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Role of Informal Collective Transport and Private Two-Wheelers

While car ownership may be on the rise in the cities of the Global South, informal collective modes, sometimes referred to as ‘para-transit’ or low-cost transport, and private two-wheelers are leading the way in mass motorization.

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Informal transit coexists with formal public transport, such as buses, metro systems, and trams, and survives by filling service gaps. In Nairobi, Kenya, 33 percent of total public transport trips are provided by matututs, consisting of a range of vehicles from minibuses and vans to pickups. Mini- and micro-buses provide 510 percent of trips in India and Thailand, and about half of all trips in the Philippines. Thirty percent of all trips in Mexico City are in 30,000 collectivos. Although tolerated by the authorities, these collectivos are uninsured and unsafe, but serve as a popular form of transit for low-income earners and have strong political backing. Informal transport vehicles can respond quickly and cheaply to changing markets and passenger demands. They can also ferry goods in and around neighborhoods. They do, however, contribute significantly to air and noise pollution, traffic congestion, and accidents. There is little incentive to introduce clean and efficient vehicles. Estimates suggest that the collectivos in Mexico City consume more gasoline than the entire bus fleet operated by the two major bus companies. A lack of regulations and enforcement leads to competition and conflict for customers among unlicensed operators. In South Africa, rival cartels fight over the most profitable routes, resulting in paratransit-related violence. Public health and safety are threatened.

The positives and negatives of informal transport pose difficult questions for future planning. In Jamaica, the longstanding regulations for informal transport have merely served to increase illicit operations. What is needed is monitoring and enforcement. Each city and circumstance needs careful assessment. A balanced response would lie somewhere between the extremes of acceptance and outright banning of informal transport. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for example, the circumstances require regulation of informal transport, and investment in and concessions for formal modes of transport.

There is fierce competition between collective informal transit and individual two-wheelers in many cities of the Global South. Currently, 84 percent of all households in Hanoi, Vietnam, own a motorcycle, and 40 percent of households have more than two. The use of the once important cyclo has declined with the introduction of taxis and the informal xe om. Similar shifts to two-wheelers have occurred in the cities of China, India, Indonesia, and Thailand. In China, Thailand, and Malaysia, the percentage of two-wheelers exceeds 50 percent of the total motor vehicle fleet, while in Vietnam the number of two-wheelers is more than six times the country’s car population.

Two-wheeler transport is not without risk. Two-wheeler users are more prone to road accidents and deaths than other motorized vehicle users, and riders suffer from high levels of air pollution exposure.

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