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Solutions to Transportation Problems in Developing Nations

In order to develop workable solutions to the transportation problem in the developing world, it is important to understand the problems that face the population, the governments as well as the entire developing world’s economies. The problems of the developing world are (a) speed (b) inadequate infrastructure (c) over-reliance on road transport (d) congestion (e) Safety and (f) pollution. A minority of developing economies has increasingly used transportation technologies and management practices from the developed world’s to ease transportation problems, with considerable success, while even more innovative solutions emanating from the developing world, finding widespread usages across the world, Dahlman, Zhihua Zeng, & Wang (2007). The solution to the problems in developing economies must be tailored to the specific situation of these countries as against simply transplanting technologies and practices from the developed world. This paper presents possible solutions to traffic congestion, inadequacy and slow transportation means; pollution as well as limited of transportation infrastructure.

The vast majority of the developing world is undergoing rapid economic expansion, with vehicles estimated to double in a seven-year cycle resulting in a massive infrastructural backlog, which in turn place constraints to further economic growth, besides adding to the growing air quality and climate change difficulties, Harford (2007). While economic growth constraints have always been a concern to development economists for centuries, the growth in the CO2 gas emissions by the developing countries has become a major concern for policy makers across the world. In 2005, developing world carbon emissions reached upwards of 60% of the total emissions, with prospects for further increases due to expanding economic activity, coupled with the explosion is population in countries such as India, China and Brazil, Litman (2011). In addition, health problems associated with poorly regulated and unleaded fuels, which triggered off massive air pollution in mega cities such as Jakarta, Bombay, Lagos and Bangkok.


Transportation infrastructure accounts for less than 20% of the entire investments by both the government as well as the private sector, with the governments accounting for the majority of investments that account for about 41 to 60% of all public spending, Ellis (2009). The challenges facing the transportation in these countries include (i) overcoming the inherited difficulties resulting from poor policy-making and investments. Consequently, there is reduced affordability and accessibility, coupled with costly maintenance, reduced responsiveness to the needs of consumers and the reduced ability of the available resources to cope with increasing population and motorization, Litman (2011). In order to ease these problems the governments must levy increased taxes for congestion and motor vehicle registration, with the raised revenues being re-invested into the transportation infrastructure.

Air transport and train services remain expensive or inadequate in the developing worlds, it is important that the transportation means diversified. In order to attain, this diversification, the government must invest into airports, railway stations and ports, coupled with a reduction in the chargeable taxes in the non-road transport fares, Bongardt, Sterk, & Rudolf (2008). This will effectively serve to reduce the over-reliance on road transportation especially for commuting purposes. In addition, surveys demonstrate that the vast amount of maintenance expenses resulted from poorly constructed roads, with the poor standards resulting from corruption, poor contracting procedures and foresight in planning, Ellis (2009). In order to ensure these problems are averted in future, tendering and contracting procedures must be streamlined, in order to reduce corruption, while at once increasing oversight and standards of construction. It is important that the problems inherited from the previous decades are taken into consideration before further steps are implemented.


Across the developed world, billions of dollars are lost in lost business, fuel from idle engines and time that could be critical to boosting the economic growth of these countries. Bangkok for instance, traffic congestion is estimated to account for upwards of $5.5 million every day, as a result of road traffic congestions, while the neighboring Japan’s Just in Time manufacturing has been placed under immense pressure as a consequence of slow transportation of critical raw materials and other inputs from the rest of the continent. In order to tackle this transportation problem, both the demand and the supply side must be specifically targeted. The supply side strategies will include the following:

(i) New innovative infrastructure development. The existing infrastructure in the developing nations is inadequate to deal with the increased population and number of motor vehicles inside the country. In addition, alternative transportation means are equally inadequate or inefficient with factors like the railway stations and airports being at considerable distances from city and town centers, effectively rendering them inadequate, while the available land allocated for road construction being limited. In order to overcome these problems, the underground train system must be developed in major cities to increase the demand for mass transportation as well railway transportation of cargo as against the over reliance on motor vehicles. In addition, roundabouts in built congestion spots must be eliminated and instead, multiple level intersections (fly-overs) must be built as a way of removing bottlenecks that cause congestion in the first instance. Similar solutions have hugely been implemented in the developed world but have been slowly taken up because of the huge financial constraints. However, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the IFRS, The Asian Development Bank etc have for long been providing subsidized infrastructure and other development loans and grants that could be utilized by the developing nations to develop infrastructure that would ultimately serve as a growth engine, World Bank (2007).

(ii) Technology. Traffic management Systems- The limited available infrastructural potential must be optimized through the implementation of road management systems to (i) control traffic flows (ii) measure weight and heights of vehicles allowable on given roads (iii) manage tollgates and parking lots etc. This will dispense with traffic police officers and human labor, effectively freeing up resources that could be reinvested back into road and other transportation infrastructure spending.

