World Sustainable Transport Day: Challenges and Opportunities | Experts’ Opinions

ByCatalina Russu

World Sustainable Transport Day: Challenges and Opportunities | Experts’ Opinions

Establishing a sustainable transport system is crucial for economic growth and the rapid movement of goods and people while reducing the environmental impacts of transport and improving quality of life in developing countries. However, countries frequently face several challenges related to transport, including inadequate infrastructure, rapid urbanization, and limited resources. On World Sustainable Transport Day, we launched a discussion regarding the sustainability of transport systems with several international experts. Check out their opinions below.

Key Takeaways:

  • According to UN stats, only half the world’s urban population has convenient access to public transport
  • Developing countries face significant challenges related to transport infrastructure including a lack of essential road networks, bridges, ports, and public transport systems which stifle economic growth and restrict access to crucial services
  • By reducing the number of vehicles on the road, public transport contributes to reduced congestion and lower pollution levels

DevelopmentAid: What are the most pressing challenges related to transport faced by developing countries and how do these challenges differ from those in developed nations?

Ermanno Nesci, Senior Pavement and Materials Engineer

Transport challenges in developing countries differ from those in developed nations due to a variety of factors, including infrastructure limitations, economic constraints, population growth, and urbanization patterns. Here are some of the most pressing transport challenges faced by developing countries:

  • Inadequate infrastructure: developing countries often lack the necessary road networks, bridges, ports, and public transport systems. Poorly maintained or nonexistent infrastructure hinders economic growth and limits access to essential services.
  • Traffic congestion: rapid urbanization in developing countries leads to congested roads and longer commute times. The lack of effective public transport alternatives contributes to this problem.
  • Safety concerns: Developing countries often have higher rates of traffic accidents and fatalities due to poor road conditions, poor enforcement of traffic laws, and inadequate emergency response systems.
  • Public transport deficiencies: public transport systems may be underdeveloped, unreliable, or inaccessible to a significant portion of the population. This forces people to rely on private vehicles, exacerbating congestion and pollution.
  • Lack of funding: developing countries often struggle to secure the funding required for transport infrastructure development and maintenance leading to a perpetuation of existing challenges.
  • Shadow economy (informal transport sector)ts: in many developing countries, a significant portion of transport services is provided by informal or unregulated operators, leading to issues of safety, reliability, and fairness.
  • Access to rural areas: providing transport services to remote or rural areas can be challenging and costly, leading to isolation and limited economic opportunities for these regions.
  • Technology gaps: developing countries may lag behind in adopting modern transport technologies, such as intelligent transport systems, which can improve efficiency and safety.”
Matthieu Desiderio, transportation & infrastructures expert
Matthieu Desiderio, transportation & infrastructures expert

“Developing countries grapple with multifaceted transport challenges such as dilapidated or scant infrastructure, overwhelming urban migration, and resource scarcity. Unlike developed nations, where infrastructural frameworks are usually stable and regulatory policies well-established, developing countries may lack the financial means, technical expertise, and governance mechanisms to systematically address these challenges. For instance, whereas advanced countries focus on optimizing or innovating within existing robust transport networks, developing nations are often still working to establish basic, reliable, and accessible transit infrastructures to ensure their economic development.”

Leila Muchanga-Hvelplund, Chartered Engineer
Leila Muchanga-Hvelplund, Chartered Engineer and Transportation Safety Expert

“According to the World Health Organization (2021), developing nations constantly grapple with pressing transport issues due to underinvestment in emerging urban developments. As a result, some concerns are a deficient physical infrastructure, limited access to efficient transport, exposure to congestion, and lack of safety.”




DevelopmentAid: In your opinion, what are the key benefits of promoting sustainable transport in developing countries, both in terms of economic development and environmental impact?

Ermanno Nesci, Senior Pavement and Materials Engineer

“Promoting sustainable transport in developing countries can yield numerous benefits, both in terms of economic development and environmental impact. Here are some key advantages:

Economic development benefits:

  • Increased accessibility and mobility: sustainable transport systems improve accessibility for people to essential services such as healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. This can lead to a more productive and economically active population.
  • Reduced congestion and time savings: sustainable transport options like well-planned public transit systems and non-motorized modes (e.g., cycling and walking) can alleviate traffic congestion. Reduced congestion results in time saving for commuters leading to higher productivity.
  • Cost savings: sustainable transport modes are often more cost-effective over the long term. They reduce the financial burden on individuals and governments that is associated with car ownership, road maintenance, and healthcare costs related to air pollution and traffic accidents.
  • Job creation: the development and maintenance of sustainable transport infrastructure, including public transit systems and cycling lanes, create jobs in construction, operation, and maintenance. This can stimulate local economies.
  • Promotion of local businesses: improved public transport can boost local businesses by increasing foot traffic and access to markets, particularly in urban areas.
  • Reduced energy dependence: Sustainable transport often involves energy-efficient options, such as electric vehicles or improved fuel efficiency in public transport. This reduces dependence on fossil fuels and their price volatility, contributing to energy security.

