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​“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.”

A simple technology with great impact on road safety

Nak Moon Sung's picture
Most of us have probably heard about black boxes, particularly when they relate to airplane crashes. But what about black boxes for cars?

Originally, black boxes in airplanes perform routine gathering and storing of data on all airplane operations during fly time. In the event of a specific accident or crash, the log data can be analyzed to determine or clarify the causes of an incident.
 
An example of black box
technology

A black box for cars is a video recording device with an acceleration sensor and a GPS receiver module. It can record any situation happening in front of a vehicle and store the information in the form of digital images into a built-in memory card. A vehicle’s black box is not a newly developed technology, but an application of existing video-recording technologies for the purpose of increasing road safety. This simple technology also has played a crucial role in solving or clarifying causes related to traffic crashes. Above all, the black box for vehicles has resulted in a decrease of traffic crashes, thus saving lives.

In South Korea, for example, taxi drivers first installed vehicles’ black boxes back in 2008. Since then, vehicle black boxes have been rapidly adopted by taxis throughout the country, under the sponsorship of local governments and insurance companies.

​Happy to be called Dr. K.E.

Ke Fang's picture
Cities where the World Bank has had significant urban transport engagements
Last week I was invited to deliver a keynote speech at a city development forum in Manila, Philippines. The host of the forum accidently called me Dr K. E. at the beginning. It was not a surprise to me, because many people in other parts of the world have called me the same. 

My first name – Ke – is so short that many think they are just the initial letters of two very long names. So they call me Dr. K. E. Fang when they first met me.

But I am actually very happy about it, because K. E. also stands for “knowledge exchange.” Over the past seven years, I have been very proud of doing K.E. work to facilitate communication and collaboration between the World Bank and client countries, and between client countries themselves, in my specialized field – urban transport planning and management.

As an urban transport expert and a Task Team Leader for investment projects, I used to spend most of my time and energy in technical and operational work – such as advising our clients on policy issues, and how to prepare and implement infrastructure investment programs and projects. 

​Important experiences and lessons from integrated fare systems

Jorge Rebelo's picture
Although integrated modal fares are important innovations for low-income riders, these systems can be plagued by many problems.

For example, in Rio de Janeiro — despite efforts by the government to convene all transit operators during the planning stage —private rail-based operators were reluctant to participate in the design of the system because they feared that the bus system would stand to benefit more from integrated fares.  In the end, the government went ahead with its plans.

Today, although the integrated fare system benefits the poor, it fosters the inefficiency of inter-municipal buses that receive a subsidy that allow them to survive despite low load factors. Several of those routes should have been integrated with rail. There was also fraud by van operators using transport routes and the system’s smart cards. Consequently, the subsidy rose very quickly. 

Even so, Rio de Janeiro’s system is a blessing to low-income users, and overall ridership increased. If challenges are met, the system can work better for everyone. Efforts must be done to fine-tune the system, close loopholes, decrease fraud and reward the most efficient parts of the system.

In my previous blog entry, I wrote about nine suggestions for designing and implementing integrated fare systems. Now, in addition to the initial example from Brazil, I’d like to share a few other experiences and lessons regarding integrated modal fares.

When there is a regional transport agency, an integrated fare system’s level of service can be monitored from a central location, provided buses are equipped with GPS and smart card systems (as in Santiago, Chile).

Considering social impacts of investments in Tuvalu: is it a runway or a recreational area?

Chris Bennett's picture
Fongafale, Tuvalu from above, with 
Funafuti International Airport near
​top of photo.
Tuvalu is a unique country, one of the most remote and geographically isolated countries in the world. The main island of Fongafale on Funafuti atoll, home to the capital and just under 50 percent of the country's population of some 10,000 people, is at its widest point only 650 meters wide. Much of this width is occupied by the runway for the Funafuti International Airport. This is Tuvalu’s main international gateway, with Fiji Airways operating up to three aircrafts a week between Suva and Funafuti, with aircraft that have a capacity of 68 passengers and cargo.
 
Like other Pacific Island Countries (PICs), Tuvalu relies on a very limited range of revenues — natural resource rents, tourism, remittances, aid and the lease of its highly fortuitous .tv Internet Top Level Domain. All of these are external, and each one is dependent to a greater or lesser degree on connectivity and access. Connectivity is also important in the context of disasters, as evidenced in March 2015 when Cyclone Pam caused widespread damage to the central and northern islands.
 
Many PICs suffer from inadequate airport and freight handling facilities. Due to their small population bases, these countries lack the proper policy, regulatory environments and infrastructure to comply with International Civil Aviation Organization requirements. This results in challenges in ensuring safe and secure operations, with international airline operators servicing the PIC markets incurring considerable risks consequently driving up air fares.

Nine suggestions for designing and implementing integrated fare systems

Jorge Rebelo's picture
Integrated modal fares, which allow riders to access multiple forms of transit (such as trains or buses) using a single ticket or card, is an important poverty alleviation tool. This innovation is especially critical to low-income transit users that might be unable to afford the sum of multiple fares on their way to jobs, schools, health clinics or other facilities.

A wide range of local governments around the world have introduced integrated modal fares as a way to reduce the burden on low-income users. But the design of these systems requires a very thorough analysis of the urban transport modes being integrated. Bad design may foster inefficiency and lead to huge subsidies that the government, and ultimately the taxpayer, must pay for.

Here are some tips on how to prepare for the design and implementation of integrated fare schemes:

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.

Public transport and urban design

Ke Fang's picture
As traffic congestion continues growing in urban areas, more and more cities have realized that investment priority should be given to public transport modes, such as metro trains, bus rapid transit systems (BRT) or buses, instead of personal vehicles. Simply put, public transport modes are more efficient than personal vehicles in terms of carrying and moving people around. However, international experiences also tell us that building more metro lines or putting more buses on the road alone may not be able to get more people to use public transport modes.

There are several non-transport factors, or urban design factors, that play a critical role in a traveler’s decision on their best travel mode. 
 
The first critical factor is density. As illustrated in a famous study done by Alain Bertaud, a former World Bank staff, density is the primary reason why 30 percent of daily trips are carried out by public transport in Barcelona, but only four percent in Atlanta. Barcelona is about 30 times denser than Atlanta, so it is therefore much easier to provide same level of public transport services in Barcelona than Atlanta.

One lesser-known factor is accessibility. Just having a high population density may not guarantee more people to use public transport.

Road crashes have more impact on poverty than you probably thought

Nak Moon Sung's picture
Road crashes are becoming a global health crisis and, as such, require comprehensive measures to prevent them, including a better understanding of the social impacts of road-related deaths and injuries.

Several indicators aim to illustrate the impact of traffic crashes. The most common ones are the number of fatalities and injuries.  Globally some 1.3 million people die on the road every year and up to 50 million suffer injuries. And overall economic costs of road crashes range from 2-5 percent of GDP in many countries. These economic costs provide a basis for transport safety improvement projects such as hazard location treatments, road audits, school zones and other preventive measures.

It is important, however, to turn our eyes on the impact of road crashes at the household level.  The impact on a family in losing a loved one is enormous, both in terms of emotional trauma and/or loss of income or caused disability, especially when many poor countries do not have strong enough safety nets for victims of road crashes. The impact of road crashes is less understood, and lack of strong data or evidence on these is a challenge in many countries.

If a member of a family is involved in a road crash, what kind of changes are likely to occur in that particular family? If the head of household or breadwinner is killed or severely injured, the impact to that household can be devastating. There are scarcely plausible surveys that show the effects of road crashes on households because it is presumably difficult to trace victims of road crashes.

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