China: Building Leaders in Urban Transport Planning

August 22, 2012

To meet the demands of China's rapidly-urbanizing population, the transport system in Chinese cities needs to be increasingly smart and low-carbon. Take a look at a World Bank program that helps China build city leaders who have the capacity to build such systems.

World Bank Group

  • A smart transport system is instrumental in accommodating the rising needs of the rapidly-growing urban population in the developing world, including China.
  • A World Bank program tries to help city planners and managers adopt a comprehensive and integrated approach to urban transport issues.
  • The program delivered its first workshop in China and plans to expand it with local partners.

In Fuzhou, the capital of southern China’s Fujian Province, signs of China’s fast-paced urbanization are easily spotted: the city’s first subway line under construction, traffic congestion during peak hours, and people crammed into buses.

Today, more than 660 million people in China live in cities, and 13 million more pour in every year. Building smart transport systems in cities is instrumental in accommodating the rising needs of the rapidly-growing urban population, experts say.

But in most Chinese cities, like elsewhere in the developing world, city planners and managers tend to do urban transport planning in a piecemeal fashion, which has not been very effective – while the intent is to improve traffic flow, only building flyovers and widening roads could lead to an increase in traffic and congestion in the long run; and high costs of rail mass transit system may limit their extent and coverage.

A World Bank program tries to help them adopt a comprehensive and integrated approach to urban transport issues.

The Program

"Urban transport is complex - it is more than just technologies. You need to consider a whole lot of issues: affordability, cultural and environment issues, local politics, energy issues, financing. You also need to look at the needs of women, older people, children,” said O.P. Argawal, Urban Transport Advisor, the World Bank.

"If you ask me what is the key issue of all these, I think it is the lack of leadership and the lack of courage to understand the complexity of the issues, and professionals that can articulate all of these in a way that can be implemented,” said Jose Luis Irigoyen, Director, Transport, Water and Information Unit, the World Bank.

To fill the gap, the World Bank, together with international and domestic development partners, launched the “Leaders in Urban Transport Planning” program, aiming to develop a more comprehensive understanding of urban transport planning among senior policy makers and planners in cities, provincial governments and national governments.

In January this year, the first international offering of the program took place in Singapore, where over 60 participants from 13 countries participated.

In June, the World Bank’s China Urban Transport team brought the program to China. The first workshop held in Fuzhou drew over 50 participants from 12 cities.

" Suppose each of these cities need 10 people with strong leadership skills in urban transport planning. That would mean that China will need 1,000 such leaders. "

Ke Fang

Senior Urban Transport Specialist, the World Bank

China Takes Initiative

More than a hundred Chinese cities have populations of more than a million each, including Fuzhou, where 7 million people live. “Suppose each of these cities need 10 people with strong leadership skills in urban transport planning. That would mean that China will need 1,000 such leaders,” said Ke Fang, a senior urban transport specialist with the World Bank.

"While their technical capacity may suffice, holistic thinking on leadership levels remains a big gap,” said Liu Zhi, a lead infrastructure specialist with the World Bank.

At the workshop in Fuzhou, international experts introduced global trends and challenges in urban transport development and participants engaged in three case studies: Jakarta’s metropolitan transport; Beijing’s comprehensive measures for congestion alleviation; and New Delhi’s Airport Express Metro.

In an open discussion, participants talked about how to overcome the barriers to effective coordination between different departments in urban transport development and management.

"The trainings tried to meet the special needs of mid-career professionals. So instead of lectures on theories, they focused on case studies. Instead of one-time information overload, they were given gradual inputs. They also had hands-on exercises and site visits,” said Li Sheng, a senior learning specialist with the World Bank Institute.

The feedback from the participants in the Fuzhou workshop was very positive:

Xu Lixia, Wuhan Urban Construction Utilization of Foreign Investment Project Management Office

"The case studies inspired me to think and reflect. I also actively interacted with trainers and other participants. I manage urban transport projects - what I've learned here will directly help with what I do.”

Chen Zhiyun, Vice General Manager, Fuzhou Public Transport Station Construction Company

"This workshop provided us with new ideas and diverse ways of thinking, as well as international experience in traffic management, planning and control.”

Zhang Wenjie, Director, Urban Construction Commission of the Xining Municipality

"The format is very good. I would like to see the next workshop take place in western China. We want to learn from the more advanced cities ways to cope with traffic congestion before it becomes a serious problem. We want to learn how to take early actions to avoid the high costs of increasing congestion.”

Next Steps

Motivated and inspired, the World Bank’s China Urban Transport team, in partnership with the World Bank Institute, plans to move this program one step further in China – to specifically target mayors and senior municipal government officials who are in charge of urban transport policies and strategies.

"We are discussing with potential Chinese partners about hosting and owning this program in China and organizing the trainings on a long-term basis. With that, we hope to contribute to the efficient transport development in Chinese cities,” said Ke Fang.