IEG recently held an in-depth panel discussion about the World Bank Group’s performance in the sector of urban transport, as well emerging trends and opportunities to strengthen its support and make use of its influence to help establish well-managed urban transport systems in client countries.

The event featured José Luis Irigoyen, Senior Director of the World Bank Group's Transport Global Practice, Arturo Ardila-Gomez, Lead Transport Economist, World Bank Group; Robert Cervero, Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of California - Berkley; Melinda Hanson, Deputy Director, Global Designing Cities Initiative; Patience Kunene, Executive Director for Angola/Nigeria/South Africa, World Bank Group and Ian Twinn, Head of Transportation, International Finance Corporation. 

IEG Senior Evaluation Officer Fang Xu and Advisor to the Director Andrew Stone presented the findings of IEG’s recent evaluation: Mobile Metropolises: Urban Transport Matters.  José Carbajo Martinez, Director of IEG's Financial, Private Sector and Sustainable Development Department, moderated the conversation.

Below is an excerpt from the conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.

Watch the re-play of the live event

Why is it important for the World Bank Group to support Urban Transport? 

José Luis Irigoyen
"Slums are growing, and the bottom percentile of population in urban dwellings spends a disproportionate share of their income to access opportunities, 20% in some cases. This makes it very, very difficult to help these people earn a better livelihood." -José Luis Irigoyen

José Luis Irigoyen: As Caroline Heider has said, "Cities are drivers of growth and home of the poor." 80% of the economic output is produced by cities, there are 500 cities that produce 60%. So we cannot deny that. At the same time, we can see the growing welfare cost of congestion, the most regressive thing that we can think of in cities.

We’re also seeing the growth of slums, as many people go to cities looking for opportunities, and they end up trapped in places where they don't have access, or the access becomes prohibitively expensive. So slums are growing, and the bottom percentile of population in urban dwellings spends a disproportionate share of their income to access opportunities, 20% in some cases. This makes it very, very difficult to help these people earn a better livelihood.

But there's something also that is emerging. We're starting to see that these local issues have become national issues and global issues. Urban auto pollution for example, is responsible for four million preventative deaths, bringing attention to air quality.

If you talk about emissions, cities contribute to 70% of energy-related emissions. So it was not by chance that when Mexico had the presidency of the G20, they put urban transport as a global issue.


What is the World Bank’s current role in urban transport? What are some of the difficulties the World Bank Group faces in supporting urban transport in client countries?

Fang Xu: The Bank Group has helped our client countries increase the supply and enhance the capacity and quality of urban transport systems and services in our client countries. And in many countries, the Bank Group played the pioneering role in introducing innovative solutions.

For example, in Tanzania, the Bank Group launched its first ever lite Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in this country and the system became operational in 2016. Also, by actively engaging the private sector, not only was the service quality enhanced, but also the financial sustainability was strengthened- just like the Bank Group has been doing in Brazil for the last 10 years.

The Bank Group also helped clients mitigate environmental harms from urban transport systems as evidenced by reduced GHG emissions and also reduced local air pollution. We also noticed the Bank Group’s influence went beyond its direct investment. By actively utilizing its convening power, not only did the Bank Group help spread global knowledge, but it also promoted South-South learning.

An excellent example is the Leaders in Urban Transport Planning program, which was solely managed by the Bank Group. This program has trained more than 1,000 leaders globally. And when we were in India, we met many local urban transport professionals - many of them told us they were trained by and benefited from this program.

Now we know we have done a lot and we have achieved a lot, but are we free of issues? The answer is no. We did notice, somehow the overall emphasis shifted from lower middle-income countries to upper middle-income countries. Just China and Brazil, these two countries alone accounted for more than 25% of the urban transport portfolio.

And the Sub-Saharan Africa region – while this region urbanized very rapidly, the support they received from The Bank Group actually declined in the second half of the evaluation period.

We also noticed that disadvantaged groups— the poor, women, the disabled, and the elderly-- haven't received sufficient and constant attention from us – only 26% of the roads projects provided a targeted intervention for the poor, and 7% for women, and only 4% for the disabled.

Overall among all the urban transport modes, women and the disabled consistently received much lower attention.

José Luis Irigoyen: This is a portfolio for around eight billion dollars in projects around the world, 20% of portfolio is more or less urban transportation, and it's growing. It's not easy to maintain a steady growth, because of the difficulties of engaging this at a national level. So that's something that we have to think about.

Why I'm really excited about IEG’s report is, first, for calling our attention to Africa. And it's true, it has been challenging for us to develop strong urban transport before in Africa. We have some very well-known interventions in Nigeria for example, now in Dar es Salaam. We're very active in Kenya.

You can see in recent times that this is evolving. But when you look at the pace of urbanization in Africa, it's unprecedented. Cities are growing very, very fast and not connecting—it would be very expensive to serve with public transport in the future.

