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World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

4. Urban Transportation


The transportation-related problems of many of today's cities stem from a number of interrelated factors. Growing urban populations and increasing household incomes have led to a rise in car ownership, which in turn has created a greater propensity for travel and a demand for more roads. Increasing business and industrial activity has sent more service vehicles onto city streets and has produced more freight traffic. The dispersed form of many cities has also resulted in a demand for more roads, which translates into longer journeys, more congestion, and yet more fuel consumption and pollution (6).

Growth in Motor Vehicle Ownership

The number of motor vehicles worldwide could grow from 580 million in 1990 to 816 million (excluding motorized two- and three-wheel vehicles) by 2010, according to recent estimates (7) (8). The forces driving this level of growth range from demographic factors (urbanization, in creasing population, and smaller households), to economic factors (higher incomes and declining car prices), to social factors (increased leisure time and the status associated with vehicle ownership), to political factors (powerful lobbies and governments that view the automobile industry as an important generator of economic growth) (9).

Most of the world's vehicles are now concentrated in the wealthier regions of the world. In 1993, member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) had 70 percent of the world's automobiles (10) (11). At the high end of the countries is the United States, where 58 percent of households own two or more cars and 20 percent own three or more (12). Car ownership rates are highest there, at 561 per 1,000 residents in 1993; the average for OECD countries, excluding the United States, is 366 cars per 1,000 residents (13). (See Figure 4.1.) In all OECD countries, car ownership continues to rise steadily, and there is little sign, as was once expected, of "market saturation" (14).

In the developing world, car ownership rates are far lower--ranging in 1993 from an average of about 68 cars per 1,000 residents in Latin America and the Caribbean to 29 cars per 1,000 residents in East Asia and the Pacific, to about 14 cars per 1,000 residents in Africa (15). Yet, it is in the developing countries and the transition economies (16) that the greatest increases in the number of motor vehicles are expected (17). (See Figure 4.2.) Growth rates will be particularly high in East Asia and the Pacific (18).

Most of the growth in motor vehicle fleets in the developing world will be concentrated in urban areas. Primary cities draw the largest concentration of vehicles; in Iran, the Republic of Korea, Kenya, Mexico, and Thailand, about 50 percent of the country's automobiles are in the capital city (19) (20). Santiago, Chile, had nearly 90 automobiles per 1,000 residents in 1991, almost 70 percent higher than the national average (21).

In much of Asia, most of the growth in the vehicle fleet results from increases in the numbers of motorized two-wheel and three-wheel vehicles. Such vehicles are more affordable than cars for large segments of the population and often serve as a stepping-stone to car ownership. In Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan, for instance, two and three wheelers make up more than 50 percent of all motor vehicles (22). The number of two- and three-wheel vehicles is expected to grow most rapidly in China and In dia and in other densely populated, low-income countries. In India, for example, motorcycle ownership is increasing by 17 percent annually (23).

Transportation Choices and Income

Income levels greatly influence which transportation mode people use and the number of trips they make. Walking is the primary means of transportation in Nairobi, Kenya, for example, because of the relatively high cost of public transportation. Only the highest income groups, roughly the top 10 percent, use privately owned cars in that city (24).

In general, as incomes rise, there is a marked increase in vehicle ownership (25). For those who can afford the upfront costs of buying them, cars provide a fast, convenient, and relatively inexpensive mode of travel. However, increased automobile ownership leads to increased travel. In London, a household without a car makes about three trips per day, whereas a household with a car makes more than five with the two additional trips being entirely new trips or trips replacing those formerly made by foot or bicycle. Trips by public transportation drop accordingly (26).

Increased wealth also means more car travel in the form of both new trips, primarily social and leisure, and longer trips (27). In some countries, the number of trips is growing faster than the number of cars. In the United States, for example, between 1983 and 1990, the number of cars increased by 14 percent, while the number of vehicle trips grew by 25 percent and the number of vehicle miles traveled grew by 40 percent (28) (29). These trends have implications for the developing countries as well, especially those experiencing rapid economic growth.

Urban Form

The form of a city greatly influencesand is influenced bytravel patterns. The dense urban cores of many European and Japanese cities, for example, enable residents to make 30 to 60 percent of all trips by walking and cycling (30). The dispersed urban form of Australian and U.S. cities, by contrast, encourages reliance on the car. Even within the United States, a greater share of work trips are made by cars in sprawling cities such as Phoenix and Houston than in denser cities such as New York and San Francisco (31). (See Table 4.1.)

An increasing number of cities worldwide seem to be developing at a scale that increases reliance on the privately owned automobile. Dispersion is taking place in many different types of cities, from dense, centralized European ones such as Madrid, Paris, and Zurich, to rapidly industrializing capitals such as Seoul, Republic of Korea, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, to those experiencing rampant urban growth, such as Bombay, India (32). Cars are not the sole cause of urban expansionfactors such as population growth and land markets also play a rolebut cars do make expansion feasible (33).

In the more developed regions of the world, the historical central business district, once the primary destination of commuters and easily serviced by public transportation, is being rendered obsolete by changing manufacturing practices (34). Whereas traditional manufacturing depended on centralized workplaces and transportation schemes, advanced technology has rendered modern industry more flexible. As a result, job opportunities have shifted to the suburbs.

Dispersed urban land development patterns have been particularly manifest in North America, where land is abundant, the transportation costs for individuals are low, and the economy has become dominated by service and technology-based industries such as software development and entertainment. In the United States, by 1980 only 9 percent of the metropolitan population worked in the central city and only 3 percent of suburbanites commuted downtown (35). In addition, travel has become relatively inexpensive compared with land, so households have an incentive to buy lower-priced housing at the urban periphery, even though living there requires much more travel (36). Similar patterns can be found in many European cities, but the change is occurring at a slightly slower pace (37). The same is true for some large, middle-income cities of the developing world, such as Sao Paulo, Brazil (38). Decentralization of people and activities results in two contradictory effects: commuter journeys, many of which now occur from suburb to suburb, are shortened, but most of them are made by privately owned car rather than public transportation (39). Most transit and road systems were developed to facilitate suburb-to-city, rather than suburb-to-suburb, commuting. As a result, suburban roadways are often as congested as urban roadways.

As cities continue to become dispersed, the cost of building and operating public transportation systems is becoming prohibitive. Furthermore, the dispersed residential pattern makes public transportation systems less convenient for the average commuter (40). In New York, despite 10 years of investment, public transit ridership declined from 4.8 million per day in 1980 to 4.3 million per day in 1992 (41).

In much of the developing world, unplanned and uncoordinated land development has led to rapid expansion of the urban periphery. Poorer residents are often isolated in outlying areas without access to affordable and convenient public transportation (42).

References and Notes

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