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Urban transport: Lagos shows Africa the way forward (again)

Roger Gorham's picture
Photo: Ben Eijbergen
With a metropolitan population approaching 23 million, Lagos is the economic engine of Nigeria and one of the largest cities on the African continent. Rapid growth, unfortunately, has come with a myriad of urban transport challenges. To get around, most residents rely on the thousands of yellow mini-buses that ply the streets—the infamous "Danfos"—and on a growing supply of three-wheelers. These limited options, combined with endemic congestion, make commuting in Lagos a slow, unreliable, and expensive endeavor.
 
But this entrepreneurial city cannot afford to be stuck in traffic. Things started moving in 2008, when Lagos introduced Africa's first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor with technical support from the World Bank under the Lagos Urban Transport Project. The corridor was referred to as BRT-lite, a local adaptation that did not apply all the "classical" features of a BRT (level loading, fancy stations) but was well integrated with the local environment and became immediately successful. In fact, the operator was able to recoup its capital investment in the bus fleet in 18 months even without banning competitor services. The BRT services demonstrated that improving the erstwhile chaotic system was indeed possible.
 
Building on this success, Lagos has taken steps to improve and expand the reach of the BRT. The Second Lagos Urban Transport Project (LUTP2), supported jointly by the World Bank and the French Development Agency, provided about $325 million in 2009 toward building a 13-km extension of the BRT corridor between Mile 12 and the satellite town of Ikorodu. In addition to the BRT infrastructure, the project financed the rehabilitation and widening of the road from four to six lanes, the construction of pedestrian overpasses, a bus depot, terminals, a road bridge, measures to enhance flood resilience, as well as improved interchange and transfer facilities.

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?

Are roads and highways the Achilles Heel of Brazil?

Frederico Pedroso's picture
Also available in: Português
Photo: Ricardo Giaviti/Flickr
Over the past three years and a half, our team has been working on a transport project with the state of São Paulo in Brazil. The project involves a lot of traveling, including frequent commutes between the World Bank office in Brasilia and the State Department of Transport in São Paulo (DER-SP)—a journey that is estimated to take 2 hours and 40 minutes. This includes the time to drive from the World Bank office to Brasilia Airport, flight time, and commuting from São Paulo’s Congonhas Airport to the State Department of Transport.
 
Let’s say that, on a typical Wednesday, the team needs to attend a meeting in São Paulo. To ensure we can make it on time, we plan our day carefully, book our flights and define the right time to leave the office in Brasilia. With a plan in place, we leave the office at 10:00 am and head to Brasilia Airport. The first leg of the trip takes 35 minutes and we manage to arrive early for our 11:00 am flight, which, unfortunately, is delayed by 20 minutes. We land in São Paulo, quickly get out of the terminal, and manage to hop on a taxi at 1:20pm… not bad! We are now on the last leg of our journey, a mere 14-kilometer drive between Congonhas Airport and the meeting place, which is supposed to take only 20 minutes. However, there is a short thunderstorm that floods the city and closes off key streets. This single event leads to complete traffic chaos along the way, and our planned 20-minute transfer from the airport turns into a 1-hour-and-15-minute ordeal. These traffic disruptions have a serious impact on our meeting as well, as some Department of Transport staff cannot join and some items of the agenda cannot be discussed.
 
This incident may seem anecdotal, but it is a good illustration of our extreme dependency on transport systems and the weaknesses associated with it. Because transport is so critical to our social and economic lives, it is extremely important to understand, anticipate, and minimize the different types of risks that may impact transport systems.

How have recent bus reforms changed accessibility in Bogotá?

Camila Rodriguez's picture
Photo: Galo Naranjo/Flickr
Bogotá has received a lot of attention for its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, known as Transmilenio. Today, many cities are looking to replicate the Transmilenio experience, and an extensive body of research has documented the impact of the system on users and on the city as a whole, highlighting benefits such as: significant travel time savings; more affordable commuting options, particularly for low-income users now pay a single fare for their trips; and an overall decrease in congestion, pollution, and accidents.
 
However, much less is known about the impact of the Sistema Integrado de Transporte (SITP), a more recent reform to modernize and integrate all of the city’s bus services, eliminate the old, sometimes unsafe traditional buses, and put an end to the guerra del centavo—a phenomenon whereby drivers aggressively compete for passengers at the expense of everyone’s safety. The reform introduced a number of sweeping changes:
  • The multitude of small private operators were required to form companies and to formalize their drivers and maintenance personnel
  • Services were contractualized via concession arrangements
  • The overall number of buses on the roads was reduced
  • Bus routes were reorganized
  • Old buses were replaced with a more modern fleet
  • Cash payment gave way to a smartcard system
  • The city applied stricter quality control, regulation and enforcement.
To implement this model, Bogotá opted for a gradual roll-out of the SITP, as opposed to the “Big Bang” approach followed in other cities like Santiago de Chile.

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?

