Issues relating to the ‘last mile connectivity’ of suburban transport infrastructure, and reliable, dependable, and safe urban transportation continue to persist. This prompts a few fundamental and significant facts to be considered when building public-private partnerships that will provide more immediate and innovative solutions.

The World Migration report of 2015 highlighted the fact that, “In addition to the traditional migrant corridors from the Global South to the advanced economies of North America and Europe,[1] migrants are attracted to the fast-growing economies of new growth centres in East Asia, South Africa, Brazil and India.” This article thus begins with a focus on India as a case exemplifying widespread trends in emerging economies. Consider the following:

  • India’s urbanisation has been faster than in other developing countries;
  • Simultaneous suburban growth is a signature of India’s urbanisation;
  • India’s population is likely to reach approximately 1.7 billion by 2040; and
  • Approximately 75 percent of the population will likely move to urban areas by 2040, giving rise to a greater frequency of public transport travel.

The impacts of this can already be seen, including an extraordinary stress on urban transport infrastructure comprising rail, road, and air. There is a need to consider viable, imaginative, and innovative solutions, in order to identify challenges and convert them into opportunities. These opportunities could make increased and more efficient mobility not just a not just a case of adding carriages to existing infrastructure, but also result in the production of a system that has potential to create economies of scale and change the way we think about public transport.

Globally, governments and private sector actors continue to realise the importance of public transportation in meeting the challenge of mobility, and as a consequence realise its simultaneous importance in meeting goals for economic progress, growth, and reliability in service delivery. As a backbone to a country’s development, public transport remains a key enabler in creating opportunities that are premised on the goals of equity, inclusion, and better quality of life. It is obvious that urban transportation also builds positive conditions for economic efficiency, social inclusion, and environmental protection.

It is in this context that governments are trying to stop a declining share of publicly provided transport; provide innovative and non-motorised transport; elevate investment in public transport; arrest the sheer neglect of pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport users; and stop the increase in pollution and road causalities. Solutions for urban transportation are assuming greater traction within policy spaces and corporate thinking. The opportunities, however, far outweigh the challenges in providing convenient, safe, viable, and reasonably priced means of transportation for populations at large.

The Significance of Urban Mobility

With a growing positive relationship between mobility and economic growth, environmental, social, and economic dimensions continue to gain traction. Seen through the lens of sustainability, mobility does not only mean the broad realisation of movement of people, goods, and services, but also the notion that mobility can meet the principles of the ‘triple bottom line’ (the financial, social, and environmental effects of corporate action that determine a form’s viability as a sustainable enterprise). As a result, sustainable mobility becomes a key consideration in public policy spaces, civil society interventions, and business approaches. This in turn feeds into the progressive and innovative actions that key actors need to deliver for the broader public good, not only for private gains.

The problems that urban transportation currently faces can be addressed by applying strategic measures based on the location and maturity of a city. Differentiated and unique solutions are warranted to effectively provide solutions for the sector across different contexts, and local conditions can propel specific solutions to transport issues. Strategies for re-designing transport systems while also integrating existing modes of transportation and increasing access through infrastructure development are some of the measures that can meet the urban mobility challenge.

Innovation in infrastructure is key

Flexible and innovative approaches are key in creating better products and services that meet changing needs and consumer preferences. In the case of public transport, this entails redesigning and expanding existing systems and developing technologies and means to accommodate changing realities. Not long ago, the Mayor of London announced drastic changes to the London Underground system, as public sentiment called for the creation of better facilities and accessibility for commuters. Such changes are expected to add to commuter loyalty, thus improving the image of public transport and encouraging people to travel by public transport. Hong Kong’s metro stands out as a unique case that provides discretionary passes to first time travelers who may, for genuine reasons, not have bought a ticket.

Addressing issues in public transportation systems also creates better opportunities for ensuring the improvement of city infrastructure. Research shows that cities with good roads and transport systems develop faster and in a more sustainable manner, ensuring enhanced facilities and accessibility for residents compared to those that do not have such mechanisms.

A better load factor ensures financial sustainability in mobility. It is reasonably estimated that the higher the number of people who travel, the better the prospects of earning revenue and breaking even early are for operators and investors. The economic viability of public transport should also be analysed by monetising the challenges and external costs related to congestion, accidents, air quality, noise, and CO2 emissions. According to Bombardier, in the US alone, congestion translated into costs of $78 billion in 2005. By providing mass transit facilities, public transport helps to reduce such external costs, making it a more economically viable option.

In the past there has been the view – perhaps rightly so – that public transport systems are long term investments. However, this standpoint has changed in recent times. Those behind public transportation systems are now innovating and leveraging every conceivable opportunity to cut losses and earn revenue. Leasing stations to private firms for advertising and selling advertising space on coaches are some of the ways in which public transport operators are working towards increasing revenues and meeting ever growing expenses.

The London Underground is a classic example. Stations and underground carriages provide spaces for private firms to buy advertising space, thus enabling the system to earn revenue apart from ticket sales.

The Rapid Metro in India has also collaborated with three private firms, Vodafone, INDUSIND, and Micromax, such that revenue is earned by providing advertising and branding space. More innovative approaches and winning strategies will need to be deployed for reducing costs for transit operators and building visibility as a part of corporate sponsorship schemes.

Technological Advance

In keeping up with the changing times, public transportation operators also need to revamp existing systems to make them a more sustainable option. Adapting with technological advancements will enable public transit systems to increase commuter convenience, safety, and security, as well as reduce emissions and the waste of water, energy, and electricity. Research suggests that public transit systems that are able to keep up with the changing times by integrating technology – such as mobile ticketing, smart cards, and energy savers –  have increased ridership and built commuters’ trust around sustainability.

