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A High Shift Scenario: Achieving Low-Carbon Urban Transport in the Middle East and North Africa


Research Report

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Suggested Citation:
Gettani, Duaa and Lewis Fulton (2017) A High Shift Scenario: Achieving Low-Carbon Urban Transport in the Middle East and North Africa. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-17-06

Around the world, within urban and metropolitan areas, transport systems play a key role in economic development and serving the economic and social needs of society by providing mobility and access. But they also contribute to problems. In particular the growth in private automobile use has triggered widespread traffic problems and high levels of pollutant and CO2 emissions in most large cities in the world. In contrast, the use of public transit (bus, rail) and “active” (walking, cycling) transport systems can help mitigate these effects while simultaneously providing equal or even better mobility options across societal groups – if the right investments are made and high quality, safe systems put into place.

In this paper we consider a specific region (Middle East and North Africa – MENA) and explore whether and how much a major expansion in high quality urban public transit and infrastructure for active transport there could reduce urban transport emissions and increase mobility and accessibility. We also look at the costs of building such systems and compare these costs to a “status quo” world of car and roadway domination.  The paper builds upon a recent analysis examining a “High Shift” scenario worldwide (ITDP and UC Davis, 2015) and creates a “higher granularity” scenario focused on MENA. This paper also extends the overall analysis of urban population growth beyond the previous study.

We undertake this analysis using an urban transport projection system linked to the IEA Mobility Model. We create two scenarios.  In the first, we rely on the IEA baseline urban travel projection to 2050 based on recent trends, including a continued strong rise in car ownership as incomes rise. In a second scenario, we create a High Shift Scenario exploring the implications of shifting urban passenger transportation investment and travel patterns in a more sustainable direction, with far more transit and active transport use. We then estimate the costs, energy use and CO2 emissions of these scenarios. Supplementary analysis has been added to create a deeper picture for the MENA region. Finally we discuss the types of policies that would be needed to bring about this alternative “High Shift” future.

Among the deeper analysis conducted for the MENA region beyond the original “High Shift” global study were a) the construction of an updated database of kilometers of urban transit systems (Metro, BRT, Rail, Tram/LRT) by city within the region to create a baseline picture, b) the comparison of this data to other indicators such as population by city to assess the level of provision across the region, and compare to other regions, and c) development of targets for provision of future systems and for system lengths. We created targets for rapid transit system growth (measured as system lengths and capacity) in MENA that are roughly in line with cities (mostly in Europe) that have more expansive transit systems today, with regional differences factored in.

Finally, this analysis provides a particular focus on one potential policy: the removal of inefficient fuel subsidies in MENA and redirection of these subsidies to help pay the costs of needed investments in the high shift scenario.  This could provide a strong boost to efforts to shift future urban travel towards sustainable transport in the region.