Better bus systems improve cities

Bus Systems for the Future: Achieving Sustainable Transport Worldwide
OECD Observer

By 2020 transport will account for more than half the world’s oil demand, and will generate nearly a quarter of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions. According to projections in this book from the International Energy Agency, a sister organisation of the OECD, the rate of increase in transportation oil use is expected to be three times higher in developing countries than in the OECD, though the latter will still account for the lion’s share of emissions.

Cities worldwide face enormous transport problems as populations grow and vehicle ownership rises too, generating gridlock, sprawl, heavy oil consumption and persistent air pollution. The authors argue that better systems, like Bus Rapid Transit, incorporating new system design and modern technologies, can help save some of the oil, as well as help urban transportation to work better.

Compared to cities dominated by small private vehicles, those with well-designed bus systems have much less traffic congestion, lower pollutant and CO2 emissions, and offer better mobility for residents. How to get people to use buses is a challenge. Discouraging car use with penalising taxes or higher parking fees might work, but to coax drivers out of their cars, public transport has to be worth it. Dedicated bus lanes have already been successfully introduced in cities such as London and Sydney. There are costs of course, like policing, but the reward is higher mobility. Add on services that inform waiting passengers when buses will arrive, “smart card” ticketing systems to allow easier transfers between routes and metro systems, and buses can become more attractive.

But technicalities like this are only part of the problem. Cities that spread out, like Los Angeles or Sao Paolo, present a different challenge to high density urban centres like New York or Paris. Yet, real opportunities lie in developing countries. Latin American cities, such as Curitiba and Bogota, that have developed BRT systems, report much lower traffic congestion, and bus operators that even make a profit.

Making progress will be hard, though. Many will argue that owning a car is an insurance against the risk of strikes. It is also a form of personal space. On the other hand can societies give no choice but to own a car? What this report shows is that not investing in public transit is unsustainable.

©OECD Observer No 233, August 2002

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q3 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.4% Nov 2017 annual
Trade: +4.3% exp, +4.3% imp, Q3 2017
Unemployment: 5.6% Nov 2017
Last update: 16 Jan 2018


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Rousseau
  • Do you trust your government? The OECD’s How's life 2017 report finds that only 38% of people in OECD countries trust their government. How can we improve our old "Social contract?" Read more.
  • Papers show “past coming back to haunt us”: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria tells Sky News that the so-called "Paradise Papers" show a past coming back to haunt us, but one which is now being dismantled. Please watch the video.
  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2018