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The blog of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities on urban mobility, development and efficiency
Updated: 14 min 34 sec ago

Q&A with Davis Wang: Beyond Bicycles, Financial Sustainability, and Why Mobike Is a Public Transport Company

Tue, 2018-02-20 14:13

Mobike went from one bike to 8 million bikes in three years. Today, the company aims to be sustainable and integrated with public transit. Photo by Kentaro IEMOTO/Flickr

WRI Ross Center sat down with Mobike CEO Davis Wang at Transforming Transportation 2018 to talk about Mobike’s explosive global growth, next steps for more integrated urban mobility, and the company’s place in the crowded and growing global transport sector.

“There are opportunists in the industry that are trying to make quick money and don’t care about sustainability – they don’t have any social responsibility,” he says. “The difference between Mobike and other companies is that we realized that Mobike belongs, to some extent, to the public transportation sphere.”

What are the main mobility challenges that Mobike is trying to address?

Davis Wang: Twenty years ago, China was called “the kingdom of bicycles.” There were roughly half a billion bicycles on the roads. Since then, we successfully trained 300 million people to drive a car, but the problem is that there is not enough space.

Three years ago, we started Mobike because we wanted to do something good for cities and for transportation. Our mission was to persuade people to use bicycles again after 20 years of declining popularity. We thought shared bicycles could be the solution to the problem. One bicycle can be used by many people, and with the help of technology, we are trying to persuade people to use shared bikes.

We put our first bike on the streets in September 2015. We went from 1 bike to 8 million bikes, from one city – Shanghai – to over 200 cities in 15 different countries. We have a strong belief that, by scaling up intelligent dockless bikeshare we can make cities a better place to live.

Do you see any similarities or differences in terms of challenges and solutions in other countries you have expanded to?

Wang:  Traffic jams and air pollution are among the many challenges of urban mobility shared by modern cities both in and outside China, which is the reason why we wanted to expand globally. The differences we see are in user behaviors and local policies. The industry developed rapidly in China before any policies existed, leading to oversupply in some Chinese cities – that’s why we saw those piles of bikes that made headlines. And from these mistakes we have learned to work with policymakers. In every new city, we work closely with the local governments on a customized rollout plan, providing an outstanding experience that benefits both our riders and the municipality itself.

Why has Mobike been so successful in shifting user behavior and grown so quickly?

Wang: Bike sharing is not a new thing. Station-based bike sharing has been around since the 1960s. What allowed Mobike to expand so quickly was the convenience. It’s a lot like landline phone booths: they were convenient, but not that convenient. Mobike is like the advent of mobile phones: when you need to make a call you just do it from anywhere you are without having to go to a phone booth.

The price we are offering is also super affordable, both in China and abroad. When you are deciding whether to buy a bike or not – to spend $300+ or not, plus the cost of regular maintenance – you also have to think about where to park it, where to store it in your home, and you have to worry about possible theft.

Mobike is more affordable and more convenient. I think this is how we managed to persuade more than 200 million people to use Mobike in just over two years.

What important considerations do policymakers need to consider in designing cities for people, not cars?

Wang: The transportation industry is generally quite traditional. Taxis have been around for 100 years, but what happened in the last couple of years has brought disruption to the industry.

Think about how Uber is trying to change taxis with technology and data. Before, you wouldn’t have ever known the performance of a driver. Now, everything can be quantified. The impact Mobike has had on traditional bike sharing is similar. We are generating a lot of data – almost 30 terabytes a day. We can share that data with city governments and policymakers to contribute to the optimization of transport planning.

Thirty years ago, every city in China had bike lanes, but after the mass deployment of cars, they were swallowed up. Right now, mayors are trying to rebuild bike lanes, but on which roads? Mobike provides over 30 million rides each day, and from the data we can learn which roads are being used the most, speed of travel, etc. We can share all this data with policymakers and help them make better decisions about cycling infrastructure and traffic management.

When we advise cities on bike sharing, the biggest concerns are often about financial sustainability. Do you have any advice on how to develop successful business models that integrate with city government objectives?

Wang: One key benefit for cities is that our model requires no public funding. When we bring Mobike to a new city, we develop a very detailed launch plan that includes budgets and a payback period. We share this plan with policymakers so they can see our finances are solid.

We can improve systemic efficiency, thanks to technology and the design of the bikes. Let’s compare two cities: in New York, they have 7,000 bikes but 120 employees, so every person is responsible for 50 bikes. In Shanghai, one Mobike employee oversees 3,000 bikes. We also designed the wheels of our bikes with 5 spokes, not the typical 32, which are more fragile. We deployed more than 2 million five-spoke bikes, and less than 10 wheels have broken in the past year. With these specially designed bikes, we can significantly decrease management costs. We are not like Gucci; we are like Walmart. We try to keep a super low profit margin so more people can use our product.

Bicycles are just the beginning for us. We see potential to use our expertise in applied mobile networks to connect buses, electric vehicles, rental cars and more to build high-efficiency, technology-driven public transportation. To fulfill this goal, we are developing a pilot program in a Chinese city where everything is connected and we can work together on how to optimize public transportation, where the government can even purchase services from us, and we provide access to data for planning.

Mobike recently endorsed the Shared Mobility Principles. Can you tell us why Mobike signed on?

Wang: There are opportunists in the industry that are trying to make quick money and don’t care about sustainability – they don’t have any social responsibility. The difference between Mobike and other companies is that we realized that Mobike belongs, to some extent, to the public transportation sphere. Once you belong to that sphere you have to uphold your responsibilities. That’s why we were happy to join this initiative, together with other companies in the field, to contribute to, and to achieve, sustainability in public transportation.

3 Things Cities Can Learn from Cape Town’s Impending “Day Zero” Water Shut-Off

Fri, 2018-02-16 14:13

Theewaterskloof Dam, Cape Town’s main reservoir, is almost empty. Photo by Flickr

Cape Town is running out of water. After three years of intense drought, South Africa’s second-largest city is just a few months away from “Day Zero,” the day when the city government will shut off water taps for most homes and businesses.

The impacts of such a shutdown will be devastating. Citizens will have to wait in long lines at state-managed distribution points to receive a mere 25 liters of water per day, less than half the water needed for one average shower. Experts are already warning of public health concerns like poor sanitation leading to faster spreading of dangerous diseases, especially for the city’s poorest residents, and forecasting that pipes may crack from dry conditions, endangering future water distribution if and when the drought ends. The Western Cape Premier has warned that “normal policing will be entirely inadequate” to manage the chaos that could ensue.

Although this instance is one of the most extreme, Cape Town is not the only city to suffer from intense water scarcity in recent years. From São Paulo to Los Angeles, cities around the world have made headlines due to severe droughts intensified by climate change and exacerbated by poor water management.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are three steps cities around the world should take to boost water security and resilience:

Understand Risks

Many cities are experiencing growing water risks. Climate change is shifting cloud patterns and the hydrologic cycle in certain regions, making rainfall more variable and droughts more common and intense. At the same time, the world’s cities are growing at a rate of 3 million people per week, increasing competition over scarce resources.

Each city has unique risks it must be aware of. For example, Cape Town has medium-to-high inter-annual variability, meaning precipitation varies greatly from year to year. Although Cape Town has suffered droughts in the past, wet years usually follow, refilling reservoirs that supply the city with almost all of its water. But during the current record drought, reservoir levels have fallen to 25 percent.

In addition, Cape Town has extremely high water stress, which means that the water demands of its population – which has doubled in the past 18 years – are competing for the available water supply with other users. While city officials were aware of these risks and took steps to mitigate them, they did not anticipate rainfall patterns departing so significantly from the norm to culminate in record drought.

Amidst rapidly changing landscapes, cities like Cape Town must carefully measure and forecast the impacts of climate change, population growth and competing demands on their water systems.  Tools like Aqueduct and The Nature Conservancy’s Urban Water Blueprint can help map the bigger picture, but risks will differ by watershed. Each city must ultimately assess its unique water risks and plan accordingly.

Manage Your Water Budget

Cities have finite water resources, whether sourced from nearby watersheds, dams or pumped directly from underground. Where the water originates from differs by location – oftentimes a diverse set of users, such as power plants, farms and homes, compete for this same water. It’s a city’s job to manage its own water budget in the context of this broader landscape, understanding sources and uses, and allocating resources within these realities.

Water management becomes even more difficult in times of drought. For example, as the Western Cape’s reservoirs began to dry in 2015 and 2016, the national government allocated 40 percent of the province’s water to agriculture, leaving 60 percent to Cape Town. This controversial decision caused a great deal of debate in local politics, and is now seen as one of many culprits for the current crisis. This situation is common for many cities, but leaves them fighting with other sectors when water supplies decline.

One solution is for city planners and water utilities to undertake proactive, integrated urban water management strategies that consider drinking water, wastewater and urban drainage (stormwater) more comprehensively, helping cities to build greater resilience and efficiency. This method also takes a holistic view of water sources and uses across a city, recognizing that the actions of every stakeholder impacts the others. Amid the nearly six-year California drought, the city of Los Angeles began developing a One Water plan to better manage limited water resources, stave off the impacts of climate change, and slash the city’s purchases of imported water by 50 percent.

Invest in Resilience

To withstand a changing climate and growing populations, cities must be resilient to the unexpected. Identifying opportunities for rainwater harvesting, dams and underground storage, treating and reusing greywater and wastewater, and investing in water efficiency is key to boosting resilience to drought and increased water competition.

Cities should also look beyond their boundaries and invest in “natural infrastructure” for protection. Green spaces such as forests and wetlands can act as a sponge by shielding cities from floods and storms and regulating flow during dry seasons. Research also shows that pairing natural infrastructure with traditional “grey” infrastructure like wastewater treatment plants can help cities create jobs, buffer against the impacts of climate change and save money on water treatment.

Inadequate built and natural infrastructure compounded the effects of São Paulo’s 2014-2017 drought. The city lost more than 30 percent of treated water through theft and leaky pipes. Deforestation of the Amazon disrupted the “rivers of the sky” that regulate rainfall across Brazil, and loss of nearby Atlas forests also destroyed local water systems. São Paulo, Cape Town and other cities should consider natural infrastructure as one of many solutions for resilience to future water shocks.

A Call to Action for Cities

The situation in Cape Town is unique in many ways, but there are common threads that tie it to São Paulo, Los Angeles, and cities around the world facing growing water risks. In the countdown to Day Zero, the South African national government and the City of Cape Town are working hard to help residents avoid the drought’s worst effects. But other cities should also use this moment as a warning – without better water risk measurement, management and resilience, the next Day Zero could be coming to your corner of the world.

Betsy Otto is the Director of WRI’s Global Water Program.

Leah Schleifer is the Communications Specialist for WRI’s Water Program.

This blog was originally published on WRI’s Insights.

As Cities Grapple With Mobility Revolution, 10 Principles Emerge to Guide Them

Thu, 2018-02-15 01:08

Bike sharing is part of the paradigm shift in urban mobility. Photo by NYC DOT/ Flickr

Mobility is undergoing a huge shift – from the emergence of shared cars and bicycles to the impending self-driving cars – and we’re just starting to understand the full effect on cities. The revolution has implications for equity, accessibility and sustainability, and has caught many cities unawares, leading to court battlesunexpected impacts on congestion and lots of uncertainty.

A consortium of leading city and transport organizations, including WRI, developed the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities to help cities make sense of these changes. Now, with 15 of the world’s leading transport and technology companies signing on, innovative players from the private sector have sent a powerful message of support around a common vision of the future for cities, and how we can get there.

By supporting the Principles, these companies, which include Didi, Lyft and Uber, as well as bike-sharing giants Ofo and Mobike, are throwing their heft behind a set of basic ideas about how mobility should work in cities.

10 Principles:
  1. We plan our cities and mobility together
  2. We prioritize people over vehicles.
  3. We support the shared and efficient use of vehicles, lanes, curbs, and land.
  4. We engage with stakeholders
  5. We promote equity.
  6. We lead the transition towards a zero-emission future and renewable energy.
  7. We support fair user fees across all modes.
  8. We aim for public benefits via open data.
  9. We work towards integration and seamless connectivity.
  10. We support that autonomous vehicles (AVs) in dense urban areas should be operated only in shared fleets.

There are 10 principles (listed above), but let me highlight three of them, and elaborate on the ways they can help us solve urban mobility:

Public Benefits from Open Data

New mobility companies are generating stupendous amounts of data – everything from congestion and speeds in every segment of the city roads 24/7, to origins and destinations of trips, to traffic safety hotspots based on vehicle braking patterns. The standardization of open data allows cities a way to responsibly tap into these data streams to inform traffic management and transport planning. While this has become a common talking point, we haven’t yet seen much movement. Companies endorsing this principle (number eight in the list of 10) is a big deal.

