Across the globe the urban transportation sector is experiencing rapid expansion, driven by economic growth and a global demographic shift towards urbanisation. Politicians, urban planners and private sector actors are working together to find new solutions for reducing congestion and increasing the speed and efficiency of urban transport. However, unless proactive steps are taken to plan and invest in well-executed infrastructure, urban mobility can deteriorate.

Road Vehicles

Urban residents continue to rely heavily on privately owned vehicles. Worldwide, the number of cars in use is expected to exceed 2bn by 2040, according to investment research firm Bernstein. Much of this will be driven by new vehicle purchases by the burgeoning middle class in emerging markets such as India, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. By 2025 the 600 largest cities in the developing world are expected to house 235m middle-class households earning an average annual wage of over $20,000 a year, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

In addition, many mega-cities across the globe have experienced significant increases in motorcycle usage. In Mexico City motorcycle ownership increased from just under 294,000 in 2000 to over 3.5m in 2017. “The motorcycle market is relatively new in Mexico; it is growing slowly but hasn’t yet become part of the lifestyle like in other countries,” Fernando Zapata, director-general of Grupo Zapata, told OBG. While the adoption of electric vehicles could help reduce air pollution, it still does not address the congestion problem. Thus, long-term solutions are likely to be driven by public transport.


In some major cities metro rail lines form the central pillar of the public transport system. The metro system in South Korea’s capital city Seoul transports 7m passengers per day over 1600 km of track. The system includes nine lines and a commuter rail linking the central station to Seoul’s new international airports.

Seoul has set a high standard for urban mass transit, and global governments are looking to catch up. City planners in Algeria inaugurated the country’s first metro line in the city of Algiers in 2011 and in 2018 added two metro lines and two new tram lines. Algiers now has 17 metro stations, which carried between 100,000 and 200,000 passengers per day in 2018.

Other countries are working to adapt older systems for rapidly expanding populations. In Brazil many of the mass transit systems built in the early 20th century were dismantled between the 1930s and 1970s, although Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are the only two cities that have fully functional underground metro systems. Municipal authorities are undertaking efforts to improve this system further, with a major extension of the São Paulo metro system earmarked for completion by 2020. The expansion project features 11 new stations along 14.4 km of track with four integrated bus terminals, and has been developed under a public-private partnership supported by the World Bank.

In Jakarta severe congestion has rendered buses slow and inefficient. The centrepiece of the city’s public transport overhaul is a mass rapid transit system. The first phase of the project, which opened in March 2019, comprises 13 stations across 16 km of track, connecting the south of the city to the business district. The $1.2bn project is expected to move 170,000 passengers per day. The second phase of the project, which will extend to the north of the city, is expected to open in 2024. The government hopes that public transport will accommodate 60% of commuters by 2030.


Mass transit systems that are bus-based provide another critical tool for improving urban mobility. In Latin America, Bogotá, Mexico City and Santiago de Chile have invested heavily in this segment. Bogotá’s TransMilenio articulated bus system was an early pioneer in this regard, with 12 routes spanning more than 114 km as of March 2019. The city’s bus network carries more than 1.7m passengers every day.

Smaller cities are also implementing smart bus systems, many of which incorporate new green technology. For example, Riyadh is expanding its bus network to include 956 buses travelling routes spanning over 1000 km. Jakarta has also followed Bogotá’s example by investing in a rapid bus transit system. The 251-km TransJakarta system carries over 350,000 passengers every day in air-conditioned buses.

Bike Lanes

Bicycles are also set to play a critical role in the transport systems of 21st century cities. Copenhagen and Amsterdam are known around the world as bike-friendly cities. Nearly two-thirds of Copenhagen’s residents commute on bicycles, making use of 350 km of dedicated bike lanes. Within Latin America, Rio de Janeiro has led the way in building bike-friendly infrastructure. The city offers over 435 km of wellpaved bike lanes, which makes it the largest network in South America. Buenos Aires also has a municipally run service that provides free bicycle-sharing services for residents and tourists to use, with more than 195 km of dedicated bike lanes as of March 2019.

While in Jakarta thousands of cyclists enjoy Sunday morning rides on the city’s car-free days, they still struggle to make use of their bikes as a tool for commuting due to traffic. Mexico City has built a dedicated bike line along Reforma Avenue in the city centre and opens a recreational cycling-only route on Sundays. Furthermore, the city’s public EcoBici bike-sharing programme has more than 120,000 users. Nevertheless, cycling advocates state that the city still lacks sufficient infrastructure to make daily commutes feasible and safe.

In China, Beijing was long touted as a world capital for bicycle commuting; in 1980 nearly two thirds of all commuters in Beijing rode bicycles, but by 2014 bicycles were used by less than one-fifth of all commuters. However, Beijing has recently experienced a massive expansion in cycling thanks to the introduction of more than 16m shared bicycles by around 60 new bicycle-sharing firms. City planners aim to support this by expanding the network of bike lanes and sidewalks to over 3000 km by the end of 2020.

Creative Solutions

A number of new start-ups have recently emerged, offering access to privately owned, shared-use scooters and electric bicycles. “New semi-public modes of transit such as ride sharing and shared vehicles are challenging conventional urban transport planning and providing a more tailored mobility solution,” Mariana Torres, vice-president at New York-headquartered John Laing Investments, told OBG.

Electric scooter-sharing apps are also emerging, with Bird being launched in Santa Monica by former Uber executives in September 2017. Bird has since expanded its operations to Mexico City in October 2018, with plans to enter other major cities in Latin America. Meanwhile, in Jakarta, GO-JEK, a local motorbike ride-hailing and delivery platform, began to allow users to rent electric scooters. Nevertheless, while electric scooters and motorcycles offer an alternative to private cars, they remain a complement to, rather than a replacement for, investment in rail, bike and bus systems.