How the World Bank and London Are Helping Other Cities with Their Transport Systems

November 22, 2016

World Bank Group

There is nothing new to traffic congestion. Archives show that the Romans themselves complained of congestion in the capital of their empire.

However, with on average three million people moving to cities every week and a forecasted 60 percent of the world’s population in cities by 2050, congestion is not an issue cities can afford to ignore. They need to deal efficiently with demand for transport generated by increased population and city sprawl. It is a make or break. But in most emerging economies, cities struggle to adapt.

Cities like London, Paris, Berlin, or Seoul have embraced innovation and enabled citizens to reap the full benefits of 21st-century living. They have also managed to transform while preserving and even celebrating their heritage. In order to share that positive experience across the world, the World Bank and Transport for London have joined forces.

Under the partnership, TfL and the World Bank will collaborate in helping cities to improve their competitiveness through the better use of knowledge, data, technology, and skills that reside within the TfL knowledge base. The MOU arrives at a critical juncture as urban mobility is shifting in the context of Smart Cities. London is a prime example of a Smart City and TfL is a critical actor that makes London smarter.

TfL has an impressive track record, not only in running one of the busiest and most complex urban transport networks in the world, but also in staying at the cutting edge of technology and open data innovation. The partnership provides a unique opportunity for cities around the world to leverage TfL’s technical and policy expertise—including through a mentoring program that will allow practitioners from other agencies to come to TfL and gain hand-on experience by following the work of their counterparts in London. That’s what practical, meaningful knowledge exchange is all about.

TfL is already working with the city of Kolkata, and is about to start an engagement in Mumbai. Kolkata, the third largest mega city in India, has gradually been losing its position as a pre-eminent metropolitan center and cultural melting pot of India. An important, port city, the metropolitan area with a population of 14 million is a gateway to Eastern India and could become the principal driver of economic regeneration in the entire eastern region of India. Today, an extensive network of mostly unconnected transport modes—including buses, rail, tram, metro, and waterways—carry an average of 32 million people. Because of its high density and low car ownership, Kolkata is actually well placed to pioneer new forms of “post-car” approaches to urban transport planning. With support from the World Bank, Kolkata and London are partnering to do just that, pioneering a range of mobility solutions from integrated ticketing to the use of open data.

Within six months of the engagement, Kolkata has opened up its public transport data, as buses are now fitted with GPS and their movement can be tracked in real time. The open data already has developers delivering innovative solutions that can help commuters access various modes of transport services in a more efficient manner.

‘’The fruitful collaboration between the city of Kolkata and TfL caught the attention of officials in Mumbai, who quickly sought to replicate this kind of partnership with TfL in their own city—demonstrating once again the appetite for peer-to-peer learning in the urban transport sector,” said Karla Gonzalez, the World Bank’s Practice Manager for Transport in the South Asia region.

" The fruitful collaboration between the city of Kolkata and TfL caught the attention of officials in Mumbai, who quickly sought to replicate this kind of partnership with TfL in their own city—demonstrating once again the appetite for peer-to-peer learning in the urban transport sector. "

Karla Gonzalez

Practice Manager, South Asia Transport, World Bank

 “The challenges cities face are almost identical: how to create a coalition of people involved in transport – be it users, decision-makers – to get to a point where some difficult decisions are made? There is no shortage of money anymore but the question of how to use the money effectively is still a big issue,” explained Shashi Verma, Director of Customer Experience at Transport for London.

The engagement between Mumbai and TfL will start this November, with Bogota expected to follow shortly thereafter.

The partnership is an ideal complement to the World Bank’s usual interventions. World Bank transport projects usually focus on one specific transport initiative at a time, for example the financing of a new Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT), or of a new metro. The World Bank also carries projects that focus on transport policies, supporting governments to increase their institutional capacity to manage their transport systems. However, city authorities also need the help of their counterparts in other cities on issues such as:

  • How to bring all the stakeholders to the table – users, decision-makers, politicians – and find a consensus?
  • How to leverage the full potential of data? Data is the new game-changing infrastructure in urban mobility; if cities don’t build capacity to gather and put data to good use, they will be left behind. As a leader in the digital space, TfL is uniquely positioned to export London’s smart city solutions to the world.

The TfL engagement can “short-circuit some of the difficult policy development processes that other cities have gone through,” said Shashi Verma.

“The pace of urbanization in our client countries means many developing cities struggle to keep up with ever-expanding transport demand. TfL can play an important role in helping them tackle some of those urban mobility challenges by working as a leader, partner and enabler in areas ranging from policy and planning to complex technical and engineering issues”, noted Rakhi Basu, Transport Specialist for the World Bank, who developed the partnership.