Urban transport lending by the World Bank: The last decade


Slobodan Mitric

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

economics - finance, place - asia, mode - bus rapid transit, policy - congestion, policy - sustainable


Urban transport, Development lending, World Bank, Motorization, Poverty, Sustainability, Public transport regulation


Over the preceding decade, the World Bank committed about US$7.5bn in loans for urban transport projects in its client countries, involving total project costs of nearly US$13bn. Projects are designed by the client city/national governments and the World Bank in an interactive, give-and-take process. As is common in development finance, urban transport projects entail an investment program and a set of policy and institutional initiatives. A majority of Bank-funded operations in this period focused on public transport modes. A clear and overarching strategic thrust is evident, favoring private delivery of services with a strong public role through city-specific regulatory agencies. Depending on the context, projects involved efforts to introduce private operators and competition into an all-public set-up, or tighten up weakly regulated, “informal” public transport markets. A notable feature of many projects in the latter context is the use of investments in bus rapid transit infrastructure to reach multiple goals: improve transport services, maintain affordability for low-income passengers, attract new passengers, reduce negative environmental impacts, and leverage complementary reforms of policies and institutions. The Bank’s program in China, unique in its local context of a dynamic urban society moving away from a near-universal reliance on bicycles, initially did not focus on public transport but on urban roads and traffic management. Towards the end of the last decade, the motorization process and the outlook of decision makers entering a more mature stage, projects in China started to converge towards what the rest of the Bank’s program was doing – searching for a more sustainable path to urban transport development.

Overall, the thrust of the Bank-funded program was in the sustainable direction, but it addressed only a part of a sustainability-oriented agenda. The major missing piece was a considered engagement with urban roads and general traffic within a sustainable framework. This would involve tackling street congestion and related negative impacts, shifting priorities between modes, and generating revenue to fund transport system operation and expansion.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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