Getting the Right Urban Indicator Shifting from the Proximity of Transport to the Accessibility of Opportunities

By Tatiana Peralta-Quirós, November 5, 2015, This is note #25 in the Connections series. You can download the PDF version of this note through this link. 


Most urban transport projects have focused on improving the ability of citizens to move freely and swiftly about the city. Typically, that ability has been measured by the share of the population living within, say, 0.5 kilometer of a transit stop, or the maximum travel distance per unit of time, or the amount of transportation infrastructure in a city.

Using such “proximity” measures to monitor urban mobility has led to congested highway networks and public transit systems that have failed to bring jobs and services within the practical reach of residents—especially the poor. These proximity-based measures represent indirect attempts to capture the real objective of transit systems: the accessibility of opportunities. New technologies and richer databases now make accessibility—the number of jobs, health facilities, schools, and other essential services that are available without a car in, say, 30–75 minutes—a practical criterion for judging the state of mobility and for designing ways to improve it. Using the accessibility criterion will be critical to achieving SDG 11, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”The ability of residents and businesses to access markets, employment opportunities, and service centers such as schools and hospitals is critical to urban economic development. Recognizing the importance of mobility, the UN has included transport in SDG 11 as Target 11.2, which reads, in part, “By 2030, provide access to … sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations….”

Quantifying the Goal

The SDGs tackle the question of how to measure the targets by providing draft indicators. The two indicators for Target 11.2 cover cities with a population greater than 500,000: “Percentage of people living within 0.5
km of public transit” (Indicator 11.2.1) and “Km of high capacity (BRT, light rail, metro) public transport per person” (Indicator 11.2.2).

However, these indicators miss the essential goal of transport and mobility, and planners should move away from these and other proximity-based indicators in assessing urban mobility, for at least three reasons:

  • For households and firms, the transport system itself is not important. Rather, its key attribute is the access it provides to resources and employment opportunities.
  • Defined in this way, accessibility can be a powerful design tool that allows planners to gauge the effects of changes in transport and land-use systems.
  • For policymakers, citizens, and businesses, the accessibility of jobs, services, and markets offers the clearest way to discuss the state of the transport system.

A Better Measure

An “accessibility analysis”—building on the work of urban economist Alain Bertaud— calculates the number of jobs, educational centers, health centers, or other resources that are reachable within a certain travel time, either from a selected place or on average by all residents.

Accessibility analysis has not always been feasible. Today, however, with the growing availability of standardized data and better computing resources, a transport project’s benefits to the residents of, say, a low-income neighborhood can be assessed with a metric more meaningful than a projection of reduced congestion or transit ridership.

For example, road congestion may be a constraint in a dispersed urban setting with inadequate transit, walking, and cycling options. But an accessibility analysis can show that improving multimodal options may yield far greater mobility benefits than a focus on infrastructure or travel times.

From Research to Practice

The transition of the accessibility indicator from research into practice is yielding a better understanding of their value in promoting sustainable urban mobility. For instance, Bertaud has constructed a measure that defines the effective size of the labor market in a metropolitan area by calculating the share of the area’s jobs accessible within 60 minutes. Applying the measure to greater Buenos Aires indicates that, on average, a resident there can access approximately 34 percent of the jobs in the metropolitan area in 60 minutes (recognizing that actual accessibility varies by specific location).

The accessibility type of indicator provides a clear and relevant way to compare transportation scenarios in one city or compare cities across regions. And it provides a fruitful basis on which to publicly communicate the value of different transportation interventions.

Current Applications

Indeed, the accessibility-based indicator has already been applied in numerous other cities to calculate citywide accessibility of employment opportunities, schools, hospitals, retail centers, and so on. The calculations have revealed areas that, for example, are densely populated yet have poor accessibility to one or many types of service. Similarly, the analysis can identify areas that have good accessibility but have a low population density and thus have the potential for greater development.

An open-source software platform for measuring accessibility, the Open Trip Planner Analyst (OTPA) accessibility tool, is available to government officials and all urban transport practitioners. Developed by the
World Bank in conjunction with Conveyal (, this tool leverages the power of the OTPA engine and open standardized data to model block-level accessibility. The added value of the tool (free and user friendly) is its ability to easily calculate the accessibility of various opportunities and transportation scenarios.


To evaluate the true benefits of urban transport investments and policies, the SDG indicator for Target 11.2 should measure accessibility. That type of indicator offers the most comprehensive measure of transport
impacts on access to employment and commercial opportunities, health, education, and other essential services of urban life. For more information on this topic:

Blog: How does this investment help accessibility for this metropolitan area’s poorest 40 percent?

Alain Bertaud, Cities as Labor Markets, February 2014

Lima Urban Transport: On the Way to Transformation October 8, 2015


This is note #22 in the Connections series. You can download the PDF version of this note through this link.