Environmental Benefits:

  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions: sustainable transport systems, including electric and hybrid vehicles and low-emission public transport, help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is crucial in mitigating climate change.
  • Improved air quality: sustainable transport reduces air pollution which can have immediate health benefits by lowering the incidence of respiratory diseases and related healthcare costs.
  • Preservation of natural resources: by encouraging non-motorized modes like walking and cycling, sustainable transport reduces the need for resource-intensive car manufacturing and maintenance.
  • Biodiversity conservation: sustainable transport planning can include efforts to reduce habitat fragmentation and preserve green spaces, contributing to the conservation of biodiversity.
  • Noise reduction: sustainable transport options, such as electric vehicles and quieter public transport, reduce noise pollution in urban areas, leading to improved quality of life for residents.
  • Sustainable land use: promoting compact and mixed land-use patterns along with sustainable transport can help to reduce urban sprawl, preserving valuable agricultural land and natural landscapes.
  • Resilience to climate change: Sustainable transport systems can enhance a community’s resilience to the impacts of climate change by providing alternative transport options during extreme weather events and reducing vulnerability to rising fuel prices.”
Matthieu Desiderio, transportation & infrastructures expert
Matthieu Desiderio, transportation & infrastructures expert

“Sustainable transport in developing countries underpins economic and environmental progress by facilitating accessible mobility, fostering trade, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Economically, it enables the movement of goods and labor, integral to trade and job accessibility, thus propelling economic growth and poverty reduction. Environmentally, by prioritizing greener modes of transport like cycling or electric vehicles, countries can significantly mitigate air pollution and decrease carbon emissions, safeguarding both public health and the environment. Moreover, this aligns with global efforts towards achieving sustainability targets, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. With the help of developed countries, developing countries can directly jump into the future of public transport.”

DevelopmentAid: What role can public transport play in reducing congestion and pollution in rapidly urbanizing developing cities? Are there successful examples from specific regions that we can learn from?

Ermanno Nesci, Senior Pavement and Materials Engineer

“Public transport can play a significant role in reducing congestion and pollution in rapidly urbanizing developing cities. Here are some ways in which public transport can address these challenges:

Reducing congestion:

  • Increased capacity: public transport systems, such as buses, trams, subways, and commuter trains, have higher passenger capacities compared to individual cars. They can move more people in a smaller space, reducing traffic congestion.
  • Dedicated lanes: Bus Rapid Transit systems often have dedicated lanes that are not shared with private vehicles, ensuring faster and more reliable travel times.
  • Carpooling and ride-sharing: public transport encourages carpooling and ride-sharing, reducing the number of vehicles on the road and, consequently, congestion.

Reducing pollution:

  • Emission reduction: electric and hybrid public transport vehicles produce fewer emissions than traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, reducing air pollution.
  • Fleet modernization: replacing old, polluting buses and trains with newer, more fuel-efficient and cleaner technologies can significantly decrease pollution levels.
  • Encouraging non-motorized transport: public transport often integrates with non-motorized modes like walking and cycling. This can further reduce pollution by decreasing the reliance on cars.
  • Urban planning: public transport can influence urban planning, leading to more compact, transit-oriented developments that reduce the need for long commutes and encourage walking or cycling.

Successful examples from specific regions:

  • Curitiba, Brazil – Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): Curitiba’s BRT system is a globally renowned example of efficient and sustainable public transport. It features dedicated bus lanes, integrated land use planning, and high-capacity buses. The system has reduced congestion and improved air quality in the city.
  • Bogotá, Colombia – TransMilenio: Bogotá’s TransMilenio BRT system has helped to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. It offers a fast and efficient bus service along dedicated lanes, providing a reliable alternative to private cars.
  • Singapore – Integrated Transportation System: Singapore has integrated various modes of public transport, including buses, trains, and trams, into a seamless network. The city-state’s approach emphasizes efficient urban planning and a well-connected transport system, resulting in reduced congestion and pollution.
  • Istanbul, Turkey – Metro and Ferry System: Istanbul has expanded its metro system and ferry services, reducing the dependence on private vehicles. The introduction of electric ferries and the expansion of the metro system have contributed to improved air quality and reduced congestion.
  • Ahmedabad, India – Janmarg BRT System: Ahmedabad’s Janmarg BRT system is an example of sustainable transport in an Indian city. It has dedicated lanes, eco-friendly buses, and improved passenger amenities, leading to a reduction in traffic congestion and air pollution.”
Leila Muchanga-Hvelplund, Chartered Engineer
Leila Muchanga-Hvelplund, Chartered Engineer and Transportation Safety Expert

“Technology solutions for public transport can significantly contribute to reducing congestion and benefit the environment. Some successful stories:

  • Bogotá’s TransMilenio system (ITDP, 2023),
  • Curitiba Bus Rapid Transit (Milwaukee, 2022),
  • and Istanbul Istanbul’s Metrobus (C40Cities, 2016).

Moreover, promoting sustainable transport systems in low/middle/high-income countries can stimulate economic growth. This can be achieved by innovatively lowering fuel costs, and by creating jobs in different sectors. An example may be to reduce the use of private vehicles by offering affordable and efficient mobility options. In Curitiba’s case, the use of technology not only contributed to improving the traffic flow but also to enhancing air quality.”

Matthieu Desiderio, transportation & infrastructures expert
Matthieu Desiderio, transportation & infrastructures expert

“Public transport is pivotal in alleviating congestion and curtailing pollution within burgeoning urban locales in developing nations. By offering an efficient and affordable alternative to private vehicle use, it reduces traffic volume and associated emissions. The TransMilenio Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Bogotá, Colombia, exemplifies this. It not only significantly improved mobility in the city but also reduced pollution levels by adopting cleaner technologies and encouraging citizens to transition from car usage to public transit, showcasing a scalable and adaptable model for other developing urban centers. There are lots of good examples that can be duplicated from developed to developing countries!”

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