In the 2000s, the streets of Bishkek city in Kyrgyzstan were buzzing with private minibuses, ferrying people from Osh Bazaar to Ala Too Square and the dachas in the suburbs. These ageing private minibuses were gradually retired due to transport reforms. The new fleets of buses introduced to fill in public transportation gaps were limited and failed to satisfy the capital city’s demands. People turned to private car ownership, leading to traffic congestion, and increasing air pollution. The fixed fare system and fare evasion also made it difficult for operators to cover operating costs and expand capacity. Further reforms were urgently needed.
It is against this backdrop the city identified opportunities for greater private sector involvement in the provision of transport options, and international development partners encouraged public-private partnerships.
As a result, the trolley bus system was upgraded, electric buses were introduced and Bishkek’s public transport services’ operational sustainability improved. The introduction of e-ticketing for public transport showed how public-private partnerships could help achieve the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental gains.
The system allows operators to utilize data collected to predict passenger flow and plan bus routes, thus increasing public transport revenues. It also allows operators to identify concessionary passengers such as students and retired persons. As e-ticketing becomes mainstream, it reduces the usage of paper receipts and waste.
More recently, the wave of the sharing economy driven by the introduction of new technologies brought Yandex taxi into the transportation sphere. The private sector clearly plays a key role in shaping community preferences and the cities we live in. With the increasing awareness of the convergence between market priorities and sustainable development objectives, there is a clear case for private sector engagement to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Progress of SDG 11 in North and Central Asia
According to the Asia Pacific SDG Progress Report 2020, Goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities is the only goal regressing in the North and Central Asia subregion. Population growth and domestic migration towards large cities increase pressure on transport and municipal solid waste management infrastructure. Quality of life in cities becomes a concern as the utilities infrastructure are overwhelmed. Among the key areas requiring accelerated action for Goal 11 are transport, disaster risk management and air pollution.
The gap between the growing demands and the existing supply of public services is due to insufficient budget funding, incomplete city planning and inadequate coordination among stakeholders. Since utility charges are normally set below cost-recovering level, the public budget is deficient in maintaining and upgrading extensive ageing infrastructures, not to mention to expand the existing capacity.
City planning also fails to keep up with people’s expectations for living standards and international standards and frameworks – especially regarding waste management, transport accessibility and air quality. These may be challenges for governments to overcome and present opportunities for engaging with other stakeholders such as development partners, civil society and the private sector to initiate joint efforts to tackle these issues.
Ways for private sector engagement to deliver the SDGs
The private sector can contribute to delivering the Sustainable Development Goals in several ways.
Financial contribution: Apart from contributing to tax revenues, the private sector can also participate in financing sustainable development projects by making new investments and redirecting existing investment to SDG-oriented projects. This can relieve the burden on the public budget, particularly in Goal 11, where projects are mostly capital-intensive and long-lasting.
Project management: Leveraging on technical expertise and past experiences, private sector players can deliver quality projects while at the same time balancing resource efficiency. A World Bank study to measure the effectiveness of private sector involvement in public utilities provision shows that there are increases in utility accessibility and improvements in service quality.
Behaviour changes: By aligning company strategies with sustainable development objectives, upholding an integrated reporting framework, and conducting due diligence along supply chains, the private sector can better evaluate and address environmental and societal issues. Private sector players are also key to introduce new technologies into markets.
Entering the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, all stakeholders concerted efforts are required. As a key player in the ecosystem, the private sector needs to be engaged to implement SDG-oriented strategies across the whole value chain.