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Transport networks: Where there is a Will, There is a Way

Marc Juhel's picture
The transport sector contributes between 5 and 10% of gross domestic product in most countries, so the question of how to integrate transport networks for sustainable and inclusive growth is a crucial one.

And that is precisely one of the main topics that we discussed at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig during a session on Integrating Transport Networks for Sustainable Growth and Development. The panel also included Morocco’s Vice-Minister of Transport; the Head of Transport from the Latin America Development Bank (CAF), and the CEO and Chairman of the Management Board of Deutsche Bahn AG.

The first unexpected development happened when the moderator showed up with a fifteen-minute delay, having been trapped… in a Deutsche Bahn train stopped on the tracks between Berlin and Leipzig following an unfortunate encounter between a bulldozer and a catenary cable. To be fair, the incident had little to do with the quality of the railway service and was quickly resolved. That is what resilient transport is about.

In our discussion, we focused on the challenges in establishing an effective institutional framework for local and regional coordination of transport services, and the steps governments can take in better coordinating transport planning and infrastructure investment to ensure a coherent and integrated approach.

Let me share with you a few highlights of this relevant and timely conversation, given that emerging economies like Morocco are now planning huge investments in infrastructure and transport-related projects. The challenges that these countries and others face are not new, but they are quite complex.  

The complexity lies on the fact that transport is not just about building new roads and flyovers or about adding more buses or metro systems. It is much more than that. A variety of issues related to affordability, disability, gender, livelihoods, political economy, human psychology, local culture, energy security, and air quality, amongst others, also need to be taken into account. And all this needs to be put in perspective with the fact that, as we were told in a morning session, if motorization continues unabated there will be as many cars in China in 2050 as there are today on the whole planet…

Therefore, good engineering is just one aspect of the whole picture. It is equally relevant to consider land use planning, finances, governance, economics, and a host of other issues.  In brief, social scientists, economists and urban planners are as important to urban transport as are engineers. All of them need to come together to tackle the transport challenges of the 21st century. There is a need for comprehensive, multi-disciplinary planning and decision making to ensure transport delivers sustainable growth.

And this multi-disciplinary work, although more established in developed economies, is a huge challenge in developing countries where multiple agencies, at different levels of government, are involved in the management and delivery of transport infrastructure and services.

More often than not, however, there is little or no coordination among them. This results in inefficient use of resources and poor-quality services. Thus the need for institutional coordination across space and function is increasingly being recognized as critical to developing an integrated and comprehensive transport system.

But the ability to undertake comprehensive planning and execution that is integrated func­tionally, spatially, sectorally, and hierarchically is too often constrained because of the highly fragmented governance of urban transport in most cities.

Similarly, on a national scale, people and freight mobility demands need to be assessed in order to achieve economic and social inclusion. Indeed, inclusive growth will only come with inclusive transport. And when resources are limited, the optimization in resource allocation requires a high degree of coordination between the different levels of government involved in planning and financing the infrastructure, and regulating transport services.

All this effective allocation of resources and coordination across levels of government becomes even more important when designing transport corridors that ultimately bring about more regional integration essential for the growth prospects of middle and low-income countries, particularly those that are landlocked.

Furthermore, transport corridors help to prioritize the development of missing infrastructure links, especially in developing regions. Regulatory and other constraints to trade facilitation also are relevant at the corridor level, enabling the design of appropriate transport interventions. Lastly, corridors provide a spatial framework to promote collaboration between countries as well as public and private sector agencies involved in providing trade infrastructure and services.

In terms of regional integration, regional corridors also provide an opportunity to bring together both public and private stakeholders from neighboring countries, and offer a venue to address harmonization of transport regulatory frameworks and standards, as well as broader issues of intra-regional trade and international transit.  A good example is the Northern Corridor in East Africa, linking Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

A regional treaty, signed in 1985, created the Northern Corridor Transit Coordination Authority, with a permanent secretariat monitoring infrastructure and related activities. A Stakeholders Forum gives voice to its private users. The corridor is multimodal and the treaty covers ports, roads, railways, inland waterways and pipelines. Among its achievements is a single axle load limit across member countries, and a single transit document that facilitates border crossings throughout the corridor. The Northern Corridor illustrates how public intervention can initiate effective transport network integration.

The private sector also can lead important efforts. On the Western side of the continent, for example, the Walvis Bay Corridor Group was the result of a private sector initiative that ultimately led to a regional agreement between Namibia, Botswana and South Africa for the development of regional transport networks, comprising the Port of Walvis Bay, the Trans-Kalahari Corridor, the Trans-Caprivi Corridor, the Trans-Cunene Corridor, and the Trans-Oranje Corridor. 

These two examples show that whether an initiative is public or private, or a mix of both, a holistic approach is fundamental in ensuring that transport contributes to development. Leadership and political will are also crucial ingredients in integrating transport networks for sustainable growth.  

Like we often say -and we stressed it in Leipzig- where there is a will, there is a way.

Keep moving!