Sustainable Transport – is a form of mobility concept that incorporates the understanding of social, environmental and climate impacts. On the broader scope, it is the idea of keeping an indefinite supply of energy source to support the continuous quest for movement. 

To be able to adequately evaluate how sustainable the transport system is, it is important to consider all of its different components that have been designed and built. Components such as vehicle used on the roads, water or air transport, the source of energy; the infrastructure used to accommodate the various modes of transport etc. The intent of this evaluation process is on the overall, to understand the efficiency and effectiveness of transport system. The system should have little or no negative impact on the economy, on local and global environment as well keep the social well-being of inhabitants unharmper.

However, the evaluation of transport system starting from 1987 has on every occasion discovered major externalities associated with the transport system (David Banister, 2005). Problems such as:

i. The continuous land grab for transport projects thereby intruding and disturbing natural habitat of other plants and animals,

ii. The constant pollution of the environment by the different transport means.

iii. The inadequacy of transport systems based on continuous growth (population and income) and people’s desire to travel and;

iv. Most importantly the lack of full understanding the adverse effects of the transport system and the policy actions needed to crop these effects.  

The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries have made some significant efforts in understanding and resolving some of the issues as they were discovered, but the eradication of the transport externalities cannot be done in one region alone, as the transport system is globally interlocking, so does its effects.

Many developing countries are yet to understand the negative impacts of transport on the environment, and to a larger degree on the economy in which it is operated. In developing countries the motorization growth is 2 fold compare to developed countries. The exponential increase in motorization is causing severe congestion, safety, and pollution problems. 

As growth(population and income) is now highly concentrated in developing countries there is an urgency in identifying and implementing policies that will improve the efficiency of the transport system that is being built. This is the focus of this article. 


The world as a global village is experiencing series of devastating issues due to the way of life that we have adopted since the industrial revolution. This way of life, which massively incorporates motorized mobility as a means of creating wealth and comfort, has come not void of its own challenges. There are several inter-related issues that are by-products of the modes of mobility created for improvement in human civilisation. Most important problem is the sustainability of the transport system as we continue to expand and maximize its use. 

Motorised transport, as it improves economies and broadens our ability to move beyond borders and settled in seemingly different locations, has not just improve our way of life, but has created series of challenges. Illustrated in the diagram below are the pertinent of these challenges being experienced in developing countries.

Figure 1.0 The Paradigm of Transport Issues in Developing Countries.

Motorisation and Congestion 

Rapid motorisation is creating major challenges in developing  countries with stifling traffic congestion, huge expenses for road infrastructures and increasing air pollution. Example Bangkok, Thailand is well known developing  city with worse statistics in traffic congestion and air pollution (WHO, 2015). Increase in vehicle ownership as presented by the world Bank global transport report (World Bank, 2001) is shown in the graph below.

Figure 2.0 Rate of motorisation in OECD and non-OECD countries

This trend of increasing income and vehicle ownership is creating the desire for trip making. This desire for trip making is disproportionate to the transport infrastructure available. Also, the increase in car ownership has decreased public transport and has led to the high cost of transportation for poor communities. With the exception of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, most developing countries relied 60% or more on road transport. 

Environmental Problems

The demand for more individual convenient transport system has increased dependency on road transport. This dependency tends to raise aggregate energy consumption, generate increasing air pollution and other adverse effects on the environment, that although not always cumulative and irreversible, are nevertheless not sustainable.

Air quality in major cities of developing countries are already bad or worse compare to other industrialised countries. Road traffic is a primary source of some pollutants. In large city centres road traffic accounts for 60 – 72% of carbon monoxide, 60 -70% of nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and major share of particulate matters as shown in figure 3.0 below.

Figure 3.0 Energy consumption and CO2 emission in transport 

Ecological damage to habit and biodiversity have been the impact of transport as well. For example  automotive air pollution contribute  to acid rain and problems associated with forest degradation. Roads development has been one of the contentious issues in terms of environmental degradation of forests, cultural sites etc.

