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Results BriefsApril 23, 2024

​​Replicable Mass Transit Systems Reduce Emissions and Connect People to Opportunities in Latin American Cities​

The World Bank

Metro Line 4. Sao Paulo, Brazil 

Mariana Ceratti/World Bank

The World Bank has been instrumental in supporting the development of urban mass transit systems in Latin America, including metro lines, bus rapid transit, urban rail, and electric mobility. These efforts have led to demonstrable reductions in emissions and congestion, while improving access to transportation for low-income users and women.

​​​Key Highlights: ​​

  • World Bank projects have resulted in reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and commuting times. For example, the upgrading and greening of Rio de Janeiro's Urban Rail System reduced transport-related GHG emissions by 17,703 tCO2-eq between 2009 and 2022, representing an 89 percent reduction compared to the counterfactual. The operation of São Paulo's Metro Line 5 is estimated to save 2,960,000 tCO2eq over its economic lifetime. Investments in Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Buenos Aires reduced travel times for BRT users by 53 percent between 2016 and 2019 and increased the overall speed of travel by 105 percent.
  • World Bank projects focus on promoting inclusion of the poor. For example, 89 percent of beneficiaries of Rio de Janeiro's updated urban rail system are commuters coming from low-income households. About 58 percent of all trips on São Paulo's Metro Line 5 were made by low-income passengers, with an average daily ridership among these users of 329,000 in 2019. The extension of Lima's BRT system ensures access to jobs in the city center for residents of some of Lima's poorest areas. Moreover, 40 percent of Quito Metro employees are women, including those who serve in managerial, strategic, and operational positions.
  • The World Bank has also made important contributions to establishing public-private partnerships. Notably, the São Paulo Metro Line 4 was the first Public-Private Partnership (PPP) of its kind in Brazil, earning global recognition and acclaim as the best PPP in Latin America and the Caribbean, as acknowledged by the International Finance Corporation (IFC). 



​​Many Latin American cities suffer from high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, congestion, and unequal access to opportunities. As of 2023, transport is responsible for more than 40 percent of regional urban GHG emissions, including from private vehicles (motorcycles and cars). High levels of traffic congestion lead to long commutes, reducing the quality of life for residents. In cities like São Paulo, congestion costs up to 8 percent of the metropolitan area’s GDP. These issues are further compounded by rapidly growing urban populations; when user demand for public transportation outpaces available supply, this consequently limits access for many riders. Constraints on ready access to quality public transit in turn exacerbate the difficulties that low-income households and women, in particular, face in accessing education, employment, social services, and other opportunities, which perpetuates existing inequalities. ​


The World Bank’s approach to tackle the issues of high emissions, low productivity and inequality through mass transit systems has been transformational for many Latin American cities. Beyond providing loans and grants, the World Bank has collaborated closely with clients to shape the operations through technical assistance, data analytics, and capacity building. Moreover, the World Bank has established best practices in the sector, encouraged knowledge sharing and scale, for a broad portfolio that includes metro, urban rail, and bus rapid transit, as well as advice on reforms for federal mass transit support and extensive policy and regulatory support on electric mobility. 


The World Bank has supported urban mass transit systems through operations and advisory work across eight Latin American countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay. The World Bank’s support of mass transit in Latin America has allowed client countries to move their transport systems toward a low-carbon path by reducing reliance on road-based transport and improving energy efficiency. World Bank projects also contributed to more inclusive and sustainable urban services through the enhancement of quality and efficiency, and through a focus on specific transport needs of lower-income users and women. Many projects employed innovative data analytics to achieve the following results.

The World Bank has supported the creation and extension of metro systems across Latin America. For example, São Paulo’s Metro Line 4 was the first Public-Private Partnership of its kind in Brazil. Transporting 750,000 passengers per day, Metro Line 4 reduced travel times by 48 percent and doubled the number of jobs accessible within 60 minutes. Similarly, on São Paulo’s Metro Line 5 travel time was halved between the first station (Capão Redondo) and downtown (Se), from 99 minutes at the beginning of the project to 50 minutes in 2020. Notably, Metro Line 5 is projected to bring greenhouse gas (GHG) emission savings of 2,960,000 tCO2eq over the economic lifetime of its assets, largely achieved by metro users reducing the use of private vehicles. The Quito Metro began operations in December of 2023. The system was designed to reduce travel times by 40 percent and provide access to jobs within a 60-minute commute for 51 percent of daily users. Forty percent of Quito Metro employees are women, including those who serve in managerial, strategic, and operational positions.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems offer another way to enhance mobility for citizens, and the World Bank has supported the establishment of BRT. For example, in Buenos Aires, investments in BRT infrastructure reduced travel times for passengers by 53 percent between 2016 and 2019 and increased overall speed of travel by 105 percent. Lima’s BRT (Metropolitano) transported about 700,000 passengers per day prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 600,000 as of 2023; the North Extension Project is expected to add 150,000 additional passengers per day, and has been designed to further improve access to jobs for residents of some of Lima’s poorest areas.

