Throughout the Bank’s involvement with urban public transport services, two major aspects dominated both project and research activities.
The first of these concerns the interaction between the general traffic and public transport modes running on city streets, which in practice covers most public transport services even in the largest cities. Both operating costs and quality of service of street-based public transport modes strongly dependent on the characteristics of the traffic flow. This calls for:
continuing attention to traffic management to improve the performance and maximize the use of the existing urban road infrastructure;
selectively giving public transport vehicles the priority of use, ranging from the right of quick passage at intersections to exclusive-use lanes for high-volume service corridors; and
judicious additions to the road network, with designs anticipating the priority for passenger transport modes.
These subjects have been bread-and-butter of Bank’s lending operations and policies from the earliest urban transport projects in 1970s to the current ones. Major publications on these subjects were published in the 1970s and 1980s and are available in the Sectoral and IT Resource Center of the World Bank.
The second major focus of the Bank under the rubric of public transport modes has been on rapid transit. The term “Mass Rapid Transit” (MRT) is used to denote public transport modes operating on fully or partially exclusive tracks (rail or road), away from street traffic and thus subject to full or at least considerable managerial control by the operator. This allows the provision of high-capacity and high-quality services.
The flip side is that absolute investment costs of such systems are vastly higher than for street-based modes. In addition, fixed costs make for a large proportion of total operating cost structure of MRT systems. These two characteristics limit the use of MRT modes to corridors with high passenger flows, found mostly in large, densely populated cities. Investment costs are especially large for underground and elevated systems, such as most metro lines.
At the other end of the range, subject to physical and political availability of at-grade space, intermediate-capacity MRT systems based on bus or light-rail technology can be constructed at much more moderate cost levels. Commuter rail lines also belong to this family of modes, and are typically provided on existing rail infrastructure, shared with other rail services. When demand levels call for this, regional (commuter) rail lines can be developed anew, superimposed on existing urban metro and national rail networks (e.g. RER in Paris).
The process of planning and implementing MRT projects tends to be difficult and complex, and can be downright controversial, especially at the decision making stage. The underlying causes are several.
First, these projects tend to be large and indivisible, involving investment budgets higher than any other in any given city. A 10-km metro line can cost anything between $300m and $1,500m. Decisions to build tend to be irreversible. These features alone call for a very careful pre-investment planning process, including a serious analysis of alternatives, in economic and financial terms. This is by no means an easy task, since the long useful life of these systems and their interaction with urban development places a strain on long-range forecasting.
Second, MRT projects involve unusual levels of risk, especially as regards construction costs, traffic and traffic revenues. This again calls for refined pre-investment analyses, but also for mechanisms to be used during construction and operation stages to ensure that results will not fall short relative to forecasts. Unfortunately, the relevant skills for engineering design and construction, as well as for the financial engineering, tend to be scarce and expensive, and not often offered by independent sources.
Third, the oft-found combination of MRT modes and low-income “captive” passengers risks one of the two undesirable extremes: unaffordable services or unaffordable subsidies. It follows that MRT modes work best when the market has a high proportion of “choice” travelers.
Fourth, MRT lines being limited to high-volume corridors implies their dependence on feeder/distributor systems and, generally, integrated planning and management of urban passenger transport networks. The restructuring of street-bus services done in the context of MRT planning, aiming to achieve integration and/or remove duplication, can harm the interests of low-income travelers, in both accessibility and cost dimensions. This calls for a multi-disciplinary approach, combining engineering, marketing and social impact analyses.
The Bank has often been called to provide independent evaluation of MRT proposals. The most critical lesson learned in these experiences has been that MRT investment decisions should be driven by a thorough examination of strategic objectives, travel market structure, technical alternatives, and financial implications, and not by short-term political or commercial opportunism.
The Bank has long supported the concept of bus-based MRT (or Bus Rapid Transit, BRT), with notable initial experiences in Brazilian cities, and later in Lima and Bogota. In recent years, the search for opportunities to support investments and regulatory innovations in BRT projects has intensified. This is driven by an already demonstrated potential of BRT for high-quality services and cost effectiveness, as well by the difficulties encountered in developing new metros and other large-scale MRT projects. Though the Bank has financed some new rail-based MRT construction, the majority of its involvement has been with upgrading existing metro and suburban rail lines and renewing the rolling stock.In the research sphere, the focus has been on the planning and evaluation methodology for metros. Much attention has also focused on separating metros and urban/regional railways from the national railway companies, often coupled with innovative public-private partnerships. These, and a rash of new experiences with concessions for BRT operations in Brazilian and Latin American cities are listed under the Regulation and Finance topic below.