Security and Safety Issues

On the overall 1.34 million fatalities annually due to motor accidents (WHO, 2015) and 85% of the total occurred in developing countries. Causes of motor vehicle crashes are multifactorial and involve the interaction of a number of pre-crash factors that include people, vehicles and road environment (Haddon, 1990). Human error is estimated to account between 64 – 95% of all cases of traffic crashes in developing countries (TRL, 2008). In developing countries, degraded vehicles without safety belt, helmet, poor road design and mix traffic are major factors contributing to high risk of safety.

Eighty five percent (85%) of the 1.34 million fatalities are in developing countries, 2/3  are pedestrians of whom 1/3 are children and cyclists. In India for example, only 5% of those killed or critically injured were in cars. In addition to the immense human suffering involved, the economic cost of these accidents which will be discussed in the economic impact blow is very high.

Lack of Private Citizen Interest Groups

Private sector fuels transport infrastructure development based on travel demand. However, it active participation in the implementation and preparation of policies are limited. From policy to regulations to implementation and even proposal for safety in urban transport infrastructures are fully the concern of the governments within developing countries. Communities or citizen interest groups to championed or pressure the government into redesigning it strategy for the safety of their communities or cities is completely limited or not available. The lack of such interest and advocacy groups leave the government with no alternatives but to continue on it path, whether or not its objectives for transport development is impacting the lives of the people. 

Inadequate Transport Policies

Cardinal to all the issues related to road transport in developing countries is the problem of the lack of adequate transport policies. Lack of appropriate organisational structures, the political will, coupled with the lack of financial resources to turn ideas into actions have made environmental and social concerns even worse in developing countries. In non-OECD cities, there are even greater barriers, as there is not the tradition for effectiveness and efficiency in public institutions. The underlying imperatives is economic growth,  but lack of defined policies, are hindrance to proper implementation of the strategies. Moreover, there is limited regulatory institutions for municipal or fiscal policies. 


The impact of transport cut across the economy, the environment, social facets. In the context of developing countries the impact of transport is discussed from these three major perspectives. The economic impact which is of the most concern to everyone, the environmental and health implications as well as the social sustainability. The impact of peak oil is discuss very rarely but important as well because almost all developing countries are oil import dependent economies. 

Since the introduction motor vehicles in the development landscape, it has created a remarkably successful economic transition for individuals, countries and regions, but its adverse effects on the environment, human health and social well-being has become alarming. Cities in developing countries strongly promotes the economic imperatives driven by transport and very often ignore the environmental and social issues caused by transport. Henceforth, it is relevant to pinpoint the importance of the issues created by transport, and specifically motorised transport. 

Environmental and Health Impacts of Transport Related Issues

The environment stands as the continuum within which all forms of growth and development occur. Without the resources (renewable and non-renewable) possessed by the environment there wouldn’t have been any form of economic growth or even life. Henceforth, the trend of environmental degradation contributed by transport is alarming and should be lengthily discussed. The environmental effects of motorised transport are well known. They include global warming and depletion of the ozone layer, spread of toxic organic and inorganic substances, notably tropospheric ozone; depletion of oil and other natural resources and damage to landscape and soil. 

The continuous decline of public health is largely transport-induced. Heavily motorised transport as a major means of mobility is causing direct pollution which causes problems related to asthma, bronchitis, leukaemia and lung diseases. Increasing Air pollution in many cities as shown in the picture above has resulted in national air quality standards and those recommended by the World Health Organisation being exceeded. Air pollution affects health, impairs visibility, and damages local ecology – it reduces the quality of urban life.

Picture 1.0 Air Pollution Caused by Motor Vehicles

The Security and Safety Impact of Transport Related Issues

Road Safety is a major concern worldwide. Traffic accidents result in 1.34 million fatalities and about 25 – 30 million injuries each year (WHO, 2015) Around 85% of this number occurred in developing countries as stated above. 

The dramatic increase in the proportion and absolute number of traffic deaths have been seen in a number of developing countries, while the decrease by 15 -12% has occurred in industrialised nations (Ross et al. 1991). WHO road death per 100,000 population figure below shows how alarming the situation is for developing countries. Considering both Nigeria and Kenya for example, a fivefold increase in traffic-related  fatalities was seen over the past 30 years. African and Asian countries  with rapidly increasing rate of motorisation  are experiencing substantially higher fatalities rate per 10,000 vehicles than OECD countries. 

