3 Students Look Toward the Future of Sustainable Transport

During Transforming Transportation 2017, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities Ani Dasgupta met with three students (left to right), Manuel Santana Palacios, Seema Singh and Paul Molta to discuss the future of urban development. Photo by Luca Lo Re / WRI / Flickr

Transforming Transportation (#TTDC17) is the annual conference co-organized by the World Bank and the EMBARQ mobility initiative of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. This year’s conference was themed Beyond Commitments: Sustainable Mobility for All, and took place on January 12 and 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TTDC17, by following @WRIcities and @WBG_Transport on Twitter.

Transforming Transportation 2017 not only highlighted the voices of transport experts, but it also amplified the voices of curious students. During the conference, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities Ani Dasgupta met with three students, Paul Molta, Seema Singh and Manuel Santana Palacios, to discuss the future of sustainable mobility and urban development. We asked the students to reflect on Transforming Transportation and their key takeaways:

Paul Molta, Master of Environmental Management Candidate, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

2017 is an inflection point for transportation systems. Three forces are converging: 1. Ubiquitous digital connectivity, 2. Propulsion technology changes, and 3. Consumer preferences shifting from ownership to usership. However, looking to the past to inform the future will not lead to the transformational changes we need. This year is a call to action that business-as-usual does not work. Leaders around the world need to collaborate and create a shared vision for the transformation of transportation. This vision should set goals that all can aspire to, but craft solutions that meet local needs.

Three of these goals were mentioned multiple times. The first is that we must break down the binary between personal transport and mass transit. If quality mass transit is not delivered, people revert to personal ownership of vehicles. One solution is the creation of demand response public transport. The second goal is thus that growth must be green and inclusive. Technology is the enabler to go beyond the COP-21 goals, but it does not inherently deliver solutions. Sharing of data from all actors is one strategy  to enable a collective improvement in services, allowing the sum of technological pieces to be greater than the parts.

Third is a reminder that transportation is about access, quality, and safety. This can be achieved through the integration of public and private action using three main drivers: 1. Take people’s perspective (shift from only supply-side management to include demand-side management), 2. Provide options with intermodal transport that is vertically integrated in global planning, 3. Leverage transport to enable progress on equity issues (transportation can easily support the paradigm of inequity we have today). This allows transportation leaders to change the paradigm to Enable/Avoid/Shift/Improve. New business models are needed to engage multinational institutions to help break cycles in developing cities that can’t afford big changes, but will benefit greatly from them in the future. For example, separate asset ownership and service provision during the initial shift toward electric mass transit vehicles to reduce cost burdens. To further improve the cost-benefit analysis, there is a need to properly capture the co-benefits of access to transportation, beyond just transportation. There is a difference between funding and financing, and there is not enough local funding to do all the required innovative transportation projects.

Ultimately, transportation is at a fork in the road. We have the tools to deliver sustainable and equitable transportation. What is needed is the vision to guide the journey, and it is clear that global leaders have started to imagine this world; 2017 is thus a year of action and people are ready to move.

Seema Singh, PhD candidate in City & Regional Planning, Cornell University

Transforming Transportation, the two-day conference brought together policy makers, planners and leading transport experts from different parts of the world. From providing access of sustainable mobility to all to financing, from innovation in transporting goods to technological disruptions in mobility, from reclaiming public spaces to reducing energy consumption in transportation sector, the discussions over the two days covered a wide range of issues/ challenges faced by cities in the transport area and the way ahead. This blog post draws out my key takeaways from the conference.

A large part of the discussions at the conference centered around challenges faced in translating the international commitments and global targets set over the last few years (in climate change, sustainable development and road safety) into effective action on the ground. It was realized that to meet these global targets, there is a need for adequate political support at all levels. Ensuring greater alignment and synergy in transport initiatives taken at the local, regional, country and global level would also play a key role.

Some of the key transport focus areas that emerged from the conference discussions include the following:

  • Access to all: Transportation sector is undergoing a lot of technological innovation and transformation on one hand, however, there is a still a large section of the population which does not have access to transport. Discussions clearly brought forward a need to do a lot more to ensure provision of equal access of sustainable mobility options to all irrespective of age, gender, or otherwise.
  • Reduction in emissions from transport: Emissions from the transport sector are rising and will continue to rise in the business as usual scenario. While there is a need to promote more sustainable modes of transport (like walking and cycling), it is also important to come up with stricter regulations to regulate the large numbers of autonomous vehicles circulating on roads, especially in developing countries.
  • Safe systems approach: Road safety also emerged as a major area of concern. With statistics indicating more than 1.25 million deaths on road every year due to road accidents, there was consensus about adopting a ‘safe systems’ approach for safer cities rather than playing victim to the increasing accident rates. Most of these accidents/fatalities can be avoided or prevented by safer design and educating people on road safety.

In conclusion, it is certain that the transport sector will continue to undergo transformation in the coming years. While cities plan ahead to adapt to these new technological interventions, policy makers and planners should not forget the basic city and transport planning knowledge and aim to provide accessible and affordable transport solutions to all.

Manuel Santana Palacios, PhD student, University of California, Berkeley, Department of City & Regional Planning

This year’s Transforming Transportation conference, titled “Beyond Commitments: Sustainable Mobility for All,” emphasized on changing the paradigm in transport planning. Probably the main message was that well-planned transport projects and policies have an immense potential to reduce urban inequalities by providing better job accessibility for the poor and women; however, this potential has not reached its peak. I shared the belief that there is an enormous room for improvement in this regard, especially in cities in the Global South. This was highlighted by the excellent work on current gender and social equity levels in places like Mexico City, Lima, Peru, and Cali, Colombia, presented by experts from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. I was also impressed by the continued emphasis on the relevance of shifting from top-down approaches in transport to human-centered ones, stated by decision makers participating in the event. The notion of more inclusive planning processes resonates with the idea of planning cities for people and not for just fast mobility by private automobile – one of the main principles of sustainable transport. Despite the potential that transport has to reduce inequality, cities require more than infrastructure, digital technologies, and progressive policies; planners and decision makers need to better understand who are benefiting from sustainable transport interventions and being open to initiatives such as integrating bus rapid transit with pre-existing public transport solutions, including informal transport.

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