Transforming Transportation 2020 Day 1: Connecting People for Sustainable Growth

Transforming Transportation 2020 kicked off today at the World Bank in Washington, DC. A wide range of policymakers, business leaders, development practitioners, experts and advocates raised the challenges faced by countries worldwide in providing sustainable mobility for all.

Panels covered gender issues, Africa’s unique development challenges, the role of the private sector, and the global road safety crisis. WRI also launched a new partnership to highlight urban leadership on road safety in Latin America, the Vision Zero Challenge.

Axel van Trotsenburg, managing director of operations at the World Bank Group noted that current transport challenges are different from those of the past.

“We will need to think differently about this project,” van Trotsenburg said. “It will need to meet the test of climate change… Second, it needs to meet the needs of inclusivity, of the needs of people shut out of the transport system… We are also challenged by increasing fragility, particularly in Africa.”

Africa is rising, but of course there are challenges, said Amani Abou-Zeid, commissioner for infrastructure and energy with the African Union Commission.

Much of the existing transport infrastructure in Africa was not designed with inclusivity in mind but colonization, said Abou-Zeid. Road, rail and maritime connections often go from mines and other extractable resources to ports and other ways out of a country; they do not link the country with itself or regionally.

“You want to move goods and people. How are you going to do that without provision of cross-continental infrastructure and especially transport?” Abou-Zeid said. The gaps and inefficiencies hamper competitiveness and more broad-based development.

David Levinson, professor at the University of Sydney, outlined a new way of measuring the effectiveness of transport: accessibility. He defined it as the sum of opportunities that can be reached within a given time threshold.

Access explains property values and commuter mode choice; it’s also the core variable that links transport and land use, Levinson said. Among other things, accessibility is valuable as a measure to incentivize better service for many different kinds of users.

Big infrastructure projects are attractive to development banks  because there is tremendous pressure to get more transport projects off the ground. There’s a $500 billion funding gap in infrastructure every year, said Stephanie von Friedeburg, chief operating officer of the International Finance Corporation, the largest bank focused on working with the private sector in developing countries.

Von Friedeburg said that balancing this three-part mix of risk is key to successful financing. Private financing has certain requirements, including some level of profitability; government financing, from public funds, often fills the gaps; and “blended” financing pulls from both sources.

The World Health Organization’s Nhan Tran, coordinator for unintentional injury prevention, said he prefers the term “public-private cooperation” to public-private partnership. Cooperation encompasses more activity and encourages informal alignment among stakeholders, rather than a formal exchange of goods, which he says is so important when tackling large challenges like sustainable and safe mobility.

The World Bank’s Marcela Silva announced a new tool from the Sustainable Mobility for All team designed to help leaders evaluate investment success by other measures besides  funds spent.  Boitumelo Mosako, chief financial officer of the Development Bank of Southern Africa, said South Africa would be testing the tool for new investments with the bank in the future.

The SuM4All online tool includes a scorecard of 50 indicators that can help cities and countries understand the impact of mobility changes in more dimensions. Measures include cost efficiencies and also environmental and social costs like greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and road traffic deaths and injuries.

The hidden cost of road traffic deaths and injuries was highlighted by several speakers, who delivered the message that these deaths — more than 1.35 million every year — are preventable. 

Road safety advocate Zoleka Mandela, the granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, shared the personal cost of a road traffic death in her family.

Change starts with acknowledgment that this extraordinary cost in human lives is something policymakers can effect. Mandela announced the launch of a new initiative by WRI and other partners to encourage more political leadership: the Vision Zero Challenge.

The Vision Zero Challenge brings expertise from a consortium of the world’s leading road safety experts to help cities in Latin America and the Caribbean move from road safety commitments to road safety action. The initiative offers state-of-the-art training and resources to cities to help leaders understand what they can do, and it will highlight city leadership later this year.

India, one of the most dangerous countries in the world to drive, has made significant efforts to improve road safety in recent years through policy. In 2019, the government passed a comprehensive national motor vehicles bill that touches on everything from road design and vehicle manufacturing standards to insurance and traffic fines. The law also established a new data collection system to better understand the problem, said Leena Nandan, special secretary with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

As the world digitizes, data — collecting it, analyzing, utilizing it — is key to the future of sustainable mobility. Harriet Tregoning, director of NUMO, the New Urban Mobility alliance, housed at WRI, said the mobility revolution underway today is different than transport revolutions of the past. Led by autonomous cars, micro-mobility like scooters, and shared vehicles, it’s driven almost entirely by the private sector. Companies are sometimes launching these “new mobility” services without governments even knowing it.

“We should be conscious of how dazzling technology can be,” Tregoning said. “We need to decide first what kind of society we want, what kind of city we want, and articulate it so that we make sure that technology serves the society and city.”

NUMO is supporting the city of Pittsburgh in an innovative effort to ask new mobility companies to respond to specific public needs. The city put out a request for proposals for a consortium of providers to reduce private car use and improve transit ridership, particularly among lower-income groups. A collection of companies, including Ford Mobility, Masabi, Spin, Swiftmile, Transit, Waze Carpool, and Zipcar, was chosen as the winners and the project will unfold this year.

Seleta Reynolds, the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, said that cities have a responsibility to improve equity in every new transport project.

Watch this space for updates tomorrow as we dive more into decarbonization, micromobility, and the social impacts of transport. And join the conversation on Twitter with #TTDC20

Schuyler Null is Communications Manager for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Talia Rubnitz is a Communications Specialist at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Hillary Smith is a Communications Assistant for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

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