Access Granted: Unlocking Opportunities through Better Urban Transport

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Douala from the sky/Photo credit: Eulalie Saisset Photo Credit: Eulalie Saisset

Douala is Cameroon’s main port and its largest urban center. While many people move to Douala in search of a better life, the size of the city and the local transport conditions make it challenging to access opportunities. As the city sprawls along the Wouri river, the growing flow of commuters puts a huge strain on transport infrastructure. The bus network is inefficient and accounts for less than 1% of trips. Congestion is rapidly increasing. In many parts of the city, road infrastructure remains largely inadequate. In that context, the only viable solution for most residents is to walk or use informal modes of transport. Taxis and mototaxis are considered expensive and unsafe.

The lack of reliable transport options has a significant impact on people’s mobility and on their quality of life, especially for the poorest. Every morning, it’s the same story: young children are put into taxis to go to school, countless productive hours are wasted crossing the Ndokoti intersection, which sees more than 7,500 vehicles per hour in peak periods, including a rising number of mototaxis. In a bid to improve the situation, the city of Douala recently adopted a sustainable urban mobility plan that will fundamentally transform the urban transport network, starting with the implementation of a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). This mass transit system is bus-based with dedicated lanes and its own right of way at intersections, allowing it to be frequent and fast. Integrated to a conventional bus system which feeds into the main corridors, it improves the capacity and reliability of the whole public transport system. The Douala Urban Mobility Project (PMUD) reflects a growing trend in Africa: eight corridors are already in operation and twelve additional cities are planning to build BRTs. That includes Dakar and Abidjan, where the World Bank is also providing financing toward the implementation of BRT corridors.

Mototaxis in Douala/Photo credit: Benjamin Fouchard
Mototaxis in Douala/Photo credit: Benjamin Fouchard

But adding one route to the transport network is not enough. The whole system needs to be restructured to make sure all parts of the city can be connected. Urban developments need to occur along the redesigned transport network to better serve the residents, paying attention to the poorest and most vulnerable communities. Ultimately, this is about allowing the poorest to safely access more job opportunities, allowing students to reach their university, and allowing women and children to access health services in time.

So, how can we ensure the new transport system will meet these objectives and adequately serve the needs of users? To address this question, our team conducted an extensive accessibility study that compares conditions before and after the implementation of the BRT and feeder network. This will help us identify the priority areas along feeder lines that will benefit from urban development through the project.

In urban transport, we evaluate the performance of the transport network based on ‘accessibility’ indicators, which reflects how many people can access key opportunities – jobs, schools, health facilities, markets – within a certain amount of time. It illustrates clearly the benefits that transportation provides, connecting people with destinations given the travel times on the network. With the great help of the City of Douala in providing recent data, as well as open source tools, we compared accessibility with and without the BRT. While crunching the numbers, we accounted for the expected rise in traffic congestion over the next few years. We developed a poverty map of Douala to understand the impact on low-income residents, who are most dependent on the transit network. Not only did we assess the impact on jobs, but we also looked at human capital opportunities like access to healthcare or education, which are key to achieving development.

And the results are quite telling. With the BRT, the average resident will have access to more than twice as many employment opportunities as before. The change is even more impressive for poor people, who are particularly isolated at the moment, and will see their access to jobs increase by as much as 138% once BRT service starts.

The project will also lead to major improvements in access to services. The share of residents who have access to a public hospital within 45 minutes is expected to increase from 43% to 58%. An additional 45,000 of young people of study age will be able to access a public university campus within 45 minutes in the PMUD scenario.

Maps on Schools

Then, we looked specifically at the impact on women. As in many cities, women have different mobility needs and habits, linked to their unique social roles. In Douala, women account for 84% of all trips to markets. In the project scenario, an additional 9% of the female population will be able to access a market in less than 45 minutes, most of them living in outlying neighbourhoods that are currently poorly connected.

Lastly, we estimated that the time spent in public formal transport by the average person will decrease from 88 to 71 minutes per day, with time savings reaching 31 minutes in the poorest peripheral areas. If we consider the value of time as being half of income, this alone would represent savings of about 1.6% of the city’s GDP per year.

Maps on public transit

In short, the accessibility analysis makes a strong case for the introduction of a modern urban transport system in Douala, showing just how much of an impact the BRT could make on quality of life and access to opportunities. The project is currently under preparation and will be presented to the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors in 2021. Construction of the BRT is scheduled to start in 2022.


Visit more of the BRT corridors here:

With contributions from Franck Taillandier (TTL) and Bontje Zaengerling (Co-TTL).


Benjamin Fouchard

Senior Urban Transport Specialist

Aiga Stokenberga

Senior Transport Economist

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