high-level participation (with delegates from 42 African countries, including 25 Ministers). The conference was hosted by the Kenyan government, with support from the World Bank-led Africa Transport Policy Program (SSATP) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The Ministerial portion of the conference was opened by both President Kenyatta and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. 
 
Over three days, technical experts and ministers discussed what transport sustainability means for the continent, resulting in the first ever Sustainable Transport Action Framework for Africa. There were a number of other “firsts” associated with the conference: the first time African transport and environment ministers gathered together to discuss transport issues; the first time that “sustainability”, as a key objective of transport policy in Africa, was the focus of the agenda; and the first time that a Secretary General of the United Nations had ever opened an international conference focused on transport.

Transit-oriented development — What does it take to get it right?

Chyi-Yun Huang's picture
Follow the authors on Twitter: @chyiyunhuang and @shomik_raj
 
A recent trip to Addis Ababa really brought the imperatives of transit-oriented development as a complement to mass transit investments home to us. As a strategic response to rapid urbanization and growing motorization rates, Addis is one of several African cities currently developing public mass transit systems such as light rail and bus-rapid transit. Similar initiatives are budding in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, and other cities in South Africa.

It is well known that transit-oriented development, or ToD, is a high-value complement to mass transit development. Compact, mixed-use, high density development around key mass transit stations can have the dual benefits of creating a ridership base that enhances the economic and financial viability of the mass transit investment and compounding the accessibility benefits a mass transit system can bring to a city’s residents. This is not to mention the intrinsic value in creating vibrant social gathering places for communities at strategic locations.

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