Improving urban transport in secondary cities: The example of Tanzania

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Graphic by RCRP Team Improving urban transport in secondary cities, Tanzania

Globally, it seems like a relatively small number of megacities receive all the attention. The biggest city or cities in each country attract disproportionate investment and talent and tend to drive national and global growth. Yet half of the world’s urban population lives in intermediate cities of fewer than 500 000 people.  These smaller cities could play a key role in unlocking further economic growth, but they are often neglected in policy. In order to reach their full potential, it is essential that intermediate cities benefit from adequate infrastructure investment and supportive policies.

A key example of this dynamic is Tanzania, as one of the fastest-urbanizing countries in the world. Much of that growth is and will continue to be in Dar es Salaam, but there are 17 other cities that by 2030 will grow to have populations of between 250,000 and 2 million. These intermediate cities, including Mwanza, Arusha, and Dodoma, will host a significant part of Tanzania’s urban and economic growth in the years and decades to come. Yet most development efforts now focus either on Dar es Salaam or on rural areas, with secondary cities left out by comparison.

Our new report, Shifting the Mobility Paradigm of Intermediate Cities in Tanzania: Urban Transport for People, argues that these cities (and Tanzania) are at a crossroads: between sustainable and unsustainable transport futures; between sprawl and gridlock, and efficient, equitable, and green urban development and mobility.

Let’s start with the good news: overall, our study found that sustainable transport modes account for the vast majority of trips. Thanks to the small size of secondary cities, on average 60% of residents travel by foot. In larger cities such as Mwanza and Arusha, the second-most used mode is public transport, mostly privately-operated daladala minibuses; in smaller cities, it is motorcycles. In all cities we found that private modes of transport are relatively minor: fewer than 10% of travelers on average use private cars, overwhelmingly due to their cost. Our study found that car ownership drops fast as income declines: 16.9% of the richest 20% of households in intermediate cities own a car, compared to only 4.6% in the second-richest quintile and 0% in the bottom quintile.

Despite this, we found that that existing infrastructure and current transport planning is directed almost entirely toward motorized transport, and primarily toward private cars. Using satellite imagery, we found that 81% of road space in these cities is allocated to motor lanes and another 7% to on-street parking. These numbers are surprisingly high, especially when you consider that even cities with higher rates of motorization typically dedicate less than 50% of road space to motor lanes. Roads in Tanzania’s mid-size cities include few concessions to the majority who travel by foot: little dedicated pedestrian infrastructure, narrow unprotected sidewalks, if any, and roads that are frequently impassable to pedestrians due to inadequate drainage. We found that between 55% and 75% of downtown blocks in intermediate cities either do not have sidewalks or have sidewalks that are less than three feet wide. Some cities, such as Dodoma and Iringa, are introducing non-motorized transport (NMT) infrastructure in new roads, but these new facilities still don’t connect key residential and commercial areas.

In addition, we found that public transport is not living up to its potential to serve most people who cannot afford private vehicles. Users report poor experience with daladalas: the average passenger in a survey of four intermediate cities (Mwanza, Dodoma, Arusha, and Moshi) is dissatisfied with the transport options available from their place of residence, the conditions of the bus, and the safety regarding other passengers on the bus. Daladalas are uncomfortable, unreliable, and unsafe; seat supply is uncoordinated, and routes often do not take riders where they need to go. We also found the pricing of public transport to be an issue. The daladala fare is low by regional standards—$0.17 one-way, compared to $0.54 in Uganda, $0.79 in Kenya, and $0.27 in Rwanda—and insufficient to cover the full costs of providing the service, leading operators to cut corners or operate unsustainably. Yet daladalas are still too expensive for most potential riders: only the richest 20% of households can afford a daily two-way daladala trip. People instead walk or simply avoid travel.

As we think about the future of transport in Tanzanian cities, it is important to remember that the urban landscape is quickly shifting. While Tanzania’s intermediate cities are still small enough that most people can reach their destinations on foot, this will not be the case in a few years.  We found that, if these cities continue growing as they are now, the shortcomings of their urban transport systems will soon undermine their productivity and livability. Secondary cities across the country are mostly developing at low densities, resulting in sprawling urban areas that are increasingly inaccessible by foot. This, combined with rising incomes, is driving one of the fastest motorization rates in the world. While internationally a 10% increase in GDP per capita results in a 9.2% growth in demand for cars on average, this correlation is at least three times stronger in Tanzania: between 2013 and 2017, Tanzania’s motorization rate grew by 11% per year while GDP per capita only increased 3% per year. Without intervention, these trends could quickly put the country on an unsustainable trajectory where motorization and sprawl produce ever-growing congestion and inaccessibility, while demanding ever-more financial and environmental resources.

In the next blog, we will introduce several recommendations to break this cycle of car-centric development and put Tanzania on the path to a more sustainable urban transport future.




María Catalina Ochoa

Senior Urban Transport Specialist

Jesse Harber

Institutional political economist

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