When cities have access to anonymized transport data, they are able to make better decisions for public transport services; understand and respond to traffic speeds, lane and curb use; plan transport infrastructure with more accuracy; and respond to traffic accidents and other unexpected events, like disasters, much faster and more effectively.

Open data also enables entrepreneurs to innovate and compete – all way-finding apps rely on open data, for example – as well as make it easier for travelers to plan across multiple modes of transport.

Fair User Fees

Principle #7 encourages fair user fees across all modes of transport, a step that would level the playing field and let the market do its work.

Buses and rideshares are both part of the solution. Photo by Via Tsuji/ Flickr

Streets in cities are scarce and valuable resources, yet right now we enable use of that space today with hidden incentives, subsidies and priorities, often focused on the least efficient mode of travel, the individually used private automobile. On-street parking, the most convenient and valuable space to park, is paradoxically cheaper than off-street garage parking. In peak periods, buses carrying 60 passengers are caught up in streets congested by single-occupancy-vehicles. Fuel taxes in many countries do not cover the cost of building and maintaining road infrastructure. Electric vehicles don’t pay fuel taxes. All internal combustion engine vehicles get a free pass on the real costs of their emissions and traffic incidents on the health of city residents and the cleanliness of the buildings and air. Meanwhile, pedestrians and bicycles, which are both clean and space-efficient, must vie for space.

Fairer user fees can help iron these inconsistencies out. The cities, private sector companies, NGOs and advisors that endorse these principles are stating their belief that user fees should include the price of externalities such as congestion, pollution and traffic safety risks. Revenues from pricing externalities can then be redistributed to the society through better and more affordable public transport services and safer walking and bicycling infrastructure, for example.

Shared Autonomous Vehicles in Dense Areas

Autonomous vehicles are the next major disruptive technology on the horizon. Principle #10 encourages shared rather than individual ownership of autonomous vehicles in dense urban areas.

The decision to move a car today is made primarily based on its marginal costs – how much more is it going to cost me to take this trip? People usually think in terms of fuel, tolls and parking costs and ignore the single-largest marginal expense: your personal time (or that of a paid driver).

Freed of the driver, the marginal cost of moving a car will be insignificant. Researchers at UC Davis calculate this cost at 10 cents per kilometer (15 cents/mile). Rather than pay for parking, it will be cheaper to keep the vehicle flowing in traffic or return home to park for free. There’s a possible downside: Autonomous cars could become everyone’s personal courier for pickup and drop-off of any item, leading to more congestion and pollution, not less. Shared vehicles eliminate that danger.

Requiring that AVs be shared in dense metro areas also flows directly from earlier Principles. If we support Principle #5 (equity), shared means that the poor, too, will be able to enjoy the benefits of self-driving cars by purchasing just a seat rather than the whole vehicle. If we follow the guidance of Principle #3 (efficient use of city lanes, vehicles and curb access), these vehicles should be shared.

Shared fleets do not imply one type of vehicle. There would still be a diversity of vehicles and price/quality options, including what we call now mass transit. But sharing does maximize public safety and emissions benefits, and ensures that professionals manage maintenance and software upgrades.

Destination Disrupted

The Shared Mobility Principles were written in 2017 by a founding coalition of nine NGOs, including WRI. The endorsement of these 15 companies, which account for 77 million passenger trips a day, signals that businesses are also buying in to the idea that sustainability is necessary for the health of cities. Most importantly, we need these companies to put their shoulders to the wheel. Each in their own way have changed mobility. Now we need their expertise in technology and innovation to improve it.

Robin Chase is co-founder of Zipcar and a WRI Board member.

This blog was originally published on WRI’s Insights.

How 3 Cities Are Navigating the Transition to Electric Buses

Tue, 2018-02-13 14:13

As today’s urban areas house more than half the world’s population and produce more than 80 percent of global economic activity, cities are uniquely positioned to deliver sustainable solutions. However, poor local air quality and issues related to global climate change are negatively impacting the lives of millions. Promising solutions exist – cities are increasingly turning to low- and zero-emission buses to decrease environmental impacts while creating economic, environmental and health benefits, for example. Transitioning bus fleets to clean technologies can also improve quality of service and reduce costs in the long run. So why aren’t all cities closing the curtain on diesel-fueled fleets and transitioning to electric?

To better understand this question and evaluate the barriers that cities face when taking on electric buses, the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative interviewed three experts in three different cities going through the process, each with the objective of improving quality of life for residents and their urban environment.

Santiago, Chile

In Santiago de Chile, Carlos Melo, deputy secretary for transport for the government of Chile, explains how sub-par bus service, high levels of pollution and Chile’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030 pushed the city to invest in electric buses. The city views electric buses as an opportunity to deliver on its climate targets and decrease air pollution, achieving multiple goals at once.

“The most important challenge is the lack of trust that operators have in this new technology,” says Melo. Building confidence in these new technologies, by creating incentives allowing operators to embrace them, is a challenge that cities all around the world are facing.

Bangalore, India

The number of motor vehicles in Bangalore is increasing dramatically, contributing to congestion and air pollution in this city of more than 10 million people. Poor air quality is a chief concern for Ekroop Caur, finance secretary for the state of Karnataka. Caur emphasizes the need to jump right into electric technologies, instead of “moving from one fuel to another, or from one technology to a slightly better one.” These technologies are the “future of the entire mobility sector.”

To lessen the financial burden for Bangalore, the city planned to use a hiring model rather than purchase buses outright, which lowers the total cost of ownership.

London, United Kingdom

Each year, nearly 10,000 people die from the long-term effects of air pollution in London. Richard Harrington, engineering director at GoAhead London, highlights the critical need to cut emissions in the city. In 2019, London will implement an ultra-low-emission zone within which most vehicles will need to meet strict exhaust emission standards or pay a daily fee. Additionally, there will be 12 city corridors in which vehicles are required to meet the European Union’s Euro 6 emission standards.

“Any city in the world can transition to electric bus technologies,” says Harrington, pointing to planning, preparation and a high level of coordination between city officials, manufacturers and power suppliers as important components for success.

While striving toward the same goal, each city faces distinct barriers. Many sustainable development projects, from electric buses and bike sharing to more energy efficient buildings, stall due to lack of funding, limited internal expertise, or challenges in coordinating across different public and private sector agencies. The Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative is helping cities address these challenges by bridging ideas and implementation through the development of innovative business models and identifying the ingredients of successful sustainable urban projects around the world.

The Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative (FSCI), funded by the Citi Foundation, is a partnership between WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group that helps cities accelerate and scale-up investments in sustainable urban solutions through the development of innovative business models.

This video was launched at World Urban Forum 9 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Christopher Moon-Miklaucic is a Research Assistant with Urban Innovation and Finance at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Talia Rubnitz is Communications Assistant with WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Better Coordination, Engagement Needed to “Bend the Curve” for Cities, Say Experts at World Urban Forum

Mon, 2018-02-12 15:09

WRI Ross Center Global Director Ani Dasgupta at the World Urban Forum, February 11, 2018. Photo Credit: Valeria Gelman/WRI

Cities are essential to achieve not only the New Urban Agenda, an unprecedented statement of intent by 167 countries more than a year ago in Quito, but the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement, said a series of urban policymakers, experts and activists in Kuala Lumpur on February 11. While this is perhaps not a surprising conclusion from a room full of urbanists, the fact that most of the world’s economic activity and people do now reside in cities makes them an indispensable element to sustainable development.

As thousands of people flocked to Malaysia’s capital for the 9th World Urban Forum, WRI Ross Center, the Coalition for Urban Transitions, and C40 Cities held a high-level event, “Thriving Cities, Prosperous Countries: From Agenda to Implementation,” that focused on three core areas of change: housing, infrastructure and financing.

“Cities are not on track,” said WRI Ross Center Global Director Ani Dasgupta, setting the stage for the afternoon. We need to “bend the curve,” he said, towards better urban land use, lower carbon emissions and fewer people living in poor quality housing.

.@AniDasguptaWRI: You need to have a real commitment to ambition, sometimes beyond your current means, to bend the curve for cities #wuf9 #citiesforall

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) February 11, 2018

What’s clear is that improvements will require much better coordination between city leaders and their counterparts at the national and regional level. Much of the action needed to fulfill global commitments to end poverty, reduce inequality and tackle climate change are the responsibility of local authorities. But there is also strong evidence that local governments cannot succeed without a proper enabling environment. Central governments largely determine the extent to which power and resources are devolved, and national policies and regulations play a major role in shaping urban form and function.


WRI’s Robin King summarized three major challenges behind the crisis in urban to housing today: the growth of under-served, disconnected, sub-standard homes; an overemphasis on ownership; and land policies that push the poor to the periphery of cities. These housing and land use woes are closely connected to transport problems.

“At the strategic planning level, the housing-transport connection is not established,” said LSE Cities Executive Director Philipp Rode. He spoke about recent research from the Coalition for Urban Transitions that shows the missing link between housing, transport and land use across case studies in 10 countries, from Nigeria to the United States.

“The vibrant #cities we really want to see in the world will be built by co-creation and participation with locals, not through policies which decide how and where people get to live,” says @RKinBangalore #citiesforall #WUF9

— Urban Transitions (@NCEcities) February 11, 2018

Demonstrating national leadership in India, Minister Hardeep Singh Puri unveiled a new initiative from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs that aims to ensure every citizen has a home by 2022, the country’s 75th anniversary of independence. Puri said the Global Housing Technology Challenge aims to build or incentivize the construction of 12 million new homes.

“This program requires resources that, with humility, I can say, are way beyond our capabilities,” Puri said, but the challenge is meant to help draw resources and attention to the issue. “Housing is a fundamental need that must be satisfied,” he said, noting that to keep pace with rapid growth, India requires 700-900 million square meters of new commercial and residential construction every year, equivalent to the area of Chicago.


The infrastructure gap for cities everywhere is enormous. Many of the most rapidly growing cities today have relatively few resources per capita compared to their counterparts in past waves of urbanization, making it difficult to keep pace with growth, noted Victoria Beard, a fellow at WRI Ross Center and lead for “World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City.”

As a result, too many people face a tradeoff between affordable housing, on the edges of urban areas and access to jobs in central areas, said Sameh Naguib Wahba, global director for urban and territorial development at the World Bank. He urged a focus on land ownership policies, noting that tension around informal settlements is a major challenge for cities of the global south.

New technologies may help raise funds to expand infrastructure. A recent global survey found that new mobility services headlined by private companies like Uber and Lyft can also make public transport more affordable, accessible and sustainable, said WRI’s Diego Canales. Successful land value capture mechanisms like “CEPACs” in São Paulo and “betterment levies” in Colombia can help property owners and governments recoup funds to further invest in infrastructure. When this happens, “children in cities are more likely to be educated, which allows them to make more money, increasing wellbeing and GDP,” said Diego Fernandez, secretary of social and urban integration for Buenos Aires.


Despite some innovative examples, the global funding gap for infrastructure is projected to be a staggering $49 trillion worldwide by 2030 without major changes, said Dan Dowling, director of cities and urbanization at PwC.

This means national support for urban infrastructure is required – and the rationale for investing is quite clear, said Former Vice Minister of the South Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Kyung-Hwan Kim. Eighty percent of GDP worldwide comes from urban areas, he said. “It’s our job to convince national governments that investing in cities is worth it for the entire country.”

“Cities make an enormous contribution to countries: 80% of GDP worldwide comes from cities,” says former @Korea_land Vice Minister Kyung-Hwan Kim. “It’s our job to convince national governments that investing in #cities is worth it for the entire country.” #WUF9 #cities4all

— Urban Transitions (@NCEcities) February 11, 2018

Andrea Fernandez, C40’s director of governance and partnerships, talked about common barriers to raising money for cities. Many large cities simply don’t have the capacity or well-documented financial history to meet the requirements of big investors, she said. Mechanisms like C40’s Cities Finance Facility are working to turn great visions into more finance-ready projects and provide technical assistance and capacity building.

UK Department for Internal Development Cities Advisor Rubbina Karruna added that “one thing that [development banks] and donors can do is emphasize to national governments the importance of investing in sustainable urban infrastructure for the success of their cities and countries.”

Public-private partnerships can help in some circumstances, but Victoria Beard warned against relying too much on the panacea of private investment. In forthcoming research on water and sanitation provision, she noted they have found the private sector has played very little role to date.

From What to Who?

A thread that emerged throughout the day was an increasing focus not only on what needs to happen and how but who needs to be involved.

“Solutions come from convening the right people in the right room,” said Jesper Nygård, CEO of Realdania. “No one can do it alone.”

“I’ve been a part of every World Urban Forum,” said Rose Molokoane, deputy president of SDI, a worldwide organization that helps the urban poor mobilize with a stronger voice, “and governments are always talking about needing to work together better.” In a challenge to the audience, Molokoane said she wants to see more weight behind governments’ professed interest in more collaborative and inclusive policymaking. “We don’t know who they’re talking to because they’re not talking to us.”

.@sdinet‘s Rose Molokoane: They talk about “more inclusive cities” — we don’t know who they’re talking about because they’re not talking to us #citiesforall #wuf9

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) February 11, 2018

We need to have more conversations about how get from technocratic solutions to political effect, Philipp Rode said, especially if we acknowledge that the change needed is dramatic.

Indeed, WRI’s Jessica Seddon, closing out the session, announced that applications are open for the first WRI Ross Prize for Sustainable for Cities, an award meant to highlight transformative urban projects. Criteria include inclusive project planning and benefits, and upending entrenched ways of doing things.

National and local policymaking need better coordination, but also better alignment with the needs of residents – a proposition tested in the World Resource Report through a focus on equity as a means to a better city for all.

“The vibrant cities we really want to see in the world will be built by co-creation and participation with locals,” said Robin King, “not through policies that decide how and where people get to live.”

Experts from WRI Ross Center and the Coalition for Urban Transitions are engaging throughout the 9th World Urban Forum. For more, follow @WRIRossCities and @NCEcities.

Emily Kaldjian is the Communications Manager for the Coalition for Urban Transitions.

Schuyler Null is a Communications Associate for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. 

Dockless Bike-Sharing Is Reshaping Cities – But We’re Not Sure How Yet

Thu, 2018-02-08 14:13

Dockless bike-share systems are emerging in cities around the world. But what will be their future impact?
Photo by Luca Lo Re/ WRI

Bike sharing systems in busy urban cores are not new. The first major breakthrough started 20 years ago with the so-called “third generation” of bike sharing systems introducing the use of smart cards to unlock and rent bikes. Today, bike sharing is experiencing another breakthrough in the form of dockless systems, where riders can pick up and drop off bikes nearly wherever they’d like using only their smartphones.

In just the last three years, dockless bike sharing has expanded from small, campus-scale systems in China to more than 17 million bikes worldwide. In Beijing alone, Mobike CEO Davis Wang estimates 4 million people use the company’s ubiquitous orange bikes daily. The main players, the Chinese companies ofo and Mobike, offer services in more than 200 cities.

Dockless bike sharing is clearly becoming a global phenomenon. But what are its long-term implications for cities? Can dockless systems help increase cycling demand and reduce congestion and pollution? Or will its downsides outweigh any gains for urban users? A closer look at these systems presents a mixed picture of what to expect.

Why It’s So Popular

Dockless bike-sharing systems are expanding rapidly because they present many advantages to individual users. First, the registration process is relatively easy and quick, and once in the system, users can unlock bikes with a tap of their smartphones. They are also more flexible compared to station-based systems with a greater range of action, since their use is not limited to areas with docks, and there are no problems finding a docking spot at the end of a journey. Finally, user fees for single trips are generally cheaper than station-based systems.

From a macro perspective, dockless systems are attractive for their potential to increase cycling demand in cities, which in turn can reduce mortality risks, improve health, reduce local air pollution, reduce noise and increase local business revenue.

Dockless systems can also bring bike sharing to places where building new stations might be difficult, like historic zones. Moreover, their implementation requires less capital  investment since they do not need new physical docking infrastructure. The main players in the market are backed by private venture capital, which makes dockless implementation quicker and cost-free for the city (at least direct costs), with the possibility for easy pilot projects.

Finally, dockless systems produce a tremendous amount of data on people’s travel patterns, which could theoretically be used to aid city planning and policymaking.

Why It’s Not Perfect

The rapid development of dockless systems has not come without thorns, however. Without designated docking stations, users can leave bikes anywhere, which can generate problems with the distribution of vehicles and the use of public space.

Generally, dockless private providers do not redistribute bikes within their area of operation, relying on users to move bikes around themselves. As a result, in some cities with many providers and users we’ve seen clogged sidewalks, piles of broken bicycles and even bikes parked along highways. Vandalism, improper use (e.g., parking bikes behind private fences where others can’t access), dumping and theft are other problems some cities have experienced.

Moreover, despite the low price of shorter trips, dockless systems may not be as well suited for daily commuters as station-based systems, where generally the more the user rides, the cheaper the cost. Furthermore, the smaller user fees combined with exposure to vandalism and theft leave ample room for questioning the long-term financial sustainability of dockless providers. At the end of 2017, three dockless companies went bankrupt, and some see the market as a bubble ready to burst.

Since providers generally do not have service contracts with cities, their abrupt demise or changing financial calculus could lead to service disruption for users. More importantly, to date, there has been little data sharing between dockless providers and municipal governments, leaving the potential to inform urban planning decisions largely unrealized.

The boom of dockless systems is also changing the bicycle supply chain industry. Some manufacturers in China have already switched to producing shared rather than private-use bicycles, driving up the price of components with potentially profound implications for the bike industry and bike usage worldwide.

Finally, the environmental impact of the mass manufacturing of so many bicycles with an average life span of two to four years has yet to be evaluated, and it’s unclear whether they can or will be recycled at the end of their lifetimes.

What’s Next

Possible solutions to some of these challenges are nonetheless on the horizon. From data sharing to overcrowding, better collaboration between dockless providers and local governments could solve many of the problems integrating this new mobility option into urban transit networks.

Some cities that want to have more control over dockless schemes, like Seattle, San Francisco, Paris, London, São Paulo, Florence and Milan, have already introduced new regulations to require regulated or designated parking areas, insurance for users, safety and maintenance standards, the capability to remove and redistribute the bicycles within the city, and the obligation to share specific data collected with local authorities to better inform city cycling strategies. Similar measures have been recommended by the European Cyclists’ Federation, and dockless planning guides for cities have started to emerge.

It’s too early to draw informed conclusions on the effects dockless bike sharing is having on urban mobility. These new systems have the potential to become excellent first- and last-mile connectivity solutions for cities, linking transit hubs together and extending their range to reach more residents. But we need to see steps to reduce the waste seen in some cities and closer coordination between local governments and dockless companies to develop long-lasting regulations to operate safely, sustainably and civilly.

Luca Lo Re is an Energy, Climate and Finance Associate at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. He works on the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative, an initiative of WRI Ross Center and C40 Cities, funded by the Citi Foundation, helping cities develop business models that can accelerate the implementation of sustainable urban solutions.

50 Shades of Shared: How On-demand Technology Reshaped India’s Urban Mobility Landscape

Mon, 2018-02-05 14:13

Technology has revolutionized the use of for-hire-vehicles in India. Photo by Aashim Tyagi/ WRI

India’s urban transport sector has seen tremendous change in the last 15 years. This series examines the evolution of the for-hire vehicles sector (FHVs), the regulatory response to it and its place in the mobility network of the future.

While auto-rickshaws and city-taxis have been the most common for-hire-vehicles (FHVs) in Indian cities for decades, they are also notorious for bargaining over fares, refusing rides and providing poor quality of service. Private dispatch services that emerged in the mid-2000s provided a better experience: air-conditioned, professionally chauffeured vehicles, that could be conveniently booked over telephone.

By the late 2000s, the market was shifting yet again. The arrival of improved mobile internet technology and smartphones to a market of what was then 27 million subscribers brought in phase three in the FHV evolution: on-demand or app-based, taxi-aggregator services.

On the front end, the experience for commuters was slick compared to the “old” days of calling to book a cab or hailing it off the street. Commuters could now book a taxi, and, in some cases, an auto-rickshaw, in real-time at the press of a button on their smartphones.

On the back end, these companies didn’t own any vehicles or employ any drivers, but aggregated existing taxis. With an asset-light model and billions in investment, they scaled rapidly, disrupting the traditional and dispatch markets and sparking controversial debates on the framework regulating all FHVs in India.

They also set the stage for further changes to India’s urban transport landscape.

Phase 3: On-Demand Services

Also known as ride-sourcing or ride-hailing services, on-demand taxi aggregators connect commuters to the nearest driver via an app. The app allows riders to book a ride, displays the vehicle’s estimated time of arrival, calculates a fare  based on distance, duration, and demand, and bills the rider electronically. By digitally matching supply and demand in real time, these services claim to optimize waiting time for riders and idle time for drivers.

In 2010 and 2011, homegrown companies Ola and TaxiForSure launched services for the first time in India. In 2013, San Francisco-based Uber followed. They quickly acquired customers by offering price discounts and attracted drivers through performance-based incentives.

Commuters with smartphones welcomed these services. Policymakers, on the other hand, struggled to fit these companies under existing regulatory formats, due to three core issues with the model:

  1. Aggregation, not ownership: On-demand enterprises neither own nor maintain cars and consider drivers independent contractors, not employees. Uber has argued, in both Indian and international markets, that they are a “technology intermediary,” or platform, not a taxi company, and therefore should not be governed under existing transport laws, like those that apply to taxi companies, but regulated more like online marketplaces such as Flipkart or Amazon.
  2. Permit considerations: Unlike international markets, vehicles attached to on-demand platforms are commercial vehicles, requiring permits under India’s Motor Vehicles Act. In India, a cap on such commercial permits since 1997 pushed companies to instead attach vehicles with tourist taxi permits, creating confusion.
  3. Fares: On-demand services deploy a dynamic pricing model which quickly undercut the government-regulated fares of taxis. The sudden influx of new drivers with air conditioned cars offering rides at competitive, unregulated prices, changed the dynamics of the FHV market. In cities like Mumbai, taxi and auto-rickshaw unions took to the streets asking state governments to regulate the new competitors.

The structural differences from past models created friction. Then, in 2014, the rape of a 27-year-old passenger by an Uber driver in Delhi, opened Pandora’s box. On-demand platforms became the focal point of fierce public debates and regulatory scrutiny, as the Ministry of Home Affairs advised all states to ban app-based taxis. Companies had to consider: If they did not own vehicles and employ drivers, with whom did liability lie for infractions that jeopardize passenger safety? What was their protocol for conducting driver background checks?

The need to protect passengers and create a level playing field for all FHV services led state governments to revisit the existing regulatory framework. In January 2015, Delhi modified its radio taxi licensing rules to incorporate app-based aggregators, and Kolkata’s Salt Lake City became the first jurisdiction to provide a provisional license to on-demand services. In 2016, Karnataka and Maharashtra also released draft rules to protect consumer interests and regulate surge pricing.

However, such attempts to retrofit regulations for new innovations were shortsighted. The Motor Vehicles Act, on which these state laws were based, saw public, private and commercial vehicles as separate categories, requiring different regulations. But on-demand technology blurred that divide. Such categorizations were further challenged by app-based shared services, like OlaShare and UberPool, where multiple commuters share rides by booking only a seat or two rather than the entire vehicle.

The necessity of a new statutory category led to the national Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill of 2016, which defined an aggregator as a “digital intermediary or market place for a passenger to connect with a driver for the purpose of transportation.” The Bill, anticipated to be passed by the upper house of parliament in mid-2018, will bring aggregators, radio taxis and traditional taxis under a uniform, fair and transparent regulatory framework.

Phase 4 and Beyond

Today, Ola operates in more than 100 Indian cities and Uber in 29, with nearly 850,000 drivers across both platforms. The concept of technology-supported aggregation has spread to buses and even motorbikes. But the impact of such models remains unclear. Advocates of on-demand models argue that these services turn underutilized vehicles into shared assets, increase access to transport and mitigate reliance on personal vehicles.

However, large portions of India’s urban population still lack access to this technology. Smartphone usership is increasing, but is not ubiquitous. Some studies conducted in international markets also suggest that on-demand taxis exacerbate congestion and pollution, and compete with public transit. There are also concerns about reduced wages and drivers having to work unhealthy hours to meet their targets.

It is clear that policymakers need to consider the negative externalities of on-demand services and their impact on the entire transport ecosystem to leverage the benefits of new models while carefully regulating them to meet standards. But it is also clear that these new services have opened the doors to innovation in the transport sector by introducing new players to the market and demonstrating how services can be customized to better meet people’s needs. 2016 alone has seen large capital investments in a range of companies providing carpooling, on-demand shuttle, and trip planning services.

Indeed, this drive toward more customization can be thought of as a fourth phase of FHVs. Characterized as “mobility-as-a-service,” several companies have piloted peer-to-peer services, integrated public transport, and combined mobility services that include public and private sector services. Helsinki’s Whim is the poster-child for this movement: an app that can access all modes of transport, allow the user to choose the most suitable combination of modes and pay electronically for the entire journey.

This phase is only just beginning in India and promises many changes yet to come. Despite having the second-largest market of smartphone users in the world – growing from 27 million in 2012 to 300 million today – the ecosystem for mobility-related apps is still emerging with plenty of room for innovation.

The technological capacity to develop a connected, multi-modal transit system, integrated across public, private and shared modes, with seamless payment options is near. But the realization of that vision depends on the Indian government moving beyond its strictly regulatory role and becoming an active partner to this developing mobility ecosystem – having learned the lessons of the last century of transport regulation and being ready for the next.

Ojas Shetty is a Research Consultant with the Urban Innovation team at WRI India Sustainable Cities.

Jyot Chadha is the Global Lead for New Sustainable Mobility at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. 

Improving Urban Climate Resilience in 2018 Requires More Data – and Urgency

Thu, 2018-02-01 14:13

More than 40 million people were affected by floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal in 2017, highlighting the need for improved urban resilience. Photo by Luke Appleby/ Flickr

With the new year just starting, urban decision-makers are planning their 2018 to-do lists, and resilience is the perfect place to start.

In 2017, natural disasters stole the show, flooding the headlines and trending on social media. More than 40 million people were affected by floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, leaving some of the most populous cities completely underwater. In the United States, hurricanes Harvey and Irma were responsible for upwards of $200 billion in damages to buildings, vehicles and public infrastructure, posing significant challenges to economic hubs, like Miami and Houston. In San Juan, the most populous city in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Irma left nearly 70 percent of households without power causing an extended debt and bankruptcy crisis in the city. Local authorities estimate that there was between $45 to $95 billion in damages to the power grid and other infrastructure.

In all, despite not being an El Niño year, 2017 was the second hottest year on record, trailing only 2016 as the hottest ever.

It’s a grim trend for cities. When natural disasters hit, dense areas face considerable challenges, sometimes overwhelming emergency responders. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recognized that climate change poses serious threats to urban infrastructure, the stability of resources in entire urban systems, and quality of life, with the potential to worsen inequality.

Seeing as more than 2.5 billion more people will join the world’s urban population by 2050, addressing these challenges and building the climate resilience of cities is crucial and urgent.

Setting the 2018 Agenda

2018 will feature major decision points for urban climate resilience. World Urban Forum 9 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia will bring together experts and decision makers to discuss implementing the New Urban Agenda, taking into consideration the necessity of creating urban resilience strategies to accelerate achieving Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Cities and Climate Change Science Conference in Edmonton, Canada is hosted by the IPCC and will gather international, urban and scientific organizations aiming to identify key research and knowledge gaps related to cities and climate change and catalyze a new generation of data at a local level. The conference will examine resilient urban development and transitioning to a low-carbon urban future.

COP24 in Katowice, Poland, will be the perfect opportunity to find a way to link the results of these two important events. Researchers, academics, policy and decision makers will be able to join efforts and identify ways to bridge these gaps toward achieving more sustainable and resilient cities.

Data for Resilience at COP23

Bridging knowledge gaps on adaptation in cities and informal settlements was a prominent topic of discussion at COP23. The Nairobi Work Programme, a mechanism under the convention created to support adaptation policies and practices, held its 11th Focal Point Forum, focusing on human settlements and adaptation. Experts and country representatives exchanged ideas and best practices for the world’s climate-vulnerable urban groups.

During the forum, Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, UN assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of UN-Habitat, highlighted the importance of not only increasing attention to urban climate resilience but of making high-quality data on human settlements more accessible to decision-makers. And not just additional data, but better and more useful data.

Cities need a better understanding of the type of information that’s helpful – how to use it properly, how to engage with local communities and researchers, and what tools and methods are already available. Answering these questions on big data is crucial to raise the conversation to a higher level and create a shared understanding of next steps.

“Decision-makers in cities and human settlements need this knowledge to better adapt and reduce the risks posed by the adverse effects of climate change,” says Youssef Nassef, director of adaptation at UNFCCC.

As the effects of climate change accumulate and ramp up, prioritizing resilience and adaptation in cities should be one of the most important action items for decision-makers – and a key element in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

2018 will be a crucial year in showing cities are ready for the challenge. As Marcus Mayr, associate expert of urban planning and climate change from UN-Habitat, told us: “If we get urbanization right, we will actively contribute to building climate resilience and support sustainable development for the majority of the world’s population.”

Arianna Flores Corral is a Climate Change, Education and Sustainable Development Fellow and Blog Manager for the Global Development Network in New Delhi, India.  

Pre-COP technical meeting for the 11th Focal Point Forum on Human Settlements and Adaptation. Photo by NWP/UNFCCC.

Photo Essay: A Look at How Climate Change Affects Poor Urban Communities in Surat and Semarang

Mon, 2018-01-29 14:13

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

One of the biggest challenges to climate action is not only understanding the risks of flooding, extreme heat and other challenges, but how your community might respond to these risks. What are its strengths? How might policymakers augment existing capacities and address weaknesses?

WRI’s Urban Community Resilience Assessment helps communities answer these questions. By analyzing local capabilities like social cohesion, familiarity with climate risks, early warning systems and disaster readiness, the assessment provides a snapshot of preparedness and people’s perception of risk. The assessment enables individuals to identify context-specific adaptation actions and encourage policymakers to engage communities in resilience planning.

This year, we applied the Urban Community Resilience Assessment to two Asian cities: Surat, India, and Semarang, Indonesia. As part of the process, we selected three communities in each city and conducted field visits to get a sense of the kinds of challenges they face and the ways in which community members are adapting. The full report of our findings will be released in the fall, but the sheer variety of challenges faced by different communities in each of the cities is illustrative.

Even though Surat and Semarang are both coastal cities with small rivers, the vulnerability contexts of each city, and each of the three communities, are significantly different. While Surat faces two major risks – extreme heat on one hand, and flooding during heavy monsoon days on the other – Semarang is exposed to various risks based on geography. Coastal settlements are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise, storm surges and land subsidence (sinking), whereas settlements along the inland river are at risk of flooding during heavy rain, and communities living in the hills face landslides.

Differential Risks in Surat

To capture differential risks in Surat, we selected different housing types based on people’s built environment, occupation and social capital. The first community assessed is an old slum called Morarji Vasahat, located in the southern part of the city, which has a large industrial zone.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Morarji Vasahat is in a low-lying area and is frequently at risk of waterlogging, overflowing drains and extreme floods, especially during the monsoon months. However, since it is an old slum, most households have lived together for decades resulting in strong social networks and friendships that serve as a source of strength during extreme events. Moreover, the community temple runs a trust that leads disaster management efforts by evacuating people to shelters located on higher ground and organizing emergency food and services distribution.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

In preparation for the monsoon season, households come together to clean-up their drains, repair and waterproof their roofs, and ensure that the roads leading to their homes are maintained. Most households have constructed high plinths for their homes, raising their floors one to two feet off the ground. These small changes are made to prevent rain and sewage water from entering their homes. In the summer, residents use the plinths, commonly known as otlas, as outdoor seating spaces to escape stifling internal temperatures aggravated by metal roofs.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

The second community assessed in Surat was a slum rehabilitation scheme called Kosad Awas. In 2009, 19,000 households from different parts of the city were allotted homes in this area under a massive relocation and rehabilitation project. People from different slum communities were given rooms in disparate buildings without taking into account their existing social ties. This has led to severe issues of social incoherence, increasing theft and small crimes, and making it unsafe for women and children.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

These alleyways between the backsides of buildings, where the toilets are positioned, have turned into crime hotspots. Even though the residents of Kosad Awas are not exposed to flood risk on a regular basis like in Morarji Vasahat, lack of ventilation and overcrowding in their small homes makes them vulnerable to heat during summer days. Due to an overwhelming fear of theft most residents at home during the day – mostly women and children – keep their windows closed, resulting in increased indoor temperatures. Furthermore, a general lack of trust in the community makes it difficult to respond to emergencies as residents fear each other.

The third community in Surat is a site and services scheme in Ugat, located in the west of the city. Thirteen years ago, slum residents were relocated here and given legal rights to plots of land, where many built their own homes incrementally over time. After two years, they were given a water connection outside their homes, connected to the city’s electricity grid and, to greater and lesser degrees, hooked into the sanitation system.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Several households engage in animal husbandry and rear goats, chicken and pigs. These activities, alongside already underbuilt road infrastructure, open drains, and mismanaged garbage disposal systems, have led to extremely poor health and sanitation in the slum. During the monsoons, Ugat faces frequent flooding and water logging in most parts, followed by increased health risks due to unhygienic conditions. Here, santiation is the clear challenge.

Living With Risk in Semarang

The first community assessed in Semarang was Tanjung Mas, a fishing community in the north of the city, along the coast.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

People sorting, drying, and selling fish, net menders, boat repairmen, and other evidence of the fishing industry can be spotted along the edges and crossroads of the settlement.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

The climate risks here are more immediately obvious than Surat. The ocean literally intrudes on people’s lives each day. During high tide, many homes, streets and alleys are flooded with seawater, which later recedes following the returning tide.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Due to the constant daily flooding, the soil has softened, leading to frequent instances of land subsidence. We saw several homes that had partly sunk into the ground, some only three or four feet high; others had fully subsided, leaving only eves above ground. Based on their economic capacities and risk of exposure, residents have adapted differently. Some have raised their roofs, adding additional height to save their homes (for now).

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Others have built new two-storied homes on six-foot high plinths to prevent seawater from entering and minimize the risk of subsidence.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

In some cases, residents have propped up their homes on stilts and built bridges that connect their homes with neighbors.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Many have simply learned to live with the sea. This home had sunk a foot below ground level, resulting in the front porch and interior spaces being perpetually flooded. Residents had laid out bricks along the walkway to the house and inside the home to mark commonly used paths.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

The second community we visited in Semarang was Kaligawe, located along the city’s canal, slightly inland from the coast. The low-lying area experiences frequent flooding when the sea flows up into the canal during heavy monsoon rains. In some places, communities have elevated the roads to improve access and mobility. However, in the poorest areas, households are often unable to raise their floor heights with respect to the new road level, leading to internal flooding.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

The third community we selected is Sukorejo, located in the southern hills. This is an old indigenous community, where most people continue to live in their ancestral homes. The soil in this part of the city is very porous and tends to continuously shift, resulting in frequent and sometimes intense landslides. Additionally, the community struggles with severe water scarcity and frequent drought-like conditions during the summer months.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Landslides remain a challenge, but the community has adapted quite incredibly to problems of water scarcity. People are largely dependent on one community water source: a natural spring that fills a well. The settlement is divided into seven sectors, each of which is allocated one day of the week for collecting and storing as much water as is required.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Residents trek to the well and refill their outdoor tanks, drums and buckets in batches. The water is meant to last the family for an entire week. In the event that a household runs out, they are allowed just two additional buckets per day for the rest of the six days. The system ensures that water is used in a sustainable and intelligent manner.

The field experiences from Surat and Semarang have strengthened our premise that peoples’ everyday well-being, the spaces they live in, the work they do, their potential to cope with increasing and varied challenges, and their aspirations for secure and equitable living environments are important to the success of any resilience strategy. Resilience is a continuous process, and communities and individuals are already adapting every day. The important question for planners is whether resilience actions at the wider city, state or national level are enhancing local knowledge and capacities – or constraining them.

The Urban Community Resilience Assessment is a year-long project led by staff from WRI’s Urban Climate Resilience team and funded by the Cities Alliance Joint Work Program on Resilient Cities; a full report will be released in September 2018. Local partners in both cities – the Urban Health and Climate Resilience Center for Excellence in Surat, and the Initiative for Urban Climate Change and Environment in Semarang – are integral collaborators and have led field activities in each settlement. The assessments will lead to proposals of resilience projects in each community that will be co-developed with community members and stakeholders from the city.

Lubaina Rangwala is a Managing Associate for WRI India’s Sustainable Cities Center.

