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Information and Communication Technologies

​“Smart Mobility”: is it the time to re-think urban mobility?

Ke Fang's picture
As smartphones have gained in popularity, so have such concepts as smart cities and smart mobility. This is not a coincidence – smartphones are changing how we travel in cities, to such an extent that we may need to reconsider the concept of urban mobility in the transport world. 
Traditionally, urban mobility is about moving people from one location to another location within or between urban areas. Policy makers, urban and transport planners, and engineers spend huge amounts of time and money to improve urban mobility, based on two basic assumptions:
  1. People need to move in order to access housing, jobs and urban services, such as education and entertainment.
  2. People prefer motorized mobility to non-motorized mobility, because the former is economically more efficient than the latter, especially as cities grow and the society becomes more affluent.
Those assumptions have already been challenged.

What does Big Data have to do with an owl?

Nak Moon Sung's picture
This is the story of an owl, but not any owl. This owl is from Seoul and it came into existence thanks to Big Data. How come, you may ask? Well, read on to find out.
 Meet your new friend: the owl bus

Officials in Seoul had long searched for a transport system for low-income workers who commute late at night. Although a taxi ride was an option, it was a very pricey one, particularly for a commute on a regular basis. Low-income workers do not make enough money to take a taxi regularly, and taxi fares are considerably higher at night. Furthermore, since low-income workers tend to live on the outskirts of the city, taxi drivers often are reluctant to go there mainly for distance and security reasons. 

These were some of the big challenges faced by policy makers in Seoul, a city regarded as a champion of public transportation. So what to do?

Part of the solution was the analysis and utilization of Big Data to come up with a suitable mode of transport that would serve the specific needs of late-night workers. The result was the creation of the “owl bus,” which operates late into the night until five o’clock in the morning.

In this context, Big Data has a considerable potential application in the transport sector, and for infrastructure development in general. In fact, World Bank and Korean officials will discuss on Tuesday, May 28 the theme “Leveraging Information Communication Technologies (ICT) in transport for greener growth and smarter development.”

The Rio Via Lilas initiative: Using transport infrastructure to help reduce gender-based violence

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
A train decorated with a "Via Lilas" awareness campaign leaves Rio's Central Station.
Follow Shomik (@shomik_raj) and Daniel (@danpulido) on Twitter

There was cause for celebration at the State of Rio de Janeiro’s Office of Women’s Affairs last week. The office had just launched a new program that provides support and legal assistance to survivors of gender-based violence, which was covered by a wide range of media and commemorated by a visit from senior World Bank leadership to Brazil.

Our team is currently visiting Rio to help with activities for this new program, called “Via Lilas.” Rio’s government has a lot to cheer about; the program is both innovative and significant.  Its primary component is a system of electronic kiosks, placed at stations along Supervia suburban rail lines, which contain helpful information about how women can seek support for gender-based violence.
Women using a "Via Lilas" kiosk

The placement of these kiosks is strategic; the Supervia provides some of the poorest communities in the region access to jobs and services. 

​The rail service connects downtown Rio de Janeiro to the periphery in this sprawling metropolitan area of more than 4,500 square kilometers and 12 million people. Outlying parts of the metropolitan area, such as the community of Japeri, can be more than two hours by train to Rio’s Central station.

​The “Via Lilas” kiosks will be placed at high-profile locations along the Supervia system, providing easy information access to the approximately 700,000 passengers who use the rail network each day.

