Improving urban transport in Tanzania’s secondary cities: Design for people, not for cars

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research shows that most transport investment in Tanzania?s secondary cities is currently skewed toward private cars Most transport investment in Tanzania’s secondary cities is currently skewed toward private cars | Image: World Bank

As the world continues to urbanize, most people are poised to move to mid-size cities rather than huge metropolises. Yet the specific needs of secondary cities are often overlooked , including when it comes to transport policy and investment.

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Our new report, “Shifting the Mobility Paradigm of Intermediate Cities in Tanzania: Urban Transport for People” aims to bridge the gap with some new evidence from Tanzania. In our last blog, we highlighted some key takeaways from the study. In particular, our research shows that most transport investment in Tanzania’s secondary cities is currently skewed toward private cars, while the majority of residents rely primarily on walking or public transport. The focus on automobility has contributed to rapid motorization and urban sprawl, which threaten to put these cities on an unsustainable path.

To avoid this scenario, our study made recommendations under four broad areas, that could also be adapted to many other countries and contexts:

  1. Designing urban transport for people, not for cars

To improve transport infrastructure and services, cities need a new strategic vision that focuses on people rather than cars  and emphasizes equitable, efficient, and cost-effective modes of transport.

Non-motorized modes are particularly important. The majority of Tanzanians travel by foot and would benefit from adequate sidewalks and crossing infrastructure. Although currently marginal, cycling has enormous potential, but will only take hold if cities invest in appropriate supportive infrastructure.

This vision should be clear and purposeful, with broad support from government, private sector, and civil society. We call for the adoption of the “Avoid-Shift-Improve” framework: avoiding unnecessary trips by way of high-quality, mixed-use densification; shifting travel demand to more sustainable modes of transport including non-motorized transport and public transport; and improving existing non-motorized transport infrastructure and public transport services.

We recommend a range of actions, including launching an awareness campaign to educate policymakers about the benefits of sustainable urban mobility and the costs of car-centric policy, and enshrining sustainable transport in relevant legislation.

  1. Building strong institutions

Urban transport governance should be transparent, accountable, inclusive, and supported by the right professionals and institutions. Government agencies focused on roadbuilding will never meet the major needs of urban areas. Sustainable urban transport cannot happen without dedicated institutions, policy, and capacity. Institutions dealing with transport, land use, urban planning, and non-transport infrastructure such as water and waste management need mechanisms to coordinate and align their work. Better urban mobility also requires dedicated technical staff with the awareness, abilities, and experience needed to govern sustainable urban mobility. 

We recommend building formal links between existing agencies and working toward establishing an Urban Transport Agency focused on sustainable urban mobility.

  1. Ensuring financial sustainability

Securing reliable, long-term financial resources for urban transport is essential to achieving long-term success and preventing sudden fluctuations in funding levels. Raising and administering revenue locally can increase the volume and predictability of available resources, making it easier for cities to plan their transport investment and operations.

User and beneficiary fees for cars, such as parking charges, can be particularly useful in order to cross-subsidize more sustainable modes. As importantly as raising money, these mechanisms can also create powerful incentives to direct more users toward sustainable transport modes.

We recommend strategies ranging from redirecting existing funds to reforming budget processes and establishing ambitious local sources of revenue such as congestion fees.

  1. Enhancing existing transport systems

Finally, we call for better management and operations of existing urban transport systems.

For transport planners, lack of data on local travel demand has been a serious challenge. Better data and capacity to analyze it would give planners the insight they need to plan public transport routes and infrastructure investments much more effectively. 

Potential enhancements would include modernizing, investing in, and eventually formalizing daladalas and other forms of informal transport so they can better fulfil their mission as an essential urban transport service.

Similarly, gradually improving road-based transport could support wider objectives, such as road safety. Specifically, we recommend changing design standards to benefit non-motorized users; improving intersections and traffic management to focus on safety; and better enforcement of traffic laws.


A National Program for Sustainable Urban Mobility

To drive these reforms at the local level, we recommend a National Program to Support Sustainable Urban Mobility in Tanzania. This would involve developing a sustainable urban mobility policy, establishing supportive institutions and funding streams, and setting up oversight processes.

Overall, Tanzania is well-placed to ensure its intermediate cities are ready for their future growth and development. By acting quickly and decisively, sustainable urban mobility is possible. This will ensure Tanzanians have access to better job opportunities and amenities, with shorter, safer, greener, and more comfortable commutes. And if Tanzania can do it, it can set an example for other countries whose secondary cities struggle to hold their own against their bigger counterparts.



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María Catalina Ochoa

Senior Urban Transport Specialist

Jesse Harber

Institutional political economist

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