The Impacts of Sustainable Transportation in Africa

Traffic and transportation issues affect the economic development of a country or city. What role does sustainable transportation play in Africa? And how can public-private partnerships help in achieving sustainable transportation in Africa?

Sustainability of transportation in Africa right now is not primarily about the ecological part, but about the functional, economic and social part of the question. People – all over the world – are choosing their mode of transport according to convenience (which also includes price and speed).

However, there are issues that need to be addressed such as the living environment in cities or the air-quality.

To manage the kind of growth happening in Africa without having an urban sprawl, there is a need for another way of organizing cities. The planning paradigm used here needs to be based on proximity and on cutting trip distances in general.

This transition would become possible if the urban development paradigm changed from an explosion into the surrounding of the city into an implosion into the centres, creating density and managing that density within the city by reclaiming public space from traffic.

The role of sustainable transportation in Africa’s economic development

The access to opportunities is the strongest argument for public transport, but the economic development is also extremely affected by the actual traffic situation and transportation issues. There are economic losses because of traffic congestion of up to 2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in Europe, 1.2 percent of the GDP in the United Kingdom and 0.7 percent of the GDP in the United States.

Asian megacities such as Beijing or Bangkok lose up to 6 percent of their GDP and Lima (Peru, South America) even loses 10 percent of its GDP to traffic congestion. Sticking to the same transport paradigm for African countries especially with the huge urban growth would be absolutely hindering for the economic development in Africa.

For example, at the moment, 3.4 percent of GDP is lost in Dakar, 3.4 percent in Dar es Saalam (Tanzania) and probably even more in cities like Nairobi where people on average spend around four hours in daily travel – lost time for the economy.

Africa will not be able to jump onto another economic level preserving the same transport system.

Funding and pricing of sustainable transportation in Africa

The implementation of a public transport system in Africa needs to be funded both from private investors who build up the system to operate it later on and from donor money. So, donor organizations will not affect the pricing of service too much, but they will be able to affect the price of the implementation, which includes a huge responsibility in the decision which modes to support.

Since governments are usually not in a situation to operate a public transport system, they will need private partners who have the required experience or who can – in a much more effective way – acquire that experience. The challenge is to find transport modes which are affordable in their implementation, and private investors willing to operate these at affordable prices for the users.

Private investors need to start thinking in longer terms and with lower margins of benefits, because otherwise the required ridership to operate the transport system will be difficult to find. Longer term concessions may be one form of achieving this, but they require a longer term political stability as well.

In what other ways do you think sustainable transport will make a positive impact on Africa’s economic development? Share your opinions in our comment section


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Current Challenges in the African Transportation Sector

The African transportation sector has unique challenges to deal with such as the immense urban growth. How can city planners and transportation agencies deal with such a low level of infrastructure? Public transportation is the solution.

The African transportation sector is quite distinct in the different kind of settings there are. The first part is the rural sector, which is very important for an overall view considering at the same time the big urban growth in Africa.

Obviously, there is a push factor in the rural setting that makes people leave rural areas and move to cities. It is extremely important that people in rural areas get options to access at least basic services like the market or medical assistance or water.

The second sector would be the interregional traffic which acts more along the supply and logistics side. It is clear that in this context, the long overland roads that run like arteries through the country have to be addressed urgently. One point is certainly the quality of the infrastructure, but on the other hand there are usually many severe road safety issues along these roads.

At times, entire villages are cut in half with a highway running right through the middle. The life in these villages does not stop on one side or the other, so people are crossing the road constantly. The danger of big trucks passing though such a village, at high speed and often with tired drivers are obvious.

Urban transport would be the third, very important sector. The main problem for urban transportation in Africa is definitely the rapid urban growth scenario that is seen in basically all of Africa.

The immense urban growth in African cities as a transportation challenge

In other parts of the world like India or China, the rapid growth will probably flatten and normalize in the early 2020s, partly because there is a big middle class rising and partly because of political interventions.

Growth rates in these parts of the world are slowly declining. In Africa, however the growth will continue even beyond 2030. So, cities that have 15 million or even more inhabitants today will double their size in about ten to fifteen years.

That means, in 2030 and beyond, cities will have 30 or even 40 million inhabitants in one urban agglomeration and all of them need access to opportunities. It is difficult to gauge the kind of planning effort required, especially regarding transportation.

The rural setting has the potential to affect this development quite strongly because providing opportunities in the rural sector, for example by providing access to markets, healthcare and other basic needs, may present a possibility to slow the urban growth scenario at least a bit.

Europe, the U.S. or any part of the northern industrialized world have never experienced a growth scenario like Africa is seeing right now and additionally, they had about 100 years to set up an infrastructure for an even smaller urban growth and significantly smaller urban settings.

How can city planners and transportation agencies overcome these challenges

Brushing up the existing infrastructure for motorized traffic in order to be able to serve a population of 40 million people by 2035 would economically not even be possible for a country in the industrialized north, let alone Africa.

So basically, public transport is the only solution to manage this extremely accelerated urban growth. How to quickly implement a working public transport with the huge required capacities is the biggest challenge at hand.

There are three main issues with public transport. One is convenience, because convenience decides what transport mode people use. It needs to be affordable to the poorer parts of the society, but still convenient and attractive for the growing middle class.

