Recovery Dialogues in Latin America 1: Urban Mobility

Written by Resilient Cities Network
Thursday, 05 November 2020
Cover image for the Regional Recovery Dialogues urban mobility session, organized by Resilient Cities Network and CAF.


This article summarizes the first dialogue between Santa Fe (Argentina), Bogota (Colombia), Medellin (Colombia) and Quito (Ecuador), accompanied by an expert in the field, David Escalante, Transportation Planning and Operations Manager for WRI Mexico. The session was moderated by Soraya Azán, Senior Specialist in Mobility and Transportation for CAF.*

Urban mobility, as a citizenship right, paves the way to a range of other rights such as education, health, work, housing and recreation. However, due to structural conditions from the past decades, further aggravated by the ongoing pandemic, public transportation systems have suffered great financial losses and, therefore, a decrease in the sustainability of the service. The challenge, therefore, is maintaining the operations of transportation systems at a level that will avoid their collapse, while also protecting the health of its users and maintaining accessibility, affordability and equity for the service. Hence, it is of outmost importance to land on mobility policies that bring forth co-benefits in social, financial and environmental areas. 

The main challenges and opportunities identified during this session are the following:


The pandemic has been particularly disruptive to the people that depend on public transportation to work, mostly associated with low-income communities who can’t perform their economic activities remotely, but also to service providers. It is estimated that many cities suffered a deficit in public transportation demand greater than 90% in April, May and June. The key takeaways from the session include:

1. Regain the citizen’s trust on public transportation;

2. Implement public policy to maintain the vulnerable population safe;

3. Promote awareness and prevention campaigns to decrease the risk of spreading of the virus;

4. Find strategic opportunities to promote sustainable mobility. For example, Quito has been enabling temporary bike lanes to promote sustainability and prioritize non-motorized transportation in its mobility system. 


The steep decline in the number of passengers in public transportation led to an increase in competition of service providers to attract users, many times resulting in a decrease in the quality of services. The pandemic has shed light in multiple inefficiencies of the system, including easily avoidable payment systems, lack of intermodality and its financial instability. The key takeaways from the session include:

1. Find the minimum service required for a safe economic reactivation;

2.  Increase the productivity of the transportation systems (e.g. adapting new routes);

3. Balance a responsible allocation of subsidies;

4. Diversify sources of finance;

5. Include the positive externalities of public transportation in its financial model. For example, Bogotá has implemented alternative ways to collect taxes, such as the creation of a fuel tax.


Local governments are key to transportation systems, not only in architecting public private partnerships (PPPs) and articulating stakeholders, but also through vast knowledge collection and documentation that allows the system to advance towards solutions. Key takeaways from the session include:

1. Critically rethink the whole transportation industry to promote a more sustainable recovery;

2. Promote public transportation as a key component towards recovery;

3. Adapt to the emergency and understand the timing of actions;

4. Evidence-based and adaptive solutions;  

5. Supply and demand management;

6. Risk management. For example, the Covid-19 Modelling Collaborative group in Medellín brings together different stakeholders to generate data on precise transmission patterns in public transportation.

* This content is the product of a series of dialogues organized by the Resilient Cities Network and CAF, through the Cities with a Future Initiative, to exchange knowledge and good practices among municipalities and key actors in the regional urban ecosystem of Latin American and the Caribbean, aimed at mitigating the effects of the pandemic.”

Download full document (Spanish only)

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