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Society and Culture

Transport, mobility and cities: a necessary dialogue to boost inclusive, sustainable urban development

Making planning, transport management, and mobility consistent with urban development has a positive influence on quality-of-life indices and social justice. Professor Erik Vergel Tovar has covered these issues in his studies of the concept of Transit-Oriented Development.

  Photos Alberto Sierra / Erik Vergel
By Jaime Ernesto Dueñas
 

Struggling in the midst of overcrowding, fare dodgers, and run-down buses, mass public transport users needing to reach their destinations quickly will use stops and stations merely as transfer points. of arrival offering pleasant experiences or satisfying their tastes and needs.

In general, the design of stations is not friendly to users or their surroundings, responding only tothe needs of a mass transport system, which means having an independent charging mechanism, enabling user boarding, organizing routes and passenger flows, and meeting the demands of the sectors in which they are situated.

To analyze this phenomenon, Erik Vergel Tovar—professor of the Faculty of Political Science, Government, and International Relations at the Universidad del Rosario, and holder of a PhD in City and Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA)—has kept his focus, right since his doctoral studies, on the concept of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) from the perspective of inclusion and social justice in contexts such as cities in Latin America and India.

As part of this vast work, he recently published an academic paper titled Urban development around bus rapid transit stops in seven cities in Latin-America, co-authoring the article with Professor Daniel Rodriguez, of the Department of City and Regional Planning of the University of California, Berkeley (USA). Vergel’s study points out that “transport systems are planned to be efficient and to satisfy demand, while cities are planned, in some way, to accommodate the population and offer services that meet its needs. But very often there is no dialogue between these two worlds.”

His conclusions are based on the analysis of 81 stops on the public transport systems of rapid buses (BRT, meaning Bus Rapid Transit) in 7 Latin American cities: Bogotá (Colombia), Quito and Guayaquil (Ecuador), Guatemala City (Guatemala), Curitiba, Goiania, and the Sao Paulo Metro Region (Brazil). In the year of the study, 2017, these represented 17.6% of the number of world passengers and 27.5% in Latin America for this type of transport system.


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The TransMilenio mass public transport system in
Bogotá, Colombia. 

 

BRT systems—buses that travel on exclusive busways or corridors, such as TransMilenio—are singular in that they make the service a little more rigid but, at the same time, more efficient than conventional buses. “Traditional public transport is so flexible that a bus can enter a district, climb hills, and reach areas of tricky access,” explains the expert. Stops along the busways, the exclusive lanes intended to reduce journey times, are placed to serve the processes of fare charging, boarding, changing lines, and handling passenger flows.

This research set out to analyze the built environment of the stops on BRT-type systems with the aim of understanding to what degree their designs are based on the characteristics of the transport support infrastructure, as well as assessing how far urban design might influence passenger demand. “What we found is that where the environments are more friendly to pedestrians or cyclists, with better public spaces and amenities (schools, hospitals, churches, markets, sports and recreational spaces), greater passenger demand presented.”

“Lo que encontramos es que las estaciones donde los entornos son más amigables con el peatón o con el ciclista, que tienen mejores espacios públicos y equipamientos (centros educativos, hospitales, iglesias, bibliotecas, plazas de mercado, instalaciones deportivas y recreativas) presentan una mayor demanda de pasajeros”.

 

“Transport systems are planned to be efficient and to satisfy demand, while cities are planned, in some way, to accommodate the population and offer services that meet its needs.”

This is an important finding for the country’s cities that are bringing in BRT systems, since urban planning has not been explored as an option for improving performance in terms of passenger demand.

THE BRT BOOM IN LATIN AMERICA
Research projects of this kind have been undertakenin the USA and Europe, but Vergel and Rodríguez extended the focus to stations in Latin America, where 54 cities have set up BRT systems (32.53% of the total worldwide, according to the website BRTData.org).

These systems take more time to implement in Latin America, but they are still an innovation on the up. And consequently, there are still many aspects of them to study. The specialist points out that Asia, Africa, and Oceania could look to this experience in order to streamline the planning of their transport systems to their city development plans.


The research shows that the way public transport is planned
may not coincide with the urban form of travel behavior, especially when investments in mass transport are not understood as city development projects. In fact, Vergel thinks that the crisis affecting integrated mass transport systems in Colombia is not merely a question of demand, but also of urban planning. If stations and stops were designed with typologies responding to the features and needs of the city sectors where they are set up, sustainable transit-oriented urban development could be achieved.

This would help reduce problems with overcrowding, route design and programming, and the management of population flows between different activity nodes, thus reducing the need for travel. This would even promote inclusive housing building for low-income residents close to stations.

 

 

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Erik Vergel Tovar, professor of the Faculty of Political Science, Government, and International Relations at the Universidad del Rosario, works on Sustainable Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) from the perspective of inclusion and social justice.

FROM MOBILITY TO ACCESSIBILITY
The future of TOD research goes much further than the aforementioned aspects, however, as the professor points out: “We are moving towards inclusive and sustainable urban development, which will occur in two phases: in the short term, there is a technological aspect that improves city mobility (applications, demand management mechanisms, electric vehicles); while in the long term there is citydesign, where we hope that investment in transport changes the way in which these are built, favouring inclusive urban development for the more vulnerable groups, and in more sustainable ways for the environment.

“But one additional variable has emerged, and that is the area of social justice: the right to mobility, where I live in relation to where I work, how much of my monthly pay I spend on transport, how many line changes I have to make to get to work. Social and environmental justice in transport are recent topics that are catching the attention of transport planners in Latin America, and this too is a key area ripe for more research.

“If we don’t research, we are planning cities and transport systems solely for those who can pay. But experience tells us that mobility is cross-cutting, an area in which it is fundamental to know how people move around, so that we can plan cities in which the need to travel is reduced, thus moving from mobility to the paradigm of accessibility,” concludes the researcher.


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“Traditional public transport is so flexible that a bus can enter a district, climb hills, and reach areas of tricky access.”