The World Bank is one of the world's largest sources of development assistance. Our mission is to fight poverty with passion and professionalism for lasting results. The Transport sector at the World Bank works to develop a global vision, clear actions and goals for Sustainable Mobility.
While there are many ways to highlight the linkages between transport and human capital, the example of women’s mobility in Haiti is particularly compelling. When it comes to healthcare, for instance, World Bank data suggests that accessibility is the second largest challenge to women seeking treatment, right after lack of financial resources to pay for medical services themselves: 62% rural households have at least one woman aged 15 to 49 whose decision to seek medical care is affected by distance (World Bank Household Survey, 2012). Poor road conditions act as a deterrent as well, including for prenatal care. These constraints partly explain why only 39% of women in the same age cohort deliver in a health facility, with poorer women being eight times less likely to do so. Pregnancy-related complications such as preeclampsia, which is one of the leading causes of maternal death in Haiti, could be avoided with proper prenatal care.
Project Design with multi-sectoral collaboration. When expanding or upgrading a road network, one of the very first steps is to decide which areas should be prioritized. Some of the variables typically influencing that decision include poverty rates and exposure to climate risk. One innovative feature about the Haiti project is that it also factored in gender considerations right from the design phase, especially regarding access to maternal and reproductive health facilities (including emergency obstetrics and newborn services). To that end, geo-spatial analysis helped us identify which road segments the program should focus on in order to improve access to health clinics for the population. In parallel, the World Bank’s health teams are providing investments and equipment to many of these clinics to improve the quality of service. Accessibility to markets was another important priority. Evidence suggests that improving women’s economic participation and their productive assets can have positive impacts on entire households, as women typically invest a higher proportion of their earnings in their families and communities.
Local Mobility Plans that support women and girls’ choices in remote rural locations. Together with investments into the primary and secondary networks, Local Mobility Plans (LMP) will be developed at the community level to identify meaningful complementary infrastructure investments that improve connectivity. A participatory mapping exercise will guide and inform the LMPs. Women will be at the heart of this process, which will ensure that their mobility concerns are adequately reflected in the planning and design of the infrastructure. Complementary public infrastructure such as lighting, for instance, helps women feel safer and can reduce the probability of all forms of crime, including violence against women.
Focusing on evidence to inform future interventions. As a complement to this project, the Quality Infrastructure Investment Partnership (QII) is financing a study that will measure how improved road connections in these rural communities impact women’s socioeconomic outcomes, and how this may differ from the impact on men. Understanding the linkages between rural roads accessibility, household and women’s welfare is essential for us if we are to design gender-responsive projects that ensure equitable access to newly built infrastructure. Invisible infrastructure – such as social norms and behavioral nudges – is key to narrow the gender gap in the use of infrastructure and may explain any differential use.
These efforts toward better connectivity will contribute to improving maternal and infant health—and, ultimately, to strengthening Haiti’s human capital in the long term. While many other factors come into play—such as peers’ influence and education, delivery assistance by trained personnel in a medical facility, quality of service and health facilities—accessibility remains a key prerequisite. This speaks to the nature of the human capital agenda itself: rich, complex, and filled with unlimited potential. To bring this kind of project to life, meaningful collaboration between infrastructure and human development sectors will be critical. And in many IDA countries, the World Bank is uniquely positioned to make this happen.
No matter how you measure it, the impact of air pollution is startling. According to new research, air pollution worldwide cuts life expectancy by 1.8 years for an average person, and is responsible for some 8.8m early deaths a year globally. That is twice as much as previous estimates, making air pollution one of the leading causes of death in the world.
While air pollution originates from a variety of sources, tailpipe emissions from cars, trucks, and buses rank among the largest contributors. In a world where motor vehicles reign supreme and 96% of transport's energy use comes from fossil fuels, we are effectively meeting our mobility needs at the expense of our life expectancy.
Low and middle-income countries pay the highest price: as highlighted in this graph by the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative (SuM4All), countries with a relatively low GDP per capita tend to see higher concentrations of PM2.5, a type of particulate matter generated primarily by road traffic.
Air Pollution and GDP Per Capita
Meanwhile, motorization rates continue to soar across the developing world, while fossil fuel suppliers estimate that oil will remain the dominant fuel source for mobility through at least 2050. In that context, it is easy to feel pessimistic about air pollution and transport. Yet several initiatives emerging in various part of the world show that change is possible. In its Global Roadmap of Action towards Sustainable Mobility (GRA), SuM4All carefully analyzed how countries could build upon these measures to promote greener mobility and help cities breathe better.
