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Information and Communication Technologies

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?

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.

Habitat III will shape the future of cities. What will it mean for urban mobility?

Nancy Vandycke's picture
Photo credit: Rajarshi Mitra/Flickr

Next week, the international community will gather at Habitat III - the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development - to discuss important urban challenges as the world’s cities grow at an unprecedented rate.

Today, 54% of people live in cities and towns. Cities can be magnets for population growth and offer opportunities for jobs and social empowerment; but they can also be a source of congestion, exclusion and impoverishment. Which path of urban growth will prevail depends, in large part, on the quality and availability of mobility solutions. Transport is a structuring element of cities.

The reality of mobility in today’s cities is alarming— especially when measured against the four criteria that define sustainable mobility.

​“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.

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