Smart Cities
Morocco, Indonesia and Mexico: examples of emerging mobility

The Emerging Urban Mobility study reviews best practices in urban mobility in developing countries to learn about the most innovative public policies.
urban mobility
© Mario Guti via Canva

What happens when mobility limits you? The COVID-19 pandemic and the seemingly endless quarantines gave us a little taste of that. We saw how, when a person loses the ability to move and move around, they lose their freedom to actively participate in society, from attending school, to being part of the labor economy, to contributing to political and social life.

While the pandemic was an atypical phenomenon for many and mobility returned to normal after many months, for certain sectors of society it was and continues to be a reality. Lack of options, high costs, little or poor infrastructure and lack of security are factors that limit mobility, a scenario that is aggravated in large cities with higher population density.

Mobility is the cornerstone of cities and fundamental for access to life in society, so its access increases or decreases people's quality of life. Against this backdrop, the Friederich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Labor Economics and the Fraunhofer Institute for Labor Economics and the Organization prepared the study Emerging Urban Mobility, which reviewed public policies on urban mobility in developing countries to learn about the most innovative public policies.

Beyond automobiles

Today, the global conversation on urban mobility continues to be dominated by fossil fuel vs. electric motors, a technological adoption that, despite its potential, is still just a technological shift like the move from flip-phone to smartphone: it offers new opportunities, but essentially remains the same.

While innovation is essential, technological changes are not enough. Improved mobility is only possible if we change the way we apply such technology, with new perspectives and taking into account the needs of the users. An example of this are the cable cars used in Latin America as a means of transportation: in the face of complicated orography, cable cars offer a sustainable and agile alternative.

All people, regardless of cultural differences and the different levels of development of their countries, share similar mobility needs: safety, affordability, comfort. Applying a gender approach also reveals that women will prioritize safety over men.

A multi-factor problem

Inequality is not only economic or geographic, but we must also incorporate factors such as insecurity and the vulnerability of users to racism, harassment or violence when planning accessible mobility systems.

Mexico City, for example, implemented a public policy of pink cars, creating spaces and/or seats -depending on the means of transport- designated only for women; another example of accessible mobility is the Women on Wheels program in Pakistan, where women are taught to ride motorcycles and escape from insecurity, to mention some of the most outstanding projects in this area. Mobility can also evolve organically, as in the case of the Gokada app in Nigeria, a motorcycle cab system that was adopted by women users to avoid harassment on public transport.

Long distances and traffic jams are another form of inequality and exclusion. In large Latin American cities such as Lima or Mexico City, travel times average up to 2 hours, not only affecting people's quality of life but also contributing to pollution, especially when it is the main form of traffic, as in Delhi, India, Beijing, China or Jakarta, Indonesia. Public policies such as odd-even, car-free days or the use of open GPS data to manage traffic flow are measures that seek to counteract these problems.

A glance at best practices

Ecobici is a program that was implemented in Mexico City in 2010 and serves as a last-mile or first-mile transportation system, that is, it is used on the roads before or after the use of mass transportation such as the subway. Today this transportation system has 100,000 users and this system operates in four of the 16 municipalities of Mexico City and has almost 6,000 bicycles.   

Another interesting example that demonstrates all the alternatives that can be devised is the escalator transportation system in Comuna 13, in Medellin, Colombia. Considered the longest escalator in the world, it is divided into six sections and reduces a journey that used to take about half an hour on foot to only 6 minutes and, in addition to being free of charge, helps reduce socio-spatial segregation.

According to Achmad Zacky Ambadar, Project Manager of GIZ Indonesia, "The basic problem of transportation is always the same. In this particular case, the problem is undoubtedly adapting to new technological schemes and matching the needs of the planet and the population. Therefore, spreading ideas and solutions globally becomes necessary, not only in a scheme from industrialized to developing countries (trickle down model), but also in the opposite way: from developing to industrialized countries (trickle up model).

Inspiration and innovation between cities is a medium and long term work, but it is key if we want our cities to generate a dialogue that allows the exchange of public policies and data that will eventually result in cities with mobility that does not limit the integration of any person, but rather is the key that allows us to have better, more productive lives and that allows us to spend more time doing the things we like the most.