LEIPZIG, Germany (May 23, 2019) — As more people move to cities, congested roads, expensive commutes, and lack of reliable transport options are disrupting urban economies and affecting quality of life. People’s ability to reach their jobs, schools, cultural activities and marketplaces is an important economic driver for cities. Estimates of the value of time lost in congestion already range between 2 and 5% of GDP in Asia and up to 10% of GDP in Beijing and São Paulo. With many infrastructure projects focused on building roads and bridges that bring more vehicles onto already packed streets, new research from World Resources Institute finds that more accessible cities with transport options available to all residents stand the best chance of thriving in coming decades.

WRI’s new working paper, From Mobility to Access for All: Expanding Urban Transportation Choices in the Global South, was launched today at the International Transport Forum summit. Using a novel approach to identify which residents are under-served in terms of transport, it presents an analysis of two cities to illustrate how access to opportunities and transport are closely linked. The research finds that in Johannesburg, the average resident has access to 49% of jobs within 60 minutes of travel time by any mode, and in Mexico City, the average resident has access to just 37% of jobs. Very few residents in both cities – between 7 and 9% – have both high access to jobs and low mobility costs.

WRI recommends two broad shifts: better transport options that connect under-served people to jobs and opportunities, and a focus on reducing the amount of time and money everyone spends commuting in cities.

“Declining densities and growing urban sprawl, accompanied by increasing private vehicle use and the lack of affordable, reliable transport options, are making it harder to reach where we need to,” said Anjali Mahendra, co-author of the report and Director of Research at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. “Road networks tend to grow larger to accommodate more traffic. But cities reach a threshold beyond which more investment in road networks leads to more congestion, not less, inhibiting access for everyone. Cities need to shift from a primary focus on moving traffic faster and accommodating more vehicles to prioritizing access for all, and this demands much stronger integration between transport planning agencies and land developers.”

Of the 2.5 billion people moving to cities within the next three decades, 90% will live in Asia and Africa. As incomes rise in these regions, car and motorcycle ownership is increasing rapidly. In 2010, there were 2.5 new motor vehicle registrations for every child born in Latin America and 3 new registrations for every birth in India. Meanwhile, air pollution is estimated to kill 3 million people worldwide each year, significantly adding to health care costs and wider environmental degradation.

“By focusing on access to opportunity rather than any one particular mode of transport, like cars, cities can increase economic productivity and improve environmental quality too,” said Christo Venter, lead author and Associate Professor in Civil Engineering at the University of Pretoria. “What is good for equity also tends to be good for business, the climate and local ecosystems.”

In many cities, traveling to work, to school, to see health care providers, or to socialize requires long or unsafe walks, long waits between poorly connected services in inconvenient locations, or expensive trips in unsafe and uncomfortable vehicles. The working paper, which is part of the World Resources Report, Towards a More Equal City, finds that restricted access afflicts both low-income communities scattered throughout cities (the “stranded” under-served) and low- to medium-income people living in suburbs and peripheral settlements who use private cars, motorcycles, and informal transport on long, congested commutes (the “mobile” under-served).

Johannesburg and Mexico City reflect broader trends across many cities in the global south. Between 1990 and 2015 the urban footprint of cities in less-developed countries increased 3.5 times on average, whereas their densities declined at an annual rate of 2.1% – faster than the decline in more developed countries.

Many cities in the global south already have high levels of walking, cycling and public transport, trends that could be leveraged to build more integrated, efficient and democratic transport networks that enhance accessibility. The authors recommend:

  • Rethinking the role of streets to better serve pedestrians and non-motorized mobility. Walking is the most important transport mode in African and Asian cities, where between 35-90% of trips are made on foot.
  • Making it easier for people to use multiple modes of transport seamlessly, including formal public transit and informal transport modes, like tuk-tuks, songtaews, and other minibus and taxi services. This includes extending public transit services to communities across a range of income levels.
  • Implementing congestion and parking policies that charge higher fees to car and motorcycle users, to reflect the higher social costs of using these modes.

“As the world becomes ever more urbanized, many cities are not seeing the economic gains expected, and this has a lot to do with access to jobs, services and other opportunities,” said Ani Dasgupta, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. “To fulfill the promise of opportunity that cities represent, we need to change our mindset from focusing on mobility – moving from point A to point B – to prioritizing accessibility – being able to reach a wide range of opportunities and destinations efficiently, safely and affordably.”

For more information visit citiesforall.org.