Principal Voices Mexico City Roundtable - Debate Report
The fourth Principal Voices roundtable debate took place in Mexico City on November 30, 2005.
Introduced by Cornelis Van der Bom, president of Shell Mexico and moderated by CNN's Michael Holmes and FORTUNE
international editor Robert Friedman, the discussion focused on the issue of sustainable transport, with a particular emphasis
on transport policy within urban environments. In a fascinating and wide-ranging debate, four Principal Voices shared
their views on this most complex and important of subjects: Adriana Lobo of Mexico City's Center for Sustainable Transport;
Claudia Sheinbaum, Minister of Environment for Mexico City; Ellatuvalapil Sreedharan, managing director of the
Delhi Metro Rail Corporation; and aviation expert Hugh Somerville.
As the audience, which represented local and international business, NGOs, government and educational institutions, gathered
at the Four Seasons Hotel, Mexico City, introductory notes were presented by Van der Bom. Speaking about Mexico City's
pollution and congestion problems, he noted that Shell is committed to finding efficient solutions for fuel use in the coming
One of the ways in which the company is already making a contribution is through Embarq, a World Resources Institute
program, supported by the Shell Foundation. Created in 2002, Embarq's mission is to serve as a catalyst for sustainable
solutions to problems of urban mobility in developing cities.
Mexico City was selected as the program's first major partner and a project to introduce a dedicated bus-lane transportation
system along the city's largest avenue was successfully launched. The system, launched in June 2005, has reduced pollution
and made transportation more efficient in the city.
After introducing each of the Principal Voices, Friedman and Holmes opened the discussion up by inviting the audience
to enter into a dialogue with the panelists. Friedman highlighted the key themes to be addressed by the debate and
noted India's recent experience implementing a sustainable subway system despite political obstacles.
"India is a place where infrastructure doesn't work too well," he said. "There is inadequate funding, projects get delayed
beyond belief and corruption is endemic. So to learn that Sreedharan supervised the construction of the Delhi Metro
system on budget and ahead of time is a remarkable accomplishment," Friedman continued.
Sreedharan has proven that despite such obstacles urban transportation issues can be addressed with success. Speaking
about his experiences, he stressed the importance of autonomy from government politics as well as private investment
for success. Private investment, and a soft loan from the government of Japan, was critical to the Delhi Metro project.
In contrast, the Mexico City Metro, which has been in operation for four decades, relies heavily on subsidies.
Sheinbaum commented that, of course, what may have worked in India does not necessarily apply to Mexico City. Mexico's
capital city subsidizes public transportation, especially the subway, which moves four million people daily, because wages
are low. This subsidy amounts to around U.S.$300 million a year. "Without such subsidies," Sheinbaum added, "many
people would not be able to afford to travel, since one third of the population lives under the poverty line." Sheinbaum's
views on subsidies differ from those of Sreedharan who maintains that "subsidy leads to inefficiency in the system."
They agree, however, that every metro has to be approached differently. As Sreedharan pointed out: "We can't just duplicate
one metro exactly in another country, but there are often good features that can be picked up and put together." In a
similar vein, Sheinbaum commented on the difficulties in exporting the experiences of one city transport system to another.
In Mexico City, as in any city, transportation is more than just a case of how people move from A to B. As Sheinbaum
pointed out: "It deals with the economy, social issues, poverty, the environment, lifestyles and culture.
Every city has its own reality."
Adriana Lobo, who heads the non-profit Sustainable Transport Center in Mexico City, also shared her experience of
implementing Mexico City's new low-emission bus system, sponsored by Embarq.
"We had to talk to and take into account the needs of many people, including neighbors and concessionaires,"
Lobo said. Lobo also pointed out the importance of sustainable transportation in terms of health. "Car accidents
have become the second major cause of non-natural death in the world," she said. She also noted pollution as
another significant problem, especially in Mexico City.
Aviation expert Somerville offered his opening thoughts by noting that aviation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse
emissions within the transport sector. He also commented on the importance of addressing climate change and the potential
of emissions trading as a medium-term measure.
"There aren't as many solutions for the aviation industry," he commented. "For, example, you can't really think in terms
of hybrid aircraft because of the weight problems and looking at alternative fuels introduces problems of its own.
Solutions have to be looked at in terms of new technology and possible fiscal incentives," he concluded.
Somerville also offered his views on land transportation noting the success of London's congestion charge in encouraging
the use of public transport. However, as Sreedharan noted: "Before you bring in these congestion charges, the city must
have a very efficient public transport system."
As the debate continued questions from the audience led to discussions as to whether subway transportation is a class issue.
Responding to this, Lobo commented: "We have to design transport systems that are for everybody. If you offer a nice
alternative, you will see a shift."
Sreedharan, meanwhile, noted some of the difficulties in getting India's upper class to leave their cars at home. "Cars are
a sort of prestige symbol," he said.
Later, the debate turned to the environmental impacts of transport and some of the ways in which different modes
Somerville noted possibilities that may help reduce the environmental impact of aviation including in-flight refueling,
flying more efficient distances and emissions trading systems.
As discussions came to a close Lobo pointed out that one of the most challenging aspects of urban transportation is the
increase in the number of daily trips per person, despite the incremental use of the Internet, because people have new
transportation requirements besides productivity, such as social or recreation needs.
"We all have to work together: the industry, NGOs and governments to organize transportation and have a more
efficient industry," she said.
Friedman summed up by concluding that there is no single solution to the problems discussed. "This is a very complicated
subject," he said. " It's not just about information, but about mindsets and the way you approach problems, changes and
what needs to change."
Adding his own final thoughts, Holmes said: "I'm grateful to Shell, FORTUNE, TIME and CNN for putting on these
roundtable debates. We can go away and start to think about the potential for solving some of the problems we have."