Driving Restrictions: In a bid to reduce congestion and air pollution, some cities have chosen to restrain commuters from using their cars during rush hour on a specific day of the week, which typically varies for each driver based on the last digits of their license plate number. The type of demand management measure has been implemented in Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Santiago, and many other urban centers across Latin America. In Quito, research has shown that driving restrictions have achieved a reduction of 9-11% in Carbon Oxide (CO) emissions during peak traffic hours. The efficacy of this policy, however, depends on whether drivers can bypass the restrictions by switching to other private travel modes. In Delhi, around half of the affected drivers were able to use private transport alternatives like other household vehicles, taxis or rickshaws. To avoid this and to maximize the benefits of driving restrictions policies, providing quality public transport options is essential.
Import Regulations on Second-Hand Vehicles: The vast majority of cars, trucks, and buses imported to low income countries are second-hand vehicles. They are typically many years or even decades old and have no catalytic converters to reduce toxic gas emissions, thus contributing significantly to air pollution. There are several ways for developing countries to address this situation: Kenya has regulated the second-hand vehicle market by banning second-hand car imports older than eight years of age; Tanzania charges additional excise duty on used vehicles eight years of age or older; and the whole East Africa region applies depreciation rates to these imports.
Electrification: There is an urgent need to stave off dependency on fossil fuels and leverage the abundant renewable energy resources found in many developing countries. As shown by India and China, the latest advances in Electric Vehicle (EV) and battery storage technology offer promising new solutions. As noted in the GRA, however, while EVs can be quite effective at combatting local air pollution, they are not silver bullet to tackle other problems such as traffic congestion. In addition, in order to maximize environmental benefits, it is important to make sure the electricity used to power EVs comes from sustainable sources.
Low Emission Zones (LEZs): Access to LEZs is restricted to vehicles that meet specified emission standards. Any vehicle that fails the standards may be either excluded from entering the zone or will be charged a fee to get in. This scheme has been adopted in many European cities and in three different areas of Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, franchised bus operators can only operate vehicles that meet Euro IV standards or above; however, these restrictions do not apply to other types of vehicles like private cars.
Have ideas for more innovative, more ambitious policy measures that could help developing countries accelerate the transition toward green mobility? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, or click here to find out how you can provide input on the Global Roadmap of Action Toward Sustainable Mobility!
Photo: Paul Hamilton/Flickr
India’s roads claim 150,000 lives a year, with more than 500,000 seriously injured, and the figures have been steadily increasing for the last 25 years, according to Government estimates. The human cost of this road safety crisis is enormous, and so is the impact on India’s economic outlook. A recent study by the World Bank with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies found that reducing road mortality and injuries by 50 percent could boost India’s GDP by as much as 14 percentage points of GDP over 24 years.
But India is now seizing a unique opportunity to reverse this trend. As part of a national push for modernizing and improving the country’s network, tens of thousands of kilometers of roads are being constructed by the central Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) and state agencies. And they are committed to make road safety a central part of this effort.
Among the several initiatives being implemented, a key one is the Road Safety Audit.
Until 2014 road safety audits were rare and not required in India. A World Bank-financed initiative—the National Highways Interconnectivity Improvement Project (NHIIP)—helped introduce systematic use of design-stage road safety audits across India’s road system, starting with the project’s 1,100 km of roads.
Among the changes made possible under the audits were geometric design improvements allowing for better geometry and sight distance, the incorporation of speed calming measures, pedestrian facilities, junction improvements, crash barriers, signs and markings and more. All these road safety features increased costs by less than 5 percent.
However, to mainstream and sustain such efforts, a multi-pronged approach was required:
First, a mandate in 2014 MoRTH mandated and issued guidelines to its agencies that all road projects costing more than $800,000 will have to mandatorily undergo road safety audits. Subsequently, MoRTH updated and issued detailed guidelines based on experience and feedback.
Complemented with standardized procedures in the form of a Road Safety Audit Manual to guide and standardize the audit process. This manual thoroughly covered the procedures to carry out road safety audits at the design, construction, and operation stages, with illustrative examples. The Indian Roads Congress (IRC) deliberated this draft in their committees and came up with a final product which is now under print, and will apply for all the types of roads in the country’s network: National Highways, State Highways, District and Village Roads, and Rural Roads.
