Public transport: Six findings for urban transit

The effects of overcrowded roads are not just longer commutes, but also higher pollution and lower productivity – not to mention frustrated citizens and hampered economic growth. A new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit offers suggestions on how to get traffic flowing smoothly.

Dwellers in Mexico City – the most congested city on the planet – are hit particularly hard by congestion: as a result of traffic it takes on average 59% more travel time to reach a destination. In Bangkok the case isn’t much better – 57% extra travel time has to be factored in. European cities are not exempt: for London, Marseille and Rome, travel times are 38% longer. So what can city leaders do to alleviate congestion?


“The Urban Transit Evolution,” a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit that received support from Siemens UK, examines this question. The focus is on the challenges city leaders face in developing solutions to address their mobility challenges – today and tomorrow. Experts from all over the world weigh in with their advice and best practices.

Sustainability and livability

The motivator to make improvements with transport projects and policies is to improve citizens’ health by reducing pollution and encouraging people to cycle and walk. There are also efforts to create a fairer system for residents who do not own a car. “We want to create a city that is open to everybody, regardless of their economic background,” says Célia Blauel, Vice Mayor of Paris for the environment and sustainable development.

Innovative projects instead of large investments

With funds for infrastructure projects often limited, city leaders increasingly turn to policies. In fact, policies are generally less expensive and have an immediate effect on traffic flows. An example is congestion charging. Singapore was a forerunner in this regard as the first major city to introduce a congestion-charging system in 1975. Almost immediately, traffic was reduced by 44%.

Innovative financing

“A lot of things don’t get built because the government does not have the money to pay for them,” notes Isabel Dedring, global transport leader for consulting and engineering firm Arup. A scheme many governments turn to for financing their projects are public-private partnerships (PPP). However, bad experiences with PPPs have led them to look further. In London, for example, the developers of the Battersea Power Station partially funded the rail extension to their project under the condition that any increases in business property tax generated by the development would be directed to financing the project.

We want to create a city that is open to everybody, regardless of their economic background.
Célia Blauel, Vice Mayor of Paris for the environment and sustainable development

Understanding technical advances with pilot projects

Changes in technology are coming fast. But what will the impact be? Pilot projects can help city officials find out. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, government officials are working with Uber to introduce self-driving taxis. Another strategy is deregulation to fast-track transport innovation, such as forcing operators to open their application programming interfaces (APIs) to provide the private sector with existing data to create apps and services.

On-demand transport services

The first-mile/last-mile gap often stands in the way of people using public transport. On-demand services like Uber and Lyft can be the answer. In recognition of this, some governments are providing subsidies to these private companies for services that begin or end at public transport stops. An example is the Mobility on Demand (MOD) project from the US Federal Transit Administration.

Securing buy-in from the public and other stakeholders

For any transport project to work, collaboration with and support from key stakeholders is necessary – but perhaps more important is gaining buy-in from the public. In Los Angeles doing so paid off when voters approved a half-cent increase in sales tax to finance a new rail project. Transport for Greater Manchester also got the citizens involved when it invited the public, academics and sector experts to develop its 2040 strategy.


Altogether, the findings in “The Urban Transit Evolution” can help policymakers and public authorities develop effective strategies to combat congestion. And by doing so, everyone stands to win with as the roster of sustainable and livable cities grows.


Picture credits: Siemens AG


Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay up to date at all times: everything you need to know about electrification, automation, and digitalization.