Transforming Transportation 2015: Turning momentum into action

Jose Luis Irigoyen's picture
What will the city of the future look like? How can we unlock the potential of urbanization to create safe, accessible and prosperous societies? At Transforming Transportation 2015 – the annual conference co-organized by the World Resources Institute and the World Bank– we learned about the role of urban mobility in creating smart, sustainable cities and boosting shared prosperity.
Felipe Calderón addresses the 
audience at
Transforming Transportation 2015

With 75 percent of the infrastructure that will exist in 2050 yet to be built, actions taken right now will shape urbanization patterns and quality of life for decades. It is urgent that global leaders concentrate now on ensuring that cities are sustainable, inclusive and prosperous.  
The year 2015 provides three big opportunities to build global momentum around the course for change. These are the potential for a binding international climate agreement coming out of COP21, a new development agenda set forth by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and a platform for prioritizing safe, equitable cities through the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. The coming year raises the stakes, with the 2016 Habitat III conference expected to be one of the most influential gatherings in history focusing on making cities more livable and sustainable.

​Using open tools to create the digital map of Cairo’s public transit

Tatiana Peralta Quiros's picture
Follow the authors, Tatiana (@tatipq) and Diego (@canaless) on Twitter 

The first step in any transit planning process involves understanding the current supply and demand of transit services. In most of the countries where we work, understanding the supply of services is a messy, costly and lengthy process, since most cities have little knowledge of bus routes, services and operational schemes.
Having a digital map (GIS) and General Transit Feed Specifications (GTFS) details of a network allows a transit agency to do better service planning and monitoring, as well as provide information to its users. A traditional GIS software approach often requires a team of consultants and months of work.  Last month, however, we were presented with the challenge to use innovative tools do the same work in less than two weeks.
This was our first visit to Cairo, Egypt, and there we were tasked with the goal of mapping the city’s entire bus network (approximately 450 formal bus routes) in order to conduct an accessibility analysis with our new Accessibility Tool. At first hand this task seemed daunting, and a few days after arriving we were not certain that we could accomplish it in two weeks.
Before our trip, we had agreed on a somewhat flexible work plan, laying out an array of potential open-access, free tools that we could use depending on the scenarios we would encounter, mostly dependent on the availability of data.

“Smart mobility” for developing cities

Ke Fang's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @KeFang2002

In many developing cities, transport infrastructure – whether it be roads, metro systems or BRT - is not growing fast enough, and cannot keep up with the ever-increasing demand for urban mobility. Indeed, constructing urban transport infrastructure is both expensive and challenging. First, many cities do not yet have the capacity to mobilize the large amount of funds needed to finance infrastructure projects. Second, planning and implementing urban transport infrastructure projects is tough, especially in dense urban areas where land acquisition and resettlement issues can be extremely complex. As a result, delays in project implementation are the norm in many places.

Therefore, solving urgent urban transport problems in these cities requires us to think outside the box. Fortunately, the rapid development of ICT-enabled approaches provides a great opportunity to optimize and enhance the efficiency of existing and new urban transport systems, at a cost much lower than building new infrastructure from the ground up.

Big Data comes to transport planning: how your mobile phone helps plan that rail line

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Understanding peoples’ travel activity patterns, and ideally understanding the motivations and choices underlying them, are at the heart of what transport planners do. 
An understanding of trip origins and destinations – and how trip-makers select routes, modes and destinations – are required to plan extensions or changes to a road or public transport network; to assess the viability of a new investment; and to assess how well the existing transport system is serving the population and businesses in a specific area.

​Indeed, in our roles as transport specialists in the World Bank, much of our job is about supporting clients’ ability to develop this understanding and to use the results to evaluate and appraise investments.
At the core of this process is an Origin-Destination (OD) survey: essentially a matrix of trips between different zones of a region (referred to as an OD matrix).  Traditionally, getting this information in the context of an urban area has been a difficult, expensive and time-consuming process. We are often talking about millions of dollars for trip activity surveys of thousands of households, complemented by extensive analysis of socio-economic data. We also count data at strategic points on major roadways and transit routes to calibrate the results. 
This process can take up to a year, and many stages need very specific technical skills and a lot of quality control.  Survey design, sample design, training the surveyors, ensuring they are accurate (not making up data, not entering data erroneously), and subsequent stages of analysis all require significant technical capacity to implement, as well as an almost equal level of technical skill to supervise the work. 
All of us who do this have horror stories from processes on which we have worked. The result is that the basic information needed to test alternatives and make decisions about transport investments is collected too rarely – at best no more than once every decade – and even the results of existing surveys have suspect deficiencies.

