The global conversation on transport and mobility has evolved significantly over the past five years. Take transport and climate, for instance: although data on the carbon footprint of major transport modes had been available for a long time, it was not until COP21 in 2015 that mobility became a central part of the climate agenda. The good news is that, during that same period, the space of solutions expanded as well. For example, data sharing is now viewed as an obvious way to promote better integration between urban transport modes in cities.
In that context, the task at hand for the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative (SuM4All) was clear: How can we work with decision-makers and the international community to transform the conversation, harness the full potential of these emerging solutions, and take on the world’s most pressing mobility issues?
To tackle these challenges, the initiative decided to focus on three essential steps.
Miranorte is a small town in the State of Tocantins, northern Brazil, well-known for its pineapple production. During the rainy season, the production cannot reach the markets due to the obstruction of the roads with the water flow. In many places, the roads lack bridges and culverts, jeopardizing both safety and accessibility.
In order to address these challenges, the World Bank’s Multisector Project in Tocantins (2012-2019), which includes a rural road component, decided to hear firsthand from the community about their priorities for development and inputs in the selection of roads that needed improvement. Aside from a practical and transparent approach, the consultations compensated for the lack of information required for conventional planning.
Tocantins, as many places in the world, doesn’t have any traffic data, information on road conditions, or even maps of the rural road network available. Although IT technologies are emerging and the importance of these data for management of road assets is evident, it is often time-consuming and costly to survey all the rural road network, especially in a state like Tocantins, which is larger than the United Kingdom.
In the Andean mountain range in the province of Arequipa, women can be found working on rural road maintenance projects.
Meanwhile, back in the capital, members of Peru’s local and national government, as well as representatives from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, gathered in Lima at the “Experiences of Women in Rural Roads” conference to discuss the role of women in the transport sector.
The event highlighted women’s participation in rural road construction and maintenance as a significant step toward gender equality: it gave participants a chance to discuss the impact of these projects, share lessons learned, and inform a Gender Action Plan for the ongoing Support to the Subnational Transport Program. Indigenous women from rural communities in in Arequipa, Junín, Huánuco, and the Amazon attended the event and emphasized the importance of these projects in the development of their communities and the role of these employment opportunities in their own lives, their self-esteem, and their aspirations for a better future.
Since 2001, the World Bank Group (WBG) and the Peruvian government have worked together to promote women’s participation in rural transport projects, expanding employment opportunities for women in rural areas. The Peru Decentralized Rural Transport Project has seen the female participation in rural road maintenance microenterprises reach almost 30%.
In the 1960s, the vision of future mobility was people with jet packs and flying cars – we believed these innovations wouldn’t be far off after the moon landing in 1969. Obviously, the reality in 2017 is somewhat different.
Today, we have congestion in cities, rural areas cut off from the rest of the world, and too many people without access to safe, efficient, and green transport. This stifles markets and hinders people from the jobs that will help them escape poverty. Without access to sustainable mobility, it will be much harder—if not impossible— to end poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
And perhaps the most tragic reality is this: that approximately 1.3 million people die each year in traffic-related incidents. Young people, those between the ages of 15-29, are the most affected by road crashes. This heartbreaking and preventable loss of life should be a clear signal that road safety matters.
At the same time, how we change transport is vitally important and will impact generations to come.
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.
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.
India is in the midst of implementing PMGSY, a $35-billion national level Rural Road Program designed to provide basic road access to rural communities. The World Bank is supporting PMGSY through a series of lending operations ($1.8 billion in Bank funding) and significant knowledge support. A key element of the Bank’s support has been to integrate a “climate and green growth lens” into these efforts in cost-effective ways.
How is “green growth” benefiting India? One important dimension of that effort has been the use of environmentally optimized road designs, which has resulted in quality infrastructure using local and marginal materials, providing both economic and environmental benefits. Where available, sand deposits accumulated from frequent floods, industrial by-products, and certain types of plastic, mining, and construction waste have been used to good effect. Designs that use such materials have been about 25% cheaper to build, on average, than those requiring commonly used rock aggregates. The environmental benefits of using the above materials, in terms of addressing the big disposal problem of such materials and reducing the consumption of scarce natural stone aggregates, are as significant as the cost savings.
A second “green growth” dimension has been focusing investments on the “core” network, i.e. the network India needs to develop in order to provide access to all villages. Relative to a total rural road network of about 3.3 million kilometers, the core network that falls under PMGSY stretches over only 1.1 million kilometers. Prioritizing construction and maintenance on those critical road links will bring down costs as well as the associated carbon footprint.
A major constraint with developing and maintaining rural roads is the fact that they are, unfortunately, rural. The areas where they are needed are often difficult to access, logistics become complicated, local contracting capability is limited, engineers are few and far between, and younger engineers especially, are not keen to leave the urban environment.
The International Development Association (IDA) is a vital, yet oddly lesser known, arm of the World Bank Group. Briefly, IDA receives donor remittances and a portion of interest payments received from World Bank lending programs and disburses these funds as interest-free grants and subsidized loans to the poorest countries in lieu of traditional lending.
The Northern mountainous Vietnamese town of Lao Cai on the Chinese border is asleep at 4:45 in the morning, except for a large crowd gathering at the railway station. I am arriving, with a small World Bank rural transport mission, on the overnight sleeper train from Hanoi. It is the most effective way of travel to Lao Cai.