In rural areas people use a variety of means of transport to access essential economic and social services and transport goods. These range from the most basic - walking and carrying goods on one’s person back or head- to relatively large-scale motorised transport. Between these two extremes, there is a wide variety of Intermediate Means of Transport (IMTs) that can increase transport capacity and reduce human drudgery without the high costs associated with large motor vehicles. Options include single- and two-wheel technologies, tricycles, waterway technologies (low-cost boats), etc. powered by an engine or animal-powered (pack animals and animal-drawn sledges pulled by for example camels, donkeys, mules, oxen and/or horses).
IMTs play an important role in rural transport services, for land and water transport. The lack of IMTs is seen as a factor in poor and inadequate rural transport services. The World Bank considers transportation in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to lack a "missing middle," because there are so few IMTs. In comparison, China has about 270 bicycles per thousand people, while Africa has only about 35 per thousand. However in most rural areas one can find successful examples of IMT implementation, either as a formal initiative by central government or as a result of the basic capacity of users to fulfil their needs.
In Asia for example the most remarkable IMTs are the ones evolved from bicycles and motorcycles. Bicycle-based IMTs, such as pedi cabs (bicycle side car) can be commonly seen in the Philippines, cycle rickshaws in the Indian Sub-Continent, becaks in Indonesia and a few bicycle trailers exist. As a faster option people started developing motorcycle- based IMTs. Many of these motorcycle-based IMTs are widely used and even accepted as conventional transport modes in some Asian contexts. There are motorised three wheelers or auto rickshaws in India, motorcycle side car type in the Philippines, and Tuk-tuks in Thailand. Motorcycle trailer taxis and goods carriers are widely used in Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR.
In India, Bhutan and Nepal IMTs have been developed for transport in mountainous areas (ropeways for goods) and as river crossing devices (Tuin) for people. These devices normally cut down travel time considerably and avoid the drudgery of carrying goods on heads or on “Dokos” for long distances.
IMT implementation should be seen as a whole process that includes the design, introduction, adoption of IMTs by those who will ultimately be using them. Thorough `market research´ should be carried out in order to understand the needs, preferences, priorities and purchasing power of the diverse end-users groups.
The uptake of IMTs is strongly influenced by their cost, as well as their potential to provide economic benefits. Overall affordability may depend on the income-generation potential. ‘Affordable’ manufacturing, marketing and distribution systems need to be considered. To assess the sustainability a cost-benefit analysis has to be carried out. In SSA, for example, the low adoption of IMTs is most often related to problems of availability and supply – problems which urgently need to be tackled. To properly address these implementation challenges, all factors (and how they inter-relate) need to be identified and addressed.
Lessons from past experience suggest that a wide range of complementary IMTs can coexist. Different IMTs can complement motorised transport systems, enabling people and goods to be collected and distributed over relatively short distances. The rate of success of IMT adoption has varied in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe. The successful design and application of IMTs tends to be context-specific. This is due to (1) contextual factors (topography, infrastructure stocks, and demography), (2) economic factors, (3) industrial and (4) social factors (relating to technological advances).
The low adoption of IMTs in most rural areas in SSA is linked to issues with availability and supply. The potential demand for IMTs is extensive, but due to failure of a market mechanism, this frequently does not translate into an effective supply. Improving supply normally stimulates demand and leads to more rapid adoption. Moreover IMT use has been identified as an income-generating activity through providing work in transport services, trading of spare parts, and/or IMT maintenance. This was demonstrated in successful experiences with boda-bodas in Uganda and tricycles in Cuba and Peru.
In order to increase availability, it is necessary to identify its limiting factors. In many cases, suppliy problems are linked to a low purchasing power particularly by users. An appropriate credit system, income-generating schemes or possibly subsidies may be used as incentives to IMT suppliers. Funding may encourage people to invest in IMTs as potential income earners and a well-designed and implemented credit scheme may allow users to successfully maintain IMTs, making it a sustainable programme.
For technology to be viable and quickly adopted, a ‘Critical Mass’ of users, operators and suppliers is vital. A ‘critical mass’ means having enough users, who would not only make potential new users comfortable with the technology, but would also maintain existing support services (manufacture, sales, and repairs).
IMT promotion must include a gender-sensitive approach, taking into account the needs, priorities and impacts of women and other vulnerable groups. This also applies to their involvement in the decision-making process of transport policies and IMTs initiatives. For example, with some IMTs there are differences in the design requirements for male and female users.
An appropriate regulatory framework, based on a thorough review of transport policies and planning mechanisms may serve as another incentive for IMT promotion. And last but not least safety is another important factor. This ranges from wearing helmets, designing appropriate lanes and wide shoulders, building the capacity of local driving schools, etc. In order to develop a local IMT market, governments not only need to show more commitment but also a closer cooperation is required between government and stakeholders from central, private, and civil society.