Figure 4.0 Death caused by Road  accidents

Traffic crushes impact the economy of developing countries at an estimated cost of 2-4% of a country’s GNP per annum, as the result of morbidity, mortality, land and property related costs.  Moreover, the introduction of the motorised transport system has led the problem of social equity. The poor or underprivileged population of the country lacks access to affordable transport system and are financially deprived to live in the peripheral.

Economic Impact of Transport Generated Problems

The dependency of economies on transport as a key facilitator of growth and globalisation has prompted high level of motorisation in developing economies. This trend with its benefits, still present serious problems to the survivability of the very economies its intending to build. The increase in congestion especially in developing countries caused the loss of valuable economic times which leads to financial loses. 

Delay in travel times cost an individuals in developing countries $ 715 – 1000 per person annually in direct cost and indirect cost of fuel, frequent motor break down etc, is 3 times more than the direct cost. Rapid motorisation and inadequate transport infrastructures has led to significant impact on the economies within developing countries. An Economic Cost of Congestion Study conducted by INRIX (INRIX, 2012) has projected a 113 billion (equivalent to 18% of Sub Saharan Africa GDP ) will be lost due to traffic congestion in the next 10 years (2012 -2022) excluding the loses that will be incurred due to inadequate transport infrastructure. The cost of travel delay due to congestion is show in the graph below.

Figure 5.0 The calculation time delay cost due to congestion 

Considering the rate of uncontrolled motorisation, in the next 25 years developing countries will experience  75% increase in vehicle ownership, which will make 51% of all vehicles in world to be in the emerging and developing economies. This trend will further increase the constraint on the economy of non-OECD countries as they struggle with transport infrastructure deficit. 

There are major differences in the economic impact of transport in the OECD and the non-OECD countries. In the developed countries (OECD) the economic impact of transport is more witty on the difference in policies and mode of implementation of proposed solutions for traffic intervention and transport infrastructure. At high income, the system is keen on improving its sustainability model with fewer cars ownership.  On the contrary, developing economies at relatively low income are experiencing rapid motorisation (10-15 % per annum)  and urban population is growing by 6% annum (world Bank, 2006) and higher rate  of car ownership. Moreover, there are insufficient policies and deficit in transport infrastructure financing, leaving developing countries with less space for roads. For example, Bangkok and Calcutta has 7 -11% city space allocated to transport activities compare to the 25% in Europe and 30% in Manhattan (world Bank, 1996). The aforementioned analysis proved that the economic impact of transport on developing countries is high. 

The Economic Impact driven by Peak Oil Theory

Assuming that global oil production peaked, this scenario will generally have negative economic impact on the global economy but specific varying economic impacts on developed and developing countries. The latter, I have the privilege to discuss in this article. 

Peak Oil is an assumed theorised projection that the extraction of petroleum will reach it highest point and after which it will decline. The concept is illustrated in the figure below. The period of decline as proposed by Energy Economists and Geologists argued that the world will experience a sharp increase in the price of oil which will negatively impact GDP comparable to the magnitude of global financial crises in 2008/09. Countries that exports oil will benefit from higher prices, while those that import oil will be affected negatively. Considering that over 85% of non-OECD countries are oil import economies they will hugely be affected.

Figure 6.0 Peaked Oil Projection Graph

Considering the intense push to increase economic activities, developing countries are increasing the intensity of oil use in manufacturing, most times replacing commercial fuels with traditional fuels for rapid urbanisation, which is heavily reliant on transport. Moreover, the vulnerability of developing countries is exaggerated by their inability to switch to other forms of fuels or renewable energy sources(wind and solar). So any attempt to increase oil price astronomically will destabilised trade balance and increase inflation as financial institutions and monetary authorities are relatively unsophisticated. Henceforth, developing countries will get hit the hardest incase there’s an oil peak. 


