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Transafrica – Efforts to Improve Public Transport in Africa



If you talk about sustainable transport in industrialized countries you will most likely discuss building a light rail system or bike lanes or you will talk about the introduction of biogas to fuel busses. What are the measures taken in Africa to improve the transportation methods? I'll try to summarize some of the current issues discussed in several UN Habitat and UITP (International Association of Public Transport) studies and present 2 short case studies.

Walking and cycling are still the most important modes of transport for the urban citizens in African countries as many do not have access to motorized transport services and even less have a car of their own. As the infrastructure in the cities is not designed for walking and cycling these aren't safest options of getting from A to B but don't have the best image as they are often associated with poverty. Nonetheless in the capital of the Senegal, Dakar 71% of the trips are covered by foot.

The second important mode of transport are minibuses and motorcycle taxis. The motorized transit services are dominated by the informal sector.  The services provided are unregulated, of poor quality and safety and so expensive that the users spend 30% or more of their income only on their daily commutes. The fares may vary immensely, depending on the weather, the demand, and many other factors such as oil prices. The operators don't have a long term strategy and they can change the services provided as they will. Moreover, the predominance of informal operators also leads to lower revenues of the formal transport sector making it more costly for the authorities to support these services and to invest in necessary infrastructure.  Another negative side-effect is the lack of experienced and qualified personnel to operate the formal transit services and to maintain the buses.

What can be done by the authorities to improve the services. The two case studies below give an example:

Case Study 1: Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi has grown very quickly and needs to adjust to the new challenges. One important issue is the high death rate in urban traffic, around 300 died every year. To combat this, stricter rules on were implemented to address the informal sector (source Trans-Africa Consortium 2010):

  • compulsory seat belts for each seating position in a passenger vehicle;
  • speed restrictions for any public transport vehicle limiting the maximum speed to 80 km/h;
  • display of the route number at the front of each vehicle in order to combat the common practice of commercial vehicles dropping the passengers 'en route' and changing the route

In a survey conducted after the implementation positive results were obtained. The passenger's safety and comfort has increased significantly.

Case Study 2: Dakar, Senegal

Informally run minibuses are the dominate mode of transport in Dakar. They often offer poor quality services and the operators are only able to cover their operatic costs and not the renewal of their vehicles. The city has therefore implementat a programme to support the renewal of the fleets. The operators were approached and asked to become part of a formal transportation group (GIE). For these groups the vehicles to be used were specified and loans were granted to the operators to renew their fleet and the entire group was responsible for the repayment of the loans. To formalize the operations even more, concessions were granted to the operators which in return made them responsible to stick to the specified routes, bus stops and fares. All in all 13 GIEs were formed, increasing customer satisfaction and making the public transport sector more transparent, reliable and safe.

You can find more information and more case studies in the following 3 publications:

UITP Publication with Case Studies

UITP Survey Study

UN Habitat Study on Mobility in Africa