So that is giving us some ammunition, through your report and analytical tools, to place this agenda as an urgent matter. We are active in big cities, major cities, when we should also be working and very actively involved in cities that are growing so fast that this is the time to use transport to produce a much better planned urban development.

The second thing that caught my attention is the issue of congestion. Some of these mega cities in the world are reaching levels of congestion that are incredibly high with very low motorization rates. So that reinforces and gives us more ammunition to insist on public transport.

Also we need to break silos and create institutions that can work at the different levels of government and they have to, at the level of the city, be able to integrate.

And finally, the issue of financial gap – more attention should be given to the financial sustainability to solutions. These are big challenges that we agree we have to take on. We have developed a global program, for urban transport planning for example, trying to address the capacity building challenge that we will face, particularly in certain regions; Africa being one of them.


What has worked best in the past, and in what ways can the World Bank Group improve its performance in the area of Urban Transport?

Andrew Stone: One of the things we found consistently that seems to work better is when the World Bank Group takes more comprehensive approaches.

So, for example, when we talk about mobility, projects that included both supply and demand management aspects were 77% effective in increasing urban mobility, as opposed to 60% of projects that did not have this combined approach.

What do we mean by demand management? Well let me give an example. In Guangzhou, China under a World Bank-GEF partnership, the city increased parking fees and applied car purchase and usage requirements, and thus was able to achieve not only some modal shifting, but a very substantial reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

This also applied in environmental results. Typically, in environmental interventions where there was upstream policy intervention, or institutional intervention combined with downstream investment, that seemed to work better. And in projects that did both of these things, there was roughly a 70% success rate.

Another thing that works very well is strong work quality. And here we saw a mixed bag. There were very good examples, but there are also some lapses where there could be improvements.

Arturo Ardila-Gomez: We are piloting and strengthening monitoring and evaluation across all our upcoming operations, but also those that go through mid-term review or restructuring.

The agenda is comprehensive, and we have a myriad of hopefully substantive actions. Starting with the country partnership frameworks and the systematic country diagnoses, to try to work at that level to showcase the importance of urban transport.

What you don't measure you cannot manage. So issues like gender vulnerability, affordability— if we don't have proper monitoring and evaluation frameworks, proper results chains, if we don't use sub-indicators—for example, we're measuring travel time, and maybe we can disaggregate it by gender, because women happen to do train trips, they drop off the children more likely than not, they then pick them up, take them to the doctor… so for women, we need a separate indicator on something as basic as travel time or an indicator of affordability.  And it's measured differently than a master indicator on travel time door to door, or boarding time to exiting time from bus. So we're working to help them improve how to measure, and debunking the myth that, in a proper monitoring and evaluation framework, if you have 10 pages with 15 lines in total, people say, "You have too many." But [it’s not too many if] half of them are also indicators by gender and by income group, and by disability.

For a quick introduction to IEG's evaluation, watch the video In Brief: Improving Urban Transport in Developing Countries


What are some of the emerging trends in urban transport, and how do you see the World Bank Group’s engagement in the near and distant future?  

José Luis Irigoyen: This evolving trend to sustainable urban transport seen from a local to global issue, has forced us to think of more holistically integrated solutions that will address all these dimensions.

Before 2005, for example, the thrust of our engagement in urban transport had always been public transport, so we focused a lot on the efficiency of public transport, the introduction of air quality, looking for solutions like bus rapid transit as a lower cost than metros, many options like that.

Since 2005 and on we have been looking at public transport as more of an integrated system, with holistic solutions. Today it's unthinkable not to consider, for example, bikeways as part of the solution, where we didn't before, I think it was Lima the first time we did it, it was just a solution for the very poor. Now it's part of a much more holistic view of the city.

Similarly, in addition to increasing efficiency, we started realizing that new technology was bringing opportunities that were never available before. So all the efforts we had in the past to provide the physical integration, now we're able to move, with smartcards, towards fare integration.

As we continue, more and more, the use of technology unleashing the power of big data, what we are learning in day-to-day projects is, we’re assessing how a public transport system is allowing people living in the most challenging places to access opportunities. And we have a tool, for example, emissions data – so we have integrated technology in a way that allows us to think differently about the problems we face and the solutions.

It is very clear that the future of transport, and urban transport in particular, is automated cars, shared vehicles, electric, and driven by big data.


It is very clear that the future of transport, and urban transport in particular, is automated cars, shared vehicles, electric, and driven by big data. -José Luis Irigoyen


What do you think the African countries need in this space, and how can the Bank Group better support them?

