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Unlocking Sustainable Transport Starts with Cities

This post originally appeared on National Geographic's "City Solutions" blog.

City leaders face incredible pressure to deliver sustainable transportation. Cities now account for more than half of the world’s population—by 2050, they will hold 75 percent of us. These people--increasingly from the middle class--will need ways to commute to work, travel, and carry out their livelihoods.

At the same time, 1.27 million people die from traffic accidents every year—about half of these fatalities occur in cities. Cities also account for about 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, much of which is transportation-related.

Cities, then, are tasked with a huge challenge: provide reliable, safe, and affordable transportation systems that can benefit both people and planet.

Meeting this challenge is a topic we discussed at length during the 10th annual Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. The two-day event looked at the various ways to scale up sustainable transportation and share lessons learned. Examples of city leadership were featured prominently throughout the event—and can serve as inspiration for how urban centers can meet transportation challenges.

4 Big Ideas to Revolutionize Transportation

Two leaders on urban development recently came together on the same stage: Dr. Jim Yong Kim and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Kim, president of the World Bank, and Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, headlined a panel at the Transforming Transportation conference, an event co-organized by the World Bank and WRI’s EMBARQ Center for Sustainable Transport. Through a discussion moderated by Zanny Minton Beddoes, an editor at The Economist, and closed by WRI’s president, Dr. Andrew Steer, Kim and Bloomberg took on the meaty topic of how to shape the future of urban transport.

It was an interesting pairing of perspectives. Bloomberg is a leader in business, government, and philanthropy who has had an enormous impact on New York City. Kim brings a public health and international perspective, and now, at the World Bank, focuses on advancing the goal of reducing poverty and boosting “shared prosperity” across the globe. Despite their different backgrounds, the two shared the idea that sustainable transport goes beyond moving vehicles and infrastructure. At its core, transportation is about improving the health and quality of life for people.

A Critical Moment for Sustainable Transport

As both Kim and Bloomberg noted, the world is moving unsustainably—literally. About 1.3 million people die every year as a result of traffic accidents. In most cities, motorized transport is responsible for 80 percent of local air pollution. And with 70 percent of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, these urban problems are likely to worsen.

3 Big Opportunities to Transform Transportation

The need for action on sustainable transport has never been more apparent than it is today. The world’s population is expected to reach a whopping 9.8 billion people by 2050, with about 70 percent of these people residing in cities. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are on the rise. Transportation contributes 13 percent of global emissions, spurring climate change and creating dangerous air pollution.

Sustainable transport—like public transport systems, bicycling lanes, and walking—has the capacity to save lives, reduce energy use and GHG emissions, facilitate access to goods and services that support sustainable development, and enhance the overall quality of life in cities. While the need for sustainable transport has long been accepted in some parts of the world, it is now gaining momentum globally. Cities, which are so important to the global economy, play a key role.

A Critical Moment for Sustainable Transportation

Multi-lateral development banks (MDBs) signaled a paradigm shift when they committed $175 billion for sustainable transport over 10 years at the Rio+20 summit this past June. While the funding comes from resources already allocated for development, this commitment represents the first time that MDBs have earmarked dollars of this magnitude for sustainable transport. This financial commitment can help leverage the impact of investments in transport infrastructure, which already account for more than $1 trillion a year globally. It can also support work at the national level, as well as cities’ historic leadership on transportation.

We are now presented with a chance to truly embrace sustainable transport at the local, national, and international levels. It’s imperative that we capitalize on the opportunity presented by this unprecedented alignment of wills.

Zipcar’s Purchase by Avis: Car Sharing Success or Failure?

This post originally appeared on TheCityFix.com.

Zipcar’s $500 million acquisition by Avis-Budget Group announced last Wednesday is a watershed moment for the car-sharing industry. What will it mean for car sharing?

Barely 10 years ago, no one knew whether car sharing could even work in North America, let alone become a staple of trendy and pragmatic urban living. Yet today Zipcar, plus dozens of innovative start-ups like City CarShare, PhillyCarShare, I-Go, and CommunAuto, have grown into robust community assets in every major U.S. and Canadian city.

Car sharing has made an indelible mark on how we live in cities. Membership exceeds one in five adults in many urban neighborhoods from Montreal to San Francisco. Each shared vehicle in North America has been shown to replace nine to 13 personal cars, and reduce driving by an average of 44 percent – as members pocket the savings and choose to walk, bike, and take public transit.

Zipcar has been at the forefront of this transformation. Launching in Cambridge, Mass., with a handful of lime-green Volkswagen Beetles, the feisty start-up pioneered early innovation, catalyzed massive scale-up around the world, and helped inspire a whole movement toward shared access to everything from houses to bicycles to parking spaces—and even pets.

The Trillion RMB Question: How Can China Fund its Sustainable Urban Transport Growth?

This piece was co-authored with Daniel Bongardt, Project Director of Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) China.

