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Aerial view of traffic full of cars. motorcycles and buses occupying streets in Tay Son street, Hanoi

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

In the Asia-Pacific region, due to urban sprawl and transport infrastructure characteristics, the distance from a location to a public transport node is often longer than the 500m mark to conveniently cover on-foot. This has given rise to informal transport modes, which play a vital role in providing low-cost mobility services to a large number of people between points that are not served, or are inefficiently served, by public transport. For example, communal for-hire vehicles and motorbikes that travel into capillaries that extend from the main transport hubs are quite common across the region. They offer affordable and relatively fast short-distance transport services, but also come with concerns surrounding safety and air pollutant emissions.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11, target 2 calls upon United Nations member States “to provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons”. Progress towards this target is measured by the proportion of the population that has convenient access to public transport (Indicator 11.2.1). For this indicator, public transport is considered convenient for those living within 500 m (for low-capacity public transport systems) and 1000 m (for high-capacity public transport systems) walkable distance of the nearest stop.

The indicator describes what is more commonly referred to as the first and last-mile problem (FLM), which is the challenge commuters face in travelling between the public transport stop and their final destination at both the start and end of their journey. According to the latest UN-Habitat data on Indicator 11.2.1, the Asia-Pacific region is performing below the global average for access to public transport – with a regional average of 44 per cent (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1. Regional average access to public transport - SDG 11.2.1

A number of studies have looked into factors affecting the FLM problem; these broadly refer to trip characteristics; socio-economic characteristics of the traveler; mode-specific characteristics, as well as built environment, infrastructure, and station area characteristics, including infrastructure for active mobility such as walking and cycling (Rahman, Akther, and Recker, 2022; Yen et al., 2023; Han et al., 2022). More recently, with the advent of electric mobility as an active response to the challenges of climate change, among other strategies, research and practice have shifted to multimodality of public transport choices, including micromobility and shared mobility options. For example, MuvMi - a first and last-mile service that uses an electric three-wheeler “tuk-tuk” combined with a ride-hailing technological platform - is rising in popularity in Bangkok, Thailand. The service also enables users to opt for ride sharing.

ESCAP Photo/Boonyanin Pakvisal

Bangkok Soi Street Profile

ESCAP’s Sustainable Urban Transport Index (SUTI) measures the sustainability of urban transport systems. Ideally, a city with a sustainable urban transport system would be expected to perform in a balanced manner across all 10 SUTI indicators – with the progress in one indicator having a synergistic impact on others. However, that does not appear to be the case. Among 24 cities assessed, 5 of them stand out for having a high score on public transport accessibility whilst, at the same time, experiencing many traffic fatalities (Figure 2). While not the sole reason for this finding, a common denominator in cities that score highly in SUTI on accessibility to public transport whilst performing poorly in traffic fatalities is the prevalence of motorbikes (it is worth noting that the statistical correlation is weak). According to the World Health Organization’s 2023 road safety report, approximately 21 per cent of deaths from traffic accidents involve two- and three-wheelers.

Figure 2

Based on the SUTI data collected by ESCAP • Correlation: -0.04 (interactive visualization here). Note: 0 on the vertical scale indicates a high amount of traffic fatalities while 100 indicates a low amount of traffic fatalities.

Figure 2. Accessibility to public transport and traffic fatalities across 24 cities in Asia and the Pacific

 

The FLM problem is emblematic of larger unresolved urban transport issues in the region. Potential solutions include expanding public transport networks to cover more areas within cities, updating route planning to better align with evolving demand, improving existing informal transport solutions, and integrating public transport providers through mechanisms like unified fare pricing for a seamless, well-coordinated journey. Also, fostering attitudinal shifts away from private cars and incorporating pedestrian-friendly designs into urban planning can contribute to a more accessible, inclusive and safe urban transport environment. Ultimately, providing ample, safe, and convenient first- and last-mile travel options can encourage the use of public transport altogether.

ESCAP supports its member States to develop efficient, environmentally sustainable, safe and inclusive transport networks and services, in line with the Regional Action Programme on Sustainable Transport Development in Asia and the Pacific (2022-2026). Within the context of these activities, relevant actors are increasingly recognizing the need to consider regional context-specific questions of FLM access to public transport, and how relevant issues and policies can support sustainable and inclusive urban transport planning and development. The topic of FLM access to public transport will also be covered at an upcoming Expert Group Meeting hosted by ESCAP on 20 June, with the objective of identifying key research and policy questions that would help further advance the efforts of the region towards low carbon, accessible, inclusive and sustainable urban transport.

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Boonyanin Pakvisal
Intern, Transport Division, ESCAP
Ariadne Abel
Economic Affairs Officer, Transport Division
Transport +66 2 288-1234 [email protected]
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