This page provides information on the important elements of good rural transport policies illustrated by selective examples from developing countries. In general rural transport policies take many forms: in most cases they are a component of a broader transport sector policy or rural development policy. In this sense, a stand-alone rural transport policy may not exist, particularly if rural roads and rural development are responsibility of different sector ministries. However, important policy objectives may be embodied within rural development programmes or rural roads investments programmes.
The terms 'transport policy' and 'transport strategies' are sometimes used interchangeably. Strictly speaking, the policies provide a framework to guide all decisions and actions that need to be taken. The strategy indicates the operational mechanisms of achieving the policy objectives. There are many countries that have frameworks for addressing development of rural transport infrastructure and services - click here for a summary of eight such national transport policy frameworks: Tanzania,
South Africa, Kenya,
Many rural transport policies and strategies share some common development objectives. These can be summed as follows:
To provide a coordinated approach for addressing the diverse issues in rural transport. Rural transport problems are diverse and affect many different sectors. Implementation of solutions is often split among national, regional, and local governments as well as communities. Implementation also falls among different ministries, such as transport, public works, local government, forestry, agriculture, and rural development. This often leads to uncoordinated planning, wastefulness in resources and a lack of synergies. Rural transport policies have the overriding objective of providing a coherent policy framework for rural transport development.
To reduce rural-urban migration so as to reduce the pressure in urban areas. Within the wider policy objective of promoting rural development, rural transport development is an important input to agricultural and cottage industry development meant to foster equitable employment, growth and income distribution amongst the whole population
To balance spatial development: Without government intervention, economic growth commonly leads to spatial inequalities. This is manifested by concentration of opportunities in few urban areas or particular growth zones. Rural transport policies act as one of the interventions to guide equality in the spatial spread of social and economic opportunities while safeguarding national integrity.
To reduce poverty: Rural transport policies are an important instrument for poverty reduction. This is a key objective of many of the rural transport strategies and policies reviewed. Alleviation of rural poverty is directly linked to improved access to economic and social services. Rural access on the other hand is largely determined by quality of rural travel and transport infrastructure and services, especially at the village and community level. Rural transport strategies are intended to provide effective and sustainable approaches to transport services and infrastructure development in rural areas for social and economic development.
Institutional framework for implementation of rural transport policies:
Rural transport and travel policy objectives cut across a number of rural development sectors and involve several levels of Government. The complexity of the policy issues involved makes policy formulation a complex process. It requires horizontal coordination across the various sectors, and an iterative approach combining top-down and bottom-up approaches involving communities. The institutional framework for rural transport is made more complicated by the fact that the transport sector may want to assume the primary responsibility for setting its own targets and investment objectives. There are further complications where roads and transport services are administered by two or more sector ministries, for example, national roads may come within a roads ministry, rural roads under a local government and transport operations under ministry of transport. This is the case that holds for example in Kenya.
For this reason, in many countries rural transport policies are implemented through agencies responsible for rural development. These could be the Ministry of Local Government or Ministry for Rural Development. These arrangements enable coordination of investments in rural transport to fit with targets in other rural development sectors such as education, health care delivery, agricultural development, gender empowerment, employment creation etc
Innovative features in a good rural transport policy:
Should reflect that rural transport is a service to other sectors, and therefore the institutional arrangements for planning and implementation should be inter-sectoral.
Should recognise that the key components of rural transport are rural transport infrastructure [RTI] and Rural Transport Services [RTS]
Should factor in social impacts. For example, in the Republic of South Africa, the Rural Infrastructure Investment Framework [RIIF] recognises that some roads cannot guarantee economic returns, because they serve a more fundamental "developmental” function. In such cases, appraisal methods should factor in the longer-term developmental impacts to justify the investments and the subsequent maintenance requirements.
Should consist of bottom-up and top down planning: This is for example well articulated in the Tanzania National Transport Policy [NTP] and exemplified in the implementation of the Village Travel and Transport Programme [VTTP] in Tanzania.
Gender integration: The Peru Rural Roads Programme [RPP]. At the onset, the programme recognised that the constraints on travel faced by women include heavy time burden and limited control over household resources. www.worldbank.org/gender
Promoting development of Rural Transport Services: In many cases, implementation of rural transport solutions does not go beyond development of infrastructure. Improving rural transport services should be an important rural transport policy objective, but there seems to be little experience in this area. Fiscal and administrative incentives, tailor made credit and elimination of price fixing and licensing constraints are strategic measures through which governments can promote better transport services including use of low-cost vehicles.Poor coordination and unclear responsibilities: There is a need to provide a coherent legal framework and clear assignments of management responsibilities for both the local government and the community rural transport infrastructure. Few countries have achieved this but many are working towards it having realised the importance of bringing all roads under regular maintenance.
Ensuring adequate financing: Administrative decentralisation is not sufficient. Fiscal decentralisation is required, coupled with central government transfers. Past focus has been on allocation of donor funds for capital works. There is a need to establish an adequate and steady source of financing for rural transport investments.
Appropriate Standards: Rural roads are often over-designed, resulting in waste of scarce resources which leaves poorer communities unconnected or with unreliable access. Over-design can be a result of political pressure, attempts to overcome institutional and financial weaknesses, or the application of standard designs by road type instead of actual traffic. Where vehicle flows are low, first priority should be given to the establishment of basic access (least-cost, reliable all-season access), where affordable, and the improvement of intra- and near village simple infrastructures such as foot-bridges and tracks. Once these basic needs have been met, existing basic access roads can be considered for upgrading to higher standards, if economically justified.
For examples of country-specific policies and strategies please click here.