How should a city administration respond to the shared cab phenomenon?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Follow the authors on Twitter: @shomik_raj and @cataochoa
Smartphone apps are bringing massive changes to the taxi industry in ways that urban transport has not seen in a long while. From the US to China and Latin America (Bogota, Mexico), taxi alternative services have attained an impressive level of penetration in a short amount of time, often with great controversy. Indeed, many cities across the world are struggling with what to make of these services and how to regulate them.

While we have not been significantly involved with such services thus far, a recently appointed mobility secretary in a big Latin American city has asked us for support on developing an approach to the shared taxi industry, as part of a "Smart Mobility" strategy for the city. In that context, we wanted to start a conversation on optimal strategies for cities to be able to welcome and foster such innovations, while still capitalizing on the opportunity to create value for its citizens.

Replacing the car with a smartphone… Mobility in the shared economy

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @shomik_raj

Photo: Sam Kittner / Capital Bikeshare
The sharing economy has been around for a long time. But recent technological advances like the development of real-time transactions through smartphones and credit cards have taken the potential of the shared economy to a whole new level, and opened the door for substantial changes in the way we think about urban mobility.

Recently, I was invited to join a panel on the sharing economy moderated by Prof. Susan Shaheen at UC Berkeley, focusing more specifically on shared mobility.

The panel acknowledged that shared mobility is already transforming the mobility landscape globally, but could go a lot further in increasing the sustainability of urban mobility systems. The panel identified a number of key research gaps that we need to pay close attention to if we want to create a policy environment that is conducive to mobility innovations. Three that I want to highlight are:
  • Supporting open data and open-source ecosystems is critical considering the tremendous potential of open-source software and data-sharing for improving transport planning, facilitating management and providing a better experience for transport users (for more detail, please see my previous blog on how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data)
  • Looking into shared-economy solutions for those at the bottom of the pyramid – solutions that don’t require credit cards and smartphones as prerequisites (see this blog on the bike-share system in Buenos Aires for a good example)
  • The world of driverless cars is coming – which, depending on how policy responds to it, could spell really good or really bad news for the environment: if such technology is used primarily in shared mobility scenarios, it could greatly reduce the environmental cost of motorized transport; on the other hand, the possibility of “empty trips” with zero-occupancy cars could exacerbate the worst elements of automobility (see Robin Chase’s blog in The Atlantic Cities for a great discussion on this). That is why it is critical to create a policy environment that appropriately prices the ‘bads’ of congestion, accidents and emissions while steering the world of driverless cars towards sharing and resource conservation.

Use, transparency and reuse – how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Also available in: Español

Follow the author on Twitter: @shomik_raj

On a recent trip to Mexico City, I had the pleasure of participating in three events that really brought home the transformative power of the open data and open source eco-system that is becoming an ever more important element of our work in transport.

First I joined the Secretary of Mobility for Mexico City to inaugurate an open data-based system for alerting public transport users in this city of 8 million of any disruptions to the city’s multimodal transport system consisting of an extensive metro system, a suburban rail line, 5 lines of the Metrobus Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT), an electric trolley system, as well as a substantial publicly operated bus system.  The alert system was built using open-source software on an open standardized data set of schedules supported by the Bank last year (read more about that initiative led by my colleague Catalina Ochoa).  Not only does this service deliver value for Mexico City commuters immediately, but it also allows any other city that has its data organized in a similar standard GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) format (over a 1,000 cities do) to use the same code developed for Mexico City off GitHub, a web registry.  Moreover, the open standardized formats let developers in Mexico City or elsewhere build apps that use this information. The market for these applications is potentially global, spurring innovation for user-oriented applications in public transport: there are already many hundreds of GTFS based applications.