And a sustained capacity building effort. MoRTH is also undertaking a massive effort to build capacity of its agencies and the state Public Works Departments in road safety. It has roped in many educational institutes and individual experts through a specialized training agency to conduct free-of-cost training on road safety and road safety audits to all the staff involved in preparation and implementation of projects. So far, about 2,000 staff have been trained and very soon training of consultants and contractors’ staff will also start.
Contracting measures to transfer the onus for road safety to contractors. During this time MoRTH was also exploring contracting innovations that transferred much higher ownership and accountability to contractors. MoRTH made road safety an integral element of contracts by drafting bidding documents that required the contractors to (a) employ a Safety Consultant and conduct road safety audit, (b) deploy qualified safety staff in its team for the entire construction period, (c) prepare a traffic management and safety plan, (d) develop a monitoring and evaluation mechanism, and (e) agree to a penalty structure including stringent measures such as suspension of works. All these measures are helping in bringing in ‘safety culture’ in implementation of projects. Finally, the MoRTH has started procurement of a consultant firm to develop and implement an Integrated Road Accident Database Management System. This will be a web-based system compatible with mobile phone operating systems and with proper linkages to other systems maintained by the Transport, Police and Health departments, and use Artificial Intelligence for predictive modelling.
India is taking bold and innovative steps to tackling its road safety challenge. The proof of the pudding will be in making full use of the audits for the continuous evaluation and taking of corrective steps to keep India’s roads safe now and in the future.
If you want wide range of technical road safety publications are available from the Indian Roads Congress.
Economic growth, social inclusion, public health, environmental protection… mobility is at the core of many critical issues that have been shaping the global development agenda. This message came across loud and clear at the recent World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings, where the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative (SuM4All) organized a high-level event to identify concrete solutions for transforming mobility.
The conversation brought together a diverse group of leaders and policymakers that included: H.E. Kwaku Ofori Asiamah, Transport Minister of Ghana; H.E. Kairat Umarov, Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the UN in New York; H.E. Mahamadamin Mahmadaminov, Permanent Representative of Tajikistan to the UN in New York; Mr. Makhtar Diop, Vice President for Infrastructure at the World Bank; Mr. Vazil Hudák, Vice President of the European Investment Bank; Mr. Guangzhe Chen, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Transport Global Practice; Ms. Allen Catherine Kagina, Executive Director of the Uganda National Roads Authority; Ms. Rachel Healy, Director of the Office of Sustainability at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA); and Mr. Pau Noy, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB).
While participants touched upon a broad range of topics, four key areas stood out.
1. Sustainable mobility is a prerequisite to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
All speakers highlighted that, without realizing sustainable mobility, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could not be achieved. If we are serious about meeting the 2030 SDGs deadline, then we must accelerate the implementation of policies that lead to sustainable mobility. Mr. Pau Noy commented, “sustainable mobility requires a policy shift from vehicles to people-centered mobility.” Mobility plans should account for the increased numbers of vehicles on the road and their impact on public health. Delivering on this agenda requires “coordination among agencies” and “partners coming together,” noted Ms. Healy.
2. The aspirations of landlocked developing countries need not be held hostage by geography
Landlocked countries face an even greater challenge when it comes to mobility. Their lack of access to the sea translates into higher export costs, making them less competitive in international markets. The average trade volume of a landlocked developing country is only 60% of what it would be in a comparable coastal country.
H.E. Kairat Umarov described how Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked developing country in the world, had managed to overcome these challenges. “A critical part of this effort has been to invest in […] missing international transport links to better connect the country with international markets,” stated H.E. Umarov. “For example, the launch of the Western Europe – Western China Automobile Transit Corridor better connects Kazakhstan with both European and Chinese markets by opening up a previously untapped trade route. To transport goods by sea from China to Europe takes 45 to 60 days. However, with the opening of this corridor across Kazakhstan, that journey is cut down to seven to 15 days. Kazakhstan has spent up to date $30 billion on transport infrastructure, which includes investments in 11 transit corridors that cut across the country.”
3. The role of technology in achieving sustainable mobility
Electric cars, autonomous vehicles, ridesharing apps, and other new technologies are revolutionizing the transport sector. However, many of these innovations tend to reinforce the current car-centric model, which could exacerbate problems like congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. To avoid this scenario, World Bank Vice President for Infrastructure Makhtar Diop stressed that the philosophy behind new technologies should be to promote public transport ridership.
