On the 16th of June 2021, Access Partnership’s Emerging Markets team hosted a webinar which unpacked how mega cities in developing countries could use data and smart mobility to minimise traffic congestion as well as pollution and improve mobile efficiency and safety.
Panellists on the webinar included Mr. Vincente who leads public policy and government affairs in Latin America for e-hailing company DiDi, Mr. John Graham who is the transport specialist with the Global Transport Group of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and Dr. Tanya Filer who is the founder and Director of StateUp, a specialist, multi-disciplinary advisory firm focused on digital innovation with a public purpose. The event was moderated by Mr. Chris Casarrubias, Principal of the Emerging Markets team.
Mr. Casarrubias kicked off the discussion by citing Bogota, Columbia as an example where citizens spend 199 hours per year in traffic, at an estimated economic cost of US$1.8 billion. Mr. Vincente explained how DiDi is trying to address this congestion. Every car owned by DiDi collects GPS data and analyses traffic patterns as cars are driven around the city. Traffic patterns are then shared with governments. In Mexico City, there are two smart mobility projects where busy intersections are monitored, and congestion has been reduced by 29% when the findings of the data analysis were adopted.
Dr. Filer shared her experience around how mobility-related applications had struggled to attract funding but that this has all changed the post-pandemic as society realises the value of data. Remix (a collaborative mapping platform) was mentioned as an example of a transport application that shares its data with policymakers. Mr. Graham added that data, especially real-time data has become invaluable to urban planning. He gave the example of electric busses used in China and how data can help with optimising the bus route (especially since electric busses struggle with driving uphill.)
Challenges around government adoption of data were discussed. Government’s limited resources and hesitancy to collaborate with the private sector were mentioned as constraints. Mr. Graham gave the example of Chile where the government has worked very closely with private companies in the transport sector and together, they had reduced traffic congestion and improved the efficacy of public transport. Governments that were receptive to bolstering their capacity by establishing partnerships with the private sector and adopt technology will undoubtedly be at the forefront of smart mobility. Dr. Filer advocated for transport and energy infrastructure coordination and noted that states should avoid infrastructure silos, she highlighted how electricity for solar-powered cars would need the assistance of government stakeholders responsible for electricity generation and consumption. Mr. Vincente noted that DiDi had 1600 hybrid cars, however, electrical charging stations pose as a challenge.
In addition, Dr. Filer discussed how policymaking can be more inclusive by consulting industry experts and transport related start-up during policy formulation. Dr. Filer contended that governments could improve their adoption of technology by upskilling procurement officers and adopting new project management skills within government departments.
The impact of Covid-19 on mobility was discussed. Mr. Vincente spoke about DiDi heroes which allows medical personal to travel between their home and work safely (so far DiDi has sponsored 7 million of these trips.) Mr. Graham considered how governments post-pandemic will focus on climate and reducing emissions, especially in cities like Dhaka and Mexico City. An audience member asked about the future of self-driving cars in emerging markets. Mr. Graham noted that there were safety concerns around these cars however self-driving cars were not a concern in most emerging markets where the focus is primarily on getting the basics right. In China, DiDi is looking at self-driving cars, but it is not a priority.