Smaller, Cheaper Everywhere

By Jonah Wagner

Cities benefit from economies of scope and scale which tend to make them more ‘efficient’ places to live. In most countries around the world, it is ‘greener’ to live in a city than outside of it.[1] Home and work are closer together, reducing transportation time and cost. Population density also allows for the development of large, centralized, public utility infrastructure – lowering costs for energy generation and transmission, water purification and distribution, waste collection and management, etc. Historically, these utilities have benefitted significantly from scale.

Example: Water purification costs by plant size[2]

This may be changing. New technologies (e.g., remote sensors) are making possible the coordination of modular, scalable, decentralized systems of public service delivery in cities. Continue reading

Beijing Commuting System: Challenges And Reactions In Urbanization

 By Lynsey Mengchen He

Every time I’ve been stuck in traffic for hours, I have always imagined myself driving a car like the one Christian Bale drove in the Batman movies. No matter how quickly a city expands geographically, transit can hardly keep up with the exponential growth of population as urbanization progresses.  Central areas usually receive the major commuting pressure, and existing infrastructure within those areas is almost impossible to reconstruct.  The “TransMilenio” case reminded me of how Beijing, a city with population of over 20 million[1], has fought for the better functioning of its commuter transit system. Continue reading

Bogota’s Future

By Deepa Raghunathan

According to Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogota, “The worst thing for a Latin man is to find himself raising another man’s child,”[1] which explains the political culture that requires new plans under each mayor, president and politician. With the government and development banks able to provide funds to begin infrastructure improvements in growing cities, politics are the stumbling block to network expansion.

In contrast to its rival-city Medellin, the home of Colombia’s only metro line, Bogota is much more chaotic and crowded with a population of around eight million. The Transmilenio has max ridership at 45,000 users per hour, far below what is necessary for a growing city in a developing country. Medellin’s metro is used by approximately 500,000 users daily, compared to 1.7 million Transmilenio users in Bogota.[2] Though its metro is used far less, it has the potential to serve many more users with increased headways and longer trains. Due to its completely separated nature, it is faster regardless of road traffic.

As shown in the Transmilenio case, Bogota’s BRT line was unveiled as a great success, but it was only an initial step in what needs to be a grander transportation networking scheme that allows greater and more efficient integration of the growing city. For Bogota, BRT is a temporary solution.

As an intern at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, I was briefed on the five key areas the President saw as growth “locomotives,” including infrastructure.  I had numerous meetings with the Office of the Presidency, Ministry of Transportation and academics at the Universidad de los Andes discussing the current state of transportation infrastructure and how to move forward, and quickly realized that there were numerous plans but no political will to execute.

For my daily commute to work, down Avenida Septima, I initially walked thirty minutes to the government office. I soon realized the small buses were a much more convenient method of transportation – I did not need to walk extra blocks to Caracas to catch the Transmilenio, I was picked up and dropped off exactly where I needed to be, and if one was too full, I could simply wait five seconds for the next. Transportation alternatives should exist, but the needs of the growing city should not be held hostage by the temporary needs of a few.

Asking everyone I came across their thoughts on the BRT that I had moved to Colombia to learn about, I was sad that the overwhelming response was, “It’s bad because it’s too crowded.” Riding once during rush hour, I felt more packed than I had in any NYC subway, most likely because the standing room due to seating arrangements and the start-stop nature of traffic.

There is no question that the Transmilenio has served Bogota well, but unless a more extensive system is put into place it will fall prey to over-use and under-maintenance. With government support and foresight, a metro line will serve the city well and support the overcrowded existing infrastructure.


[1] Kimmelman, Michael. “Past Its Golden Moment, Bogotá Clings to Hope.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 July 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2013

[2] Hutchinson, Alex. “TransMilenio: The Good, the Bus and the Ugly.” TheCityFix. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

Opportunities for PPP deals in Enugu, a second-tier Nigerian city

By Bryan

I was born in the South-Eastern Nigerian city of Enugu, with a population of about 3 million, and several other significant features:

  • A hilly terrain (Enugu means “hilltop”)
  • A rich bed of natural resources, specifically coal
  • A relatively homogenous population, a direct result of Enugu’s location in the Igbo tribe-dominated South-East of Nigeria
  • An up-and-coming movie industry scene (Enugu has been called the center of Nigeria’s burgeoning ‘Nollywood’ film industry’)

I return to the city around once every two years, and have been able to follow its development from a traditional ‘coal city’ resource-exporter to a diversified city with the makings of top-tier Nigerian city. One of my visions for the city’s future is for it to develop into the central city of Nigeria’s East and a solid rival to the commercial center of Nigeria, Lagos city.