Developing the Public Transport Sector in China (PDF, 741KB) Ken Gwilliam, January 2011 Cities in China are working to disengage from direct provision of public transport services, and involve the private sector in both funding and operations. The paper surveys the current state in this service sector, discusses mechanisms for restructuring and financing current state-owned operators, reviews a franchising approach, and the corresponding institutional setup.
Affordability and Subsidies in Public Urban Transport: What Do We Mean? Nicolas Estupinan, Andres Gomez-Lobo, Ramon Munoz-Raskin and Tomas Serebrisky, December 2007 Subsidy policies on public urban transport have been adopted ubiquitously. In both developed and developing countries, subsidies are implemented to make transport more affordable. Despite their widespread implementation, there are virtually no quantitative assessments of their distributional incidence, making it impossible to determine if these instruments are pro-poor. This paper reviews the arguments used to justify subsidy policies in public urban transport. Using different tools to quantitatively evaluate the incidence and distributive impacts of subsidy policy options, the paper analyzes the findings of a series of research papers that study urban public transport subsidy policies in developed and developing countries. The available evidence indicates that current public urban transport subsidy policies do not make the poorest better off. Supply-side subsidies are, for the most part, neutral or regressive; while demand-side subsidies perform better-although many of them do not improve income distribution. Considering that the policy objective is to improve the welfare of the poorest, it is imperative to move away from supply-side subsidies towards demand-side subsidies and to integrate transport social concerns into wider poverty alleviation efforts, which include the possibility of channeling subsidies through monetary transfer systems or through other transfer instruments (food subsidies, health services and education for the poor). The general conclusion of the paper is that more effort should be devoted to improve the targeting properties of public urban transport subsidies using means-testing procedures to ensure a more pro-poor incidence of subsidies.
Urban Operations And The São Paulo Metro Line 4 (PDF, 257KB) Marilda Fróes and Jorge M. Rebelo, July 2006 TheSão PauloMunicipalityinBrazilhas been successful in using Urban Operations to generate resources for the development of activity poles in its territory. In fact, those instruments based on the sale of “additional floor space” have now been used in several operations. This paper describes an effort of theSão PauloMetro (subway) to take advantage of this urban instrument to generate resources for the construction of Phase 2 of Line 4. It also describes the effort that Metro is doing to organize its planning to be more aggressive in this resource mobilization area.
The Rail Decentralization and Modernization Program in Brazil: Lessons Learned (PDF, 50KB) Jorge Rebelo, November 2003. In 1991, the Republic of Brazil asked the World Bank’s assistance in the decentralization program of its urban rail systems run by the Companhia Brasileira de Trens Urbanos (Brazilian Urban Trains Company-CBTU). This paper examines the main issues involved in a program of this nature, the institutional obstacles faced and the lessons learned.
Mass Rapid Transit in Developing Countries (PDF, 741KB) Halcrow Fox and Traffic and Transport Consultants, July 2000 This is one of key background papers for “Cities on the Move” covering both rail-based and bus-based systems. It has a wealth of data on existing systems, a review of research and experience, and a discussion of linkages between government objectives (including poverty alleviation) and various mass rapid transit options.
TWU-28. Approaching Metros as Potential Development Projects Slobodan Mitric, March 1997 Metros offer the highest capacity and quality of service, and have a strong potential to affect modal split and urban development patterns. Their high construction cost and associated risks, plus traffic and revenue risks throughout their long economic life, require a very careful pre-investment evaluation, and strong institutional capacity to implement the project, manage operations and regulate the urban transport system.
Urban Transport in West Africa Richard Barrett, 1988 Urban transport services are grossly inadequate to meet the needs of the existing urban population in West Africa. In many countries infrastructure dates back to the colonial period and has not been adequately maintained or improved since that time. Rapid urban population growth, particularly in the unplanned squatter settlements, has exacerbated the deficiencies in urban transport. As a result, many cities in the region have accumulated a massive backlog of maintenance and improvement works. Their secondary road systems are inadequate and the main road network suffers from serious traffic congestion, travel delays and high accident rates. This report analyzes the urban transport constraints in cities in West Africa, and identifies the following policy issues which must be addressed to improve the urban transport sector in West Africa : (1) Cost recovery and mobilization of resources, (2) The government's role in the provision of public transport services, (3) Ways to improve the efficiency of road transport; and (4) Institutional development.