To measure the real impact of transport services, affordability needs to be part of the equation

Tatiana Peralta Quiros's picture

Differentiating between effective and nominal access

A couple of months ago, one of our urban development colleagues wrote about the gap between effective and nominal access to water infrastructure services. She explained that while many of the households in the study area were equipped with the infrastructure to supply clean water, a large number of them do not use it because of its price. She highlighted a “simple fact: it is not sufficient to have a service in your house, your yard, or your street. The service needs to work and you should be able to use it. If you can’t afford it or if features—such as design, location, or quality—prevent its use, you are not benefiting from that service.” To address this concern, the water practice has been developing ways to differentiate between “effective access” and “nominal access”—between having access to an infrastructure or service and being able to use it.

In transport, too, we have been exploring similar issues. In a series of blog posts on accessibility, we have looked at the way accessibility tools—the ability to quantify the opportunities that are accessible using a transit system—are reframing how we understand, evaluate, and plan transport systems. We have used this method that allows us to assess the effectiveness of public transport in connecting people to employment opportunities within a 60-minute commute.

Incorporating considerations of cost

Yet, time is not the only constraint that people face when using public transport systems. In Bogota, for example, the average percentage of monthly income that an individual spends on transport exceeds 20% for those in the lowest income group. In some parts of the city, this reaches up to 28%—well above the internationally acceptable level of affordability of 15%.

Visiting Ecuador’s very first metro

Sameh Wahba's picture
It’s easy for me to take public transport for granted: a mere 5 minutes’ walk from my office at the World Bank Headquarters, I have access to 2 metro stations served by 4 different lines that offer easy connections to many parts of the Washington DC area. There is a sense of comfort in knowing that, despite the occasional hiccups that we all love to complain about, metro provides a safe and reliable way for me to commute to work every day.
 
In Quito, Ecuador, many people don’t have that luxury. Granted, there is the notable Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that operates high-frequency services on dedicated lanes and has significantly reduced travel time. But the system is already crowded, and has exceeded its capacity: during peak hours, each bus carries an average 175 passengers, well above the 165 maximum capacity leading to overcrowding due to a huge flow of passengers.
 
According to 2010 figures, Ecuadorians owned 71 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants, significantly higher than countries like Bolivia, Nicaragua, Egypt, and Angola, which were respectively at 68, 57, 45, and 31 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants. In 2010, the government introduced Road Space Rationing, a plan that aims to reduce traffic by limiting the number of vehicles on the road within a certain area based on license plate numbers. These are great initiatives, but more is needed in view of how fast Quito is growing.

Techno-modalism: In the pursuit of equality and liberty in Transport

Rakesh Tripathi's picture


The 70’s were waning and the loudspeaker was still blaring disco. The celebration in this middle class New Delhi neighborhood was noticeable. It was a party to welcome a new car, which like a new bride was decked with marigold garlands. Neighbors had joined the obligatory prayer ceremony in anticipation of a festive lunch. The auspicious coconut was broken and a plump lemon crushed under the tire to ward off evil jealous eyes. A child birth in this neighborhood was rarely celebrated as grandly. Maybe unlike a baby, the car had come after ten long years of excruciating wait and bribes.

Below the garish decorations, the car was technologically from the World War era. Adorned with cheap interiors. It was pretentiously named “Ambassador” and for 50 years, it reigned as the queen of Indian roads. It should have been named “liberator” instead. It liberated the aspiring middle class from the indignities of soul crushing congestion and the curling stench of the Delhi Transport Corporation buses.

When it came to public transportation in pre-1990s India, the bus was a metaphor for socialism, where everyone riding was equal and equally miserable. The car on other hand signified individual liberty, a symbol of capitalism. This fundamental struggle and human desire to balance liberty and equality has historically and philosophically defined the debate on the preferred mode of transportation, Public-Private Partnerships and the role of Information and Communication Technologies.

“No one helps…nadie me hace el paro”; preventing violence against women in public transport.

Karla Dominguez Gonzalez's picture

Also available in: Español

“As a young woman, I feel powerless and exposed when a man harasses me in the bus.  One feels more vulnerable because people don’t react to the situation.
No one helps… NADIE  ME HACE EL PARO.”
 
The above-mentioned quote comes from a sixteen-year-old girl who participated in one of the focus groups organized by the World Bank for a pilot project to prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Mexico City’s public transport. What she and other women described about their experience was clear: when we are harassed no one does anything. The name of this pilot project reflects that: “Hazme el Paro” which is a colloquial expression in Mexico to say “have my back.”
Poster of the Campaign. 

The focus group discussion, part of an exercise to design a communication campaign, allowed us to discover that bystanders refrain from intervening not because of lack of will, but because they do not know what to do without putting themselves at risk. That’s when the project team saw a unique opportunity to try to give public transport users tools to enable them to become active interveners without violent confrontation.

The proposed intervention has three components:
  1. A marketing campaign, which provides information to bystanders about what they can do to interrupt harassment in a non-confrontational way
  2. Training for bus drivers on non-confrontational strategies for intervening when harassment occurs, and,
  3. A mobile application, which enables bus users to report when they are either victims of harassment or witnesses to it.

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