Mezu - Enugu

Enugu hilly terrain

Mezue - roads

Enugu roads

The good news is that Enugu’s current governor has shown a strong appetite for long-term infrastructure investments to help transform the city into a tier one city. In the context of the Sustainable Cities course, I see several opportunities for private sector involvement in Enugu:

  • Roads: Enugu’s roads have already seen massive transformation in the past 5 years with some major roads widened to double lanes and new roads constructed into rural areas. As the government accelerates this rollout there should be space for expertise and capital from private players, especially in the more difficult terrain in the hilly outskirts of the city.
  • Residential Real Estate: Enugu has been called a ‘civil servant’ city, a reflection of its economy’s reliance on government jobs and its traditional strength in sectors such as education and healthcare. One of the benefits of this status is that many residents of the city have steady incomes and are willing to invest in real estate. In addition, the increasing migration of people from rural areas into Enugu means that there is scope for a public-private partnerships to develop new flats and houses – for both the new buyers and low-cost renters.
  • Rail: Enugu is conveniently located to the trade cities of the South-East, and there are old railway lines (originally constructed by the British) linking the city to the North and the West of Nigeria. These lines have not been maintained and there is a role for a private player to partner with the government to bring them into the modern age.
  • Power: The power sector in Nigeria is nationally regulated, and there is a strong bias towards the petroleum industry (oil accounts for ~70% of the government’s revenue). One of the overhanging political conversations centers on the role of Enugu’s rich coal resources, which are currently less attractive due to pollution concerns. However, there might be some role for clean coal technology providers.
  • Airport: The Enugu airport is being currently transformed into an international airport.

One of the biggest challenges to a PPP deal negotiated with a second-tier developing market city such as Enugu is enforceability. Enugu can learn a lot from Chinese second tier cities, such as Changsha where I visited during an IXP trip last month, and where there is clear alignment between central and local government, yet enough independence at the local level to drive visionary change. Specifically there might be a role for Chinese private sector players to partner with the local government for new projects.


Sustainable Southern Systems: Developing Mass-Transit Solutions for the American Southeast

By John Clayton

The Southeastern US continues to see significant population growth, clustered not just in large cities such as Dallas, Atlanta, or Houston, but increasingly in mid-scale cities such as Charlotte, Austin, and the Research Triangle region. Migrants to the region are pulled by a relatively high quality of life at a low price tag, fueled by large inventories of cheap housing. When coupled with a lack of natural land barriers, denser development is inherently discouraged in favor of massive urban sprawl. As the attached graphic shows, Atlanta is home to a population roughly equivalent to Barcelona’s, yet has a 20x larger geographical footprint. Raleigh has an average density of 4 people per square hectare compared to Barcelona’s 176 people. Given such sprawl, what type of transit solution could possibly work?

As we discussed in the Bogota TransMilenio case, large metros work well and can be sustainably financed in a handful of mega-cities (Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore), particularly when strong government can derive additional funding sources from rising land values around metro stations. BRT systems offer less capital-intensive solutions, but may be less palatable to a population with high car ownership rates. Light rail is a lower-cost alternative to heavy-rail systems in major urban areas, both less expensive than traditional metro systems yet differentiated enough from existing transit options to convert drivers.

Applying light rail transit systems to less dense cities, however, is tricky: it requires connecting existing higher-density nodes (universities, shopping complexes, downtowns) with green- or brownfield spaces that can channel future high-density development. Charlotte’s new Lynx light rail system offers an excellent example of the ideal mix of transit stations: it connects highly-trafficked areas such as Uptown, the convention center, and Southpark Mall, with previously undeveloped tracts of land; it then worked with developers to incentivize the construction of residential, commercial, and retail units around each station.

Assuming a city finds a suitable transit system, the most significant obstacle still remains: the financing hurdle. Faced with a populace generally skeptical of increased taxes and local government largesse, cities should turn to innovative financing schemes to help offset the infrastructure and operating costs. As our discussion of Hong Kong’s system highlighted, planned urban infill offers three key benefits: 1) it builds city density, thereby reducing sprawl; 2) it clusters residents around the transit stations, diverting more traffic and increasing ridership rates; and 3) it causes land values in surrounding areas to appreciate.

