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Summary report, Deals on Wheels

Developing country medium-sized cities (those between 500 thousand inhabitants and 2 million) are important targets for the promotion of sustainable transportation practices. The UNEP Centre convened to organise and fully sponsor a workshop for this purpose. Several institutions collaborated in organising the event: the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG-Sri Lanka), The Peace and Development Research Group from Göteborg University and institutions within El Salvador: Centro Salvadoreño de Tecnología Apropiada (CESTA), and the Climate Change Communication office of the Ministry of Environment in Salvador.

The Workshop

The Workshop "Deals on Wheels: Sustainable Transportation Initiatives for Developing Countries" was held in the Hotel Siesta, in the city of San Salvador, El Salvador from July 28th to 30th 1999. The primary goal of the workshop was to share experiences of sustainable transport practices from invited medium-sized cities in Latin America and Asia. The purpose was to learn how sustainable mechanisms have been incorporated into national planning and implementation systems. Emphasis was given to understand what concrete mechanism work to promote sustainable transport in the selected projects.

The workshop included participation of transport economics and engineers, policy makers and policy-advisors, and key representatives from the transportation government and non-governmental sector in El Salvador. Among participants there were also members from academia, private consultants and international NGOs.

The agenda for the three-day meeting covered 10 different thematic sessions and more than 30 presentations representing the mutually reinforcing dimensions of sustainable transport development: economic, environmental, social, institutional, and the technological and global change challenges. The last section summarised future directions and how to move from ideas to practice, from visions to reality.

Overview of Discussion, Issues, Promising Projects and Future Directions

The workshop presentations showed concrete results in different areas. From a re-evaluation of former transport planning practices and paradigms to the formulation of a strategic vision for transport and urban development. Several examples of effective public transport management were presented that are enhancing mobility and helping reduce congestion and air pollution at a socially affordable cost. Diverse examples where increased use and promotion of non-motorised modes of transport are helping urban and rural poor, particularly women, enhance their mobility and improve their income situation. All these practices serve as potential models for other cities and show promise for the creation of the multiple alternative paths that are necessary to resolve common urban transport problems in a sustainable manner.

Meeting the Economic Challenge

A review of Hong Kong’s transportation system successes and failures challenges the long held view that achieving an ideal sustainable city structure is mainly a matter of economic resources. Despite the amount of resources invested, Hong Kong’s current well-developed transport system is unsustainable, providing instead an example of the inevitability of increasing congestion and environmental problems when an economic growth strategy is pursued at all cost. Other important tasks to achieve a sustainable path have been overlooked in Hong Kong’s case among others: vision building and stakeholder involvement in policy-making, planning implementation and evaluations. Also an understanding of planning for transport as one that views transport as a subservient to broader sustainable development goals (Dimitriou-UK). A key issue raised during the discussion was the necessity to enhance operational transport guidance at the project level to achieve goals/policies for sustainable urban development. This implies a work with values that can be a political as much as a scientific task (Dimitriou, Thynell).

Meeting Institutional Challenge

The main issues covered in the dialogue were the meaning of the concept of sustainability for urban transport systems, and the contributions that strategic planning, vision building, and stakeholder participation have in achieving a sustainable path (Dimitriou-UK). The role of governments in building-up participation of key stakeholders in the transport decision-making process was evaluated in the case of the Municipality of Soyapango in El Salvador. In Soyapango, bottom-up participation (community, organised civil society and private sector) has been instrumental in helping the local government find solutions to their transport problems (Rodríguez-Salvador; Thynell-Sweden). The role of non-governmental organisations from a global institutional perspective was presented by one New-York based NGO (Peters, ITDP), working to reform the decision-making processes of international development institutions so that their transport sector lending or grant making activities better benefit public transit passengers, bicyclist and pedestrians. In 1996, the effort of ITDP and several other NGOs led to the passage of a new transportation policy at the World Bank called Sustainable Transport. This policy incorporated many NGOs concerns by emphasising the environmental, poverty alleviation and gender dimensions of transportation beyond the importance of this sector to economic development (Peters, ITDP).