Fran. Resident of Lima.

In Argentina and Brazil, the World Bank has supported the construction and electrification of Urban Rail systems, with measurable benefits for their users. Eighty-nine percent of beneficiaries of Rio de Janeiro’s updated urban rail system are commuters coming from low-income households. One hundred and six new energy-efficient trains equipped with regenerative braking systems were brought into service, reducing energy consumption per train-km from 3.7 kWh to 3.2 kWh. The riding experience improved with the newer generation of air-conditioned trains and better integration with bike and bus systems. Sixteen stations gained bicycle parking facilities, and 82 stations now have bus-rail fare integration to facilitate multi-modal trips and encourage modal shift from private vehicles to public transport. 

The Belgrano Sur Railway Modernization Project emphasized safety and accessibility to public transport for more than 3 million users across the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, including a 30 percent increase in the number of low-income passengers. The upgrading of stations and surroundings was designed to be gender-sensitive and disability-inclusive. The modernization of Buenos Aires’ Mitre Passenger railway has also improved reliability, safety and comfort for more than 2.4 million beneficiaries. The project increased the share of trains operating with less than a five-minute delay to over 90 percent, reduced railway accidents linked to safety by 11 percent, and is designed to increase the number of jobs accessible within a one-hour commute by 147 percent. As part of its focus on gender inclusion, the project has also increased the share of female decision-makers within the Argentine state-owned company (ADIF) to 24 percent, with an end target of 35 percent. The World Bank has also accompanied the process of integrating the gender approach to transport policies in Buenos Aires, providing analytical work on the different travel patterns of men and women and the implications these have on policy issues.  

I found out that [the Mitre Line] is a very good line. What I like about it is the punctuality of the schedule. Every time I have traveled in the last two months, I always take the train at the same time, so I arrive on time and so far, I have never had any inconveniences. The important part about [the Mitre line] is that there is security, that there is order, and that the service is punctual
Monica, resident of Buenos Aires in Mitre Line Railway
Resident of Buenos Aires

Through advisory work in electric mobility in Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay, the World Bank enhanced the technical, financial and institutional readiness of federal and local government agencies to transition to bus electrification and supported the preparation of electric bus pilot projects in various cities, including Belo Horizonte and São Paulo in Brazil, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, and Pereira in Colombia. The World Bank’s e-mobility engagement benefits from extensive knowledge sharing and allows our clients to build on and co-create best practices for the sector. This includes knowledge sharing events, regional studies on the drivers and barriers for electric mobility, financial instruments, funding mechanisms, and policy recommendations, as well as detailed deep-drives (for example, sharing insights on the successful business model in Chile).  

The World Bank has also supported client countries in enhancing public management for service delivery, while tapping new mechanisms to mobilize financing and ensure effective implementation. For example, the World Bank supported Mexico in the transformation of its urban transport sector through technical assistance for the implementation of mass transit corridors, including through support mobilizing private sector financing of $51.5 million (about 21 percent of the $243.3 million overall investment). The São Paulo Metro Line 4 was the first Public-Private Partnership of its kind in Brazil; this groundbreaking achievement catalyzed a series of subsequent PPPs in the country, unlocking billions in investments from the private sector.

Bank Group Contribution

​​The nine highlighted investment projects benefited from cumulative International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) loans of over $3.5 billion, of which over $1.5 billion for metro projects and over $1.6 billion for urban rail. Moreover, the World Bank leveraged more than $2 million in trust fund contributions for analytical work related to electric mobility. ​


​​The World Bank's work on mass transit systems in Latin America has been enhanced by collaboration with partners and government officials, including local municipalities, provinces, and national governments. The World Bank has a track record of working closely with other development organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), bilateral partners, and local NGOs. Consultancies have also provided valuable input. This collaboration has enabled the World Bank to leverage additional resources, share knowledge and expertise, and ensure that projects are aligned with local priorities and needs. The World Bank's partnerships have been critical to achieving the results seen in reduced emissions, improved access to transportation, and reduced inequality.​

Looking Ahead

As public transit represents one of the main pillars of cities’ decarbonization, resilience, and productivity, the World Bank is dedicated to expanding its efforts in supporting Latin American cities to scale up mass transit systems that are well integrated with other green modes such as walking and cycling and with the city’s land use. The World Bank remains committed to ensuring that low-income households are adequately served by these projects, as by facilitating access to education, employment, and social services, they contribute to improving inclusion and reducing inequalities. The World Bank intends to continue to provide financing and technical assistance to enable cities to build and scale up their systems by leveraging private sector financing and efficiencies.​


Read more:

How better transport will help Latin America get ahead of the climate crisis

Latin America can inspire electric buses adoption worldwide

Argentina Urban Transport 

Greening Rio de Janerio Urban Rail Transit in Brazil: $600 million in IBRD Sustainable Development Bonds

Women in transportation, an advance that leads to change in Quito