Clean Energy- In order to rein in pollution, which is one of the fast growing problems that spun off from over reliance on motor transportation, giving rise to devastating environmental effects, with entire cities in China and Nigeria going for days under dust and other pollution-induced smog. Technologies must be introduced to ensure that fuels are properly refined to remove lead and other impurities that result into excessive pollution, Ellis (2009). The supply side strategies should be coupled with demand management measures that would effectively seek to minimize the demand for road transport, rash hour travel and re-distribute the demand among different transportation means. Demand management policies would include the following:

(i) Decentralization, redesign of urban centers and transport infrastructure. Urban centers have continuously expanded in the recent decades. The year 2008 saw the growth of the populations across the world that reside in urban areas reached more than 50% of the global population. Such is the growth that by the close of 2030, the urban populations in the world will reach upwards of 5 billion people, with the biggest growth expected to be concentrated in Asia, Africa and Latin America. While urbanization is expected to expand as proportionately, coupled with an expected increase in the number of vehicles and demand for transportation. The biggest problem lies in the concentration of economic, social and other opportunities in centralized geographical locations, while at once depriving other areas with labor and resources. In order to eliminate the need for people to move to major cities, urban centers must be decentralized, with multiple business centers at different geographical locations. This is possible not least because unlike developed nations, cities in the developing nations are constantly expanding, and rather building taller, high capacity buildings, geographical decentralization is critical to preventing the congestion caused by millions of people getting to get into and out of a city each morning and evening.

Every city must have multiple centers fed by multiple transportation means, with train and public service busses being accorded priority. In addition, new roads must have ample space for pedestrians and cyclists, in order to help shift the focus from motor vehicles, Dahlman, Zhihua Zeng, & Wang (2007).

(ii) Regulatory Policies. At present, most governments have tended towards increasing fuel levies as a mechanism of discouraging increased use of motor vehicles. However, fuel levies or increased taxation has proven to be inconsequential in the long term, especially with the deterioration in public transport and the increasing proportion of middle and high-income populations, Bongardt, Sterk, & Rudolf (2008). Instead, the supply of parking spaces for private vehicles should be limited, which will effectively force the number of vehicles down, while at once driving up the parking fees enough to deter private motorists. Roads must have High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lines and bypasses, which will increase the speed of mass transport, while also serving as a disincentive for using private means.

(iii) Congestion Pricing. Congestion in the developing world is caused by the large number of private vehicles on the roads, which impose externalities on other road users, the environment and people’s health, which ultimately affect the economies of these nations. Without a congestion charge, the economic agents will continue to impose these costs on the rest of the country, and even the entire planet through increased green house gasses emissions, Ellis (2009). Without imposing congestion charges, the demand for road space and parking space etc easily surpluses, and in order to cut back on this demand, the price mechanism is used to impose a cost on the economic agents that cause congestion, by imposing fees on motor vehicles (private) which use the road at rash times. The congestion charges are adjustable according to the time of the day and the available demand for road spaces, which ultimately ensures that the zero proceed public goods are used scarcely and to the gain of the society’s greater welfare. As evidenced from the diagram below, lack of congestion charges leads to increased demand, while taxation increases the marginal cost of private transport, effectively reducing the willingness with which the users of the roads are willing to use the roads at congested areas and times, Eicher, Mutti, & Turnovsky (2009). This is a far more effective tool than the imposition of fuel levies or car registration fees.

In order to ensure the effectiveness of this measures, area wide and cordon areas must be introduced, with congestion fees being payable for vehicles to enter congested areas, which will effectively relieve traffic in the areas of towns that are prone to congestion.


Upwards of 800,000 people die in road, air, railway and shipping accidents every year, with more than 70% of the casualties occurring in the developing world. In addition, more than 65% of the fatal occurrences involve pedestrians of whom more than 35% are below the ages of maturity, UNEP Risoe Centre Report (2007). Further, there are millions more people who have sustained injuries in transportation related accidents, besides the massive losses in property and labor, with some estimations providing that losses in labor, opportunity cost and property accounting for as much as 1/5th of the GNP. The causes of these carnage are fortunately, well known despite the fruitless efforts to prevent them, Verner (2010). The risk factors include among others, the high number of pedestrians and non-motorized traffic, poor driver training, inadequate infrastructure, poor condition vehicles and lack of awareness among pedestrians about the lack of safety and how much of a menace accidents cause. In order to militate against these difficulties, the governments and other regulatory authorities must:

(i) Ban the manufacture or importation of old motor vehicles, airplanes, trains and other transportation equipment and machines. Existing facilities and machines must be subjected to mandatory and frequent assessment and certification to make certain that they remain good condition, Bongardt, Sterk, & Rudolf (2008).

(ii) Roads, railways and airports must be designed in a manner that will avoid accidents. These measures include adequately long, wide and well-maintained runways in airports across the developing world and good quality air traffic control equipment. Further, roads and railway lines must be well designed to eliminate black spots, coupled with the construction of bridges, pedestrian walks and bridges among other measures.

