June 14, 2016

The Metric That Can Help Cities and Nations to Work Together to Build More Sustainable Transport

Orlando Regeneration Project

For cities to grow sustainably, they need long term planning, and in most low to middle income countries, support from their national government. Although transportation needs are often identified at the city level, they are dependent on national funding or financing.  Setting rapid transit infrastructure targets is a crucial step for national governments to improve transit in their cities. Clear, easily understood metrics can help national governments set targets and develop corresponding policies to secure necessary political support and funding for expanding rapid transit infrastructure.

16361412133_1eecea624f_oITDP’s metric, the Rapid Transit to Resident Ratio, (RTR) compares the length of rapid transit lines (including rail, metro, and BRT) in kilometers in each country with its urban population (cities with populations over 500,000).  This metric provides a snapshot of access to effective transport options within cities and provides another way for cities to measure the amount of infrastructure and investment needed to achieve global goals for sustainable development and climate change mitigation. Without a clear measure like RTR, nations will find it more difficult to measure their performance and determine what is needed to meet the transit demand of the people.

While the metric is simple, its growth is influenced by many factors.  In ITDP’s brand new report titled Setting Sights on the SDGs: Establishing Rapid Transit Targets for Sustainable Development, a methodology for setting targets for growth was developed and applied to nine countries around the world to ensure their cities achieve social, economic, and environmental sustainability.  The report describes and explains the methodology that includes key factors such as transit coverage, urban density, transit spending, and infrastructure costs.

Setting transit coverage targets requires the consideration of the RTR metric in conjunction with the many factors that guide growth. Combined, urban growth includes the level of rapid transit to residents (RTR) as well as improving the approximate transit coverage (ATC) metric, which compares the length of the rapid transit network to the urbanized land area; maintaining urban densities at levels that will support transit, and spending both sufficiently, as a percentage of GDP and efficiently, as an average cost per kilometer for infrastructure.

image (5)When examining the targets, we can see that all countries except for France need significant investment in transit in order to meet the needs of their urban populations. This is a dramatic change from the current trajectory of RTR growth, as seen in the graph to the left.  For example, in sixteen years, Brazil will need to build about 2,000 more kilometers of transit—on average 125 kilometers a year. In previous years, Brazil has averaged 30 kilometers. China will need to build 15,032 kilometers. All of these countries have similarly ambitious needs that will require sufficient funding, innovative financing mechanisms, and increased capacity to deliver on these targets. However, each country has different limitations. Brazil is the only country limited by the spending target due to its historically high infrastructure costs. France, South Africa, and the United States were limited by the very low densities each country faces. Nevertheless, it is important to note that while the challenges differ, with adjustments, sustainable urban mobility is in reach for all countries.  

Setting Sights on the SDGs: Establishing Rapid Transit Targets for Sustainable Development illustrates that by using RTR to gauge various countries’ progress, particularly over time, we can gather a wealth of information about more than just how much transport infrastructure is being accessed by the population.  We are able to determine why countries may or may not be meeting the transportation needs of their cities, at what rate, and consider barriers or best practices in transport development among other factors.  ITDP invites others to use the methodology and adjust the assumptions made as they see fit.  By constantly applying and adjusting the metric, data is improved creating better targets.  To learn more about the RTR methodology and implementation, and to join the discussion about the targets set by ITDP, download the report here.

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