The second issue would be money. Cities need to have an affordable system and operators will normally not get any public subsidies for the system since African states or cities are not able to or not willing to pay.

Donor agencies or other institutions might help in the implementation phase, but the operation will need to work economically viable and at the same time affordable for a big part of the population. An urban public transport system will probably have to operate very close to that break-even point between economic viability and affordability for the customer.

The third issue is the geographic coverage of the urban area and the biggest part of the population, or simply put, the level of geographic access to public transport. This is getting increasingly difficult to address because Africa is not only facing the biggest urban growth on earth, but also the fastest sprawl.

Currently, the public transport sector is divided into two: a formal part which sometimes still originates from the colonial days and is slowly dying out and an informal sector with smaller vehicles and very small and flexible operating entities which are growing extremely fast.

Between those two – and the government – regulative questions have to be solved fast! This includes the separation of responsibilities between the formal and the informal public transport sector, or the regulation of transport scenarios and transport strategies within urban areas.

Do you think public transportation is the solution to immense urban growth in Africa? Share your opinions in our comment section.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Sustainable Transport in Africa

What does sustainable transportation mean in a setting like Africa and what could a roadmap for achieving it look like? This article examines conditions and leading examples of sustainable transport in Africa.

Sustainable transportation in Africa means “subsidy-free, but affordable public transport for almost all”. That already comprises two parts of the sustainability triangle: the economic and social one.

There are already initiatives that start replacing informal transport with formal public transport where huge capacities are needed and that try to reorder the informal public transport in order to supply services to these big corridors.

The ecological part has to be addressed as well, for example in the form of rules that improve the technological level of public transport. The most famous example for this is the state of the vehicles used by informal operators. The average ages of these fleets often lie clearly above 20 years. Regulations regarding security standards and emissions could probably solve this problem, if they are well enforced.

However, sustainability right now is not primarily about the ecological part, but rather about the functional, economic and social issues of transport.

People on the street, making their daily transport decisions – especially in Africa – are normally not being environmentally conscious in that decision. They are thinking about how they can get from A to B as fast, as cheap and as convenient as possible.

A roadmap for sustainable transportation in Africa

If the functional and social questions are solved and secure, affordable, efficient and convenient public transport systems start operating in more and more cities, the ecological side will already have experienced a substantial improvement. Technological questions can be solved in a second step.

However, non-technological solutions are the first ones to address, which means solutions that can be provided by just reorganizing transport. These solutions are a lot faster to implement than technological improvements. They can also work as a basis for future technological solutions that will most probably provide a huge leap forward, not only at an African, but at an international scale, for example the combination of solar power and electrical drives.

In addition to that, in order to be able to come up with technological solutions, cities need to know exactly what conditions they are dealing with and that is in many cases still very unclear in Africa. There are few traffic studies, even in the bigger cities who often have no detailed knowledge of the problems that they are actually facing.

Examples of new sustainable initiatives and technologies underway in Africa

Currently, there are various interesting projects underway. Several examples of different modes of transport will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

In Nigeria, there is a big ropeway system being planned in order to keep the traffic out of Lagos Island and providing better accessibility of the island from the mainland.

It will provide a better connection to the three sides of surrounding mainland. Right now, bridges to the island are completely congested and there is no working formal public transport alternative except for an insufficient BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system.

Another ropeway project in Mombasa (Kenya) is connecting Mombasa Island to the South. There are two bridges in the North East and North West of Mombasa Island, but no connection in the South except for a very unreliable ferry.

Crossing the short gap between the island and the mainland with a cable car will most probably have a huge positive impact on the urban development of that southern part of the island.

A transport mode that needs to be treated with caution is the light rail. There is a big need in African cities to use the still existing railroad corridors that usually touch all the focal growth areas of the city. Refurbishing these corridors and using them for urban and metropolitan transport could be an interesting solution, but requires a huge financial investment.

However, the light rail needs to be part of a systematic approach. The one that is built in Addis Ababa at the moment still seems more like an isolated activity in order to get rid of road congestion along its corridor. A big network of feeder systems needs to be provided, in order to make it an artery of a comprehensive transport system.

Make public transport the most attractive mode of transport in Africa

The integration of a BRT system and the new Gautrain system in Johannesburg is absolutely worth looking at. Gautrain (the regional train) in Johannesburg and the Gauteng province connects the airport and medium-sized cities of the metropolitan area to the city center.

In urban settings, this connection is combined very well with different BRT systems which use the main corridors of the city building up a high capacity formal transport system. The informal transport is at the moment more focused on feeder services to this system, outside the center. It is a very good start of a coherent system.

Especially with rail-based systems, that are extremely expensive to build, solid analyzing and planning is needed before implementation. If that much money is spent on a transport infrastructure it should be a part or the basis of a well-conceived and coherent system.

Basically, if public transport is used to get the poor off the road, so that the well-off people are able to circulate in their private vehicles, the system is not going to work. Once again public transit would be stigmatized as a transport mode for the poor, similar to what happened in Europe and the US before. Because of the lack of formal public transport systems at the moment and the extremely difficult situation of road traffic, there is a huge possibility to really make public transport the most attractive transport solution for a very big part of the society in Africa.

What do you think? What other sustainable initiatives will solve transportation issues in Africa? Share your ideas in our comment section


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.