How can city traffic in emerging and developing countries be made safer and faster? Arturo Ardila Gomez, traffic expert at the World Bank and Lead Transport Economist, talked about his experiences in Latin America and East Asia in an interview.
Compass: Why are you focusing on traffic in developing and emerging countries in particular?
ARDILA GOMEZ: There are a whole host of reasons. I’ll highlight the three most significant: first of all, rising car usage for commuting must be curtailed. This is the case with rising income and so we have to come up with a good, affordable and sustainable alternative. Secondly, only by improving public transport systems, can we reduce transport-related CO2 emissions. And thirdly, people who were born after 1980 basically use other means of transport. They prefer public or non-motorised transport.
Compass: How should we think about the situation today in Asia?
ARDILA GOMEZ: As cars and public transport share the road, competition for road space is constant. Each mode has different needs: buses stop frequently to let passengers get on and off. Motorists, on the other hand, want to stop as little as possible in order to get to their destination quickly. The overall situation slows everyone down. In addition: modes of public transport compete with one another for each passenger. This leads to faster driving habits and high accident rates.
Compass: What specific suggestions do you have on this?
ARDILA GOMEZ: In Latin America and East Asia, public transport needs to be urgently improved and upgraded. As far as competition for road space is concerned, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit systems) is the answer. This rapid transit method works by assigning cars and buses to their own lanes. Competition for passengers can only be alleviated by clear contractual arrangements.
Compass: According to current information from the World Health Organization, an above-average number of people die in traffic accidents, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, although the proportion of cars per capita remains relatively low. Can sustainable traffic concepts do anything to change this?
ARDILA GOMEZ: Definitely. In some cities where bus operators compete with each other for passengers, a bus is involved in every second accident resulting in injury or death. The improvement and upgrading of public transport will improve road safety tremendously. For example: Through the Lima Transport Project, in which BRT was implemented, the number of accidents involving fatalities and injuries was reduced by 90 per cent. The economic benefit of this improvement to road safety is hard to express in figures.
Compass: So when planning urban transport, what exactly should governments take into consideration?
ARDILA GOMEZ: Governments need to understand that the need for sustainable transport solutions in cities is great. A simple approach to the problem would be to pinpoint and address particularly accident-prone areas. At the same time, we must make it clear that owning a car is losing its importance. Make it worthwhile for people to share a car with others or otherwise use public transport. In addition, new transport systems should be accessible. Often, a disability is the reason why public transport isn’t used, and therefore nothing more is done. With the help of adequate investment these barriers can be removed, ensuring that people with other mobility limitations are able to take part in society.
Compass: Are such comprehensive measures even financially feasible in the urban centres of poor countries?
ARDILA GOMEZ: Even cheap and creative solutions can increase road safety significantly. One measure is the systematic guidance of the different traffic flows, especially at intersections. Here, pedestrians, cars, buses, taxis, and bikes each use the paths assigned to them. As a result, danger is reduced while crossing the intersection. People often think this can only be achieved with billion-euro projects, but that’s not true.