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Motorization and its discontents

Roger Gorham's picture
Photo: Sarah Farat/World Bank
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  While visiting the World Bank library the other day, I was struck by how many development publications featured pictures of motor vehicles on their covers, even though most of them covered topics that had little to do with transport.  The setting and tone of the pictures varied – sometimes they showed a lone car on a rural highway, sometimes congested vehicles in urban traffic, and sometimes a car displayed proudly as a status symbol – but the prevalence of motorized vehicles as a visual metaphor for development was unmistakable to me: in the public imagination, consciously or otherwise, many people associate development with more use of motorized vehicles.

Indeed, motorization – the process of adopting and using motor vehicles as a core part of economic and daily life – is closely linked with other dimensions of development such as urbanization and industrialization.

Motorization, however, is a double-edged sword.

For many households, being able to afford their own vehicle is often perceived as the key to accessing more jobs, more services, more opportunities—not to mention a status symbol. Likewise, vehicles can unlock possibilities for firms and individual entrepreneurs such as the young man from Uganda pictured on the right, proudly showing off his brand new boda boda (motorcycle taxi). 

But motorization also comes with a serious downside, in terms of challenges that many governments have difficulty managing.  Motor vehicles can undermine the livability of cities by cluttering up roads and open spaces—the scene of chaos and gridlock in the picture below, from Accra, is a telling example. In addition, vehicles create significant safety hazards for occupants and bystanders alike… in many developing countries, road deaths have effectively reached epidemic proportions. From an environmental standpoint, motorized transport is, of course, a major contributor to urban air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Lastly, motorization contributes to countries' hard currency challenges by exacerbating their long-term demand for petroleum products.

Given these challenges, how are developing countries going to align their motorization trajectories with their development goals?  What should the World Bank advise our clients about how to manage this process?

Sustainable mobility: can the world speak with one voice?

Nancy Vandycke's picture

 
The transport sector is changing at breakneck speed.
 
By 2030, global passenger traffic is set to rise by 50%, and freight volume by 70%. By 2050, we will have twice as many vehicles on the road, with most of the increase coming from emerging markets, where steady economic expansion is creating new lifestyle expectations and mobility aspirations. Mega-projects like China’s One Belt, One Road could connect more than half of the world’s population, and roughly a quarter of the goods that move around the globe by land and sea.
 
These transformations create a unique opportunity to improve the lives and livelihoods of billions of people by facilitating access to jobs, markets, and essential services such as healthcare or education.
 
But the growth of the transport sector could also come at the cost of higher fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, increasing air and noise pollution, a growing number of road fatalities, and worsening inequities in access.
 
Although these are, of course, global challenges, developing countries are disproportionately affected.
 
The vast majority of the one billion people who still don’t have access to an all-weather road live in the developing world. Although low and middle-income countries are home to only 54% of the world’s vehicles, they account for 90% of the 1.25 million road deaths occurring every year. If we don’t take action now, transport emissions from emerging markets could triple by 2050, and would make up 75% of the global total.
 
While the case for sustainable mobility is evident, the sector still lacks coherence and clear objectives. There is a way forward, but it requires pro-active cooperation between all stakeholders.
 
That’s what motivated the creation of Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All), a partnership between a wide range of global actors determined to speak with one voice and steer mobility in the right direction.
 
SuM4All partners include Multilateral Development Banks, United Nations Agencies, bilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, and is open to other important entities such as national governments and private companies. Together, these organizations can pool their capacity and experience to orient policymaking, turn ideas into action, and mobilize financing.