Live from Transforming Transportation 2019: The Convergence of Old and New Mobility

Day two of Transforming Transportation 2019 began by asking the audience how to achieve more efficient transport. Photo by Crystal Ledbetter/WRI

Why is Transforming Transportation (TT) 2019 focused on new mobility? Tech-driven disruptions in transport are already having huge impacts on our cities, said Ani Dasgupta, global director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. “What do we need to do as a community to help prepare so the end result is something we want?”

With more than 1,100 ministers, mayors, businesspeople, researchers, practitioners and advocates taking part in the two-day conference co-hosted by the World Bank and World Resources Institute (see day one recap here), TT brought a wealth of ideas about how to make mobility more affordable, safe, equitable for everyone.

On Electric Buses…

“We see a lot of governments around the world spending their time, money and political capital on private passenger vehicles,” said Heather Thompson, CEO of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, but we need to be thinking about subsidies and incentive policies for mass transit.

In places where the electricity grid is green, electric buses and trains can lead to truly zero-emission transit. Claudia Dobles Camargo, first lady of the Republic of Costa Rica, noted that the eco-conscious country, which gets almost 100 percent of its power from renewables (mostly hydropower), is moving in this direction. “If we can move to electric buses, they will truly be zero emission,” she said. “When we talk about a zero-emission train, we are really talking about a zero-emission train.”

Ching Yuen Ma, deputy general manager of the Shenzhen Bus Group, said the city’s switch to an all-electric bus fleet last year is saving the equivalent of 26 tons of coal annually per bus. Multiplied across more than 16,000 buses, the impact is enormous. Ma estimated that the electric drive trains are currently saving more than $8,000 on energy costs per bus every year over conventional equivalents.

However, as highlighted by Mayor Mauricio Esteban Rodas Espinel of Quito on day one, acquiring electric buses is not an easy process today. The conventional procurement model essentially penalizes electric buses because their lower long-term costs are not weighted as strongly as their high upfront costs, said Emma Stewart, director of urban efficiency and climate at WRI Ross Center. The whole process needs to be revised with these variations in mind for electric buses to score highly.

On Freight…

Forty-six percent of global transport emissions come from freight, said Sophie Punte, executive director of the Smart Freight Centre, and growth is exploding as economies become globalized. “There can be no sustainable transport without sustainable freight.”

Creating dedicated lanes to separate vehicles from other traffic and reduce idle time are simple solutions for sustainability. Shri Anurag Sachan, managing director of the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation in India, said his company alone plans to complete 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) of dedicated freight lanes over the next two years.

Freight exchange platforms, meanwhile, are helping with the “Uberization” of the sector. “It’s like a dating site,” said Punte. “People say, ‘Hey I have space in my truck, who wants to take it?’” Better matching can reduce empty miles driven and in turn reduce carbon emissions. One exchange platform in China not only matches delivery requests with trucks but can track fuel, driver, and engine data, ultimately encouraging more efficiency through transparency.

The company LiftIt provides a similar platform for independent truck drivers in Colombia and other Latin American countries. They not only match drivers with jobs but provide tools to help them organize their businesses more efficiently. “A truck for a Latin American family is a huge investment and they’re looking to utilize it seven days a week,” said CEO Brian York.

Automated freight vehicles are inevitable in the future, said Punte, “because they are sexy.” Automation offers the potential of reduced labor costs and more uptime because of fewer breaks, benefits that are very appealing to the industry.

On Data Sharing and Gender…

Linking public transit with new mobility through data sharing has had successes and failures, said Regina Clewlow, CEO of the data company Populus. In many cities, ride-hailing companies have refused to share data for fear that it would reduce their competitiveness, for example.

But governments are learning. As electric scooters, dockless bikes and other new micromobility services arrive, more local governments are requiring data sharing in exchange for permission to operate and use public space.

Though travel modes come and go, “data is the core asset,” said MIT professor Jinhua Zhao. It is what is most valuable, in terms of planning, and in maximizing the public good of new mobility services.

If governments rely solely on companies to store and share data, they run the risk of losing it when companies go bankrupt or change business strategies, said Jessica Seddon, director of integrated urban strategy at WRI Ross Center.

Better access to transport data is also key to confronting gender issues.

“Traditional mobility services don’t collect crucial data for gender analysis,” especially on why women don’t make certain trips, said José Segundo López of WRI Ross Center. “With new mobility, we have the unique opportunity to track the detailed data and collect the information we need.”

Better data can help track and test solutions to discrimination, harassment and assault that cause women to use transit less than men, said Ammar A. Malik of Harvard’s Kennedy School. He emphasized the need to “distill some hard facts about what works and what doesn’t work.”

Female representation in all sectors remains a critical component to addressing prejudice and harassment against women, said Lizzette Soria Sotelo of UN Women. “We know that sexual harassment is completely normalized in developed and developing countries.”

Souad Abderrahim, mayor of Tunis, and Paola Tapia, former minister of transport for Chile, both emphasized the need for women in high-level leadership roles. “Mobility should be a way for women to be included in society,” said Abderrahim.

Making Mobility Better for Everyone

By the end of the year, more people will be riding Uber and Lyft in the U.S. than using bus transit, said Dan Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and professor at the University of California Davis.

Arathi Mehrotra, regional general manager for JUMP U.S. and Canada, which is owned by Uber, said they are beginning to see some cannibalization of Uber X rides by JUMP bikes, especially among early adopters, and about 20 percent of global trips on Uber are now pooled.

But, overall, congestion in urban areas appears to be increasing, with the number of people driving for ride-hailing services or taking solo trips outweighing those who share rides or forgoing a car.

Emily Castor Warren, senior director of policy and public affairs at Lime, said everyone agrees that public transit is “an absolutely essential component of changing car dominance in cities. But the evidence clearly shows that public transit isn’t a sufficient solution… A variety of shared mobility options is the only way that we’re ever going to come up with a robust enough package [to challenge car dominance].”

Integration and systems thinking was a theme sounded throughout TT by multiple speakers. “I’m quite heartened that we are not talking about these new mobility services in isolation anymore,” said Mary Crass of the International Transport Forum.

Ultimately, said Guangzhe Chen, senior director for the Transport Global Practice at the World Bank, we want to make mobility better for everyone, whether “new” mobility or “old” mobility – it’s all a spectrum of access to opportunity, fundamental needs and a greener world.

Transforming Transportation is an annual conference co-hosted by the World Bank and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities in Washington, DC. This year’s theme is “Will New Mobility Deliver Sustainable Transport For All?” Tune in to the livestream and follow the conversation on Twitter following #TTDC19.

Schuyler Null is a Communications Associate for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Talia Rubnitz is a Communications Specialist at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Hillary Smith is an intern on the communications team for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

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