Citizen security and urban commuting in Latin America

Blog post by Lucía Echeverría, J. Ignacio Gimenez-Nadal and José Alberto Molina

22 Mar 2023, 2:52 p.m.
Lucía Echeverría, J. Ignacio Gimenez-Nadal and José Alberto Molina

During recent decades, there have been many efforts to promote sustainable modes of transport as an alternative to use of the car, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These modes include public transport and active transport (walking and cycling). However, individuals may still prefer to drive if they have security concerns regarding their commuting environment. For example, individuals who feel that their neighbourhood is safe may tend to walk or bike more, or use public transit more, because of lower perceived risk.

Security concerns may be particularly important in certain specific regions. For example, security is a great concern in Latin America, given that almost 30% of the population considers lack of security as the main problem affecting their well-being – even more important than unemployment, inflation, or the provision of health and education (Latinobarometro, 2011).

In our study, we explore whether perceived security is related to mode choice for a specific type of travel; commuting. We use data from the 2017 CAF Survey, implemented by the Development Bank of Latin America in 10 large Latin American cities (CAF, 2017): Buenos Aires (Argentina), La Paz (Bolivia), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Bogota (Colombia), Quito (Ecuador), Lima (Peru), Montevideo (Uruguay), Panama City (Panama), Mexico City (Mexico), and Santiago (Chile). In this survey, individuals report their levels of satisfaction with neighbourhood security.

This work is important because we analyse perceived security and mode choice of travel for cities of developing countries, where security concerns are of particular importance. Prior research has focused mainly on a range of cities in developed countries. In addition, we focus on travel to and from work; individuals in Latin American countries travel shorter distances but their commuting time is longer than in developed countries (Rivas et al., 2019).

Our study examines three dimensions of sustainable commuting: the probability of using public and active modes of transport to commute; the weekly frequency of the commute using public and active modes of transport; and the duration of the work trip when using public and active modes of transport. Our results indicate that individuals who feel more satisfied with their neighbourhood security engage in more commuting by public transit. Interestingly, this result is observed only for men, not for women. In contrast, we find no relationship between perceived security and commuting by active transport for either men or women. The results of this work suggest that strategies aimed at increasing security can alleviate concerns about neighbourhood crime and increase the use of public transit in Latin America.



CAF. 2017. Encuesta CAF 2017: trayectorias laborales y productivas en América Latina.  Retrieved from

Latinobarómetro (2013) Banco de datos.

Rivas ME, Suarez-Aleman A and Serebrisky T (2019) Stylized Urban Transportation Facts in Latin America and the Caribbean. Inter-American Development Bank: Washington, DC, USA.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.



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