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Reflections on the 8th International Congress on Sustainable Transport

Who said urban transport was boring? Certainly not the 1,100 people who recently gathered in Mexico City at the 8th annual International Congress on Sustainable Transport. The event, organized by colleagues at EMBARQ Mexico, brought together leading government officials, practitioners, academics, and other professionals to explore lessons and find new solutions to global transportation challenges. I was amazed by the energy and excitement that pervaded the event and by the ideas and innovations emerging in this field.

I had the pleasure of addressing the plenary on the bigger context for urban transport in today’s global society. With nearly a billion people being added to the world’s cities in the coming decades, how transport systems are designed will be pivotal for livelihoods, society, and the global environment. Transportation goes to the heart of how we live and what kind of future we want.
The State of Global Transportation

This year is the 10th anniversary since the founding of EMBARQ, WRI’s sustainable transport center. EMBARQ’s flagship project is the bus-rapid-transit (BRT) system, a concept that was born in Curitiba, Brazil, largely from the vision of Mayor Jaime Lerner (who is now a WRI board member ). What began as a single BRT line in a small Brazilian city has spread to more than 146 cities – from Mexico to Turkey to China. BRT systems have provided transportation to nearly 2 billion people, saving time and cutting pollution along the way.

Yet today, hundreds of millions of people are still wasting time and money by sitting in traffic. According to the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, drivers in 400 U.S. cities spend 4.8 billion hours in traffic per year, causing a whopping $101 billion in lost productivity and wasted fuel. In Lima, Peru, drivers lose four hours each day in traffic, costing approximately $6.2 billion U.S. dollars each year, or around 10 percent of the country’s GDP.

Improved transport goes beyond time and money, too. At its core, transportation is a massive public health issue. Road accidents are the 10th-leading cause of mortality worldwide—and rising. Around 50 million people are injured and 1.27 million die from road accidents each year. Ninety percent of these incidents occur in low and middle income countries.

The number of vehciles is on the rise. It’s expected there will be around 2-3 billion vehicles will be on the road by 2050. An ever-growing presence of cars and trucks will create even more congestion, pollution, and accidents.


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