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EMBARQ and Partners Win Award from Harvard University for Metrobus Project

Public-private partnership recognized by John F. Kennedy School of Government

This post originally appeared on EMBARQ.org.

EMBARQ - the World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport - today receives the 2009 Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership from Harvard University for its work in establishing Mexico City’s Metrobus, a sustainable transit project in one of the world’s most populated and congested cities.

“We’re honored to receive this award,” said Nancy Kete, director of EMBARQ. “We always knew that creating a public-private partnership model was necessary to overcome the political challenges that often impede sustainable transportation.” Mexico City’s Metrobus is a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system designed to reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and traffic while improving the quality of life for commuters.

The bi-annual award, presented by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, celebrates outstanding public-private partnerships that enhance environmental quality through the use of novel and creative approaches. EMBARQ helped create the public-private partnership with the Mexico City government to the make the transit project a reality.

“Our goal was to pull the disparate groups together and help them find compromises. We wanted to show that cooperation was a better strategy than competition,” Kete added.

In 2005, after several years of planning and development, Metrobus opened along 20 kilometers, or about 12 miles, of the central transport artery in Mexico City, Avenida Insurgentes. The route was extended an additional nine kilometers in 2008, and later extended by another 22 kilometers with the launch of the Eje 4 Sur corridor. It’s estimated the new buses transport more than 450,000 passengers per day.

By introducing cleaner, more efficient buses, and convincing many commuters to leave their cars at home, Metrobus has reduced carbon dioxide emissions from Mexico City traffic by an estimated 60,000 tons to 80,000 tons a year. Also, due to the expansion of the system, a total of 839 polluting mini-buses that once traveled along the Metrobus route have been permanently removed from the roads, thanks to successful negotiations with former mini-bus owners and operators.

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard wants to extend the system to 10 lines from two. “If we make [the city] greener, the city will be able to survive.”

EMBARQ worked on the project with three Mexico City government agencies - the Secretary of the Environment, Secretary of Transportation, and Secretary of Urban Development, and the Interdisciplinary Center for Biodiversity and Environment (CeIBA), a prominent Mexican NGO.

Together, these groups established the Center for Sustainable Transport in Mexico (CTS-México), a not-for-profit organization that has provided on-going technical assistance to the Metrobus system from its inception through its expansion. The World Bank, Global Environment Facility and the Shell, Caterpillar and Hewlett Foundations provided significant financial support for the project.

“Each partner contributed to the success of Metrobus in different ways,” Kete said. “By coming in from the outside, EMBARQ brought new ideas, international prestige, global best practices, and helped arrange financing. CTS-México has provided an experienced voice to support, assure and guide the city on a day-to-day basis. In the end, the public will hold the mayor and his senior staff accountable for the quality of transport in the city.”

EMBARQ and CTS-México are now advising other cities in Mexico on developing their own BRT systems. One project launched recently is Guadalajara’s Macrobus, which opened last spring.

“This model is transferable to cities throughout the developing world wrestling with the dual problem of moving people around in a highly congested area, while combating very high pollution levels,” said Henry Lee, director of the Environment and Natural Resources program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Metrobus was selected from a group of 30 highly qualified projects from around the world that tackled tough environmental problems ranging from clean fuel adoption to nuclear waste cleanup. More than 20 experts from and outside of Harvard reviewed the nominations.

To see the agenda of related Roy Award events, click here.

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