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Results BriefsMarch 14, 2024

Promoting Livable Cities by Investing in Urban Mobility

Urban transport is vital for connecting people to jobs, education, healthcare, and other essential services in cities. The World Bank is supporting countries through investments in mass transit projects and other public transport improvements. Since 2012, 12 metro and bus rapid transit (BRT) projects have been completed, benefiting more than 20 million people. Among the many benefits of these projects are reduced congestion, shorter travel times and lower costs, improved accessibility to jobs and services, and social inclusion, as well as reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and local air pollution.


Developing countries face challenges in financing, constructing, and managing urban transport systems, which hinder progress toward multiple sustainable development goals (SDGs): without reliable and sustainable transport systems, young people cannot attend school (SDG 4), women cannot access opportunities for employment and empowerment (SDG 5), around 1.19 million are killed or disabled annually in traffic incidents (SDG 3.6), and GHG emissions continue to rise (SDG 13).

In developing cities, congestion and emissions are rapidly increasing due to the growing usage of private cars and motorcycles. Air pollution is also a major concern, causing 7 million premature deaths annually, mostly in the developing world. Furthermore, in many large cities, less than 20 percent of jobs can be reached within an hour's commute using affordable modes of transportation, due to congestion and dysfunctional public transport.  This disproportionately affects low-income workers in congested cities, who often spend more than three hours per day commuting and spend 15 percent or more of their income on their daily commute.


World Bank-supported urban transport projects aim to tackle the challenges mentioned above through a comprehensive range of support on urban mobility, including investments in transport infrastructure and services, policy support and institutional development. Projects are designed to adapt to demographic, spatial, and economic changes, while also considering the specific context of each city or country. World Bank-funded projects support major public works projects, such as metros, BRT and other high-quality public transport systems. They also focus on implementing people-centered traffic management systems and creating facilities for walking and cycling, which are faster to construct and implement, and more cost-effective. These projects are designed with social inclusion in mind, such as universal accessibility features and gender-informed design.  Furthermore, mass transit operations aim to mobilize significant private financing and investments in modern vehicles, equipment and service provision, operation, and maintenance. They incorporate new technology, such as electric mobility and electronic payment systems, whenever possible.

“Before the Bus Rapid Transit we faced many challenges because the normal public buses took many hours on the road in traffic. You faced delays in reaching your destination, and when coming home. Now with the BRT, transport has become easy. When you are going somewhere, you will get there in good time.”
— Beata Mrema, a commuter on the Dar es Salaam BRT


Over the last decade, the World Bank has supported 28 urban transport projects in 18 countries. Projects have been implemented in cities from Bogotá, Colombia, to Dakar, Senegal, to São Paulo, Brazil, as well as several cities in China and India. More than 20 million people have benefited from 12 completed BRT and metro projects over the past decade.

One key arena in which World Bank-funded projects have achieved results lies in reduced travel times and costs. A typical mass transit project can benefit hundreds of thousands of daily users, as well as people living in the surroundings of the improved areas.

  • In Brazil, the São Paulo Metro Line 5 project, implemented between 2010 and 2020, reduced average travel times for users by 50 percent and transports around 500,000 daily passengers.
  • In Nigeria, BRT infrastructure financed by the  Lagos Urban Transport Project 2 achieved a reduction of the cost of public transport by about 30 percent for 200,000 daily passengers between 2010 and 2017.
  • In Peru, a series of projects since 2010 helped implement and extend the Metropolitano BRT system which carries more than 700,000 people per day and has reduced travel times on the corridor by 34 percent on average.
  • In Tanzania, the initial phase of the Dar es Salaam BRT, developed under the Tanzania Dar es Salaam Urban Transport Improvement Project, reduced travel times on the corridor by over 50 percent and resulted in an affordable, inclusive, and sustainable transit system.

World Bank-supported projects have also led to improvements in accessibility and inclusion.

