CSUD leads a new multi-year Research Consortium on Informal Transport and Shared Mobility

October 17, 2023

Global consortium awarded $1.7M international research grant on informal and shared mobility


[New York, October, 2023] - The Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF), an independent foundation dedicated to advancing research and education on urban mobility and access, announced the winning research consortium for its three-year, $1.7M International Research Program (IRP) in Informal and Shared Mobility (ISM) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). While there are currently no global counts, rickshaws, mini buses, and other forms of informal mobility likely serve the majority of cities and rural areas in LMICs. Despite their ubiquity and importance, including to equity, these modes are heavily neglected, and their contributions to meeting transportation needs and supporting local and national economies are often ignored. Informal and shared mobility modes will also be critical to engage in efforts to decarbonize the transport sector and engage in just a transition towards a decarbonized future.

Led by Columbia University's Climate School’s Center for Sustainable Urban Development winning consortium is a globe-spanning collaborative effort that includes four research centers in the US, South Africa, Colombia, and Thailand, along with leading researchers in Ghana and the UK, and four non-governmental organizations based in the US, China, India, and Costa Rica. Work will kick off by the 3rd quarter of 2023.

The consortium’s project, "An Equity, Ecosystems and Engaged Approach to Informal Transport and Shared Mobility," offers a collaborative, grassroots approach to knowledge creation by establishing seven "living labs" in eight cities and metro regions in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. These living labs will generate robust research on  the varied dimensions (ecosystems) that shape informal and shared mobility (ISM). The goal is to use insights gained through sustained, comparative and iterative work with operators, workers, and passengers across cities to foster sustainable and impactful improvements in these systems. The focus is to address the interlocking challenges of access, services, working conditions, emissions reductions, and public health. The labs will include Accra, Bangkok, Beijing, Bogotá, Cape Town, Kumasi, Mumbai, and Metro San José. 

VREF's ISM program is a groundbreaking initiative to fund research and education on informal transportation and shared mobility in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Through the IRP and its other programs, VREF funds work in knowledge building, establishing communities of learning, and nurturing the next generation of scholars focused on the future of sustainable and equitable mobility.

"We're very excited about the global expertise and deep local roots that the winning consortium represents," said Henrik Nolmark, VREF's executive director. "The primary objective of the ISM program is to strengthen equity and sustainability in urban transport by supporting research that generates new knowledge to inform the governance, design, and development of informal and shared mobility systems, ultimately leading to enhanced access to goods and services for all so this is a perfect fit," he added.

“These living labs will serve as collaborative spaces for inclusive research, engaging key stakeholders and local communities in shaping the future of informal and shared mobility,” said Jacqueline M. Klopp. Dr. Klopp is Research Scholar and Director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University's Climate School and is the Principal Investigator for the consortium. 

The Global Network for Popular Transportation, a consortium member, defines informal transportation as “the privately provided, publicly serving local transportation services and systems that emerge in nearly every city in the Global South (and) proliferate in almost every city, town, village, and rural area of low- and middle-income countries. They also operate in the underserved fringes of high-income countries. They are so common that these systems likely move more people worldwide than all other modes combined.” 

The consortium's research program takes a holistic, bottom-up approach, seeking insights into how operational, financial, regulatory, and governance changes enhance informal transport and shared mobility services. By addressing the ecological and climate crises, escalating air pollution, and the need for social justice in LMIC cities, the consortium aims to improve access, services, working conditions, emissions reductions, and public health. The program will explore integrated solutions and interventions that address multiple challenges simultaneously to foster sustainable improvements in the sector.

“This program presents a great opportunity to strengthen our network by learning from each other, studying the similarities and differences of popular transport in different cities and countries, exchanging experiences and generating valuable insights to contribute to the understanding, recognition, and integration of popular transport into policy and planning around the world.” said Andrea San Gil León, Executive Director of the Global Network for Popular Transportation.

The roster of partners in the consortiums includes the following leading researchers, institutions, and nonprofit organizations:

  1. Center for Sustainable Urban Development, Columbia Climate School, Columbia University in the US, led by Jacqueline M. Klopp
  2. Center for Transport Studies, University of Cape Town in South Africa, led by Roger Behrens, Mark Zuidgeest, and Obiora A. NNene
  3. School of Engineering, Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia, led by Luis A. Guzman, Daniel Oviedo, and Olga Sarmiento
  4. Transportation Institute, Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, led by Saksith Chalermpong, Lisa Kenney, Apiwat Ratanawaraha, and Ornicha Anuchitchanchai 
  5. Ernest Agyemang from the Dept. of Geography & Resource Development, University of Ghana
  6. Ransford A. Acheampong from the Manchester Urban Institute, University of Manchester in the UK
  7. Festival Godwin Boateng from the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization (CSU), New York


  1. World Resources Institute (Global and China) with Su Song, Xuehong Ji, Yilin Ma, Thet Hein Tun, and Ben Welle
  2. Shared-Use Mobility Center’s Global Network for Popular Transportation (US) with Benjamin de la Peña and Andrea San Gil León
  3. Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centers (India) with Sheela Patel, Aneerudha Paul, Smruti Jukur, and Maria Lobo
  4. Fundación Centro para la Sostenibilidad Urbana (Costa Rica) with Arturo Steinvorth Álvarez, Joséphine Dusapin, and Karla Gutiérrez Solano.

The consortium also counts on support from its associated partners: the Department of Transport of the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (Ghana), the City of Cape Town’s Urban Mobility Directorate, and Loop Woodstock, a private company in Cape Town that is providing digital services to minibus taxi operators and passengers.