To harness this financing opportunity, cities should design transit systems that both connect high-traffic areas and traverse undeveloped land tracts, then enter into public-private partnerships with developers to build high-density mixed-use neighborhoods. Such collaboration would not only allow governments to capture a slice of increased land values, but also directly influence features such as below-market housing units and city infrastructure such as schools.

Of course, such a partnership would have its share of skeptics. Many Southerners are skeptical in general of government involvement in projects and unfamiliar with PPP schemes, and could perceive a government conflict of interest in development promotion. These concerns could be assuaged by a public relations campaign and consultations with PPP experts. Coupled with long-term development plans that continue to prioritize smarter, higher-density development, Southern cities from low-density sprawling giants to sustainable transit meccas.

Clayton Atlanta Barcelona


Comparison of the geographic footprint of Atlanta and Barcelona (source: Alain Bertaud,

“Removing and Regulating” – Getting Rickshaws Out of Mumbai

By Sachin Desai

In most developing cities, traditional public transit is uncoordinated, unoptimized, and although gets people from place to place, creates a host of social problems doing so.  It starts to “parasite” off the expanding city.  In Bogota, local busses, old and poorly managed, not only starved new city roads and choked Bogota’s air, but also hindered BRT development.  However, “regulating and removing” these busses proved hard politically and economically.

However, can we learn from Mumbai? In a place where coordinated local action seems almost impossible (see Dharavi case), the government has had one success – regulating (and removing) auto-rickshaws.  These three-wheel motorized carts emerged to move people in the old city, but like the busses in Bogota, are today arguably more a nuisance instead of a help.  They do not follow road rules, creating traffic problems affecting all types of vehicles.  They have a high accident and fatality rate.[1] They are also hard to remove, with over 200,000 drivers and multiple unions.[2]

But auto-rickshaws have been successfully “regulated,” forcibly converted to cleaner CNG, something that would seem hard to do in Bogota.[3]  They have also been “removed”  from central Mumbai, limited now to the suburbs.[4]   Mumbai’s government is aggressively scrapping unlicensed rickshaws.[5]  This has helped modern taxis take their place, improving safety, exposure to pollution, and travel times.  Mumbai’s new infrastructure now does not suffer parasitic losses from slow-moving and wirey Rickshaws.

How is this possible?  Lessons from Mumbai can apply not just in Bogota, but any time an old transit economy has to be swapped in for new.  From my research, here are a few potential reasons Mumbai succeeded:

  • The government has challenged rickshaw economics.   Costs on rickshaws have been slowly ratcheted up.  Drivers complain of new 1-time taxes on rickshaws.[6]  The government aggressively restricts rickshaw rates, limiting profit.[7]  The government aggressively polices these rates.[8]
  • Mumbai created competition.  The government has subsidized taxis, which, unlike busses or metros, can directly compete with rickshaws.[9]
  • Sometimes, one arm of the government funds things while the other tries to stop it.  In Bogota the government appears to still give out concessions to local busses.  The Mumbai government used to give loans for rickshaws, and now they have stopped.[10]
  • Importantly, the government has gone directly on the offensive.  Multiple government reports attack the safety[11] and environmental performance of rickshaws.[12]  Their fare honesty has been challenged, despite the fact that fares are cheap and drivers complain it’s a smear campaign.[13]  Public leaders directly call for bans.[14]  There are strong government efforts to monitor and fine rickshaws, and to promote riders to complain against rickshaws.[15]Rickshaw drivers today believe the people are against them.[16]

Takeaways:  First, maybe the “regulate and remove” system is possible in developing-country democracies.  If Mumbai can win against a large, organized, populist-oriented group, ANYONE can do it.  Second, it may change whether we build a BRT or MRT in Avenida Septima.  If a major policy goal is to remove a damaging but entrenched system, the answer may be direct engagement.  A BRT can compete directly with local busses.  MRTs likely cannot stop as often, and are expensive, allowing local busses to differentiate on price.  It may be better to spend that MRT money on subsidizing the BRTs to price-parity with the local busses, on a PR campaign attacking the safety and pollution record of local busses, aggressively buying/eliminating bus concessions, and on increasing monitoring and complaint mechanisms against local busses.

