Transport Services

For a long time, building roads in rural areas was considered as one of the main solutions to promote economic and social development through improved access to markets, social facilities, and better information flows. However for many developing countries this strategy has proven insufficient, often because little attention is paid to essential Rural Transport Services (RTS). As a result, RTS in most developing countries are underdeveloped and in most cases unreliable and expensive, posing a serious impediment to reaping the benefits of network and/or road improvements. The overall benefits of improved rural transport will not be realised unless road, waterways and to some extent railway transport services are also improved and sustained.

Sustainable RTS aims to connect urban and rural areas and in most instances involve transport terminals/bus stations/stops. These often play a multiple role involving various means and sometimes different modes of transport, such as in, for example, multi-modal rural hubs which is a new perspective for RTS planning (see below).

Designing appropriate RTS interventions requires a holistic understanding of the mechanisms through which rural transport services are provided and used in the rural economy of developing countries. Affordability, reliability and/or efficiency are all factors at play in designing appropriate transport services in general but in a rural context additional aspects have to be considered as is explained below.

As a first step Rural Transport Patterns and Surveys are an important tool to better capture the availability and needs for transport services in a particular rural area, starting at the basic household level. Integrated planning methodologies, such as Integrated Rural Accessibility Planning to design RTS must meet the needs of all end-users while at the same time consider the overall context and regulatory framework. Obviously, an integrated RTS assesses both supply and demand, aiming to reduce the existing gap between supply – through appropriate means of transport – and the existing demand.

In general demand is based on the economic, financial and social needs of transport users including any specific requirements of women, marginalised and/or vulnerable groups, such as People with Disabilities. Low demand, short journeys, and the limited ability of rural passengers to pay for transport services are general causes for an inadequate RTS coverage. And when the services do exist they are often unreliable and expensive, poorly planned, scarce (in terms of number of vehicles), resulting in high rural transport costs and service gaps. From the operators side rural transport services are in most cases unprofitable and therefore do not attract new investments on the supply side.

In designing appropriate RTS issues like equity, gender, and governance need to be assessed. These factors may lie outside the ‘traditional’ scope of economic analyses but will contribute to successful outcomes. The more traditional factors are topography, agro-ecological zones, farming systems, population density, economic development, remoteness, income levels, ethnicity, culture and transport systems in general. These can all influence the quality and nature of RTS as well as the overall supply and demand.

The Rapid Assessment of Rural Transport Services

TRaffic Count in TanzaniaIn 2005 a team of IFRTD members led by Paul Starkey developed and tested a rapid assessment methodology for the Sub Saharan Africa Transport Program of the World Bank (SSATP). This methodology surveys transport types, operators, users and regulators at sampled hubs and spokes, stratified by hub hierarchy and remoteness.

While survey details are adapted to specific contexts, the methodology envisages an administrative province/region (5-10% of the country) with a distinct transport catchment area. This area will contain a finite number of hubs, perhaps one regional hub, 5-20 market hubs and 1000 village hubs.

Motorised transport services travel to and from urban hubs. Therefore questioning transport users, operators and authorities at the regional capital and three market towns yields an overview of transport services, prices and constraints. Participative interviews in 5 villages, stratified for remoteness, provide further insights on the transport needs of users, including farmers, traders, employees, housewives, schools, health services, and marginalised people. Traffic counts (including IMTs and pedestrians) are made on village, market and regional spokes.

Over two months the methodology provides a rapid, inexpensive overview of rural transport, highlighting key constraints, stakeholder views and proposals for improvements.

Click below to download the draft project report by Paul Starkey et al (March 2006)
Download (Acrobat 1.53MB)

Boda Boda Bicycle Transport Services in Kenya

The Ngware Bicycle Transport Youth Group is the brainchild of four young men who completed their education and then found themselves jobless. Their major goal was to be able to earn a living by providing both cargo and passenger services, using bicyles. They reached this decision after realising that the residents of the area they lived in faced serious transport problems, especially during rainy seasons. This area is served by a few murrum roads. These become muddy during wet seasons, making it almost impossible for motor vehicles to use them. In 1991 they set up a group in Chiga Market which is in the Eastern side of Kisumu in Nyanza Province.

The group began with well defined objectives and strategies. Over the years as its membership has grown from 4 persons to over 10,000 it has also had to develop a clear organisational structure.

This is an extract from a paper entitled Cycle-based transport services in Kenya. The Ngware Bicyle Transporters Youth Group, By Naboth Juma Okoth, November 2005. (published by Schorrell Analysis Engineering Publications.

The paper details the development of the Ngware Bicycle Transporters Youth Group including operational aspects, the organisational structure of the group, financing, social benefits and the challenges they face.

The full paper can be accessed here or by emailing

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