Public transportation adds great value to a city. While being an environmentally and economically sustainable mode of transport, it also enables a better urban lifestyle by encouraging social inclusion and increasing the use of public spaces for walking, cycling, and relaxing. It rebalances public space in the city, giving greater priority to pedestrian needs, social inclusion, integration, safe and secure environments, and high-quality public life for residents.

Transport operators are conscious of their role in ensuring the journey taken by a commuter is comfortable and relaxing. In this context, it is important that the journey be turned into an experience rather than just point-to-point connectivity. Globally, public transport operators are working towards providing various special services such as Wi-Fi, news and radio access, audio and video access, and shopping arenas in metro stations to provide maximum benefits to the commuter.


Public transport operators are also moving beyond reactive and incremental responses to external pressures, towards a new understanding of sustainability. This new understanding allows for opportunities in achieving a competitive edge through social and technological innovation projects for differentiated growth and superior market performance.

By bringing changes and improvements to the value chain, public transport operators can ensure better ridership and enjoy greater commuter confidence. Value chain improvement can include introducing expanded services, better stations facilities, clean coaches, and a better overall travel experience.

The importance of public perception

Changing public perception is a key strategy to increase the use of public transportation, as it is often seen in a negative light and as synonymous with crowded spaces, a lack of security, unreliability, and inconvenience. Investors deploy heavy financial resources in urban mobility infrastructure and in the absence of optimal utilisation, these infrastructure projects have increasingly become more cost intensive due the size of the projects, rising land prices, and land acquisition issues. Expanded break-even timelines, targeted advocacy campaigns, and sensitisation through information and communication technologies can play an important role in encouraging people to travel by mass transit. There is a visible global trend, in which transport operators are working towards promoting the use of public transport as the smarter way to travel, thus influencing public opinion in its favour. Mobility, besides being a lifeline for economic and social activity, is also a legacy that must be part of any advocacy campaign to influence public perception and behaviour.

Reliable roads, highways, and transit systems are essential to the growth and livability of cities. Development of such infrastructure is under the broad mandate of the government. To better execute such projects, the government and the private sector can effectively collaborate to leverage their respective strengths and develop better mobility options. Public-private partnership models seem the most favoured route as they enable the private and public sectors to leverage each other’s strengths and build on shared responsibility for completion, management, and financing. Such partnerships can be beneficial in a number of ways that allow for more efficient use of existing transport infrastructure, while developing new modes and re-designing existing models that result in better connectivity.

Global development goals

The United Nations established a new set of global development goals, formally adopted by member states in September 2015 through a General Assembly resolution. Sustainable cities and urbanisation are going to be at the heart of these global development goals and will continue to run up to 2030, a major milestone in human history from the perspectives of growth, development, and economic wellbeing.

In a trend that is bound to intensify going forward, governments across the world are working towards developing sustainable cities that meet the social, economic, and environmental concerns of their peoples. The focus is on creating sustainable high-quality urban centers that will provide housing to the teeming billions in the next 15 years without any compromises on harmony, mobility, social integration, and the environment. Urban transport and mobility within this context assume greater significance, given the fact that transportation comprises the backbone of city infrastructure as it creates access for citizens. In recognising the importance of transport as a trigger for economic activity, and its importance in realising sustainable development, a dedicated goal in the post-2015 regime being proposed by the United Nations is ‘universal access to safe, clean and affordable transport’, for which various relevant goals, targets, and indicators are suggested. The ‘Cities for future’ report of the United Nations Global Compact, released this year examines 21 cities from the vantage point of climate, water, CSR, and urbanisation, and presents good practices that may be emulated by others.

Going forward, we need to protect and promote the fundamentals of equity, inclusion, and justice that keep pace with the changing times; we should bring to bear the repercussions of public-private action for the wellbeing of people; and we must direct all our individual and collective actions towards the greater public good, rather than being driven by considerations of private gain.

Public transportation and urban mobility are here to stay and ‘last mile connectivity’ will continue to fuel aspirations, add to growth momentum, be the effective support system for city infrastructure to grow and fuel suburbanisation, contribute to job growth, and consequently become a significant factor in alleviating poverty.

We only need to seize the moment, stand up to the challenge and move forward.



[1] Münz, R. (2014), The global race for talent: Europe’s migration challenge. Bruegel Policy Brief No. 2. Bruegel, Brussels. Available from

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Pooran Chandra Pandey

Former CEO of the DOC Research Institute (2016-2018), IN

Pooran Chandra Pandey is one of India’s leading experts on advocacy, economic and social development work, management and the voluntary sector. From 2011 to 2016, he served as Executive Director for UN Global Compact Network India. Prior to taking up that post, he was Director at the Times Foundation, one of India’s leading corporate foundations working in the areas of health, education, environment, women’s empowerment, and disaster management. From 2004 to 2007, he was CEO at Voluntary Action Network India, the country’s largest association of voluntary organizations, comprising 2,400 members within India. Credited with pioneering the notion of involving civil society, businesses and government through a consensus-building approach for inclusive social dividends, Pooran Chandra Pandey has led the launch of national public service campaigns within India such as Lead India, Teach India and the social impact awards. Specialising both in development and humanitarian assistance, he has also chaired and co-chaired a number of Indian Government task forces and committees developing national policy on the voluntary sector, implementing the UN Handbook, non-governmental charter of good governance, rationalisation of policies for NGOs, and the foreign contribution regulation act. Pooran Chandra Pandey holds a BA and MA from the University of Allahabad, an M.Phil in International Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, and was also a Chevening Scholar in Leadership and Global Organization at the London School of Economics.