Patience Kunene.jpg
"One of the issues is the need to look at cities as economic spaces where we compete. Even within one country, cities are competing with each other. But how much more, when you look at a regional context, urban transport becomes a competitive edge for each of the cities as they are attempting to grow." -Patience Kunene

Patience Kunene: I think Africa has got the youngest population in the world right now. And we are urbanizing really fast, and the most important thing that you would look for as a parent in that regard, probably would be starting with Mandela's quotation, where he said "You can judge the quality of a society by the way in which it treats its children."  Therefore urban transport needs to incorporate elements of livability, also walkability, and it must be safe, and it must be a conduit to allow access to opportunity.

So having said that, as a policy maker, you ask, “What does Africa need from urban transport?” There isn’t a single solution that would capture everything, but looking at the urgency of the matter, regional transport hubs are very important. They need to incorporate technology in the solutions that are being advocated and traded to us, that would be a must.

But also, scalability. Because a lot of solutions that you put on the table, if they're forecast on one city, it's not going to help. I know that there are many measures of evaluating how fast we are growing. One of the issues is the need to look at cities as economic spaces where we compete. Even within one country, cities are competing with each other. But how much more, when you look at a regional context, urban transport becomes a competitive edge for each of the cities as they are attempting to grow.

Given the scale of need, it's not going to be possible for the World Bank to provide all the solutions. So the cascade approach is important. What's even more important is regional integration. We've got examples of these in West Africa, in East Africa, in Southern Africa where urban transport transverses spaces and it becomes part of the environment. Even when we are trying to attract investment into a country, we are able to say, "Come to Johannesburg, we have a metro train that will take you, in less than 20 minutes from airport to the last city, the capital city." That's critical.


Given the importance that maximizing finance for the development has and the renewed focus on private sector, how are the IFC, and the World Bank Group as a whole, going to scale up its involvement in the urban transport sector?

Ian Twinn: One thing you can say within IFC is, "success begets success," so when you have a successful project, you find other people want to copy it. And so municipalities until two/three years ago were a rather marginal part of our business. In the last three years we've had a big focus on the Cities Initiative, trying to make more livable spaces. Some part of that is about urban transportation, but it also covers things like water, sewage, waste disposal, and so on.

I think going forward IFC has three stands that we're focused on in terms of urban transport. One is ramping up the Cities Initiative business, and that can be working with municipalities on urban transport. The second part of what we're trying to do is to look at how to bring the private sector in more systematically. One element to that is looking at, for instance, how can we do more Bus Rapid Transits in Africa that might engage the World Bank in terms of doing the hard infrastructure, but IFC providing financing for the rolling stock and so on? We kind of do it as a partnership, which goes very much to the cascade.

As part of that we can potentially draw on some elements of the Private Sector Window, to make it more affordable to buy down some of the risk for the private sector, to bring in local currency, fares, and so on.

And then the third strand is, we've been doing quite a lot of thinking about how emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles, but also electric and transporters of service, what they will mean for the future of urban mobility?

Clearly there's going to be a sea-change in how we get around in cities in next, somewhere between five and twenty years. To the extent we're financing Bus Rapid Transits, that might make a lot of sense, but in terms of thinking about a new metro system from scratch, maybe that's something we want to think every carefully before we embark. So we're thinking about those issues as well, and we have a venture capital team that engage with folks in Silicon Valley, etcetera, that are developing these technologies.

(later on, answering a similar question)

IFC actually has a VC group that has an envelope for investing in early stage start-up companies. They don't get in at the very early, early stage, they're more focused on the series B.

For example, they've been looking at truckload boards, basically trying to match up the truckers with the cargo, so they don't drive around empty for half the time.  They've invested in and looked at different companies providing data mapping, and bus. There was a company in Sweden that was offering to municipalities that they could tell them when the buses would be coming on a live database.  And the value for them, for the company, was that by getting that data they would then have a clear map of where the congestion is in the city, which as you get to having more autonomous vehicles, that will become very useful, valuable data to have.


How are NGO's addressing the urban transport challenge, including environmental, climate change, social inclusion dimensions?  How do you see the interaction between NGOs and the World Bank Group in that complex space?

Melinda Hanson: Obviously the World Bank Group knows larger scale infrastructure in a way that most organizations and places don't.  And the Bank Group excels in national strategy settings, so getting a whole country on board for various strategies that could trickle down potentially to urban impact. And of course, the financial access and getting projects funded.

Now where nonprofit organizations come in, and maybe add little bit more value, is some of the longer-term deeper technical assistance. Like seeing the project through, so not just from a concept phase, but through the implementation and making sure that some of really detailed pieces don't get lost.

Just as one example, what see around the world is that when you have a larger-scale transit project, pedestrian accessibility and safety is not often considered.

Also I think NGOs help on the innovation side of projects, because nonprofit organizations, we're not driven by our clients in the same way that private organizations or the banks are. We are at the forefront, I think, of a lot of innovation— for example, bicycling. Because bicycling is no longer just a cute little side project, it's a real transport solution, and we're seeing that in places around the world. So bringing that kind of new thinking and new expertise that the bank may not have, a lot of NGO's have this expertise and can support the development of packaged projects and other things essentially to get those things considered and built.

