Lunch Meeting and Panel Discussion on Sustainable Transport: Poverty Eradication through Sustainable Transport


On January 21, 2013 The Missions of Thailand and the Netherlands in cooperation with UN-DESA organized a lunch meeting and Panel Discussion on Sustainable Transport: Poverty Eradication through Sustainable Transport at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Attendees: Main guest speaker Enrique Penalosa, 4 commentators and 80 attendees representing Permanent Representatives and delegates of several UN Missions, UN-bodies, experts of Multilateral Development Banks and NGOs.

The Permanent Representative (PR) of the Netherlands, Mr. Herman Schaper, opened the lunch meeting by welcoming and introducing the main speaker, Mr. Enrique Penalosa, a thought leader on urban development and former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia and an advocate for sustainable transport initiatives as well as the guest commentators.
Following a successful discussion last November 19th, 2012, the Missions of the Netherlands and Thailand, co-organizers of the event, together with UN-DESA, held a second lunch meeting to discuss important issues around sustainable transport (ST). The session aimed to contribute towards the discussion on the post 2015 sustainable development agenda and focused on the linkage between ST and poverty eradication.
Mr. Nikhil Seth, Director of Sustainable Development Division of UN-DESA, emphasized the importance of the need for ST in realizing the Millennium Development Goals; e.g. reducing poverty, by enabling the poor to get better access to jobs and markets; improved health and education by better access to health services and schools; environmental improvements in the form of better air quality through cleaner transport.
MR. ENRIQUE PENALOSA, President of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) grasped everybody’s attention with a comprehensive overview of successful interventions on ST and urban planning incorporating many examples from Bogotá the capital of Colombia he helped to transform, during his term as mayor, from a city “without bearings and self-esteem nor hope”, into an international example for improvements in public spaces, quality of life, mobility and equity.
Main points made by Mr. Penalosa were:
1.   A good and safe city needs to be created by the approach of equality. Sidewalks are a great indicator of equity; with sidewalks all citizens can safely move around and it’s their initial way of transportation and means of access to jobs, food and services.
2.   Low-cost high frequency public transportation is another crucial need for citizens in compact cities in order to move around and avoid congestion on the roads by private vehicles. Only bus-based systems can make this happen.
3.   By investing in highways, a city only addresses a problem for its upper income citizens, and neglects accessibility for the poorer population.
4.  In certain American cities and some European countries, wealthier citizens use public transportation since it’s faster. In developing cities the more wealthy are primarily interested in road space in order to drive their cars. Mr. Penalosa  mentioned that many UN Ambassadors would probably not use public transport in their own countries – he emphasized the importance of setting an example and the democratic principle of equality. Good example: the Dutch: everybody bikes and this is a more egalitarian approach.
5.   A good public transport system solves mobility issues. Traffic jams can only be solved by restricting car use.
6.   Equity means allocating road space in a manner that respects the number of users. A bus with 100 people on board should have 100x more right to use of the road than a private vehicle with 1 passenger. Bus systems with exclusive lanes are the most cost efficient means of transportation; more so than rail or subway. Bogota’s Transmilenio system is a good example of “democracy at work”.
7.   When space is scarce priority should be given to public transport and environmentally friendly forms of transportation, like the promotion of bicycles.
8.   Giving citizens the right to sidewalks and bikeways is a sign of democracy, showing that a citizen on a $30 bike is as important as a person in a $30K car.
9.    Developing an equitable sustainable transport system is easier in developing countries with still rapidly growing cities where the infrastructure for busses, walking and cycling has not been build yet.

A panel of four guest commentators gave their views on the topic of poverty eradication through sustainable transport:
1.   Mr. Robert Guild, Director for Pacific Strategy & Special Operations, Asian Development Bank (ADB)
For ADB recognizes sustainable transport’s role in poverty eradication, and focuses on accessible and affordable transport. The poor are disproportionately affected by the lack of sustainable transport options: they are vulnerable with no access to health services, jobs and prone to be hurt in accidents and air pollution. ADB therefore is shifting its investments in transport that improves accessibility, affordability and equality guided by Its Sustainable Transport Initiative. It coordinates with other multilateral development banks on the implementation and follow-up of the joint  $ 175 billion Voluntary Commitment for more sustainable transport;
2.   Mr. Michael Replogle, Managing Director, Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)
ITDP also emphasizes the opportunities provided by sustainable transport in providing access. Unsustainable transport cuts large groups of the population off and robs them off access to health facilities, economic development and growth. It causes lower long-term productivity and fewer jobs being accessible. Support from multi-lateral institutions and national institutions are much needed to choose the right investments in “walkable” and “bikeable” systems. With urbanization happening globally, a pathway to sustainable transport should be created with transport included in the Sustainable Development Goals that will complement the Millennium Development Goals in the near future. Support from the UN and individual countries is already substantial and can be instrumental in order to move money from unsustainable to more sustainable transport.
3.   Mr. Cornie Huizenga, Joint Convener, Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SloCaT)
SloCaT refers to ST no
t merely as an “opportunity” but as a solution to an increasingly urgent problem. Over 1 billion people still live in poverty and one billion people will move to cities in the coming decade. ST integrates environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable development. It is of paramount importance to realize a ‘scaling up’ of ST as soon as possible. The $175 billion commitment of the multilateral development banks to invest towards ST, is an important step, but the real drivers are the individual countries, who need to come on board to enable the shift towards more sustainable transport. Therefore the establishment of a Group of Friends of Sustainable Transport as initiated by the Thai and Dutch Permanent Representatives is a welcome and much needed step to promote best practices by national governments.

4.   Mr. Andreas Kopp, Lead Transport Economist in the Energy, Transport and Water Department, World Bank

Mr. Kopp emphasized the importance to recognize that “Mobility drives Development”, by connecting rural areas and answer to the challenge to keep cities functioning with alternative and sustainable transportation options. Costs of transportation and use of fuels are high in the existing transportation systems. With a change in composition of transport, costs can be lowered and mobility conflicts can be solved. World Bank is grateful for the extended momentum following the Transforming Transportation Conference in Washington DC on January 17 and 18.

Short Q & A followed. 

·         The Permanent Representative of Hungary emphasized how much he had learned during the session and stressed the need for action and the inclusion of ST in the discussion on the post 2015 agenda and the SDGs. 
·         A representative of Morocco echoed that saying that it is time for political action around these issues since many of the solutions are already known. 

The Thai Minister Counselor concluded the lunch discussion by briefly describing the Thai experience in promoting economic and social development through the promotion on regional connectivity.