By Georges Darido, Daniel Pulido, Felipe Targa, Bernardo Alvim, and Tatiana Peralta-Quirós


The implementation of Metro Line 2, now under way, will provide a modern, 35 kilometer mass transit axis linking major population and job centers in Lima—the capital of Peru—with Callao to the west, the country’s chief seaport and international airport. Integrated with the Lima-Callao region’s existing public transport network, Line 2 will create a major corridor that will improve the accessibility of jobs, services, and markets for 2.3 million people and provide a backbone for more efficient urban development. Beyond the investment loan, this cofinanced project is an outgrowth of a long-term metropolitan transport strategy and multifaceted engagement that is aligned with the World Bank’s goals of reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity through sustainable development. It will give a boost to the competitiveness of the entire Lima-Callao Metropolitan Region, which has a population of more than 9 million and constitutes more than one-third of the national economy.Challenges and Progress to Date

As the urbanization of Peru continues, the country faces severe constraints in making its growth sustainable. A key problem is the past underinvestment in transport infrastructure, which limits access to jobs and services in many urban areas, especially for the poor who tend to live in peripheral areas.

The Lima-Callao Metropolitan Region (LMR) grew rapidly in the past decade and is now one of the most congested and polluted in Latin America. The launch of service on the Metropolitano bus rapid transit system in 2010 (supported by a World Bank investment loan) and on Metro Line 1 (elevated rail) in 2011 were tremendous steps forward for the LMR. The two lines together now carry about 1 million passengers per day, but there is still much to do, as this nascent mass transit system carries less than 10% of the public transport trips in the LMR.

The vast majority of motorized trips are still made with largely unregulated, low-capacity vehicles that compete for customers on the street. Essential to realizing the economic potential of the LMR in a sustainable and inclusive way is expanding the mass transit system and strengthening transport policies with complementary investments.

The Metro Line 2 Project

Metro Line 2 is the first priority in a 168 km mass transit Master Plan for LMR approved by the government of Peru in 2010. Once completed and integrated with the public transport network, Line 2 is expected to carry 660,000 passengers per day and influence the region’s long-term development in many ways.

• Expanding the mass transit network improves opportunities for all by reducing the travel time and expense required to access jobs, markets, and services such as health and education.

• Universal design features will accommodate peoples with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups.

• Transit integration will reinforce complementary actions for a transport system that reduces accidents, air pollution, and noise.

• The integrated transit corridor constitutes the backbone of an inclusive urban development process that will promote more efficient land use and boost competitiveness.

Improving Mobility and Accessibility

About four-fifths of public transport users in the LMR are in the bottom 40% of the region’s income distribution.

• On average they spend more than 20% of their income on transportation (while the overall average for the region is about 13%).

• They make 30% fewer trips overall than do the rest of the population because of long travel times or high costs.

More than 60% of the estimated ridership for Metro Line 2 will come from other modes of transportation, making modal integration a key objective. By linking Line 1 with the Metropolitano BRT and the future Line 4 and urban feeder services, the Line 2 Project could increase the number of jobs available within a 60-minute commute by as much as 25%.

Innovative Delivery Approach

The Metro Line 2 Project is pioneering on many fronts. It will be implemented in stages under a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement that remunerates the concessionaire for milestones completed. The 35-year concession contract, signed in April 2014, covers every phase of the project, from design through financing, construction, operation, and maintenance. Thus, it is one of the world’s few “fully bundled” PPPs in the urban transport sector.

Line 2 will also include state-of-the-art construction technologies and a “driverless” automated system to operate the trains that is expected to reduce operational costs.

Investment and Engagement

At a cost of more than $5.3 billion, with about 20% of the financing coming from the private concessionaire, Metro Line 2 is one of the largest and most ambitious investment projects in the history of the country. A $300 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to the government of Peru will support the public contribution to the concession. The government has also secured financing from the Inter-American Development Bank and the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) and may be negotiating with three other international financing institutions.

A single “megaproject” such as Line 2, however large, does not by itself guarantee the needed transformation. Also required will be integration with land development, surface transport reform policies, complementary investments, and partnerships with local governments.

The World Bank is working with governments at the national and local level and with partner financing institutions to leverage a plan for coordinated technical assistance and institutional strengthening in several key areas:

• Integrated transit fare policies that are socially progressive and financially sustainable

• Reorganization of other public transport modes to feed and complement Line 2

• Concepts for transit-oriented development

• Communications and citizen engagement strategies

• A joint and rigorous impact evaluation study

For more information on this topic:

This is note #15 in the Connections series. You can download the PDF version of this note through this link.

By Changgi Lee, Nak Moon Sung, Sang Dae Choi, Eun Joo Allison Yi, and Sangjoo Lee


Megacities in developing countries suffer from serious traffic congestion, high levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and heavy air pollution. These urban areas face a stark dilemma: economic expansion attracts more people and vehicles; but the resulting traffic and pollution hinder further growth while reducing the quality of life for their citizens.