  • By reducing congestion and improving public transport, the 12 completed World Bank-funded projects over the past decade have resulted in over 1.5 million additional jobs becoming accessible within a one-hour commute.
  • Public transport is most used by the poor and other disadvantaged groups, so the benefits of these investments accrue to these users. For example, of the more than 500,000 people using the Sao Paulo Metro Line 5 in Brazil every day, 56 percent are women and 58 percent come from low-income households.

World Bank-funded projects are helping to reduce GHG and other emissions.  Each completed mass transit project since 2012 has resulted in an average annual reduction of over 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2eq). Urban transport projects also decrease vehicle emissions of air pollutants.

  • In Brazil, the São Paulo Metro Line 4 (Phase 2) and Line 5 projects combined are contributing to an average annual reduction in GHG emissions of 122,000 tCO2eq, resulting from more people shifting from traveling by gas-powered buses or private cars to the electric metro system.
  • In Senegal, the capital city of Dakar inaugurated in December 2023 a new fully-electric BRT line, the first in Sub-Saharan Africa, through the World Bank-supported Dakar BRT Project. This BRT will reduce GHG emissions by an estimated 1.2 million tCO2eq over its lifetime, equivalent to taking more than a quarter of a million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles off the road for one year.
  • In Ecuador, the Quito Metro Line 1 began operations in December 2023 as the country’s first metro line.  This project is 100 percent electric and will reduce 67 thousand tCO2eq and save $50 million in fuel each year.

Urban transport projects are making mobility safer. Mass transit is statistically safer than other road transport modes. For example, with the implementation of the Lima Metropolitano BRT in Peru, serious traffic crashes were reduced by 54 percent in this major road corridor.

Finally, World Bank-funded projects are also helping to mobilize significant private capital, which makes these operations more sustainable, financially accountable, and extends the impact beyond what public investments alone can achieve. About $3.6 billion of private capital is being mobilized from nine World Bank mass transit operations. One example of private capital mobilization is the Dakar BRT project in Senegal, which is expected to mobilize $144 million in private investment.

Bank Group Contribution

Over the past decade, the World Bank has approved 28 urban transport operations (20 BRTs, five metros, and three urban rail projects) for a total financing of $5.7 billion ($1.85 billion for International Development Association (IDA) countries and $3.85 billion for International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) countries). In addition to financing, the World Bank adds significant value through technical support and knowledge sharing.


The World Bank has collaborated to co-finance urban transport projects with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Development Bank of Latin America and the Caribbean (CAF), and the European Investment Bank (EIB), as well as with bilateral institutions and national development banks such as the Agence Française de Developpement (AFD), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). 

For example, the Brazil São Paulo Line 4 (Phase 1 and Phase 2) projects had a total cost of about $3.8 billion and were financed by IBRD loans of $434 million, co-financing from JBIC, and about $2 billion in private investment over the 20-year concession.  The World Bank provided technical support in the form of cutting-edge studies and consultancies on topics such as metropolitan transport governance, multi-modal integration, and the potential for additional revenues from transit-oriented development.

The Senegal Dakar BRT provides another example, being co-financed by $370 million in IDA funds, $22 million from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and $144 million of commercial financing. The World Bank also provided technical support in the form of cutting-edge studies and consultancies on electric mobility and transit-oriented development.

Looking Ahead

The World Bank’s support to urban transport brings significant development benefits to client countries resulting in strong demand from large and mid-size cities. Overall, this portfolio has been growing steadily and has good potential to scale by incorporating the lessons from previous projects as documented in The Urban Rail Development Handbook and Synopsis of Bank-funded Bus Rapid Transit Projects.

Future urban transport engagements may also take on a more programmatic approach with more standardized instruments and facilitating successful projects—such as the electric BRT in Dakar, Senegal—to be more easily replicated elsewhere.

The World Bank will continue supporting financial and technical assistance for urban transport programs in several countries through a range of trainings, capacity building activities, as well as through knowledge exchange networks with client governments and partners. The World Bank’s flagship capacity-building program Leaders in Urban Transport Planning (LUTP) has already trained more than 2,300 clients from 100+ countries in 70+ global and regional workshops since 2011.