Nature and Biodiversity

How to decongest and depollute the world’s mega cities

Nicolas Peltier-Thiberge
Global Director for the Transport Sector, The World Bank
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This post first appeared on The World Bank’s Transport for Development Blog.

As Beijing is issuing its first-ever red alert due to record levels of air pollution, it is time for us to reflect on how we can propose cleaner urban transport solutions to large cities in the developing world.

The transport sector accounts for 23 percent of energy-related global CO2 emissions, second behind electricity and heat generation. Moreover, transport-related emissions are set to rise from 23 percent to up to 33 percent by 2050.

In Beijing, banning half of the car off the streets (except electric and hybrid vehicles) is one of the most radical measures that the authorities have taken to fight what some observers have called airpocalypse. To compensate, 200 additional buses have been added to the cities’ public transport system. Schools have also been closed and outdoor construction works have been forced to stop. The social and economic costs of airpocalypse are enormous. With particulates levels more than 10 times the recommended levels, there are serious health consequences for Beijing’s 20 million inhabitants.

As urbanization continues all over the world, many mega-cities are desperately looking for credible solutions to improve urban transport systems and reduce traffic congestion. Sophisticated but expensive systems like underground subways are economically out-of-reach for many large cities in the developing world. The good news is that there are some excellent alternatives that the World Bank Group and other international partners have been promoting.

One of these alternatives is the so-called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. Invented in Latin America and since then spread all over the world, BRTs have a particular relevance for fiscally-constrained, developing nations because of their relatively modest cost but also their dramatic benefits in terms of urban mobility and air pollution reduction.

Bogota’s Transmilenio and Curitiba’s Green Line in the Boquierão corridor are well known examples but Lagos’ story may not have been told enough. With an estimated 25 million population, Lagos is one of the largest and fastest growing megacities in the world. Before the development of the Bus Rapid Transport solution, city public transport was limited to non-reliable, expensive and polluting 75,000 mini-buses (danfo) and shared taxis (kabu-kabu), making 16 million trips daily. The poor half of the population paid a fifth of their disposable income in transport. A typical journey from the main residential areas to Lagos Island would take two hours.The World Bank-financed Lagos Urban Transport Project identified bus services as a key component of an overall plan to overhaul the transport system. A BRT solution was selected – this roadway-based rapid transit system that looks and behaves like a subway, offers high capacity rapid transit services but on dedicated lanes in city streets. In March 2008, this 22 km project connecting Lagos mainland with the island became the first dedicated bus route in Sub-Saharan Africa. The BRT runs a 16-hour operation, using 220 buses to move more than 200,000 passengers daily. In its first two years of operation, it moved more than 120 million passengers. The World Bank provided technical advice and a US$100 million IDA credit.As a result, journey time was reduced by an average of 25 minutes from one end to the other and fares have gone down from 230 Naira to 100 Naira. The BRT carries 25 percent of all trips along the corridor whilst accounting for just 4% of vehicles. The BRT generated 2000 jobs for drivers, bus conductors, inspectors, ticket sellers, and mechanics. An additional 10,000 indirect jobs were also created to operate formal and informal park-and-ride facilities and mini-fast-food services.

In addition to these social benefits, the BRT project has reduced CO2 emissions by 13 percent and GHG emissions by 20 percent. Wait time has been reduced from 45 to 10 minutes, reducing the exposure of passengers to pollution and leading to health benefits through reduced respiratory diseases.

With the momentum created by the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, it is time for us to give even more visibility to successful and cost-effective projects such as the Lagos BRT program. In Dakar, Marrakech, Beirut but also in Cairo and other large cities all over the world, World Bank Group staff have an exciting agenda ahead to replicate the great stories of Bogota, Curitiba and Lagos.

Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Nicolas Peltier-Thiberge is a Practice Manager for Transport covering the Middle East and North Africa region as well as West Africa.

Image: Cars are stuck in a traffic jam. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh. 

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Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityUrban TransformationSupply Chains and Transportation
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