Climate Change

Why cities in the Global South should collaborate on mobility

the group of delegates visit a bus depot in Bogotá that hosts the largest electric fleet in the world outside China

Bogotá hosts the largest electric fleet in the world outside of China. Image: UN-Habitat

Marcela Guerrero Casas
Co-Founder, Local South
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  • A low carbon mobility exchange for African and Latin American cities recently convened by UN-Habitat in Colombian capital Bogotá.
  • Cities in the Global South should learn and work together to plan and create climate friendly and resilient transport systems.
  • By doing so, they can create not only better mobility networks but also help address other issues such as social inclusion.

As Janvier Twagirimana stepped into the busy streets of Bogotá’s city centre last month, he remarked how much it looked and felt like home – unlike in Europe, where such visits often take place.

His native Kigali might not be exactly like the Colombian capital, but something resonated for Janvier, Transport External Links and Donors Coordinator at Rwanda’s Ministry of Infrastructure, in the recent low carbon mobility exchange for African and Latin American cities convened with UN-Habitat in Bogotá.

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With a delegation of local government officials from five African and Latin American cities – Dar es Salaam, Kigali, Belo Horizonte, Montevideo and Quito – the exchange aimed to address issues of electrification and active mobility.

These are two key components for all cities that are planning a climate friendly and resilient transport system. In the Global South, they are both critical in responding to climate challenges, and can have knock-on effects which respond to other crucial urban pressures.

Electrification that supports economic development

During the exchange, the group visited an impressive bus depot that hosts the largest electric fleet in the world outside China. The depot had 400 buses and 192 charging stations; water and waste management features to create a circular system, and a team that welcomed us all with enthusiasm and pride.

The delegation left with technical as well as financial information to feed back to their cities as they are in the midst of negotiating similar projects.

In addition to this large-scale intervention, the delegation visited the headquarters of a local private firm working with a small enterprise called Lola te Mueve and non-governmental organizations to test electric bicycles and tricycles to distribute their goods across the city, as a way to solve what is known as the ‘last mile’ challenge.

On Sunday, government officials from African & Latin American cities explored Bogota’s Sunday Ciclovia, for a car free day. This was the first day of a short exchange about #mobility & transportation organized by  @UNHABITAT  in partnership with  @urban_pathways  +  @solutions_eu
Officials from five African and Latin American countries visit Bogotá as part of a mobility exchange. Image: Twitter/UN-Habitat

Indeed, transporting goods to end user customers in a city contributes to increased congestion, carbon emissions and contested public space.

Those goods range from fresh produce to manufactured goods; and often, the last stage in an urban delivery is most challenging because of inadequate infrastructure, unpredictable traffic flows as well human coordination. In cities of the Global South, those challenges are exacerbated by the lack of regulation that embraces new technology and innovation.

The pilot project we visited illustrated how electric light vehicles can help to facilitate transport, and show the way for new enterprises to enter the market. In this way, both large and small companies can lower their transport costs, while contributing to less congestion and better conditions both for their workers, as well as the city as a whole.

How mobility contributes to social cohesion

During our visit to Bogotá’s first public transport cable car system, Eveline Trevisan, Sustainability and Environment Coordinator at Belo Horizonte’s Transport Department in Brazil remarked how, more than by the infrastructure, she had been moved by the social imperative of the project.

Located in Ciudad Bolivar, one of Bogotá’s poorest areas, the solar powered Transmicable has not only reduced travel time from two hours to 15 minutes, it has also become a source of ownership and pride for many residents.

Officials visit Officials visit Bogotá's first public transport cable car system, Transmicable.
Officials visit Officials visit Bogotá's first public transport cable car system, Transmicable. Image: UN-Habitat

The local museum, which is located at the last and highest station of the cable car, perfectly makes that link, and tells the story of Ciudad Bolivar, where scores of internally displaced people have made their home as a community that was “self-built”.

The contrast of such an impressive piece of engineering in such a vulnerable community underscores how transportation is not just about movement, but also dignity and quality of life.

Similarly, the weekly Ciclovia programme which turns more than 100km of Bogotá’s streets into a giant playground illustrated the power of rethinking transportation arteries into places that can contribute to society in other ways.

Gisel Paredes, Head of Transport in the Ecuadorian city of Quito, who also took part in the exchange, remarked on the scale of the programme and the interaction of people on the street – particularly as people of all ages shared the space effortlessly in a city where often people avoid any interaction for fear of their own safety and security.

Global South cities should unite, share and co-create

The value of creating opportunities to experience similar realities cannot be overstated. It illustrates the possibilities of solving seemingly intractable problems. It showcases the potential for innovation, collaboration and testing new ideas in less than perfect conditions.

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How is the World Economic Forum promoting sustainable and inclusive mobility systems?

Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to share experiences and lessons so that mistakes can be avoided. In Latin America, for instance, in addition to electrification of bus fleets, there is a new wave of bicycle shared systems which can certainly learn from each other. Similarly, the cable car system Kigali is looking into can certainly benefit from the experience and knowledge of Bogotá’s.

Building South-South avenues of conversation, exchange and interaction can support local officials, not only in technical ways but as this exchange showed, in highlighting the additional impacts that mobility can have in Global South cities where transport is only a small fraction of complex and difficult realities.

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