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Synthesis and analysis of mobility responses to the pandemic

Motorists on two-wheelers driving on a nearly empty road

Image from the High Volume Transport (HVT) Applied Research Programme

How do cities in Lower-Income Countries start to use the COVID-19 crisis to become more resilient?

Build back better in Lower Income Countries cities after the  COVID-19 crisis to become more resilient?

As of July 2021, communities around the world are still affected by COVID-19 and the associated impacts on transport and economic systems. There is growing evidence that the most vulnerable people in Lower-Income Countries (LICs) have been and continue to be affected the most. This is due to the lack of access to their workplace, the increased costs of commuting and the economic impact of the pandemic. For example, the cost of paratransit – in many places the most common mode of transport – doubled in places like Kampala and Bengaluru. Challenges for people with disabilities in those countries were also exacerbated by the reduced accessibility during the pandemic. In South Africa, local social enterprise Shonaquip reported on the experience of children with disabilities and their parents in 2020.

Research and guidance on how to handle the transport related challenges of the pandemic has been more targeted at the Higher Income Countries than LICs. Decision-makers in LICs have lacked targeted advice on hygiene protocols for public transport or social distancing rules in public spaces like markets. This issue was highlighted in the report by the High Volume Transport Program funded by FCDO. In response the programme set up the COVID 19 Transport Response and Recovery Fund for LICs which funded some 20 projects to help close the knowledge gap.

Towards a more resilient transport system in cities in the Global South

Over the last 18 months, we have seen many progressive local solutions, with stakeholders reacting quickly to prioritise safer transport modes. This has included pop-up bike lanes in more than 500 cities like Bogotá, Paris, London, and Berlin, extended public spaces (e.g. New York) and sidewalks enabling physical distancing. However, for most of 2020, cities in the global north dominated the headlines and showcased good practice.

Often those activities in richer cities were aligned with an existing mobility strategy aimed at improving sustainability of the transport system. For example, Bogotá and Paris used their existing bike masterplan to implement their pop-up corridors. These long-term plans and strategies and sufficient capacity are often lacking in LICs. This explains one of the reasons for a later response by local governments. Nevertheless, over time, more governments responded to tackle the challenges related to the transport system. In Nigeria, following calls for accelerating sustainable urban mobility through pandemic recovery efforts, the national government developed a national policy guidance and set up two funds to tackle the challenges of the public transport sector. This included an intervention fund to compensate the formal private sector road transport operators for losses sustained due to the pandemic occurred. In addition, a survival fund was set up to support the more informal, small scale operators in a range of sectors.

Local and national governments in the Global South are now starting to use the current crisis to start or enhance campaigns to deliver longer lasting, sustainable mobility. For example, the Department for Urban Land Use and Transport (DULT) in Bengaluru enhanced the cycling infrastructure with a 17km cycle lane inspired by the action in Bogota. This project is part of a larger initiative by the Indian government under the leadership of the Smart Cities Mission. A key part of this is the Cycles4Change challenge, launched in July 2020, to provide technical and financial support for cities to enhance cycling.

Elsewhere, the Ethiopian government has published the national Non Motorised Strategy. As the first of its kind in the country, the 10 year strategy lays out ambitious and specific objectives to improve walking and cycling infrastructure. During the pandemic initial pilot projects, such as in Addis Ababa, were used to launch implementation of the strategy. Whilst in Kampala the local government reformed the public transport system by introducing registration for public transport vehicles using the pandemic as a reason for progressing on its reform plans.

Governments across the Global South are using the pandemic to implement more systematic long-term changes improving the situation for all people and making systems more resilient.

The pandemic has shown the importance of providing people with better and safer access to goods and services. These short term actions helped some people to move more safely.  However, more strategic long-term planning needs to be the foundation for better, safer and more sustainable mobility for all in both the Global North and South.