Concerns over the growth of motorcycles in cities


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The number of motorcycles in many Latin American cities, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Bogotá, has grown much faster than the automobile fleet in recent years.  In many Asian cities, motorcycles and three-wheeled vehicles are the primary modes on urban roads. 

Motorcycles are prevalent in the developing world, because they are relatively cheap to own and operate, usually less regulated (in terms of licensing, enforcement, and insurance), and can be faster than other modes on very congested roads -- by swerving and bypassing other vehicles. 

These vehicles are also a lot less safe than conventional ‘four-wheelers’ for the same reasons and are statistically more likely to be involved in serious accidents because of, among other reasons, the physical vulnerability of the driver and passenger.  See a video report  from Brasilia (in Portuguese).

Motorcycles certainly provide improved mobility to those willing to brave personal risks, but there are additional costs borne by others. 

In São Paulo, there are multiple daily reports of motorcycle commuters and couriers (known as “moto-boys,” delivering everything from packages to pizzas) dying in traffic and causing a great deal of traffic disruption.  In response to this, São Paulo has begun testing motorcycle-only lanes on two main arteries and restricting motorcycles on many other roads.  It is not clear whether this strategy will work or be enough, but the problem is large enough to have created incentives for experimentation.

In some Chinese cities, motorcycles have been banned altogether from the city center, so less-potent but cleaner electric bicycles are more common.  What else can be done and what are some good examples? 

There is also the question of how motorcycles compete with public transport modes as incomes rise in developing countries and residents require greater mobility to access jobs and services.  The commuter without a vehicle, who is the primary customer of public transport, may find it more convenient to use a motorcycle as soon as he is able to afford it – particularly when the public transport system is not competitive.  This phenomenon may have serious implications on the sustainability of public transport systems, the environmental and social impact of the transport sector, and the eventual development of cities. 

 Your thoughts?

Photos: Sam Zimmerman 

Julie B
July 12, 2010

very interesting postings. The phenomenon of growth of motorcycles in Latin American cities has been taking place in cities of other regions of the world as well. Studies in Africa have shown that in Douala, Lagos, and Kampala for example, the use of motorcycles for commercial transport has grown very rapidly in recent years, as a consequence of the poor state of the roads and the inability of bus companies to meet growing demand. The excellent background study 'Stuck in Traffic: Urban transport in Africa' describes some of the challenges associated with increased motorcycle uses, including the impact on road safety:…

Luis Willumsen
November 28, 2011

This is a key issue in the development of public transport in cities with high m/c ownership. I encountered this issue when attempting to forecast patronage and revenue for bidders of Indian Metro concessions: Delhi metro extension to Airport, Mumbai Line 2 and Hyderabad lines. The operating costs of motorcycles are close to those of a metro and they offer door-to-door service; somewhat unsafe and wet in the rain but cheap. I discovered that there were no mc ownership models in the region (but there were some car ownership models) and that there was not much thought on the link between car and mc ownership. We tackled the issue somehow with a joint mc and car ownership model and realised how critical the issue is. Why is it that mcs are abundant in some cities and quite scarce in others, for example in Latin America? This is not just a regulatory issue.

January 01, 2012

It is really a new evolution of transportation that needs to be given the needed attention. When an instrument/tool/device is introduced, for the lack of knowledge of its its usage, the people involve perishes. Please remember motorcycles are actually being used in developed countries like the USA.The crushes in developing countries are really high and will continue to grow if the right measures are not adopted now. motorcycle Education and training need to be taking seriously. licensing of motorcycle riders need to be taking seriously.

The use of motorcycles as a means of transportation in developing countries is not going to end now. individuals and corporate institutions have realise its immerse contribution to their daily work. It should therefore be taking seriously to help control crushes. the safety of riders should seen as WORK FOR ALL.