A lot of places like Addis Ababa where I'm currently working, there's still 80% of trips are made on foot. So when we think about, do we want those folks, we obviously want that the access, we want the sustainable transit, we want all of those good things, but we have an opportunity to get people on two wheels, to get people on electric bikes, to get people on foot, and make these trips a lot better. And it's a lot cheaper by the way too. We can retrofit the existing streets using just some simple paint and other kinds of methods, and we can really go a long way. So I would just like to make sure that we're remembering to think about that.


What are the challenges for developing countries to strengthen their approaches to urban transport, and especially planning? How can they develop capabilities to support more inclusive and integrated urban transportation?

Robert Cervero: I think are two aspects that are critically important, thinking in 5- to10-year time horizons. One is motorization and the other is what I'm calling formalization.

Motorization I think we'll all recognize as incomes rise, car ownership rates rise, we've had this very explosive growth in car ownership. But if you look at really low-income countries and lower middle-income countries, and in some degrees even some middle-income countries like China, the real explosive growth has been in those two-wheelers. These motor scooters, these mopeds, these ebikes, and so forth. And they're incredibly efficient users of space. They squeeze in a lot of vehicles, but they create a lot of pollution problems, particularly when you have two stroke engines. Very high road fatality rates, three times higher than four-wheeled vehicles.

But one of the big problems is they've taken over the city. It's not only road space, but parking and sidewalks and other places. So we've heard a lot about active transport and walkability. But it's so hard in the lack of management and planning for this explosive introduction of these kind of modes, to really achieve this livability, walkability element.

But in this respect, I think there's opportunities here as well. We've heard autonomous vehicles, these are going to be the really disruptive elements in the next 10 years. Well if economists believe in the Kuznets Curve, this will tell us that as income rises in these areas, these levels of two-wheeler ownerships are going to convert to four-wheeled vehicles. But by 2025, I think by most projections, we're really going to see mass production and assimilation of autonomous vehicles and that might really be fortuitous. It might correspond when you have very rapid motorization and car ownership rising, in Africa, South Asia.

So I think there's tremendous opportunities through a planning lens to think about, "How do we redesign cities?" If we have shared mobility—and I happen to believe that's how people are going to get around—if you disconnect people from the practice of driving, not only do you create safer cities and less accidents, but there's no longer this desire for vehicle ownership. So I think everyone buys in the shared mobility, so instead of 30% of the land area in cities being parking, we can now infill and have more compact cities. Instead of designing for parking, drop-off zones.

But there's a whole different way of managing cities with these kind of disruptive technologies. We head about MAS, mobility-as-a-service, with these vehicle's mobility just becomes a form of conveyance of unrelated individuals. Not only like people movers like airports or elevators and buildings. The big challenge is institutionally, to create these concierges and broker organizations that link providers and integrate pricing and so forth. So you really have seamless, fluid mobility.

I think there's a tremendous challenge, but again, I think the very places that are going to rapidly motorizing in the next 10 years have tremendous opportunity to really ride that wave and create a different kind of sustainable urban form. And at the same time, achieve much better mobility outcomes.

Just very briefly, we saw a lot of images here of bus rapid transit, and I think this is another major, kind of disruptive arena in the sense that a lot of cities like Dar es Salaam, I've been working a lot with TransJakarta, they're displacing what historically have been these small semi-informal transmissive modes—mini buses, micro-buses, and so forth. Yes they potentially are providing better mainline services, but these little vehicles penetrated low income neighborhoods, got into narrow streets that the bid buses couldn't get into. A lot of times they provided weekend, late night services that the big buses don't.

There's a real threat of the quality of services diminishing by formalizing public transit away from these informal carriers to this much more standardized mode. Yes it might relieve congestion in certain senses, but there's real concerns about not only that, but the displacement effects. There's a whole supply chain of not only operators, but mechanics, fare collectors that are tied to that industry. So Jakarta for instance, TransJakarta, what it’s done is it's worked with Cambodja, Metro Mini, some of these micro bus operators to integrate them into the Bus Rapid Transit system. They've hired them and they've done it largely the incumbents have been willing to join through basically hiring them and training them as formal operators. They've removed the incentive where all their income was based on the number of passengers, it's not a fixed guaranteed salary.

So there's been some very important progress made in these very fronts, but I guess my appeal to the World Bank would be in light of all these rapidly unfolding disruptive trends, that planning is critically important. It's not just operational planning, the integration of urbanism, and transport investment, it's critically important we think of these investments not as just mobility investments that move people from point A to point B. But fundamental ways to shape cities, in ways that create much more sustainable climate resilient outcomes.


Watch the re-play of the live event.


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