Rural Transport

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.

trafficcount In 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.

RTS06 DraftFinalReport80 Click below to download the draft project report by Paul Starkey et al (March 2006)
Download (Acrobat 1.53MB)

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In an effort to ensure that transport practitioners in French-speaking Africa can also share experiences IFRTD – with the support of gTKP - has set up a French electronic discussion group called IFRTD Transport Rural. Set up on dgroups, the list serv is accessible via and is open for all (French-speaking) people interested in rural transport issues.

During three weeks in July a virtual discussion was held focussing on issues relating to rural transport services. The discussion centred around three issues.

  1. What type of technology is best suited for what means of transport?
  2. Improvements and the reliability of rural transport services
  3. Rural transport safety

Each week centred around one of these issues and every topic was introduced with background information, photos and sub-questions to allow the participants to share experiences, ask questions and trigger discussions. Moderated by Vero Razafintsalama from Lalana, an NGO based in Madagascar and specialised in transport issues, twenty-seven participants from eleven different countries followed and/or participated in the rich and lively virtual debates.

The first week focussed on issues around preferences, adopted technology related to transport needs. In Madagascar for example there have been successful bicycle interventions that were initially meant for transporting people and instead were increasingly used for transporting heavy goods over long distances. This was done without any adaptation and resulted in visible improvements in income for certain users.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) it was noted that the existing hypothesis about increased motorised traffic after rehabilitation of rural roads proved false. Instead they observed that bicycle usage increased and were the main IMTs from villages and/or fields to the main road where big trucks were waiting to be loaded. In addition some traders preferred to travel by truck themselves while their cargo was transported on bicycles. ‘Bicycles are faster and can leave at once, while trucks have to wait until full’ was the logical explanation. As a local adaptation bicycles were lengthened to carry up to 200 kilos heavy load or a small sun umbrella to protect the cyclist from the harsh sun. It was common that the trader would walk alongside the bicycle often for long distances.

In North Cameroon the complementarity of various transport services was especially noteworthy. Buses operated by the municipality served very precise routes while taxis served outlying areas of the locality. The motorbikes served to extend the bus and taxi routes by serving more isolated zones. This complementarity also applied to costs and transport of cargo

The participants also discussed the various modes to transport the sick to health clinics. The pro’s and con’s of motorbike ambulances versus bicycle ambulances were discussed and various experiences of Ranger and Riders for Health shared.

Overall the discussions illustrated the big knowledge gap that exists between Francophone and Anglophone Africa and that not enough resources are available for translation and knowledge sharing through workshops. A positive development is the SDC/Skat workshop that was organised in Chad in September 2007 to enable French-speaking transport experts to network and share experiences. This workshop combined with the new list serv will hopefully help reduce the gap a little but it is obvious that a lot more resources need to be invested in order to close the gap completely!

To join the discussions:



Contact Person: Peter Njenga
Position: Executive Director and Coordinator East and Southern Africa
Tel/Fax: +254 (20) 883323
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Visit our Other Sites