Urban Transformation

How are the world’s biggest cities rethinking public transport?

A green and white tram with man walking a bike next to it.

By 2030, around 60% of the world’s population will live in towns or cities. Image: UNSPLASH/David Vives

Kayleigh Bateman
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  • Cities are seeking out innovative transport methods to reduce emissions and adapt to rising populations.
  • About 60% of the world’s people are expected to live in towns or cities by 2030. Paris has cleared plans for an aerial tramway in its southeastern suburbs.
  • Other capital cities are rolling out innovative transport plans to try and persuade people to leave their vehicles at home.

As cities search for ways to make their environments cleaner and healthier, alternative methods of transport have become a hot topic.

Rising populations are also putting pressure on cities and their transport networks. Urban populations will expand by almost 700 million globally by 2030, rising to a total of 5.2 billion, according to the United Nations (UN).

That means about 60% of the world’s population will live in towns or cities, up from 57% in 2021, the UN says.

Global traffic congestion increased in 2021 as cities came out of lockdown, according to digital mapping company TomTom’s Traffic Index, which uses data from more than 400 cities.

World cities with the most traffic congestion

An infographic showing cities with the most traffic congestion.
These are the cities with the most traffic congestion. Image: TomTom

So how are cities keeping people moving without adding to congestion challenges or worsening air quality? Here are some examples from around the world:


The Parisian suburb of Creteil plans to build the French capital’s first aerial tramway after feasibility studies received approval in February. The electric line, named Câble 1, will have five stations along its 4.5 kilometre route and is due to launch in 2025.

The city chose to add an aerial route because traditional land-based options would have been too complex and expensive. The line will have the added benefit of not adding to air pollution.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to encourage healthy living in cities?


Oslo aimed to become the first major European city to to ban private cars from its centre, announcing a plan in 2015 to remove them by 2019. The city began replacing car parking spaces with bike lanes and created several pedestrian-only zones.

Norway’s capital also created a Climate Budget in 2017, aiming to cut emissions from 1990 levels by 36% by 2020, 50% by 2022 and 95% by 2030. The city set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2050.


The United Kingdom

Ride-hailing company Uber has teamed up with river bus service Thames Clippers to take commuters to work by boat as an alternative to using buses or underground trains.

The move also aims to keep commuters out of private cars, as London continues to find ways to encourage travellers to leave their vehicles at home through initiatives such as increased congestion charges.

The city also has its own cablecar, The Emirates Air Line, which it launched ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games.


Tokyo rolled out the world’s biggest experiment with self-driving vehicles for the delayed 2020 Olympics, with 80 autonomous buses, minivans and SUVs driving athletes and officials around. The vehicles took specially prepared roads from the Olympic village and routes around venues for the Games.

Japan’s government and car industry are pursuing plans for autonomous driving vehicles with the aim of reducing road fatalities, cutting congestion and emissions and helping meet the needs of an ageing population.


The “widest avenue in the world”, Avenida 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires, underwent a makeover in 2013 to improve urban mobility, reduce emissions and improve safety. It previously had 20 car lanes, but the city decided to cut this to 10 and to create several bus-only lanes.

Passengers say the changes have reduced their travel time by an average of half an hour per bus ride, to around 14 minutes.

The World Economic Forum works closely with the Global Future Council on Urban Mobility Transitions to identify key areas that affect the movement of people and goods. The Council supports the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Mobility Platform in several ways, such as finding ways to tackle congestion and to boost electrification and energy efficiency.

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Related topics:
Urban TransformationSupply Chains and Transportation
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