Meeting the Social Challenge

The need for a change of paradigm in transport planning, from the one centred around motorised vehicles, to an integrated "human-scaled approach in transport that is gender sensitive and favours a diversity of modal choices for the movement of people and goods was emphasised in this section (Cordero,Ciclored-Peru; Bravo, IFRT-Peru). In cities where a shift to sustainable transport practices is starting to take place the work and activism of local environmental groups has made the difference, rather than being initiated via governmental or professional bodies (CESTA-Salvador; ITDP-New York; ITG-Sri Lanka). The work of the different NGOs and local environmental groups presented vary from the local level to the international level.

The potential for job creation of some transport projects was an important aspect of the discussion of social issues brought up by CESTA (Navarro-Salvador), the Salvadorian NGO. CESTA operates a school-workshop (Ecocentro San Marcos) that serves as a resource centre, which trains young boys and girls in the production and service of bicycles, tricycles and other pedal power technologies. Micro-enterprises using pedal power mechanisms are also promoted such as garbage collection, distribution of bottled water and refreshments and preparation/selling of street food. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, De Silva showed how practitioners are developing means of transport to assist rural people in overcoming their transport burdens. Examples of improved back packs for women to carry goods, increasing the efficiency of hand carts, introduction of ropeways to mountainous people as some of the solutions promoted (Intermediate Technology Group ITG, De Silva). Aside from the ecological and social benefits, these projects are creating jobs, boosting businesses, saving money and revitalising local economies.

Gender issues in transport were also explored in this section. The discussion reviewed some of the current approaches to addressing gender in the transport sector and areas were more work and collaboration is needed to promote gender equality within a sustainable transport framework. For example, gender is an important issue to be addressed into rural transport projects. The work of the International Forum for Rural Transport in this area was presented (Bravo, IFRT-Peru). Rural transport projects have different impacts on women and men. Further, women’s access to health, education and employment opportunities are often limited by unequal access to transport resources, either because of the gender-based division of labour within the family and community or as a result of their special needs not been addressed in transport project design an implementation. Today, some transport projects in rural areas directly address gender issues, however, most projects still are assumed to benefit men and women equally and are focused in efficiency more than equity. The benefits of transport investments have to be gender-desegregated to assure that they do not adversely affect women or risk undermine the project’s social sustainability.

Meeting the Environmental Challenge

The environmental challenge session brought up diverse concrete successful experiences: the "Semana de Aire Puro" (Majano, Swisscontact-Salvador) is now being held in most Central America capitals during which free emission inspections are administered randomly to automobiles on the road. These experiences have served the double purpose of gathering data and raising public awareness on air pollution issues. Several countries in Central America have enacted laws for regular inspection and vehicles maintenance. In El Salvador the first Air Quality Management National Plan was recently approved (Rivas, MARN-Salvador,). The "Departamento de Fiscalización" in Santiago de Chile is successfully tackling public transport quality operation and polluting emissions through an anonymous phone-call system that allows citizens to report pollution or bad service on public transport units. The "Departamento de fiscalización" is able to investigate the reported unit, request improvements to be made on the unit and, to penalise offenders if necessary (Albarrán-Chile). Quito Municipality has put together a pollution control strategy for the metropolitan area of Quito and has made an enormous effort to understand the specific circumstances and solutions for air quality management of cities located in high elevation (Jurado-Ecuador).

Public Transport Initiatives

As cities grow bigger and richer there is an inevitable tendency for the demand for road space for vehicles to outstrip its availability. Given the impossibility of rectifying the imbalance by increasing the amount of road space sufficiently other strategies would be necessary, including structured densification of land use, restraining private automobile use, use of cleaner transport technologies and greater use of public transport. The dialogue of this session concluded that the essence of a sustainable path for urban transport lies on enhancing public transport opportunities while restraining the use of private motor vehicles in central areas. The experience of "licitación" of road space in Santiago de Chile has been successful in enhancing public transport management and operation (Malbran-Chile). Another option explored as a way to reduce "excessive" auto use was "Car-sharing". Promoting car sharing as an economically beneficial and environmentally responsible alternative to the personally owned car is an innovative solution that can prove feasible for Latin America (Zegras-USA). The successful experience of the Trolley Bus in Quito, Ecuador was presented (Jurado-Ecuador). Finally the experience of Community Buses in Sri Lanka has not only improved mobility but also improved economic vitality for the community at the same time (De Silva-Sri Lanka).