Meanwhile, Ms. Allen Catherine Kagina highlighted that developing countries will have to overcome many obstacles before they can fully leverage these disruptive technologies, especially when it comes to providing enabling infrastructure. If you do not have a reliable supply of electricity, for instance, most technologies remain out of reach.
4. How do we pay for sustainable mobility?
The transition toward sustainable mobility can be expensive. Mr. Vazil Hudák pointed out that to achieve the SDGs by the 2030 deadline, the world must invest $3 to 5 trillion annually. The public sector or multilateral development banks alone are unable to mobilize this scale of financing, so we must tap into the $130 trillion of private sector assets which are not currently being utilized. Mr. Hudák shared how the European Union is trying to do exactly that by leveraging blended financing structures, which use public money from the EU budget as a way to encourage the private sector to be involved.
But there are also mobility projects that can make a significant impact with relatively little investment. The Ghanaian Minister of Transport, for instance, mentioned plans to develop an inland water transport system on Lake Volta—the largest man-made lake in the world—to better connect the north and south of his country.
As SuM4All continues to advance the sustainable mobility agenda worldwide, these insights will make an invaluable contribution to our work. And of course, you too can be a part of the conversation! If you have ideas and opinions about how we can build a brighter future for mobility, please share them in the section below, and find out how you can help inform our Global Roadmap of Action.
Let’s say you are a transport specialist or an urban planner who wants to implement a transit-oriented development plan, because you know that TOD, as a planning and design strategy, can help transform your city.
TOD, as an urban development approach, concentrates high-density development and economic clusters around rapid transit stations. Concentrating housing and activities such as jobs, within a 5 to 10-minute walking distance from these stations encourages more people to take public transport and reduces the need for motorized trips. In addition, if done well, TOD enhances universal accessibility and the quality of public space while offering green and efficient urban mobility options.
Although these all sound attractive for you to implement your plan, you need to convince others, including the city officials you are working with. How do you do that?
A new World Bank toolkit on TOD was recently introduced to delegates from 13 different countries (Argentina, Bangladesh, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Peru, Romania, and Saudi Arabia) at a Technical Deep Dive meeting in Japan. The event was organized by the Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC) as well as the TOD and Urbanscapes communities of the World Bank.
Based on the analysis of different scenarios and lessons learned from over 35 engagements around the world, the toolkit aims to equip practitioners with tools and resources to implement TOD. It combines quick overviews, good practices with design, and financial case studies. Additionally, it includes new tools and checklists to assist the implementation process.
The toolkit provides guidance and tips on the entire TOD process in five steps:
Assessment of the environment
Elements required to enable the TOD to happen
Planning and design
Tasks to implement TOD plans including institutional framework and supportive policies
These altogether build a framework for your conversations with city officials and other planning agencies. The whole idea is to help both technical experts and city governments accelerate the implementation. Therefore, it comes along with several practical products for different use cases, such as:
Analytical tools to make evaluations
Communication tools including games that allow you to interact with users and different stakeholders
How-to-guides that explain to city officials what each step of TOD entails
External resources illustrating good practices
Sample terms of reference to procure external services
The whole TOD process can seem complex and lengthy. By dividing the process into clear steps, the toolkit can help you create the initial momentum within the broader TOD plan to guide and excite people through the process. Additionally, different end-users can selectively focus on a specific module of the tool, depending on their needs and stage of development. Such flexibility has been factored into the design of the TOD toolkit.
TOD will continue to be a key topic and planning concept for cities as populations and economies grow in this rapidly urbanizing world. We hope this toolkit can contribute to the inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urban transformation that the transport specialists and urban planners aim to achieve for citizens.
Vietnam has become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, with annual GDP growth averaging 5 to 8% over the last few decades. These impressive numbers are largely related to the country’s success in manufacturing and trading, which has lifted millions of people out of poverty.
At 21% of GDP, logistics costs are a serious pain point that has been stifling the competitiveness of Vietnam’s exports.
The environmental impact of the sector represents another important concern. The Vietnamese fleet comprises mostly small and older trucks, with a significant impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and traffic congestion. Overall, the transport sector accounts for about 10% of GHG emissions in the country.
To address these issues, our team conducted the first-ever comprehensive study of Vietnam’s trucking sector, which drew on a nationwide survey of more than 1,400 truck drivers, interviews with 150 private and public stakeholders, and a detailed review of the key factors influencing logistics costs and emissions. The results of our analysis and associated policy recommendations have been compiled in a new report: Strengthening Vietnam’s Trucking Sector- Towards Lower Logistics Costs and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The report identified 14 possible policy interventions along four dimensions, summarized below. While our work focuses on Vietnam, the study draws on international examples as well, and could certainly help other countries modernize their trucking industry.