India Can Get All Petrol, Diesel Vehicles Off Roads By 2030. Here’s What It Will Take to Go Electric

Fri, 2018-01-26 14:13

India could save $60 billion by rapidly adopting electric vehicles. Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns/ Flickr

In April, Piyush Goyal, the power minister at the time, claimed that India would introduce electric vehicles with such vigor that by 2030, there would be no petrol or diesel vehicle left to register. The following month, the Niti Aayog released a report estimating that the country could save around $60 billion by rapidly adopting electric vehicles.

Since then, the subject of electric mobility has featured prominently in the media, eliciting sharp, and often contrasting, reactions from government agencies and automakers.

It would be grossly incorrect to claim that it will be easy for India to make the transition from internal combustion engine automobiles to electric vehicles. However, the benefits will far outweigh the pain of transition, especially given the rapid rise in solar power generation.

Still, three fundamental questions need to be addressed if India is to realize its electric mobility dream.

1. Who Will Take the Lead?

Introducing electric vehicles will require several actors at national, state and city levels to work together. Nationally, the ministries of road transport and highways, housing and urban development, heavy industries, power, new and renewable energy, foreign affairs as well as institutions such as the Niti Aayog will need to formulate policy and regulations; provide clearances, including for imports; fund and build infrastructure. Since the action will start from cities, state and city administrations will have to be actively involved in developing charging mechanisms and other infrastructure.

Then there is the question of how to usher in the electric mobility revolution. Two countries that have successfully increased electric vehicles’ share in their transport systems have followed different approaches. While China has focused on the automobile industry and is using buses to catalyze electric vehicle penetration, the Netherlands has adopted the strategy of creating charging infrastructure to spur growth in electric vehicles. In both cases, the positive economic impact of such measures has led to sustained growth, with China emerging as the global leader in electric buses and the Netherlands in vehicle charging technologies.

In India, the ministries and agencies involved need to work together to find the right strategy to catalyze the transition to electric mobility. As China has used buses as the catalyst, can India use two-wheelers?

China has emerged as the global leader in electric buses. Photo by Benoit Colin/WRI

2. How to Tackle the Battery Challenge?

One of the biggest deterrents to making electric vehicles is the battery, as more than half of a vehicle’s cost goes into the battery pack. While the cost of batteries has been falling, it must come down further if electric vehicles are to compete with internal combustion engine vehicles.

India does not manufacture lithium-ion batteries. Indian companies import lithium-ion cells from China and assemble them into battery packs because setting up a cell manufacturing unit is costly. For a long time, the battery manufacturing industry was dominated by Japanese and South Korean companies but China is estimated to account for 55 percent of the global lithium-ion battery production, and this is expected to grow to 65 percent by 2021.

While India needs to get into battery production soon, it must also secure the supply of materials such as lithium, graphite and cobalt – required for making batteries for electric vehicles – from countries such as Australia, Chile and Congo. India does not produce enough of these materials.

Moreover, India needs to invest heavily in research and development around battery making, including in alternative technologies, because whoever controls the battery will control the electric vehicle.

3. What Happens to Existing Automobile and Petroleum Industries?

India is the world’s fifth-largest automobile manufacturer and the largest manufacturer of two-wheelers. More than 2.5 crore motor vehicles (25 million) are produced in the country every year. The sector provides employment, directly and indirectly, to nearly three crore people (30 million) and contributes 7.1 percent of the GDP.

As per the Automotive Mission Plan 2016-26, prepared jointly by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers and the government, the Indian automotive market is estimated to be $16.5 billion by 2021, potentially generating up to $300 billion in annual revenue by 2026, creating 65 million additional jobs and contributing over 12 percent to the GDP.

India is also the world’s third-largest oil consumer. Its oil demand is expected to grow to 458 million metric tonnes by 2040, while the demand for energy will more than double by 2040, as the economy grows to over five times its current size. It is estimated that 99 percent of petrol and 70 percent of diesel consumed by India goes to the transport sector.

Clearly, in addition to the automotive sector, any electric mobility revolution will disrupt the oil and gas sector as well. It is important, therefore, to figure out how the existing ecosystem would cope with the change.

The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020, which envisages around seven million hybrid or electric vehicles in the country in the next three years, now appears unachievable. If India is to achieve the goal of fully electrifying its motor vehicle fleet by 2030, it needs to develop a clear roadmap that addresses the concerns listed above – and it needs to be done now.

The original version of this article appeared on Scroll.In

Amit Bhatt is Director of Integrated Transport at WRI India.

How the FSCI Is Improving Urban Energy Efficiency by Encouraging Building Retrofits, Providing Alternative Business Models

Wed, 2018-01-24 21:59

The Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative connects stakeholders to improve municipal building energy efficiency. Photo by Alejandro/ Flickr

The majority of the energy used by buildings is wasted, resulting in increased energy costs and air pollution. Among C40 cities, this translates to between 50 percent and 75 percent of citywide carbon emissions. Therefore, due to the sheer amount of energy consumed by buildings, urban decision-makers have an opportunity to make an outsized impact by targeting municipal building efficiency.

In 2015, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities convened the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative (FSCI), made possible with support from Citi Foundation. One of the core components of the FSCI has been a series of workshops connecting urban decision-makers with energy efficiency experts to provide assistance on everything from potential business models to technical and policy concerns.

We spoke with James Alexander, director of the City Finance Programme at C40, and WRI Ross Center experts Shannon Hilsey and Luca Lo Re, about their outlook on the municipal building efficiency sector while working through the FSCI and a recent workshop in Mexico City.

How are C40 and WRI Ross Center working with cities to make municipal buildings more energy efficient, and what is the connection to the FSCI?

James Alexander: Cities have a high degree of control over the buildings they own and changes to municipal properties can spur improvement by other stakeholders. C40’s Municipal Building Efficiency Network helps cities introduce energy efficiency improvements to government facilities through webinars, publications and workshops, which reduces their carbon footprints and saves taxpayer funds.

A key challenge for cities is the development of the most appropriate business models for these projects, and finding the necessary financing to implement them. The FSCI helps cities address these challenges by providing a financing workstream that works alongside C40’s Energy Initiative. Through this work, we create opportunities for cities to share best practices, offer technical support on business models and financing mechanisms, and support cities with project structuring.

Shannon Hilsey: In addition to working on the FSCI program, WRI Ross Center is the coordinating partner of the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA), a Sustainable Energy for All public-private partnership with 30 partner jurisdictions and over 35 technical partners. The BEA works to support the goal of doubling the rate of energy-efficiency improvement worldwide by 2030. Within this context, the FSCI and BEA partnerships leverage the building sector expertise of the BEA with the business model expertise of the FSCI to help cities from the idea stage of municipal retrofits through to implementation.

What funding and financing challenges do cities face in adopting energy efficiency measures for municipal buildings?

Alexander: Financing is one of the key issues that precludes cities from scaling their municipal energy efficiency programs, since most cities are constrained by their existing budgets and need to develop project models that can attract external capital. In particular, we are helping cities overcome the project development barrier, where many face substantial challenges turning great ideas into finance-ready projects. In the energy efficiency space, many cities and experts cite the inability to obtain quality data as a major barrier in attracting investors and accessing financing. Without proper data, investors are unable to adequately assess the risk profile of projects and are therefore unlikely to invest in them. Solving this issue is a critical step toward helping cities secure financing.

Luca Lo Re: In our experience, some well-intentioned local and national regulations, such as those that enforce procurement best practices or aim to reduce energy costs for consumers, also eliminate business options. A common example is a ban on multiyear municipal contracts. While often intended to ensure that local procurement is competitive and financially efficient, it can preclude the use of energy services contracts and long-term leases, which can be part of strong business models for building retrofits. Another example is energy subsidies that delay incentives for immediate action and prolong the continued inefficiency of municipal buildings. Our hope is that cities facing such barriers will explore new pathways that allow for alternative options – and we will help provide them.

What kinds of approaches can cities utilize to finance energy efficiency retrofit measures in their buildings?

Alexander: Cities in C40’s network have used a variety of tools to finance municipal building efficiency projects, including green bonds, revolving funds and other innovative fiscal instruments. At a recent workshop in Mexico City, representatives from eight Latin American countries analyzed these tools through interactive sessions and discussions to determine which of them might be suitable for their own contexts. Representatives from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory also shared their technical expertise and recommendations for potential business models in energy efficiency.

Hilsey: In the FSCI research process, we studied 16 case studies of municipal retrofit programs and projects to build a map of the elements involved in successful business models. We found that cities deployed a wide range of mechanisms, including energy tariff levies, municipal bonds and concessional finance. Most importantly, we found that successful cities utilized some public budgets, such as existing facilities maintenance funds, as a part of their overall business model.

At the workshop in Mexico City, we heard about the different approaches cities are using, including our host, which is funding its first round of retrofits with a targeted climate fund and exploring other options to make changes to a larger set of municipal buildings.

What’s next for the cities that attended the Mexico City workshop?

Alexander: In C40’s experience, a collaborative approach is very effective in devising and sharing solutions to complex challenges. The workshop was designed to be as interactive as possible to facilitate dialogue between cities and identify common ground. At the end of the workshop, cities highlighted key next steps they would take to overcome financing hurdles. The participants also identified other cities from the workshop that they would like to continue engaging with. The C40 team will be conducting follow-up calls to facilitate these discussions as well as supporting the cities’ efforts to implement commitments made at the workshop.

Lo Re: We agree that collaboration is key. Some cities in attendance voiced their intention to build a stakeholder network to collaboratively design and carry out future projects. This is a great way to build public consensus and develop a stronger partnership proposal, with early participation from the private sector. As James noted, gathering existing data on energy use in buildings under consideration – or even carrying out a broader public building energy audit – is a great step forward and can inform the establishment of city-wide energy targets. We hope cities will consider these steps and more as they gear up for retrofit projects.

James Alexander is Director of the City Finance Programme at C40.

Luca Lo Re is an Energy, Climate and Finance Associate at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. 

Shannon Hilsey is Project Coordinator for the Building Efficiency Initiative within WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Davis Wang: Mobike Now Serves 4 Million People a Day in Beijing

Tue, 2018-01-23 14:13

China has more than 16 million bikes on the streets today that don’t belong to anyone and pass from rider to rider with the tap of a smartphone. With the new addition of new dock-less models, many are simply left wherever the last rider got off. Mobike is among the leaders of the new dock-less wave, with more than 1 million bikes available around the world, and though many cities are now looking for ways to curb the number of dock-less bikes swarming their streets, Mobike CEO Davis Wang says the new technology is part of rethinking transport infrastructure for cities.

Mobike is the world’s first cashless and station-free bike sharing system. In 2017, they had “a couple thousand bikes” in nine cities in China, Wang tells WRI Ross Cities during Transforming Transportation 2018, where he spoke about achieving sustainable mobility in the digital economy. Only one year later, the company is in 200 cities, serving more than 30 million people a day.

After starting in China, Mobike now operates in the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands and the United States. The rapid expansion of Mobike and other similar systems hasn’t been without criticism, but companies are adjusting their business models and working with new regulations as they expand beyond China.

“We are transporting people in major world cities and trying to make more people use bicycles every day,” says Wang.

This was Wang’s second time attending Transforming Transportation, an annual conference co-hosted by WRI Ross Cities and the World Bank. “Zipcar changed the way people use cars; Uber changed the way people used taxis; Mobike is trying to change the way people use bikes,” he told attendees on January 11.

Can @Mobike revolutionize the way #people move about their #cities? @daviswangxf at #TTDC18

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 11, 2018

What keeps him coming back to Washington? Collaboration, he says. “Collaboration is in the DNA for Mobike.” He emphasized the need for cooperation with the public sector to improve biking infrastructure and policy. There are more than 20 million people living in Beijing today, Wang notes. The subway moves 10 million people a day; the 50-year old bus system, 8 million; and taxis, 2 million. How does Mobike fit into the equation? They now serve 4 million people a day, he says.

With twice as many people using Mobike as taxis, it’s crucial for the city to accommodate and promote biking alongside other more established modes. Working side-by-side with local policymakers is important to ensure private companies like Mobike can be successful, Wang says.

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

Solly Angel on How Cities Can Make Room Now for Growth Tomorrow

Wed, 2018-01-17 14:13

Countless cities are struggling to rein in development that is pushing their peripheries further and further from the city center. By 2030, many medium-sized cities in the global south are projected to double or triple in population, and much of this growth is happening in haphazard ways, leading to sprawling and scattered neighborhoods poorly served by core city services.