Not long ago, Seoul faced a similar conundrum. Choked with pollution and traffic jams, it changed course and helped Korea make a historic transition to green urban transport. It shifted from supply-side policies focused on expanding roadways and metro lines to green demand-side policies focused on creating transit-oriented cities. Today, Seoul boasts a passenger-trip share for metro and bus of more than 60 percent.

Energy consumption in Korea’s road sector is lower than in other countries with similar GDP. Congestion costs have been decreasing, and CO2 emissions in the transport sector have been kept under control. This path-breaking transition was founded on multimodal solutions integrated by information and communication technology (ICT) in a context of strong political leadership and public financing.

From 1980 to 2010, the total length of all roads in Korea more than doubled, and the length of paved roads increased 540 percent. By 2000, the road density in Seoul (12.9 km/km2) was three to four times greater than in Beijing or Shanghai. From 1980 to 1997, estimated congestion costs in Korea quadrupled, to 18.5 trillion won, or 3.6 percent of GDP, with Seoul accounting for one-fourth of the costs. Air pollution from road traffic cost an estimated $13.3 billion in 2006.

The reliance on supply-oriented transportation policies began to lose its appeal, but the path to better transit and less congested roads was not straightforward.

Seoul had been expanding its metro transit network throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, but most of the rise in metro ridership came from former bus riders rather than passenger car drivers. In those years, almost half of the city’s 103 bus companies shut down. After a 2002 expansion of the metro network, automobile passenger trips and metro ridership were both higher than in 1996, while bus ridership was lower.

A comprehensive reform in 2004 began a dramatic reversal in the trend. The new strategy drew people out of their cars and into public transport by modernizing and expanding the bus system and integrating it with both metro and a new system of feeder buses.

Multimodal Transport Solutions

The reform in Seoul introduced distance-based fares and free transfers between buses and between bus and metro. The city rearranged bus routes to broaden passenger access, built bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes and transit centers for faster and more reliable service, and introduced shuttle buses connecting remote locations to the main system.

The new multimodal system was supported by innovative ICT that enabled rechargeable transport cards to work with distance-based fares and provided real-time route and schedule information to travelers.

Transfers became more convenient; the speed and reliability of bus service improved; and bus-related accidents and injuries declined by about 25 percent just one year after the reform. Seoul saw a continuous increase in the number of subway, surface rail, and bus passengers and a drop in the use of cars. The rechargeable transport card has now become a virtually nationwide fare system, and cities continue to make innovative strides in their transit networks.

Key Policies

Seoul’s shift to green transport had four fundamental characteristics: (1) multimodalism, (2) use of ICT to integrate the modes, (3) vision and political will, and (4) financial support. These elements also defined green transport policies that spread to other parts of the country.

Multimodalism and ICT

Key elements of multimodalism are land development centered around new or existing transit stations that also become commercial and cultural hubs; a distance-based, free transfer fare system; and a community shuttle-bus system. The system of free transfers and distance-based fares was a pivotal achievement, making each transport mode a branch of the overall integrated system.

The community shuttle bus system connects the more remote neighborhoods with metro stations or major bus stations under the same fare and transfer system; it is a major element of Korea’s green transport model and currently accounts for about 10 percent of the country’s public transit ridership.

The role of ICT was crucial for the transportation smart card (T-card), which had a catalytic role in the success of the reform. By allowing a distance-based fare system employing free transfers, it brought passengers to buses. Each major city now operates a transportation information system that includes GPS tracking of its buses. Travelers use the information to guide their trips, government uses it to evaluate its transport operations, and bus associations and the smart card company use it to distribute revenue according to distance traveled.

Vision, Political Will and Financial Support

The reform was the type of high-risk, high-return project that brings immediate opposition. In Seoul, green reform of the public transport system was one of the major pledges of the then-mayor, who was able to get political support from both the government and citizens.

Overall, the initial construction and preparation costs for Seoul’s revamped bus network probably amounted to about $100 million. Seoul’s government spends about $200 million per year to cover the operating losses of the bus system, which translates to about $20 per person.

Lessons and New Challenges

By the early 2000s, Korean transport policy had reached a dead end, unable to stop the rise of highway congestion. The solution began in Seoul, which upgraded and revived the bus system with BRT and neighborhood feeder routes and linked it to rail with ICT. The result was an integrated urban, and ultimately national, mass transit system that could stem the rise of automobile use.

Korea succeeded so well that it has stabilized energy consumption per capita in the road sector. In 2010, Korea took aim at a new 10-year goal with its green transport master plan: reduce GHG emissions by one-third while maintaining its competitiveness.

For more information on this topic: Korea Green Growth Partnership: