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March 2017

Beyond ribbon-cutting: measuring the real impact of transport projects

Nancy Vandycke's picture
Photo: World Bank/Flickr
Development practitioners often rely on Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) performance indicators to assess the results of a transport project. Collecting indicators before, during, and after a project allows us to gain insights about project execution and project outputs, which can help us, for example, measure changes in travel time or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system ridership. While this approach is important, well anchored into project design, and quite practical, it is not intended to evaluate “impact”. Observed changes in outcomes cannot be attributed to the project: many other external factors, such as economic conditions, interrelated policies or projects, or seasonal trends, also come into play. In other words, a descriptive approach fails to establish causality between a project or intervention and subsequent outcomes such as changes in income, labor markets, quality of life, or market efficiency.

To overcome the limitations of traditional M&E, the development community is increasingly turning to impact evaluation, an alternative approach whose methods more directly address the issue of causality. In that context, the World Bank’s transport experts have partnered with colleagues from the Development Impact Evaluation (DIME) team to rethink the way the impact of transport is measured. Two years ago, with support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), a transport-dedicated impact evaluation program was launched: “IE Connect for Impact”. Now, impact evaluation is being implemented on 10 projects, covering rural roads, urban mobility, transport corridor development, and road safety. More projects will be selected toward the end of the year, as part of Phase II of the program.

The expected benefits are clear: informing project delivery during design and implementation, documenting the effects of policy and investment interventions, and prioritizing and filling knowledge gaps in the sector. Despite these significant benefits, transport accounts for less than 1% of all impact evaluation work —a very low proportion compared to the weight of other sectors such as in health (65% of all published impact evaluations), education (23%), agriculture and rural development (10%), or water (4%).

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.

The “plastic bridge”: a low-cost, high-impact solution to address climate risk

Oliver Whalley's picture
Also available in: Français
Photo: Anthony Doudt/Flickr
Bridges are critical links in the transport network. In their position across waterways, they are exposed to the full effects of flooding and landslides, and are often the first pieces of infrastructure to be damaged in the event of a disaster. They also typically take weeks or months to repair.  Besides causing expensive damage to the infrastructure itself, disruptions in connectivity also have a much broader impact on economic productivity and people’s ability to access essential services. As many places are expected to witness more intense and frequent rainfall as a result of climate change, the risk to bridges will only worsen: more rainfall will lead to bigger river flows and more damage to bridges, especially those designed to handle smaller storms.

At each end of a bridges is a structure which supports the weight of the deck. These are known as abutments, and they are often the first part of the bridge to fail. Blockage of the main channel by debris can cause water to look for the path of least resistance around the sides of the bridges, thus placing the abutments at risk.

Traditional bridge construction requires the installation of piles for the foundations of abutments—a lengthy and expensive process that involves specialist materials, skills and equipment.

But there is another promising solution: Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil (GRS) abutments. These allow for rapid and resilient construction of bridge abutments using locally available materials, without specialized equipment. With GRS, bridges can be constructed in as little as five days (Von Handorf, 2013) and at a cost 30-50% lower than traditional approaches (Tonkin and Taylor, 2016) .

GRS abutments are based on ‘geogrids,’ a high density mesh made out of polyethylene (plastic). Layers of soil and geogrid are combined to create a solid foundation for the bridge deck. Construction can be completed with basic earthmoving and compaction equipment, and a range of local fill materials can be used with guidance from geotechnical specialists.

Climate change is forcing us to reinvent rural transport for the better

Ashok Kumar's picture
Photo: Ravisankar Pandian/Flickr
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.

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.