Research Ranks Top 5 Policy Interventions for the Future of Transport in Cities

Thriving cities – where people can easily connect with one another and with jobs, services, and amenities – are essential to economic prosperity. With the world’s urban population expected to double by 2050, cities need to be built and run in ways that maximise access to opportunities without increasing carbon emissions, pollution, and congestion. Smart transport policy has a key part to play in laying the foundations for better urban structures, boosting public transport use, making it safe and easy to walk or cycle, and discouraging private car use.

The London School of Economics paper provides a foundation for national transport policy-makers to begin pragmatic but ambitious conversations about actions they can take to make cities more accessible – either by leapfrogging car-centric development pathways, or by transitioning towards a more compact and connected future. There are multiple options to suit every national context – many with broad economic, social, and environmental benefits. By seizing these opportunities, countries at all levels of development can reshape urban life for the better for decades to come.


The top five transport policy options were chosen from 189 global instruments and governance reforms in consultation with global transport experts. The top 5 are:
1. Infrastructure budget allocation
2. Integrated national and urban transport plans
3. Road pricing
4. Metropolitan strategic transport
5. Land-based financing

When asked about the top five policy instruments and reforms they saw as priorities for reducing carbon emissions, transport experts chose four of the five options listed above again. Only road pricing was displaced in the top five, with experts instead elevating parking standards reform. This demonstrates that actions that promote compact and connected cities also tend to be beneficial for low-carbon urban development.


Carefully consider the national context, especially institutional arrangements
Factors such as the political economy, level of decentralisation and wealth can make an option more or less viable. Institutional arrangements are particularly important. Find windows of opportunity to adopt particularly tough reforms when they are likelier to be accepted by the public.

Budgets matter – it is not about spending more, but spending better
National budget allocations can make a major difference in efforts to make cities more compact and connected. This need not require increases in total spending, rather a shift from investments that primarily benefit road-building and maintenance towards public transport and infrastructure for walking and cycling. Consider financing as a critical enabler, especially of large-scale infrastructure.

Identify and eliminate harmful policy interventions that perpetuate the status quo
Eliminating or reforming harmful policies, such as fuel subsidies, tax breaks on cars, minimum parking requirements, and road-building standards that prioritise speed, is as important as introducing beneficial ones. It is also important to address institutional structures that hinder progress, such as single-purpose road transport agencies.

Consider the wide menu of options to identify priority reforms
Take stock of the policy interventions already in place and identify opportunities to adopt further actions that have already proven successful elsewhere. Appreciate that the same objective can often be addressed through regulatory, economic, or information-based pathways; which is best will depend on the local context and available resources.

Make new technology work for urban mobility (not the other way around)
Take the lead on steering the application of new technologies. Disruptive innovations – from smart mobility to autonomous vehicles – can transform urban mobility, but they require proactive policy intervention from the start. Embrace road pricing (including for electric vehicles) as a central instrument for managing traffic, and rethink the regulation of different modes of transport.

Bundle complementary policy interventions to enhance their impact
Bundle and appropriately sequence policy interventions, as this will more effectively scale their impact and acceptability. Certain policy instruments and governance reforms may complement or reinforce others, so it is important to take a comprehensive approach to transport planning. Start with easier-to-implement measures while building up institutional capacity for more difficult ones.

Find common ground with other related sectors, especially urban planning
Prioritise urban accessibility as a top-level outcome. Although this paper focuses on transport policy, complementary action is also needed in spatial planning (land use), social policy and other areas. To be truly effective, national governments need to foster strong cross-sector collaboration and governance reforms to support more joined-up urban planning and policy-making.