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The Road to Sustainable Transport

Has Progress Been Made?

Despite the rise of sustainable transportation on the global agenda, the 2020 UN Sustainable Development Goals Report states only half the world’s urban population has convenient access to public transportation, according to 2019 data from 610 cities in 95 countries. The report measures access as the share of the population within 500 metres walking distance of low-capacity transport systems (buses and trams) and 1,000 metres distance to high-capacity systems (trains, subways, and ferries). To compensate, many cities have resorted to and have a high prevalence of informal transport systems, which often lack consistency and safety features.

Many cities have resorted to informal transport systems, like the Jeepneys in Manila, the Philippines, which often lack consistency and safety features. (Photo: iStock)

Yet, some progress has been made. Share the Road, a United Nations Environment Programme-led initiative launched in 2008, advocates for investments in walking and cycling infrastructure, including links to public transport systems. The initiative has promoted non-motorized transport programmes in Mexico, Brazil, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Indonesia. It also collaborated with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) to create a toolkit for developing non-motorized policies and strategies (FIA Foundation, 2020).

Other advances include creating more “walkable cities.” In Buenos Aires, a road that once had 20 traffic lanes now dedicates the center of the road to buses. When the city made the change a few years ago, commute times shrank dramatically. Buses also no longer needed to use crowded side streets, which freed up around 100 blocks for pedestrian-priority zones where cars are restricted (Peters, 2019). Similarly, in Cuenca, Ecuador, the city’s historic center is being transformed with specific pedestrian and prioritized public transportation access. In Coimbatore, India, and Lisbon, Portugal, pedestrians and cyclists have priority access, with a shift away from a car-orientated society toward an increased focus on pedestrians. Guangzhou, China, has a new 500 km (311 miles) greenway for pedestrians and cyclists (ITDP, 2020).

Cycling has been a major focus in many cities, from the implementation of bike share programmes, to increasing bike lanes and bike parking. Niterói in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Frankfurt, Germany, and Guatemala City, Guatemala, are investing in cycling infrastructure. Kampala, Uganda, and Windhoek, Namibia, have established bike share systems to support social advancement, particularly for the poor. Many cities view improvements in cycling and pedestrian spaces as going hand-in-hand. For example, Lviv, Ukraine, has enacted a complete street design, which improved cycle lanes to such an extent public transit users have stopped driving to bus stations (ITDP, 2020).

The Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) coordinates programmes to reduce vehicular and road transport emissions in developing countries by promoting cleaner fuels and vehicles. When the PCFV was launched at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, most developing and transitional countries were still using leaded fuel. Today, only six use leaded fuel.

In Egypt, a Vehicle Scrapping and Recycling Program enabled taxi owners to voluntarily turn in their outdated, high-polluting vehicles for managed scrapping and recycling in exchange for new, more environmentally friendly vehicles. The new taxis were purchased from pre-registered vehicle dealers at a discounted price and with financing facilities. By the end of 2018, around 45,000 taxis had been turned in, scrapped, and recycled in Cairo alone, resulting in emission reductions of approximately 350,000 tonnes (World Bank, 2018).

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), electric micromobility options are also rapidly expanding, with shared electric scooters, electric-assist bicycles, and electric mopeds now available in over 600 cities across more than 50 countries. An estimated 350 million electric two/three-wheelers, the majority of which are in China, make up 25% of those in circulation worldwide. Many Chinese cities have banned two-wheelers with internal combustion engines.


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