Based on the detailed research and understanding developed from the transport issues in developing countries, its impact and importance, it can be concluded that there are three major contexts within which the refinement actions are needed. It is important to consider firstly the policy framework within which the transport sector operates, then examine the physical environment that host all of the road transport networks. With that, then the operational and managerial systems and technological fixes can be introduced. 

The Policy Measures 

Cities have to be structured and organised so that transport can support the wealth creating function of the city. This means that transport has to be linked with city development, to support the central city functions, and to be part of any new or changing development. The vision of every city in the developing world is to support its growing population. There is considerable difficulties introducing effective transport policy in developing cities, but appropriate government systems, having the support of the population and other interest groups, are an essential prerequisite to policy implementation. 

Hall and Pfeiffer (2000) in the review of urban futures proposed eight universal principles which is important to achieving urban policy and planning.

  1. Promote the capabilities of the city to lift its citizen out of poverty
  2. Institute policy that planned and layout housing development for both rich and poor inhabitants.
  3. Set standards for air, water, drainage and noise pollution that will present a sustainable environment 
  4. Prepared an efficient land use scheme to reduce unnecessary journeys and demand on non-renewable energy resources 
  5. Setup an environmental protection principles to protect the natural environment  both within and around the city. A polycentric urban region with many satellite cities to crop sporadic settlement on protected land will aid this process.
  6. A conservation act to protect quality historic built environments 

In addition, although there is the problem of enforcement, further limitation (and pricing) on existing and new parking provision forms powerful restrain measures. Pricing measures, particularly in low-income economies, have important distributional consequences. Hence it is crucial that pricing is link with positive action to reallocate road space to public transport and bicycles.

The Physical measures

As road space is limited, it is appropriate to establish road based public transport (bus network) to make the best use of existing road-space. These  networks would be available to paratransit, motorcycle (their derivatives) and bicycles. The widely use of green modes (including rickshaws) needs to be maintained and encourage through road infrastructure expansion or modification. Introduce intensive modal interchanges at peripheral for bus and rail terminals encourage park and ride, bike and ride and transfer from local rail to bus network.  

Investment would take place in maintenance and upgrading of existing infrastructure in exploring the full potential for non-motorised transport and the possibility of low speed limits to avoid road accidents especially for pedestrians.

Another physical method that could be effective in reducing motorisation and encourage sustainable urban mobility is the car sharing method. As discovered through research papers, there are positive experiences with car sharing. Especially for poor communities on the peripheral of cities, car sharing to commute to and fro could drastically improve the efficiency of movement, reduce congestion and it associated by-products.

More to the physical measure should be an integrated and extensive educational awareness. This awareness campaign should capture all effects of transport including environmental, health, safety and security. Research group should be financed to investigate traffic accidents and produce alternative measure to mitigate accident risks. 

Technological Measures 

The role that technology plays in the non-OECD cities is different compare to OECD countries. While is important to emphasise on improving the traffic management system, giving pedestrian priority where necessary and speed calmer etc, it is worth mentioning the improvement in communication so that travellers  and drivers are fully aware of network options available to them. 

The use of alternative fuels including natural gases, electricity and biofuel for wide ranges of passenger cars, heavy-duty trucks, garbage trucks, three-wheelers and buses should be exploited by developing countries. These fuels which can be produced from any primary energy source, including biomass, wind and solar energy, nuclear and decarbonised fossil fuels, constitute a cleaner alternative to diesel and gasoline. 

The Intelligent transportation system (ITS) has the potential to address array of transport problems in variety of applications. The ITS has been slowly adopted in developing countries however it has the ability to curtail many of the challenges experience in the sector. ( GPS, CCTV, traffic surveillances, electronic ticketing  etc) 


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  2. Wold Bank Group ( May, 1996) Sustainable Transport; Priorities for Policy Reform
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  24. Robert Cervero & Aaron Golub ( July 2007) Informal Transport: A Global Perspective 
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  26. Massuod Ali Ahmed Abuhamoud, Riza Atiq et al ( 2011) Transportation and its concerns in Africa: A Review 

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