Urbanization can lead to many benefits for people and economies, but uncontrolled expansion often results in environmental, economic and social degradation. “We should care about urban expansion if we want the new areas to be productive, to be integrated into the metropolitan economy; if we want them to be inclusive, so that people can afford the housing there; and if we want [them] to be environmentally sustainable,” says Shlomo (Solly) Angel, a professor of city planning at the New York University Stern Urbanization Project and head of the Marron Institute’s Urban Expansion Program, speaking to WRI Ross Center as part of the Cities Research Seminar Series.

Angel advocates for a “making room” approach, in which cities analyze where population growth and development will likely occur and preemptively acquire land that can be used for public infrastructure and services later. The idea is to prepare for expansion before development makes it physically impossible, prohibitively costly or ethically unjust. Retroactively building infrastructure for already developed communities can cost three to nine times as much as if the city had made room in the first place, while also disrupting or displacing existing communities.

Angel says that road infrastructure is an especially important element in preparing for urban expansion. “These expansion areas need to be connected to the metropolitan economy in order for the city to be productive,” he says. An arterial road grid helps organize development so that new growth is structured within a predetermined framework. The initial result may be sprawling development, but strategies like infill development can help densify expansion areas as time goes on.

Cities can wait to invest in public infrastructure in these areas until there’s a need for it, but Angel suggests assessing growth patterns, designing the grid and acquiring land beforehand, even if there’s a chance that population growth and development don’t occur as expected.

Angel has tested out the making room approach in a number of cities with different systems of land governance. “In Colombia, all we had to do to acquire the land for the arterial roads is to put liens on property titles. In Ethiopia, we’ve had to survey the roads and move settlers to the edge of the road by giving them 99-year leases on the properties that they will occupy,” Angel says.

In some countries, like Colombia, Ecuador and Colombia, the government can legally requisition a portion of private lands for public use. “When you convert land from rural to urban use [in these countries], 40 percent of that land has to be in public use,” Angel says. “This is the easiest and best way to secure adequate lands for urban expansion.”

Alex Rogala is a former editor of TheCityFix and currently a master’s student in urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Live From Transforming Transportation 2018: Confronting Gender Issues, “Leapfrogging” in Africa

Sat, 2018-01-13 05:20

WRI’s Ani Dasgupta and the World Bank’s Jose Luis Irigoyen close out Transforming Transportation 2018. Photo Credit: Valeria Gelman/WRI

Beyond the technological revolution underway in transport today, gender was an underlying theme of Transforming Transportation this year.

Transport is not gender neutral, not matter where you are, said a chorus of experts during the opening panel on day two. “Gender is often a more robust determinant of modal choice than age or income,” said Mary Crass of the International Transport Forum.

That both men and women feel uncomfortable on public transport is a problem for the sector generally, but women face a much worse experience in many places, said Buenos Aires Secretary of Transport Juan Jose Méndez. Some 50 percent of men in Argentina’s largest city feel unsafe using public transit; among women, it’s more than 70 percent. Sixty-five percent of women in Mexico City say they have been harassed, according to the World Bank’s Karla Dominguez Gonzalez.

“We don’t understand the spectrum of abuse,” said Elsa Marie D’Silva, who left her job to found the Red Dot Foundation after the brutal 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman on a private bus in Delhi.

People often think of sexual assault only as rape and ignore the verbal and nonverbal interactions that can also be debilitating, D’Silva said. Groping, leering, stalking and similar interactions add up and can discourage women from using certain modes of transport or going out at all. “When a woman loses her access to public space, you are limiting her access to opportunities and her civil rights,” D’Silva said.

There’s a data gap around these problems that new, open-source reporting and mapping initiatives are helping to close. The Red Dot Foundation, for example, provides a way for women in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal to anonymously report incidents and then analyzes the data to pinpoint hotspots of abuse. As more data becomes available, more incidents will come to light, warned the Brookings Institution’s Katherine Sierra.

.@elsamariedsilva from @pinthecreep weighs in on the importance of #gender #equality on public transport at #TTDC18

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 12, 2018

But the gap remains wide and the transport sector has a special responsibility to face gender issues, Sierra said. Beyond the experience of individual commuters, construction projects of all kinds are targets for sexploitation, and transport projects are among the largest. She pointed to the “neutron bomb” that went off at the World Bank following investigations into a project in Uganda that revealed sexual assault and abuse by contractors. “It’s our job to report and face the incidents,” she said.

Following the data gap – or perhaps preceding it – there’s a perception gap. Even though there tend to be more female public transit users than men, most of the decision-makers in charge of policy, planning and operations are men, said Crass, who simply don’t have the same experiences and are less sensitive to the issues faced by women.

Just 23 percent of London’s public transit authority’s 28,000-member staff are women, said Lilli Matson, head of transport planning. Across European public transit agencies generally, the number drops to 18 percent, said Mohamed Mezghani, secretary-general of the Union Internationale des Transports Publics.

“Gender balance isn’t just a moral imperative; there is an economic case,” said Olurinu Jose, director of business systems at the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority. As one of the authority’s first female managers, Jose said she had to convince her boss of the value of reaching out to women as employees, but he soon saw the benefits. Just 5 of the 300 drivers for Nigeria’s first bus-rapid transit (BRT) system were women, Jose said, but she noted to him that more women drivers would lead to fewer accidents and fewer strikes. His main question was whether anyone would apply.

65% of #women in Mexico City suffer sexual harassment on #publictransport. This hampers their ability to access key services and #economic opportunities around the #city — Karla Dominguez Gonzalez, @WBG_Gender at #TTDC18

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 12, 2018

“Efficient and reliable transport gives women more opportunities,” acknowledged Amadou Saidou Ba, president of the Executive Council of Urban Transport in Dakar, pledging accessibility and safety in the city’s new BRT pilot project.

African leaders from across the continent talked about efforts to expand transport infrastructure to keep pace with rapidly growing cities and economies. Over the next 12 years, an estimated 350 million people will be added to African cities.

It’s important for people to see the value in public transport to reduce congestion and pollution, and that means improving accessibility and safety for everyone, said Ba. “We cannot spend our lives building roads. Not everyone can have a private car.”

Ronald Lwakatare, CEO of Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit, or DART, said they have focused on BRT because it’s easier to construct, low cost, more inclusive and can accommodate existing bus companies. DART includes accessible entrances and level boarding for the disabled, pedestrian walkways, and special seats for the elderly and expecting mothers. Lagos and Dar es Salaam are both expanding bus-rapid transit systems as well, with more than 20 kilometers of corridors each so far.

These are encouraging steps, but there’s still a tremendous way to go, said Marianne Vanderschuren of the University of Cape Town. Even in Cape Town, which has more developed public transit, the average distance to the nearest station from any given point is 1.3 kilometers, much further than Europe and even the United States (800 meters).

In large cities like Lagos, Dar Es Salaam, Kigali and Kampala, the cost of daily commuting can be prohibitive for poor households, accounting for more than 40 percent of monthly budgets.

Speaking to a room of global transport of experts and government officials from across the continent, Vanderschuren noted the special responsibilities of the people gathered. “It’s important for everyone to be advocates and use our knowledge to improve the situation in Africa,” she said. “We are responsible for developing new methodologies and assisting governments.”

Poor connectivity is expensive, inefficient and dangerous. Road-related injuries are the third leading cause of death in Africa, said the World Bank’s Tatiana Peralta Quiros. Over the next decade, the number of people killed from road-related causes will be equivalent to a major world war, said the World Bank’s Soames Job, with scarce resources or attention paid. (For more on road safety, see WRI and the World Bank’s “Sustainable and Safe” report.)

#Technology alone cannot solve the #transport question, or countries like mine will be left behind — Amadou Saïdou Ba, @CETUD_SN at #TTDC18

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 12, 2018

Aiming to help build capacity and cultivate a community of practice to “leapfrog” transport development in Africa, nine organizations, including five universities, announced a new memorandum of understanding for joint research. Joining the World Bank and WRI, was the World Conference on Transport Research Society, Africa Transport Policy Program, University of Nairobi, University of Da es Salam, University of Johannesburg, University of Dakar and Institut National Polytechnique de Yamoussoukro.

Even as much of the of the focus at Transforming Transportation this year has been on how technology is changing the industry – introducing new players, new business models and disrupting the status quo – there were just as many reminders that the biggest challenges remain old ones.

“Technology alone cannot solve the transport question, or countries like mine will be left behind,” said Amadou Saidou Ba.

Closing out the conference alongside the World Bank’s Jose Luis Irigoyen, WRI Ross Center Global Director Ani Dasgupta noted the connection between democratization and sustainability made by many over the two days. “The idea that building sustainable cities and building equal cities are one and the same was something that really resonated with me and I hope it did with you.”

“We will do it together,” said Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank. “No organization, country [or] institution faced with this dramatic transformation can do it on its own. But we can do it together.”

Schuyler Null is the Communications Associate for the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Talia Rubnitz is the Communications Assistant for the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Chinese Cities Aim to Rein in Bike-Sharing Boom

Sat, 2018-01-13 00:14

Dockless bikes swarm the streets of Shenzhen, China. Photo by Chris/Flickr

Dozens of “dockless” bike-sharing startups have emerged in the past few years, offering apps where riders can locate bicycles, unlock them and leave them wherever their ride ends. The result in some Chinese cities has been more than a million bicycles piling up in public spaces, blocking entrances to buildings and public transit stops, and obstructing sidewalks. Not only is the situation disorderly, it’s dangerous: Discarded bikes can block pedestrians’ paths, causing them to trip or forcing them to walk in the road.

But the chaos may be coming to an end: New regulations aim to restore order to the city’s streets while still allowing bike-shares to thrive.

Chinese Cities Look to Regulate Dockless Bike-Sharing

In May 2017, China’s national-level Ministry of Transportation drafted the first country-wide framework for regulating dockless bike-sharing, issuing a formal regulation in August. Since then, nearly 30 Chinese cities have passed regulations to guide bike-sharing’s production, operation and maintenance, adhering to the national guidelines.

Shanghai claims to be the largest bike-sharing city in the world, with roughly 1.7 million bikes at the of the end of September 2017. The city drafted one of China’s first city-level bike-sharing regulatory guidelines in  April 2017, issuing it in October. The guidelines push local authorities to integrate bike parking with city planning requirements. It requires operators, government officials and agencies to control the city’s bike fleet, such as by requiring bike plate registration, banning shared electric bikes, and guaranteeing more standardized parking by using Geo-fence technology, which uses a Bluetooth-based sensor to detect if bikes are parked in the proper area.

At the urging of these guidelines, Mobike and Ofo, China’s two biggest bike-sharing companies, have made more of an effort to remove bikes in poor conditions from the fleet and relocate bikes during peak use hours. As of the end of October, the total number of shared bikes in Shanghai had dropped to fewer than 1.1 million.

The regulations also protect consumers financially. The city appointed an independent financial institute to oversee bike users’ deposits, assuring that they’ll receive their money back if a bike-share operator goes bankrupt.

Many Chinese cities have become overrun with dockless bikeshare bikes due to lack of regulations. Photo by David Ing/Flickr

Bike-Sharing Challenges and Solutions Go Global

Shanghai’s regulations show a great level of versatility and detail in terms of management of cycling safety, fleet control, parking, maintenance and data sharing. Other cities are now following suit around the globe, such as Seattle.

Both Shanghai’s and Seattle’s regulations set a cap for the number of bikes allowed in the city. Seattle also required its fleet control to be carried out in phases, requiring operators to introduce no more than 500 bikes in their first month of operation, and no more than 1,000 by the second month. From the third month onwards, if an operator satisfies all of the city’s regulations, it can introduce more than 2,000 bikes, so long as there are fewer than 130 bikes in 1,000 square miles.

In terms of bike parking, the Seattle Department of Transport also suggested that dockless bikes should only be parked on the edges of the sidewalk or on a bicycle rack so as not to obstruct pedestrians. Bike parking is forbidden in certain areas, including narrow areas on the outer side of sidewalks, corners and more. If a dockless bike hasn’t moved for seven days or the bike is not parked standing upright, city workers will remove it and only return it to operators once they’ve paid a fine.

A More Orderly Bike-Share System

Everyone benefits if bike-sharing thrives. Bikes cost-effectively make cities more accessible for citizens, and can complement more traditional mass transport. They’re also vitally important in the global battle against climate change: About 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from cities.

Bike-sharing’s evolution will be more orderly and effective with a balanced regulatory framework. Only through proactive regulation can urban bike-sharing systems flourish without jeopardizing public wellness.

This article first appeared on WRI Insights.

Hui Jiang is a Research Assistant, WRI China Sustainable Cities.