(iii) Public education and creation of awareness about road accidents, traffic code and other facts that will ultimately help reduce traffic, Dahlman, Zhihua Zeng, & Wang (2007)

(iv) Strict control by the government, over vehicle, ship and airplane assessment and certification, driver and traffic officers’ training. In addition, airplanes, ships and trains operating in the developing world must be global safety standards as set out by professional bodies such as IATA etc.

(v) Institutionalize contingency measures to deal with road accidents, in order to limit the rate of deaths resulting from accidents.


With the exceptions of countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan, which have relatively well developed, the vast majority of the developed world has poorly, inadequate and poor quality of services in public transportation, which have in turn pushed the middle classes towards preferring private transportation, which in turn leads to congestion and pollution. However, mass transit represents perhaps the most practicable option available to the developing nations to reduce both congestion and pollution, while ultimately saving time and resources that would help boost the productivity of the economies, Bongardt, Sterk, & Rudolf (2008). In order to ensure the best results, both the government and the private sector have a critical role to play, with the former taking the regulatory role that would create a conducive environment for the private sector to profitably provide transportation services to meet the growing demand. Promotion of public transportation should include:

(i) Integrated Facilities and Busways– An integrated transport system such as the one developed in some parts of Brazil, complete with bikeways would be critical in ensuring that the public has a choice among different means of transportation.

(ii) Urban railway– The developing world has long shied away from developing metros, which are according to the World Bank, essential to easing cargo and human transportation with greater efficiency as well as speed, as compared to the bus and air services. Yet this can be easily accomplished with the respective governments’ commitments to increased investments in the sector. The increases in the pop;ularity of metros in Argentina is a perfect example of how congestion and the preference for private transportation means may be avoided. Similar results have been attained in South Africa, barely five years since it built its modern urban rail systems in preparation for the FIFA World Cup 2010, has seen the speed trains as well as the ultra modern busses gain popularity among the public, to the benefit of the environment and the economy, Litman (2011).

Rural areas are also an important part of every country’s productive efforts, effectively deserving of special consideration in tackling transportation roads. However, the major problem faced with rural areas is that they cover large areas, are sparsely populated and the economic activities carried on the vast majority of them do not make it economically viable to finance elaborate transportation infrastructure. This in worsened even further by the limited resources available to the developing nations to invest in transportation infrastructure, Bongardt, Sterk, & Rudolf (2008). It is equally notable that some regions e,g. flower cultivating areas require fast and cheap means of transport to avail their products to the markets, lest they incur losses. As such, allocation of resources for the development of rural transportation infrastructure must consider the relative importance of the economic activities in every region, followed with a case-by-case assessment and allocation. Efforts must be made to ensure that all rural areas have some form of passable roads, with less expensive roads being built in less important, least populated regions.

Transport remains an important driver of economic growth, making it indispensable in the development efforts by third world and emerging economies. However, transport systems and land use in these countries have increasing been committed to providing further capacity for motorization, despite of the rising global concerns about increased GHG emissions attributable to motor vehicles and their reliance on fossil fuels. In addition, other than planning for the future, many countries across the world have concentrated on accommodating the insatiable taste of the emerging middle classes for cars and private transportation, which will ultimately prove detrimental to the economy, due to congestion, environmental pollution and opportunity costs stemming from time wastages, Bongardt, Sterk, & Rudolf (2008). The solution lies in the development of integrated transport infrastructure, with an emphasis on the metro systems, coupled with an increased investment in public transportation, better safety standards and contingency planning, congestion taxation and redesign of future metropolitan areas to comprise multiple centers as against the current situation, in which cities grow organically, without direction by the planning authorities.

References List

Bongardt, D., Sterk, W., & Rudolf, F., 2008, Transport in Developing Countries and Climmate Policy: Suggestions for a Coppenhagen Agreement and Beyond. Coppenhagen: Wupertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. Dahlman, C. J., Zhihua Zeng, D., & Wang, S., 2007, Enhancing China’s competitiveness through lifelong learning. New York: World Bank. Eicher, T. S., Mutti, J., & Turnovsky, M., 2009, International Economics. London: Taylor & Francis. Ellis, S., 2009, Key Issues in Rural Transport in Developing Countries. London: Overseas Transport Administration. Harford, T., 2007, The Undercover Economist. New York: Randon House Trade Paperbacks. Litman, T., 2011, London Congestion Pricing Implications for Other Cities. London: Victoria Transport Policy Institute. UNEP Risoe Centre (URC) report ‘A Refomed CDM – Including New Mechanisms for Sustainable Development’. Finance for Sustainable Urban Transport is in the section Refoming CDM and Scaling up : Verner, D., 2010, Reducing poverty, protecting livelihoods, and building assets in a changing climate:. Washington DC: World Bank Publications. World Bank., 2007, August 18, FInance for All? The Pitfalls of Expanding Access. World Bank Policy Research Report.