Transport Restrictions in Africa

According to Seragedlin, the key objective of global strategy for environmentally sustainable urban transport is to support sustainable development by:

  • Restricting emissions from fossil fuels;
  • Restricting the consumption of land and other resources;
  • Increasing the efficiency of energy use; and
  • Increasing the social and amenity value of urban areas.

To achieve these objectives, Seragedlin has identified eight tools as being available to governments, vis:

  • fuel pricing: removing subsidies and increasing taxes in order to reduce fuel consumption, increase government revenue and improve public transport services.
  • cleaner fuels and cleaner technologies: using regulatory and fiscal means to encourage changes in vehicle design and performance characteristics and in the type of fuel used.
  • energy efficient and non-motorised transport: essentially, promotion of the increased use of public transport and the provision of these by the most energy efficient means such as big buses and urban rail. Also, improved access to and utilisation of cycling and walking
  • demand management: as an environmental strategy, the objective is to reduce private motor vehicle trips to congested areas thus reducing vehicle emissions and increasing public transport and non-motorised trips. Means for effecting such schemes include area licensing, parking charges, limited entry to certain areas, etc.
  • traffic management: to promote smooth traffic flow and thus reduce vehicle emissions from intense stop/go operation of vehicles, segregate different users of the road space and hence improve road safety and network efficiency.
  • integration of transport modes: promoting the use of the different elements of the transport system, from working, cycling, etc. to rail rapid transit, in an integrated manner such that they complement each other
  • urban land-use and transport planning: another form of integration in which actions are directed at ensuring that land-use and transport developments go hand-in-hand. Within this framework conceptual land use approaches favouring public transport may be promoted above those which favour car use.
  • community participation: to provide political approval to the various policy measures outlined above.

All these tools have been used to varying extent in different combination by most African countries for reasons not always related to urban transport objectives.

What African cities are yet to do however is to use these instruments in a holistic way within a transport policy framework aimed at re-shaping the nature of their urban transport demand and supply. Factors accounting for that situation may not be unrelated to:

  • lack of a constituency aware of the need for such an approach and ready and willing to be its champion (even if at a cost);
  • lack of the technical ability to evolve the various strands of such an approach;
  • lack of an urban management framework capable of understanding such a policy framework and capable of its systematic implementation; and
  • lack of the resources to implement such a framework, especially the technical and financial resources.

None of the above factors can be said to be more important than the other: indeed, they may be said to be the conditions precedent to the adoption and implementation of holistic and environmentally sustainable transport development in African cities. Why are these conditions not present and how can they be created?

At the political level, the conditions are operated against by existing political structures which are unstable, weak at the local level, autocratic in nature and administered within narrowly defined short-term goals and objectives. This is especially so in many African countries whose political leadership are more often concerned with their survival than the quality of their governance.

At the economic level, policies related to structural adjustment have in most African countries destroyed their middle-classes, the section of the population that in most countries play the role of 'conscience of the nation'. Thus, the African middle-class, like their poor counterparts, are now involved in a desperate race for survival with little time or consideration for their traditional role. They have therefore not been able to effectively moderate the political class towards more enlightened governance.

In addition, as the economic cake has reduced, so has developed a trend in African countries towards concentration of political and economic resources at the national level. Consequently, the local government level, the most important governmental level vis-a-vis urban transport and urban development, have found themselves increasingly under-resourced and at the mercy of the centre.

This situation, and the lack of political stability mentioned earlier, has led to urban managers focusing on short-term reactive measures rather than long-term prescriptive ones. Yet, urban development and its transport support systems is about the long term, especially when predicated on environmentally sustainable principles.

Evolving environmentally sustainable urban transport development is an expensive and complex undertaking.

It requires much time and resources in undertaking the diagnostics of the present situation and evolving appropriate measures. Present indications are that very few African governments are ready to willingly undertake that task due to the pressure for immediate results by their constituents and by resource constraints. And, perhaps, by lack of understanding/acceptance of the need for such an exercise especially given the lack of local technocrats to enlighten them.

With respect to financial resources, these will be needed to formulate the proposed measures and implement them. The implementation costs will be related to physical measures and fiscal incentives to encourage needed behavioral changes.

Even if some of the measures will yield considerable revenue earnings in the medium to long term, they will need seed funding in order to create the enabling environment for the initial stages of the introduction of the measures before they start yielding significant financial benefits. Moreover, some of the measures will adversely affect the weaker sections of the society who will need protection.

Given other 'more urgent' demands on available resources, it seems unlikely for many African countries, if any, to be able to undertake the reshaping of their urban transport characteristics towards environmentally sustainable directions without assistance from the international community.

Such an assistance would seem justified by the reality that it is the historic and continuing production and consumption pattern of these countries that largely make environmental sustainability an issue of global concern. Before concluding this presentation, it is useful to briefly comment on trends in information technology and telecommunication and their implications for African cities.

Last Updated on Thursday 10th December 2009