Live From Transforming Transportation 2018: “A New Idea of Liberty”

Fri, 2018-01-12 05:33

Photo by Valeria Gelman/WRI Ross Center

“We are seeing in cities around the world and transport systems around the world, the beginning of a revolution,” said World Resources President and CEO Andrew Steer in Washington today.

Welcoming more than 800 transport experts, policymakers, researchers and private sector representatives to Transforming Transportation, a two-day summit co-organized by WRI and the World Bank, Steer pointed out that the sector faces a paradox.

There is incredible technological change occurring – driven by smartphones, networked sensors, data analytics, electric and autonomous vehicles, and other innovations. But despite these advances, and unlike in other development arenas like poverty and health, things are actually getting worse. There is more congestion, more pollution and more people dying on roads every year.

The negative trends are not universal; we are seeing positive change in some places. But, said Steer, “in today’s world, quite frankly, changing isn’t enough – you need to scale it.” 

“We know it can be done, we’re seeing it being done in hundreds of places around the world,” Steer said, “but the scale of the challenge is growing greater and greater every single year.”

What’s needed to expand these isolated success stories, according to Steer, is more high-level commitments and cooperation. “What we haven’t done in transportation is what leaders have managed to do in other sectors: we haven’t created the kind of coalitions that have political power, that have access to finance, that have technical knowledge so that we can cross that tipping point.”

Laura Tuck, senior vice president of sustainable development at the World Bank, who joined Steer during the brief but provocative opening session, agreed that the transport systems we have today are not the ones we need. But she pointed to movement in the right direction.

“We have managed to position transport at the core of sustainable development goals through SuM4All,” Tuck said, referencing the World Bank-led Sustainable Mobility for All initiative. The program launched its first report this year, a worldwide assessment that includes “mobility snapshots” of 190 countries. “We know where we need to go,” she said.

It's difficult for people to focus #transport work on many things. @rmchase says we should work toward #shared mobility #TTDC18

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 11, 2018

The sense that transport, or mobility more generally, faces an inflection point of some kind was present throughout the day.

“Zipcar changed the way people use cars, Uber changed the way people used taxis, [and] Mobike is trying to change the way people use bikes,” said Davis Wang, the CEO of Mobike, one of the world’s largest dockless bike-sharing companies. Mobike and its competitors provide bikes for rent that don’t need to be returned to a central depot and can be parked and unlocked almost anywhere via smartphone. Almost 30 million people ride its orange-hewed bikes daily. In Beijing, Wang said 4 million people rely on the service everyday – twice as many as who use taxis.

D.S. Mishra, who at India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Development leads the development of metro rail and other transport projects in more than a dozen cities, said leaders need to begin understanding specific solutions not just as a mobility systems but as “urban transformation systems.” Sustainable mobility, ultimately, is universally accessible, affordable, safe and convenient, Mishra said. Achieving these goals is a major challenge that entails change far beyond the realms of engineering and design.

Urban #congestion limits urban #productivity. According to Mayor @EnriquePenalosa, it is also #undemocratic #TTDC18

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 11, 2018

Inequity – and the role transport can play in either exacerbating or alleviating it – came up again and again.

The Mayor Enrique Peñalosa of Bogotá said simply that inequality was “the biggest challenge to sustainability in developing countries.” Why should someone taking public transit have a slower commute than someone with a private vehicle, he asked. “Having buses sit in traffic is almost as undemocratic as having women not vote.”

“We’re leaving behind a lot of people because we aren’t able to map them, to see them,” said Nicolas Estupiñan of the Development Bank of Latin America. The data revolution that has helped make services like Mobike and Uber possible has produced tremendous amounts of information – but that doesn’t mean we know everything.

People working informal jobs and relying on informal modes of transport, like walking or riding minibuses, leave little digital trace. Just 50 percent of people in Latin America use the internet on a regular basis, Estupiñan pointed out.

"To Dar es Salaam, #BRT is a great option because it is #inclusive in nature," says @rlwakatare at #TTDC18 #DART

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 11, 2018

In Nairobi, minibuses are the primary form of shared mobility and yet, until recent efforts, “we had no idea where they were going,” said Jackie Klopp of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

“The power of data is accountability for decision-makers,” said Estupiñan. But until we improve the prominence of some modes of transport and the people who use them, we won’t achieve that potential. In this way, access is about visibility – and a major political issue.

“We are just now figuring out how to harness data for good instead of holding it back to the detriment of cities,” said David Adelman, vice president for business development at Via, a for-profit ride-sharing service and operator. A major difference between Via and its competitors, he said, was that they license their services and data to other operators, like public transit agencies. “We need to think big and embrace new technology, as opposed to being afraid of it,” he urged.

The political imagination is still focused on the car, said Klopp, but there is something stirring, an idea to challenge it: that the user can be the focus, with options changing depending on the best fit for the moment and place. “This is a new form of liberty,” she said. “There is an opportunity for a new narrative.”

Transforming Transportation is the annual conference co-organized by the World Bank and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities in Washington, DC. This year’s theme is “Realizing Sustainable Mobility for All in the Digital Era.” Tune in to the livestream and follow the conversation on Twitter following #TTDC18.

We Know How to Save Millions from Dying on the World’s Roads

Thu, 2018-01-11 20:30

Streets in Mexico City were redesigned to increase pedestrian safety. Photo by SEDEMA CDMX

Fewer than 3 people per 100,000 are killed in road crashes in Sweden every year, less than almost anywhere else in the world. In contrast, it’s 11 per 100,000 in countries like India and the United States.

One reason for the difference? A “Safe System” approach.

Preventing Road Deaths with a Safe System

In 1999, the Swedish Parliament established a road safety program known as “Vision Zero.” Moving beyond the usual driver-focused methods of improving road safety—such as seat-buckling and sober-driving campaigns—the country adopted a Safe System approach. The premise of this approach is that while human error is inevitable, traffic fatalities and serious injuries should not be. Rather than expect humans to behave perfectly, the Safe System makes all parts of the mobility system safe, to reduce the opportunity for a fatal or severe crash to occur.  The focus is on reducing people’s exposure to fatal crash forces by keeping speeds to survivable levels and separating transport modes where necessary.  The strategy worked—Sweden’s road fatality rate fell 55 percent between 1994 and 2015.

Other countries such as the Netherlands and Norway have taken similar approaches.  As documented in a new WRI report, countries employing a Safe System have achieved both the lowest rates of traffic deaths and the largest reductions in fatalities over the past 20 years. More than one million deaths could be avoided every year if the rest of the world achieved levels of road safety comparable to these best-performing countries.

The approach holds particular promise for low- and middle-income countries, where 90 percent of the world’s traffic-related deaths occur.

What Does a Safe System Look Like?

Citizens are often blamed for traffic collisions – for not paying attention or driving too fast– but this mindset fails to assess whether roads are safe to begin with for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists. Humans will always make mistakes, and they should not have to pay for these with their lives. The Safe System approach views road safety as a public health issue, rather than one of personal responsibility alone. It thus shifts responsibility away from people using the roads to the city planners and officials designing them. It involves holistic strategies such as:

1. Designing streets for safety

The way that streets are designed has a powerful impact on how people behave. This may sound obvious, but the reality is that many roads around the world are designed primarily to maximize speeds or improve traffic flow, creating dangerous spaces for road users. Bogota, Colombia recently implemented a Vision Zero Safe System, with the first phase targeting street design around schools and hospitals. “Traffic-calming” measures such as speed humps, reduced lane widths, improved road markings, and protected medians for pedestrians reduced vehicle speeds and increased visibility for people walking. Preliminary results show that this strategy and other Safe System actions have helped Bogota’s road fatalities drop 8 percent in just one year.

2. Improving options for mobility

Research shows that the more private vehicle miles traveled, the greater the exposure to risk for drivers, passengers and other road users. So if more people walk, bike and take public transport, road safety overall improves. As an added bonus, this can also increase physical activity and reduce emissions.

In Bogota, officials reformed the city’s chaotic public bus system by implementing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system with dedicated lanes, covered bus stops and high quality buses, while also improving walkways and bike lanes for pedestrians and cyclists. As a result, the city saw a significant drop in traffic fatalities. When infrastructure expansion slowed, so did reductions in traffic fatalities. Ambitious plans to further expand the city’s BRT system and install a metro are expected to make the mobility system even safer.

3. Managing speed to reduce fatalities

At lower speeds, drivers can see more of their surroundings, have more time to react to unexpected events, and can stop in a shorter distance. Furthermore, survivable speeds in collisions are generally much lower than people expect. For example, if hit by a vehicle moving at 30 kilometers per hour (kph) a pedestrian has a 90 percent chance of survival, but if hit at 50 kph, they have only a 15 percent chance of survival. Mexico City, which recently implemented a Safe System-based road safety strategy, reduced its speed limits and updated its fine system for traffic infractions. This and other strategies, such as improved street design, have helped reduce the city’s road fatality rate by 14 percent over the past two years.

4. Coordinating institutions

A Safe System begins with the premise that mobility planners, operators and decision makers must guarantee the safety of citizens and provide road users with the best opportunity to behave safely. That takes strong coordination with a lot of different actors. Sweden’s Vision Zero plan involves traffic engineers, law enforcement, vehicle designers, medical specialists, educators, journalists, social scientists and government officials.

The Human Cost of Inaction

A Safe System can be applied anywhere, but it’s especially urgent in the developing world. Ninety percent of the 1.25 million annual traffic fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries. It’s a human health crisis and an economic one: Traffic collisions cost these nations an estimated 5 percent of their economic productivity. That’s like living in a permanent recession—the United States lost 5 percent of its GDP during the 2008 Great Recession. Safe roads are not a luxury, but a necessity, and the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action.

The stunning thing is that we know how to prevent road deaths. The guidance in Sustainable and Safe: A Vision and Guidance for Zero Road Deaths lays out how. Now it’s up to decision makers, technical experts and communities to start saving lives.

Anna Bray Sharpin is a Transportation Associate for Health and Road Safety at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Ben Welle is a Senior Associate for Health and Road Safety at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Claudia Adriazola-Steil is Director for Health and Road Safety at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Transforming Transportation 2018: To Craft a Digital Future for All, We Need Transport for All

Thu, 2018-01-11 19:23

By harnessing the power of technology, new mobility services can lead to greener, safer, more inclusive and efficient transport for all. Photo by World Bank/ Flickr

Exponential progress in how we collect, process and use data is fundamentally changing our societies and economies. But the new digital economy depends fundamentally on a very physical enabler. Amazon and Alibaba would not exist without efficient ways to deliver products worldwide, be it by road or ship or drone. The job you applied for through Skype may require travel to London or Dubai, where you’ll expect to get around easily.

In fact, as the backbone of globalization, digitization is increasing the need to move people and goods around the planet. Mounting pressure on transportation as economies grow is leading to unsustainable environmental and safety trends. Transport needs are increasingly being met at the cost of future generations.

Can the digital revolution, which depends so much on efficient global and local mobility, also help us rethink transportation itself? To be a part of the solution to issues such as climate change, poverty, health, public safety, and the empowerment of women, the answer must be yes. Transport must go beyond being an enabler of the digital economy to itself harnessing the power of technology.

The dominant transport systems in use today rely on inventions born during the industrial revolution. As WRI research shows, new digital technologies are beginning to change this, creating entirely new business models and disrupting the market. In many cities, it’s possible to request a taxi or shared car with the push of a button. Commuters can switch seamlessly from buses to trains to trams and back again. Bicycles can be found on every corner, unlocked remotely and keyed to your phone. And sometime soon, autonomous cars will join the fray, perhaps even delivering goods to your front door. Collectively these “new mobility” services are radically reshaping the transport landscape.

But not everywhere. Even as new transport options come to residents and businesses in some cities, rapid growth has overwhelmed others, especially in the global south. The most rapid urbanization rates are in Africa and Asia, where 90 percent of the 2.5 billion new urbanites expected by 2050 will live.

Unplanned, disconnected growth is not only leaving many out of the new digital economy, but exacerbating other problems. Road accidents claim 1.25 million lives every year – drivers and pedestrians – with numbers rising in developing countries, which already account for 9 out of 10 deaths. The transport sector pumps out 23 percent of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and this may reach 33 percent by 2050. The number of deaths caused by air pollution worldwide has increased 20 percent since 1990, to 4.2 million a year.

New mobility services can help address these challenges, leading to greener, safer, more inclusive and efficient transport for all.