China—especially its cities—has embraced sustainable transport in a big way. The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently urged Chinese cities to increase the number of travelers using non-motorized transportation to at least 50 percent by 2015. The country has been undergoing the most rapid expansion of urban rail systems in world history, and it leads Asia in bus-rapid-transit (BRT) and busway implementation. Plus, dozens of cities are expanding non-motorized transport. Hangzhou, for example, has built up the largest public bike program in the world, accumulating 65,000 bicycles in fewer than two years.

But while China leads the developing world in sustainable urban transport expansion, the country faces great challenges when it comes to financing the construction, maintenance, and operation of new and existing public urban transport projects.

The Great Challenge of Funding Sustainable Transport Projects in Chinese Cities

China lacks dedicated funding structures for planned public transit, biking, and walking facilities—at both the national and local levels. The Ministry of Transport provides funding only for inter-city highway projects, acquiring this revenue from gasoline taxes and vehicle registry fees. Local governments, which are often in charge of urban public transport development, currently support metro or BRT construction through per project-based funding, mainly via land leasing and local loans--neither of which is sustainable.

Reflections on the 8th International Congress on Sustainable Transport

Who said urban transport was boring? Certainly not the 1,100 people who recently gathered in Mexico City at the 8th annual International Congress on Sustainable Transport. The event, organized by colleagues at EMBARQ Mexico, brought together leading government officials, practitioners, academics, and other professionals to explore lessons and find new solutions to global transportation challenges. I was amazed by the energy and excitement that pervaded the event and by the ideas and innovations emerging in this field.

I had the pleasure of addressing the plenary on the bigger context for urban transport in today’s global society. With nearly a billion people being added to the world’s cities in the coming decades, how transport systems are designed will be pivotal for livelihoods, society, and the global environment. Transportation goes to the heart of how we live and what kind of future we want.

WRI Annual Report 2011-2012

2011/2012 was a transition period as WRI said goodbye to President Jonathan Lash and welcomed new President Andrew Steer. With ample wind in our sails from 18 years of Jonathan’s leadership, the Institute’s accomplishments—many captured in this report—reflect both the strength and versatility he...

What to Look for in the EPA’s Forthcoming Standards on Emissions from Light-Duty Vehicles

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are working to finalize rules for light-duty vehicles that could significantly reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

These rules, which could be released this week, will establish new fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2017 through 2025. Light-duty vehicles represent a significant portion of U.S. greenhouse gases, accounting for approximately 17 percent of U.S. emissions. If the forthcoming rules resemble the proposed standards published by EPA and NHTSA last November, they will be an important step forward in protecting the environment and shielding consumers from higher gas prices.

Highlights from the Proposed Rules

The proposed rules would establish an emissions standard of 144 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile for passenger cars and 203 grams of CO2 per mile for trucks. If vehicles meet the standards entirely through fuel economy improvements, cars will achieve 61 miles per gallon (mpg), while trucks will achieve 43 mpg [^1]. If cars and trucks attain these standards, vehicles sold in 2025 will consume roughly half the fuel as vehicles sold in 2008 (27 mpg), emitting about half the greenhouse gases.

Q and A with Akshay Mani: Rajkot’s New Auto-Rickshaw Fleet

This post was co-authored with Matt Kroneberger and originally appeared on The City Fix Blog.

One week ago, with assistance from EMBARQ India, the city of Rajkot, in partnership with Nirmal Foundation, launched the G-Auto service, debuting a new fleet of auto-rickshaws, featuring a unified brand and dial-a-rixa (call-in) service, on July 13. The initial fleet includes 50 auto-rickshaws. The service will scale-up in the coming months and is expected to reach a fleet size of around 500 auto-rickshaws at the end of the first year of operations.

Rajkot, a city of around 1.3 million people in Gujarat State, India, currently has a patchwork collection of auto-rickshaw fleets and companies, with more than 12,000 auto-rickshaws currently operating, many without formal fare structures or employment benefits for drivers. G-Auto service will continue to expand its fleet in the coming months, with support from EMBARQ India and the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC). This partnership, fostered by EMBARQ India, has coalesced over the past eight months to allow for safe and reliable auto-rickshaw service for the people of Rajkot.

Rio+20 in the Rear View: What’s the Road Ahead for Sustainable Transportation?

WRI's experts will continue to provide commentary and analysis of the results of the Rio+20 conference through our series, "Rio+20 in the Rear View." Check Insights this week and next for more post-Rio+20 coverage.

As we look to make sense of the Rio+20 conference that concluded last week, we can confidently say that transportation drove its way to the top of the sustainable development agenda. It’s a far departure from the last global development conference 10 years ago in Johannesburg, when transportation was conspicuously absent from the agenda and the resulting Millennium Development Goals. After the Rio+20 conference last week, transportation is now poised to become a significant part of the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals, which are beginning to take shape as one of the conference’s major outcomes.

With transportation intricately tied to so many of the global mega-trends today—climate change, traffic fatalities, city growth and congestion, poverty, and air pollution—it was exciting to see sustainable transport finally included in development discussions. Here are a few of Rio+20’s major transportation outcomes:

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