The specter of motorization is haunting large cities in low- and mid-income countries of the world. The simultaneous and explosive growth of population, income, and private vehicle ownership means that cities throughout the developing world face severe congestion, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, traffic accidents, and a fast-rising energy bill.
Problems arise when waves of new motor vehicle traffic, carrying passengers or freight, encounter road networks ill-equipped in terms of size and structure to handle this increased load. Efforts to accommodate the needs of huge numbers of residents, while dealing with the negative impact of motorization, have created unprecedented stress on public transport systems in developing cities.
In China and India alone, more than 500 million people are expected to migrate by 2020 to urban areas that already have one million residents or more. Motor vehicle ownership rates in many Chinese and Indian cities are rising even faster than population and income.
When the urban transport system experiences major difficulties, consequences are felt by households, by businesses, and by the urban community at large.
Negative consequences include:
- Health and safety: Pollution and road accidents are major public health issues, the latter resulting in over one million deaths annually.
- Climate change: globally, cumulative transport emissions of greenhouse gases are contributing to climate change and the rise in aggregate demand for energy may not be sustainable.
- Economic growth: Traffic congestion threatens city productivity and competitiveness.
- Poverty reduction: Congestion is making public transport services far less effective, reducing access to economic opportunities and posing a barrier to poverty alleviation.
Congestion and accessibility problems are at their worst in cities with high population growth and low rates of economic growth. They can be serious also in stable-size, richer cities, there being few direct linkages between a city’s wealth, budgets available to local governments, and the strength of local institutions.
If left unattended, high transport costs eventually affect all segments of an urban society.