Shared mobility powered by digital technologies can increase vehicle occupancy, reducing per capita carbon emissions. Affordable, user-friendly bikeshare and ride-hailing systems can help commuters travel the “last mile” to and from transit stations more easily, enhancing the attractiveness of public transport.

In both passenger and freight transport, digital platforms are improving efficiency by providing new ways to match supply and demand. New platforms to share and dispatch freight trucks more efficiently are significantly reducing empty backhauling, for example.

Autonomous vehicles are smarter and lighter, promising the potential for better efficiency, fewer vehicles on the road and a sharp reduction in crashes. Traffic accidents are not the only type of risk: violence and harassment are serious concerns for many commuters and pedestrians, especially women and other vulnerable groups. Smartphone alert systems and apps to report incidents and educate transport users and providers are presenting new solutions to old problems.

Similarly, open data is allowing many to see comprehensively what transport options are available to them, evaluate those choices and make informed decisions – or advocate for change. In Haiti, the World Bank is using big data to understand the mobility patterns of the population, and plan more inclusive and integrated public transport systems that address the needs of the poor and reduce travel time and costs to users. In countries where transport data has traditionally been scarce, this is a radical shift, potentially allowing greater access to jobs and essential services.

This progress creates countless opportunities, but technology alone will not be enough. The world needs ambitious policies that keep transport demand under control and create the right incentives for people and business to embrace sustainable mobility.

Without careful planning, self-driving cars could increase congestion, pollution and sprawl, dockless bike sharing could lead to mountains of waste, and app-based taxi services could price public transit out of the market. We must help policymakers carefully manage the adoption of new mobility services in order to maximize benefits and avoid pitfalls – and find more ways to bring these benefits to the most vulnerable.

There is a tremendous economic prize for getting this right. The recently released Global Mobility Report, using data from the International Energy Agency, finds that, when considering full costs – including vehicles, fuel, broader expenses and losses – more efficient and sustainable mobility could deliver global savings of up to a staggering $70 trillion by 2050.

In the years ahead, we have a unique chance to create transport systems and cities that bring housing, jobs, services and all the promises of the digital economy to everyone. To do that, smart digital solutions need to be a core element of any sustainable mobility strategy. With urban areas expected to house 70 percent of the global population by 2050, it’s not only the promise of better cities and transport on the line, but a better world.

Transforming Transportation is the annual conference co-organized by the World Bank and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities in Washington, DC. This year’s theme is “Realizing Sustainable Mobility for All in the Digital Era.” Tune in to the livestream and follow the conversation on Twitter following #TTDC18.

Ani Dasgupta is the Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, WRI’s program that galvanizes action to help cities grow more sustainably and improve quality of life in developing countries around the world.

José Luis Irigoyen is Senior Director for the Transport and Information and Communications Technologies Global Practice of the World Bank.

Financing Sustainable Infrastructure: A Tale of Two Cities

Tue, 2018-01-09 13:59

The Hyderabad Metro under construction, July 2017. Photo Credit: Rajesh Pamnani/Flickr

Investment in infrastructure is vital for cities to function and prosper. But many local governments struggle to finance large infrastructure projects while a huge proportion of their residents live in poverty. Two pioneering cities – Hyderabad and Kampala – have successfully experimented with new ways of raising money, offering promising lessons for cities around the world.

Hyderabad has long struggled with congestion. Regularly paralyzed by gridlock, commuters are stuck for hours while the city’s air pollution has exceeded the notoriously toxic Delhi. To clear the roads and the air, the city is urgently trying to move people out of private vehicles and on to public transport.

In November 2017, Hyderabad opened its new metro. The decision to build it was both crucial and brave.

Railways are notoriously expensive and difficult to construct. The Hyderabad Metro was expected to cost ₹14,132 crore ($2.2 billion) – a steep bill to pay in a city where one in four people live in informal settlements without clean drinking water, reliable toilets or decent housing.

With these pressing demands on the public purse, the government had to find creative ways to finance the new railway.

Its solution? An innovative public-private partnership using mechanisms to capture land value.

L&T, an Indian conglomerate, is covering most of the costs of constructing and operating the new metro. In return, the government has granted the company right of way along the rail corridors and 109 hectares of land around the planned metro stations.

L&T will make about half of its revenue from train fares. The remaining half will come from developing this land into commercial real estate and renting it out. Since everyone wants an easy commute into work, the new metro stations will make L&T’s new land holdings much more valuable.

The government has used the rising land prices associated with this new infrastructure as a way to finance the investment: an ingenious solution to its cash shortfall.

Financial Maturity

The Hyderabad Metro is only possible because of sophisticated financial systems at every level of government.

Not many low- and lower middle-income countries can set up such complex financing arrangements. They need to improve their financial maturity if they are to successfully set up public-private partnerships or land value capture projects.

A new working paper from the Coalition for Urban Transitions, “Financing the Urban Transition,” explores how countries and cities can enhance their financial maturity. It shows how countries need to undertake different reforms and activities to build their skills and credibility with investors. This is essential for governments to raise money for essential public services, such as electricity, housing, transport and sanitation.

The working paper identifies three different stages of financial maturity:

  • Foundation countries need to get the fundamentals right. They have to establish clear regulations that are enforced consistently. They need to collect revenue in a transparent and systematic way, and improve the systematic planning and management of new infrastructure projects. While acquiring these skills, foundation countries are likely to depend on a small tax base and development assistance.
  • Transition countries need to introduce sophisticated financing instruments. They can borrow money, set up public-private partnerships, and pilot land value capture projects. National governments can also support states, cities and utilities to build their financial capabilities.
  • Established countries have a wider range of options, and can combine these to balance economic, social, environmental and private returns. Even cities in these countries can use complex financing mechanisms: Stockholm has introduced congestion pricing, Beijing has established a carbon price, and Johannesburg has issued green bonds.
Beginning With the Basics

It’s not just about building big infrastructure. Uganda’s capital Kampala, for example, does not have a metro. But action taken by the city government to improve tax collection shows what’s possible.

Kampala’s public transport system is primarily based on matatus, privately-owned minibuses that follow informal routes around the city. Matatu drivers have to pay about 120,000 Ugandan shillings ($35) a month in tax. For years, they avoided paying this tax. They were frustrated by the long queues for paying in person and the poor tax records that led many to have their vehicle impounded whether or not they had paid.

But in the last few years, the municipal government transformed its tax collection system. Kampala invested in a new software called eCitie, which allows matatu drivers to pay their fees using their mobile phones. It’s quick, easy and provides proof of payment to any passing inspector.

But it isn’t only matatu drivers who are benefiting. The city government can now collect payments for business licenses, hotel taxes, ground rents, property rates and market charges online. In five years, it tripled revenue from its own sources.

The local government is using this money to pave roads, improve drainage and install street lights. Kampala might not yet be able to afford a metro like Hyderabad, but it is rapidly building crucial foundational financial skills. More importantly, its commitment to more accountable, efficient revenue collection and expenditure is already making a real difference to the lives of its residents.

This original version of this article was published on Zilient.

Sarah Colenbrander is a senior researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and senior economist with the Coalition for Urban Transitions.

Denise Chan is a senior associate in PwC’s cities and urbanization team.

The working paper, “Financing the Urban Transition,” was prepared for the Coalition for Urban Transitions by the London School of Economics and PwC.

Ride-Hailing: Great for Users, But Sustainability Is an Open Question

Sat, 2018-01-06 00:34

Photo Credit: Alper Çuğun/Flickr

“Ride-hailing” or “ride-sourcing” companies like Uber, Easy Taxi, Ola and Didi have made it much easier for passengers to get around cities everywhere, providing real-time location data, increasingly accurate arrival times, seamless payment and customized services. Goldman Sachs estimates the industry was worth $36 billion in 2017, with 15 million trips a day globally. They expect a growth to $285 billion by 2030, with 97 million trips a day.

That these services are good for most customers seems undeniable, but whether they are good for cities remains unclear. One line of thought is that ride-hailing services can help reduce congestion and pollution by making it easier to not own a car and encouraging shared rides. Fewer cars means fewer emissions and less congestion, also fewer collisions, a major challenge in developing countries, which account for 9 out of 10 road-related deaths worldwide.

But a recent study by Regina R. Clewlow and Gouri Shankar Mishra of the University of California Davis shows that ride-hailing services might not be taking cars off the road at all.

More Vehicles on the Road

Clewlow and Mishra surveyed 4,100 people using Uber and Lyft in six large U.S. cities: Boston, Chicago, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. They found most users took a car instead of taking public transit, biking or walking, and 91 percent of users still own their cars. While some users combined their trips with bus and rail, the net result was an average reduction in public transit use of 6 percent.

How ride-hailing users in six large U.S. cities would travel if Uber or Lyft were unavailable. Source: Regina R. Clewlow and Gouri Shankar/University of California Davis

Buses and light rail lost demand, while commuter rail saw increased ridership. The authors conjecture that for major American cities, ride-hailing has increased total vehicle kilometers – a common measure that can stand as a proxy for other related effects like congestion, emissions and road crashes. Clewlow and Mishra found that between 49 percent and 61 percent of trips would not have been made at all in the absence of a ride-hailing service or would have been made by walking, cycling or public transportation.

These results are consistent with other emerging evidence, compiled in a synthesis by Andrés Gómez-Lobo and Alejandro Tirachini of the University of Chile. Alejandro Henao estimated an 85 percent increase in vehicle kilometers traveled due to ride-hailing in Denver, based on 308 trips driven and surveyed by the author himself.

Another study found mixed results. Using data from the U.S. National Transit Database, Jonathan D. Hall et al. estimate that Uber reduced public transportation ridership by 5.7 percent in smaller U.S. cities but increased public transit ridership by 0.8 percent in larger cities.

Other reports, not included in the list reviewed by Tirachini and Gómez-Lobo, such as those produced by a consortium of southern Los Angeles municipalities and independent consulting firm, suggest similar conclusions: ride-hailing services may increase congestion and shift travel from public transit and other modes.

Beyond the States

Uber and Lyft’s ubiquity, the large amount of data available, and interest from researchers and funders has led to many studies in the United States, but what about other contexts?

Tirachini and Gomez-Lobo developed a sophisticated model in an attempt to answer that question for Santiago, Chile. In a working paper, they use a multimodal model and data from 1,600 surveys to simulate the effect of additional Uber trips on taxi, car and bus use. Under a base case scenario, with existing occupancy rates and other parameters as currently observed, the authors found the probability that ride-hailing reduces vehicle kilometers traveled in Santiago is zero. They ran 20,000 simulations and ride-hailing services never produced fewer vehicle kilometers traveled than the same simulation without them.

The result is explained in part by the substitution of trips previously made by public transportation, by the addition of new trips, and, to a lesser extent, by the substitution of Uber rides for other modes of transport, like walking and cycling. Most Uber users in Chile come from taxis (41 percent) and public transportation (33 percent). About 12 percent of riders come from cars, 2 percent from walking and 1 percent from cycling. Five percent would have not have traveled at all. Higher income households substitute more from taxi and private car use while lower income households substitute more from public transportation. Half the public transit conversions would have ridden a bus otherwise.

Tirachini and Gomez-Lobo adjusted other parameters and found there need to be at least 2.9 occupants per vehicle – up from the actual rate of 2.0 – in order to have an even shot of reducing vehicle kilometers traveled per trip.

What’s Next?

While not definitive, the conclusions of Tirachini and Gomez-Lobo provide an indication that ride-hailing may be beneficial for users but, in its current form, is not sustainable for the planet or helping to solve congestion and road safety problems.

In their Santiago survey, they found the most important reasons people used Uber were the ease of payment, cost, transparency of the charging system compared to taxi-meters, and the possibility of identifying the driver and rating his/her performance. Other important motives included short wait times, lack of convenient public transportation, not wanting to drive after drinking alcohol and the perception of the service being more secure than other modes. These motives are consistent with other studies and suggest ride-sharing isn’t going away anytime soon.

Making ride-hailing or ride-sourcing services effective at reducing vehicle kilometers traveled, and thus reducing emissions, congestion, and other related negative effects, may require combined approaches.

Finding ways to increase the number of occupants is one way to shift the calculus. Shared services like UberPool and Lyftline grew to 20 percent of all the ride-hailed services provided by Uber and Lyft in 2016. Another is linking ride-hailing services more closely with public transit through subsidized rides to stations to encourage increased transit use, rather than replace it. Congestion charging for low occupancy vehicles is another approach, which has worked to reduce traffic in some cities.

Dario Hidalgo is Director of the Integrated Transport Practice for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Jyot Chadha and Diego Canales contributed to this blog.


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