Non-Motorised Modes: Going Farther with Less

In Africa, Asia and Latin America, rural people either head carry or back carry the goods. This has resulted in carrying only what people (especially women) can carry resulting in lots of time and energy wasted for a very low productivity. With correct guidance and support from development organisations many people have been able to make use of intermediate means of transport to improve their livelihoods. In this session success stories were presented from Kenya (Masai women), Nepal (non-transport intervention to resolve a transport problem, and ropeways) and Sri Lanka (trailer for the bicycle). One important aspect discussed was how to ensure sustainability on these projects. Different responses are emerging according to the organisation involved, some have gone to do policy advocacy work to influence government, some others have their own credit schemes for low-income people, in some instances an entrepreneur can provide a cheaper service to the poor people. However, one important factor in sustainability of intermediate and non-motorised transport solutions is the acceptance by the people. It has to be culturally, socially, economically and technically sound. That is a technology adopted by the people to suit their needs (De Silva).

Meeting the Global Challenge and The Role of Technological Innovations

The role of the Brazilian Alcohol Program to reduce local air pollution and as a CO2 mitigation option was presented (Ribeiro-Brazil), as well as the CO2 mitigation options for El Salvador’s transport sector (Aguilar, MARN-Salvador). Finally, the role of technological innovations in meeting the current local and global environmental challenges of increasing motorisation (Jorgensen-Denmark).

Future Directions

In the discussion about how to move from ideas to practice and from visions to reality, it was considered critical the establishment of an appropriate policy context for sustainable transport. This required careful attention to getting the economics right (including concentration on improving pricing and supply mechanisms); to getting the institutions right (including the creation of multi-modal co-ordination at the city region level); and to clear and realistic setting of priorities for action (including attention to life and health threatening environmental impacts and to sustainable measures for protection of the interests of the very poor). In this session were also introduced strategic elements of a "Generic Sustainable Urban Transport Strategy for Medium-sized cities" (Dimitriou-UK), among these elements are:

  • Restraint measures –restricting the use of motor vehicles in central areas.
  • Construction of a continuous network of pedestrian, bicycle & cycle rickshaw lanes with common speed bands- within central areas, within communities and alongside major arteries outside central areas.
  • Enhancement of bus operation – providing exclusive rights of way, improving the design and operation of bus terminals and integrating bus services with other public transport modes.
  • Improvement to corridor and feeder system freight transport infrastructure to include terminal and both motorised and non-motorised modes.
  • Institution building. Strengthening of agencies dealing with urban transports and transports co-ordination.
  • New pricing policies and mechanisms including taxes on transportation goods, motor vehicles purchases, fuel and road use in order to accurately reflect the real cost of the motor vehicle
  • Research and development efforts into the further development of Sustainable urban development indicators for the more appropriate appraisal of urban transport proposals
  • Utilisation of revenues from: sales of infrastructure-improved land, public sector assisted redevelopment efforts and public transport franchise sale.
  • Stakeholder participation and consultation to involve: workshops to disseminate strategy proposals and demonstration projects, and media dissemination about SUD agenda, role of transport strategy in support of this.

At the end of the workshop there was a discussion about PRIORITY AREAS for ACTION from government, non-governmental organisations, practitioners and researchers:

  • Inter-institutional co-operation, information dissemination, development of legal instruments, strategic approach to transport planning and policy-making
  • Public transport enhancement, to create accessibility for all with reduced environmental impacts
  • Private sector involvement, with government intervention to guarantee that social objectives are met
  • Civil society and non-governmental organisations participation demanding transport services to meet accessibility needs
  • Non-motorised modes of transport facilities and people-centred transport planning, to satisfy basic accessibility needs.
  • Restraining automobile use and creation of a new transport culture supported by a substantial improvement on the diversity of transport modes.
  • Data collection, definition of progress indicators and improved information dissemination

Follow-up activities after workshop

  • Publication & Dissemination of workshop results. "Deals on Wheels". Proceeding, including presentation and summary of main discussions. Additionally, it is being considered the production of an edited book with selected contributions from the workshop.
  • Creation of an E-mail group list to do advocacy work called: "Sustainable Transport Forum for Latin America". The principal aim of this network is to enhance collaboration among researchers and institutions in Latin America towards the promotion of Sustainable Urban Transport. Also networking with other sister networks like SUSTRAN in Asia and Pacific Region. The group will be seeking financial assistance to finance its activities in the short term.


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October 13, 1999