1. Improving trucking companies, vehicle fleets, and driving practices
About 95% of trucks in Vietnam are older than 5 years, with 31% being older than 8 years. Most trucking companies are extremely small, with an average fleet size of only 5 trucks. Many also struggle to find experienced and well-trained drivers. Our report suggests policies that could help at the company, fleet and driver levels:
Encouraging trucking companies to modernize their fleet through incentive mechanisms
Introducing variable road charges based on truck age
Strengthening driver training and licensing; this could include, for example, modules on healthy driving habits and refresher courses to keep up with technology
Fostering fleet improvement and reducing industry fragmentation, via a growth-based lending program to support the purchase of better trucks
Establishing cooperatives for truck owner-operators to pool resources and achieve economies of scale.
2. Better matching the demand for freight transport with the supply of trucking services
Vietnam lacks a pan-Vietnam brokerage market to effectively match available transport services with the needs of potential clients. As a result, the proportion of trucks returning to their destination without carrying any cargo is as high as 50%. This situation, known as “empty backhauling,” has a direct impact on transport costs. Furthermore, there is limited use of technology today to match demand to supply. The report suggests:
Matching supply and demand more efficiently across the entire country, especially by streamlining aggregator registration regulations and partnerships between international and local aggregator firms.
Bolstering digital freight aggregators by promoting logistics technology, research and development, and open government data sharing. An app like Uber or Grab for trucks could be a game changer!
3. Investing in quality infrastructure and multi-modal networks
Due to the relatively low capacity of connecting roads, 50 to 60% of the trucks serving Vietnam’s main ports are small or medium-sized. This necessitates using a larger number of trucks to move goods, causing traffic congestion and delays. Meanwhile, the potential of coastal shipping and inland waterways remains underutilized, even though the country boasts some 3,200 kilometers of coastline and 19,000 kilometers of inland waterways. Suggested policy options include:
Reducing congestion around ports by increasing the capacity of access road networks
Enhancing inland waterways infrastructure and services. The typical vessels currently operating in Vietnam are just 100 to 300 tons. With capacity upgrades, the country’s inland waterways could better accommodate barges of several thousand tons and absorb a much higher share of freight traffic.
Promoting coastal shipping on the North–South Vietnam route, which is still dominated by trucks.
Developing more integrated logistics centers, and urban consolidation centers near major urban areas. This is to discourage trucks from bypassing consolidation points due to the lack of convenient value-adding services.
Upgrading road infrastructure on key intercity trucking routes as identified in the report.
4. Processes: From bumpy roads to smooth rides
Most truck drivers can only rely on their wits to deal with issues such as accidents, unnecessary stops, and congestion. Many avoid toll roads to circumvent long wait times at manual tollbooths. Policy options include:
Launching a mobile phone app to help drivers report and resolve issues in real time
Together, these interventions have the potential to make Vietnamese logistics cheaper, greener, more efficient—and, ultimately, to enhance supply chains and support trade growth. What is at stake here is not just the sustainability of the trucking sector. It’s about helping Vietnam leverage its full economic potential, and allowing a remarkable success story to continue for years to come.
After improvements were made to a local road, Swapna Akhter, a Community Woman in Kalmakanda, Netrokona, can take patients more conveniently to the nearby hospital. Similarly, Ibrahim Talukder, Chairman of a Union Parishad in Fatikchari, Chittagong, has found that the cost of getting to the local health complex has substantially reduced after the paving of a local road.
These stories demonstrate the intrinsic link between transport and human capital development. This connection is perhaps most obvious in rural areas, where improved mobility has transformed countless lives by unlocking economic opportunities and expanding access to essential services like healthcare or education.
The ongoing Second Rural Transport Improvement Project (RTIP-II) in Bangladesh is a case in point. We talked to several beneficiaries of the project—which supports road expansion and upgrading, and rural market development in 26 districts across the country, and the dredging of local waterways on a pilot basis—to understand how better connectivity had impacted their lives.
What are the immediate impacts of improving rural transport connectivity?
The most immediate impacts of improving a road from earth or gravel to a paved surface are generally a noticeable improvement in driving conditions, a significant reduction in journey time, and a reduction in vehicle operating costs. Patients that once reportedly paid between 500 and 700 Taka to reach health facilities in Chittagong district of Bangladesh now pay just 30 Taka.
The construction of new road sections and bridges can add critical new links to the network and result in substantially shorter routes between communities: A truck driver reports that one new bridge, supported by the project, cut 15 kilometers off his journey, saving him time and money.
There is also a significant improvement in reliability, as the paved surface generally provides all weather access that may have been lacking previously: A trip from Baraiyarhat to Abutaorah in Chittagong district used to take 5-6 hours on some occasions, but now reliably takes just 30 minutes due to the provision of a new link supported by the project.
How do these impacts transform the lives of rural residents?
Aside from immediate impacts such as time and cost savings, better road and waterways connectivity also brought much broader and significant benefits to rural communities in terms of accessibility, personal development, and economic growth:
Schools have seen an increase in the number of students enrolling in a school, and a reduction in the number of drop-outs.
Residents report that they can access health facilities faster, more easily, and inexpensively.
A delivery driver who was previously unable to supply essential medicines to shops and hospitals in time due to poor road conditions can now complete the same deliveries in only 20 to 35 minutes.
Many working adults we spoke with mentioned that the improved road connections enabled them to reach their jobs on time, and again with greater reliability.
Local farmers can increase their production, as the dredging of the rural waterway has allowed them to resume irrigating their land. They can also sell the surplus at one of the community markets constructed under the project and receive a fair price for their goods. These new markets also have a number of spaces/stalls reserved for low-income and vulnerable women in the community.
In parallel, the project has created numerous direct employment opportunities for local community. Many of the workers hired by local contractors to maintain the roads are women, providing them not only with a livelihood but also with a voice and agency in their communities.
Kunti Rabi Das is one of them. After her husband suddenly died in 2012, Kunti was struggling to put three square meals on the table for her family of three. A member of an ethnic minority living in a remote part of the Moulvibazar district, her job prospects were slim and she simply didn’t have enough to live on.
That was her predicament until a village representative told her about the possibility of working on road maintenance for one of the project’s Labor Contracting Societies. Kunti now cleans drains, fills pits, clears minor blockades, and plants trees on roadways near her home. Working six days a week, she now earns enough to support her family.
These are just a few examples, of course. But together, they paint a compelling picture about the transformative power of transport. For us, improving rural connectivity is never just about building a road, it’s about paving the way for better lives.
Photo: Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock
Over the last five decades, Rail transport has faced major headwinds. The transformation of global supply chains has made the logistics business more challenging than ever, with increasing pressure to deliver fast and flexible services at a lower cost. In that quickly-evolving context, freight rail is grappling with fierce competition from road transport—a trend that will only intensify under the effect of disruptive technologies like autonomous trucks and on-demand mobility services. In addition, railways around the world have been hit by significant government budget cuts, limiting their ability to invest in infrastructure or maintain high service standards. Stiff competition from roads, which have the door-to-door delivery advantage have offered added pain.
At the same time, railways are in the midst of a profound transformation, driven by emerging digital technologies like 5G, big data, the Internet of Things, automation, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. On a recent study tour in China, I had the chance to learn more about these developments, and to reflect on how digitization may help the rail industry reinvent itself.
It is hard to overstate the impact of digitization on the railway sector. In fact, digital technology is disrupting pretty much every component of railway operations:
Rolling stock. Advances in automation, self-diagnosing, or real-time geolocation tracking mean that trains are becoming considerably smarter and safer.
Control and signaling systems: digital systems can radically enhance the reliability and performance of operations. From an infrastructure/asset management standpoint, they also eliminate the need for outdated railway signal boxes and heavy copper wires.
Railway infrastructure. Internet of things sensors and devices are opening new possibilities for obstacle and damage detection, preventive maintenance, linkages with other systems, Government agencies, logistics providers, and transport modes.
Revolutionary communications (5G, LTE), and cloud infrastructure (backend) will offer attractive solutions for handling large volumes of data and avoiding bulky rail-side infrastructure
Faster self-learning algorithms in Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) systems make for more efficient dispatching, routing, and maintenance scheduling.
Smart monitoring and surveillance systems are changing the way operators manage hazards, intrusions, railway crossings, and driver behavior.
With these breakthroughs, digital development provides a unique opportunity for railways not just to stay relevant, but also to increase their share in the overall logistics market, and to become an integral part of the transition toward greener, more sustainable freight transport. The potential benefits of digitization include:
Performance. Automated and predictive systems will lead to fewer delays and breakdowns, optimized dispatching, routing and scheduling, increased capacity with trains running closer together, lower costs, and more.
Competitiveness. Digital solutions can substantially improve journey times, reliability, cost recovery, traceability, and coordination with other modes—all of which will increase the competitive edge and the modal share of freight rail.
Increased efficiency, less red tape, and lower transaction costs, especially with the integration of blockchain into rail operations. Russian and Kazakh railways are already looking into blockchain to streamline operations and reduce paperwork. IBM and Maersk have implemented successful pilots as well, and major universities around the world are conducting research on blockchain applications in the railway sector.
Improvements in safety and security thanks to track obstacle detection, intrusion detection, and other similar systems that are allowing railways to address various types of risks in a smarter, more systematic way.
Smaller environmental footprint. By optimizing train operations and giving rail a competitive edge over both road and air transport, digitization is poised to lower the climate impact of logistics.
Despite its many promises, the digitization of rail also comes with a number of challenges, ranging from concerns over privacy and security to regulation, issues related to the ownership of data and proprietary systems, public acceptability, the impact on jobs, and the fear of investing in stranded assets.
The World Bank is well positioned to accompany government agencies, railway operators, and other key stakeholders as they navigate these changes. In the rail sector, harnessing the full potential of technology will require locally relevant solutions, drawing from the experiences of others, and careful decision-making. But one thing is for sure: at a time when digital solutions are transforming almost every industry, railways simply can’t afford to be left behind.
In the Paradise, California fires of November 2018, a range of factors coalesced leaving 86 people dead and over 13,900 homes destroyed. Fueling the fires were gale-force winds that when combined with the area’s institutional and infrastructural challenges led to one of the deadliest fires in California history.
When Paradise was developed, the road network was built to maximize buildable space for homes. However, as the Paradise fires demonstrated, in the event of a large-scale disaster, the road network inhibited community-wide evacuation. Paradise featured nearly 100 miles of private roads that dead-ended on narrow overlooks with few connector streets. As wind rapidly accelerated the fire throughout the community, residents trying to flee found themselves on roads paralyzed by traffic for hours on end. Evacuation routes turned into fire traps. Local officials went on to say that the miracle of the tragedy was how many people escaped.
The Paradise example demonstrates the importance of transport networks for allowing swift evacuation during the response phase, and also hints at how important effective recovery of the transport network will be in Paradise, California. In the aftermath of any significant disaster event, it is the roads, railways and ports that underpin the restoration of economic activity and the reconstruction of critical infrastructure after a disaster. In the aftermath of devastating floods, earthquakes, landslides, or typhoons, roads may be rendered unusable, making it more expensive to transport goods and services as well as preventing people from earning income. As such, having multiple ways to get from point A to point B, by modality and by route, is critical to continued connectivity. The recovery phase can be the impetus to reexamine vulnerable links in the transport network and address those deficiencies to help reduce future risks and strengthen the economic and physical resilience of people and infrastructure assets.
Many of these issues are not easily solvable. For instance, redundancy in the transport network, while ideal, may not always be possible due to land availability or budgetary constraints. However, as Paradise recovers, therein lies an opportunity to heed the lessons learned to not only build road infrastructure in a way that better addresses evacuation capacity limits, but also integrates institutional learning into planning going forward.
The Transport Sector Recovery: Opportunities to Build Resilience guidance note aims to frame critical recovery considerations for the transport sector. It is meant to help transport officials, community planners, the private sector and elected officials understand the scope of recovery and entry points for turning the recovery period into an opportunity to build transport network resilience to better serve current and anticipated future community needs.
Specifically, this note offers:
Overarching principles to help government officials think through opportunities for building resilience through the transport network. For example, the note highlights the importance of building back roads in a way that improves equitable access to current and anticipated economic opportunities.
Guidance for setting up the governance and financial foundations for delivering a well-planned and organized recovery of the affected transport network. For example, the note provides critical insights into how to identify and prioritize physical damages and corresponding economic losses, in preparation for the development of an effective transport recovery plan.
Guidance for thinking through the activities required to restore critical transport infrastructure. For instance, the note tackles how to manage the labor and material needs in order to conduct the design, engineering and construction that may be required.
Suggestions for investing in preparedness measures and infrastructure strengthening, which in the long run prove to be more cost-effective than addressing transport planning deficiencies and infrastructure failures as they happen. For example, the note includes a list of activities government officials might consider as they prepare for future disasters and climate change impacts.
For more detailed guidance and case study examples, please check out the Transport Sector Recovery: Opportunities to Build Resilience guidance note and watch our video Q&A on this critical publication. When government officials and other key stakeholders in the recovery process have the right tools and information, we’re hopeful that communities everywhere will be well-positioned to build back stronger, faster and more inclusively.
Photo: Emily Jackson/Flickr
In both developed and developing countries, a growing number of cities are relying on automated systems to collect public transport fares and verify payment. Far from being a gimmick, Automated Fare Collection (AFC) can bring a wide range of benefits to local governments, transport planners, operators—and, of course, to commuters themselves.
The recent Transforming Transportation 2019 conference paid a great deal of attention to the applications and benefits of AFC, which have been at the heart of many World Bank and IFC-supported urban mobility projects.
For users, the development of AFC is a critical step toward making public transport more efficient, affordable, and accessible. The keywords here are integration and interoperability. AFC systems are now becoming compatible with an ever-increasing number of payment methods besides smart cards —near-field communication devices (including smartphones), debit and credit cards, e-commerce platforms (e.g PayPal, AliPay), and even printed QR codes and SMS, opening the way for integration with other transport services such as bikeshare schemes, paratransit, or even carpooling services.
AFC systems are compatible with an increasing variety of payment methods.
By allowing multiple transport systems to share payment information across an entire network, AFC technology is making it much easier for commuters to access targeted benefit schemes, including subsidies toward specific population groups (lower-income users, the elderly, students), setting differentiated fares by time of day, introducing weekly transit passes, unlocking fare gates for disabled users, restoring the unused balance on a lost transport card, and even providing a credit trip when card balance falls to zero.
Going beyond ticketing, AFC systems generate a wealth of anonymized data, fostering private-sector led innovations looking at improving service provision, customer experience, integrating services and making transaction processing more robust and efficient. For example, AFC data combined with Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) data is an increasingly common resource for planners to understand mobility patterns better, identify underserved areas, deficiencies in ticket recharge network coverage (blackout areas), and are helpful when tackling potential fraudulent behaviors (fare evasion).
Decisions, a vision, and three dimensions: The rise of AFC holds great promise for public transport users. But the deployment of this technology can be overly complex, hard to future-proof, and, if left unchecked, expensive. To get this right, decision makers need to come up with a clear vision, making sure their integrated ticketing system meets a number of key criteria: the system should be interoperable, flexible, secure, and scalable, should be developed under a city-owned standard, and prevent captivity on single providers. The following three dimensions can be particularly useful in realizing this vision:
1. Institutional setup: Before going into the detailed design of an AFC, designate a lead institution in charge of the decision making for the entire transport system. This institution should champion the planning and implementation of an integrated AFC project, representing the interests of the public, and reaching agreements with AFC technology companies and transport operators. To facilitate this, international norm ISO 24014-1 on interoperable fare management systems for public transport provides a clear, actionable roadmap.
2. Technical dimensions: Getting the standard right. To develop a flexible ticketing system that can be readily expanded to all modes across the city, the lead institution needs to focus on generating a publicly-owned standard defining how transactions are processed at each of the 5 tiers of AFC (see figure below). This is referred as the interoperability standard, and is the key for integration between modes, operators and technology providers. A comprehensive standard should include clear provisions on:
The interaction between payment methods and readers at stations and in buses;
The interaction between central systems (for each transport mode) and the central clearing house (i.e. where all AFC transactions are settled and paid)
Data security across the entire system.
The various tiers in a typical AFC system.
3. Financial and commercial dimensions. Fare collection involves vast amounts of daily transactions in cash, and increasingly, electronic payments. For that reason, sound financial and commercial management is essential to the success of an AFC system. A first step is ensuring that the clearing house is run by a neutral agent who is supervised by the lead institution and, potentially, a financial regulator. Secondly, revenue distribution among operators and other public transport actors should be efficient, timely, and transparent. The fees payable to individual AFC operators should be clearly defined and such costs must be included in the main technical fare calculation of the transport system. There should be a commonly accepted, robust system for data security and safeguarding.
By allowing seamless integration between transport modes and payment mechanisms, interoperable AFC systems are one of the main factors behind the emergence of Mobility as a Service (MaaS)—a new model that allows citizens to use one account to access a variety of commuting options, including mass transit, pooled and shared services, feeder systems for first-mile/last-mile connectivity, etc. As cities continue to modernize fare collection and rethink the way people move around, what other recommendations do you think are worth discussing?