Desai Rickshaw

Image: Auto-Rickshaw

[1] Mumbai Auto Rickshaws May No Longer Be a Sure Thing, The National (Mar. 13, 2010),  “However [while other Mumbai drivers have become safer], accidents involving two wheelers and auto rickshaws have shot up. While only 1,477 two-wheeler accidents were reported in 1971, the number crossed the 5,000 mark in 2008.” Mumbaikars Have Become Safer Drivers, Reveals MMRDA Report, DNA India (Mar. 19, 2010),  See also India Unions Urge Mumbai Rickshaws Makeover, BBC News (May 17, 2011),

[2] See BBC News, supra note 1; Proposed Auto Rickshaw Strike Called Off in Mumbai, India Today (Nov 1, 2011),

[3] May 31 Deadline for CNG Conversion, Times of India (Apr. 11, 2002),  Given the strike discussed in India Today, supra note 2, it appears that most rickshaws to use CNG today.

[4] Taken from personal experience.  See also Public Transport in Mumbai, Wikipedia, (last visited Feb. 10, 2013).

[5] See Small Four-Wheelers To Replace Three-Wheelers In Mumbai, The Automotive Horizon (Nov. 9, 2010),

[6] Audi, Move Interviews – Two Auto-Rickshaw Drivers, The Challenges of Navigating Mumbai 3-4 (Jan. 3, 2013), available at

[7] Id.

[8] 97 Of 150 Rickshaw Meters Tampered With: Andheri RTO, Hindustan Times (Sep. 19, 2011),

[9] The Automotive Horizon, supra note 5; Mumbai Not So Cool Cabs Air Conditioned Taxis, Mid-Day.Com (Oct. 2012),

[10] Audi, supra note 6, at 5.

[11] See e.g., The Automotive Horizon, supra note 5, DNA India, supra note 1.

[12] The Role of Auto Rickshaws in Modern Indian Cities, The City Fix (Mar. 24, 2010),

[13] Hindustan Times, supra note 8.

[14] The National, supra note 1. See also Dehli Plans Ban On Autorickshaws, Guardian UK (Mar. 18, 2010), This forces strikes, which erode public support for rickshaws.  Auto Drivers Face Sena’s Wrath, NDTV (Oct. 5, 2011),; Audi, supra note 6, at 4.

[15] Is the Auto Rickshaw strike justified?, The Complete Mumbai Guide, (last visited Feb. 10, 2013).

[16] Audi, supra note 6, at 5.

Congestion Pricing – An asset-light BRT?

By Anonymous

The two transportation schemes we discussed in class, BRT and MRT, both have very similar goals in mind: reduce congestion and pollution and increase safety while getting more people to their destination faster. The major constraints for both systems are the huge up-front capital costs and the lack of flexibility once the system’s major lines are in place. One interesting aspect, however, is that neither system deals with the other major source of congestion, pollution and accidents: cars. On the contrary, during our discussion the need to eliminate car lanes on behalf of BRT as the system expands to new areas was a major drawback.

If we take a step away from this car-centric perspective and examine ways to manage all transit options on existing roads, there is a transportation scheme that accomplishes the stated goals in a much more flexible and dynamic way with lower capital requirements upfront: congestion pricing.

In the case of Bogota, the system would charge cars and buses for accessing certain avenues and major traffic arteries according to the time of day and the level of congestion. The fees would keep cars off the road during rush-hour and encourage the use of buses, assuming the system establishes appropriate pricing tiers across time and between cars, buses and taxis. The increased fixed cost would discourage empty buses from running and encourage industry consolidation. In order to encourage the use of newer and greener busses, the pricing could be structured to give low-emission vehicles an edge. A less congested system with fewer competing bus lines would also make transit safer and decrease travel times for commuters.

Initial capital cost to establish the system would also be much lower because traffic control systems could be installed above the street at lower costs than digging tunnels or adding separate bus lanes and platforms. From an infrastructure standpoint the congestion pricing system is much more flexible to expansion as new routes can be added or eliminated in a matter of days not years. On the revenue side, this system starts collecting revenue very soon after installation and provides a safer return on investment to the city.

Of course, this system also has trade-offs. For example, the enforcement of violations is crucial to as successful launch. If the political system is unlikely to punish those who drive without paying, congestion pricing will not improve the current situation. In addition, the implementation of this system hurts a much bigger political constituency (not just bus drivers, but all drivers) which makes this implementation much harder from a political standpoint. Furthermore, it is uncertain whether such a system can support the anticipated growth in travelers and residents over time.

Compared to BRT and MRT, the congestion pricing system would be a much less capital intensive and dynamic solution to the traffic congestion problem. However, this alternative likely has a much higher political price.