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How can we build inclusive and climate-resilient transport services in Africa?

This perspective highlights three major solutions to address the challenges faced by low-income and vulnerable transport users in African cities.

Gary Haq, Cassilde Muhoza, Frances Dixon / Published on 1 September 2021
Perspective contact

Gary Haq /

Different transport modes in Kampala, Uganda.

Different modes of transport in Kampala, Uganda. Photo: Wasike Yusuf Arby.

Walking is the main mode of transport in Africa, with up to 90% of people getting around by foot every day. Along with other non-motorized transport such as cycling, it is the most affordable way to access essential services like education, healthcare, employment and leisure. However, citizens risk their lives on a daily basis using non-motorized transport because of threats to personal safety, a lack of adequate and climate-resilient infrastructure and increasing levels of air pollution.

Missing or damaged infrastructure, like sidewalks and cycle routes, disproportionately affect low-income transport users such as women, children, older people and those with disabilities, who cannot afford private or motorized transport. For instance, women and girls with fewer finan­cial resources who depend more on walking are at greater risk of serious sexual harassment and assault.

At the same time, older people and those with disabilities require high quality paving and space from vehicles to aid mobility. On top of all this, the risk of heatstroke and injury caused by high temperatures and heavy rainfall due to climate change while getting around by walking and cycling becomes a dangerous endeavour.

Challenges faced by disabled road users – wet dirt path on the side of a busy road next to a gas station in Kampala, Uganda used by both wheelchair users and motorized vehicles, including mopeds and cars, with election candidate signs hanging on electricity pole.

Challenges faced by disabled road users in Kampala, Uganda. A lack of dedicated cycle routes and poor road surfaces are made worse during storms. Photo: Wasike Yusuf Arby.

The challenge then is for countries to develop national and city transport services that are inclusive by meeting the mobility needs of the most vulnerable, while simultaneously ensuring that infrastructure is safe and climate-resilient.

Researchers at SEI are exploring this issue with policymakers and vulnerable transport users in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia. New data from interviews and focus groups with over 100 stakeholders paints a picture of the current transport issues faced in these countries. The research shows how the mobility needs of vulnerable transport users are not currently being met and that policymakers are not prepared for dealing with climate change risks.

How can these issues be addressed? Here are three ways to build more inclusive and climate-resilient transport services in African countries.

In Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia, non-motorized transport accounts for more than 40% of daily trips and is mainly used by low-income households who cannot afford motorized public transport and private cars. Road safety, particularly of pedestrians and cyclists, remains a major issue in these four countries, ranking among the top 50 worst countries globally in relation to road traffic deaths per 100 000 people (Global status report on road safety 2018, WHO). These four countries have already shown early efforts to address their significant mobility issues and non-motorized transport infrastructure provisions through the development of policies and plans at the national and city levels prioritizing walking and cycling. SEI’s research builds on this and also factors in climate-resilient planning.

1. Implement existing inclusive transport policies

Transport planners interviewed by SEI believed that current transport policies addressed the needs of vulnerable groups. However, representatives of these vulnerable groups perceived the policies to be ineffective due to their poor implementation. For example, in Uganda, a National Non-Motorized Transport Policy was developed in 2012, which appears to explicitly cater for the mobility needs of pedestrians and cyclists. However, its implementation on the ground has lagged since 2012, as illustrated by the poor provision of pedestrian and cycling paths in the current transport system. In addition, existing pedestrian walkways do not accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.

To address this, the implementation of inclusive policies should be monitored by transport planners, both at the national and local levels, to ensure they are delivered. Meanwhile, existing policies should be reviewed by transport planners, in consultation with vulnerable transport users, to ensure their needs are met, particularly if they were not consulted during initial policy development.

2. Increase engagement with vulnerable transport users

Transport planners need to better understand the mobility challenges faced by vulnerable users, as a lack of data on their mobility needs limits their explicit integration into transport planning. Vulnerable groups are not systematically included in transport provision and instead are often informed after a policy is developed. This lack of engagement means that transport policies fail to cater for their specific mobility needs. The limited political participation of vulnerable groups further limits their ability to influence transport policy.

Engagement tools such as on-street mapping or 3D street models to co-design options and participatory exercises in infrastructure budgeting can reveal the unique needs of vulnerable groups and increase their capacity to engage with the planning process. For example, in a location where there is a planned pedestrian or cycling infrastructure upgrade, on-street mapping exercises involving vulnerable users can reveal the hidden realities of their daily lived experiences. Such tools enable transport users to effectively communicate their needs and priorities and provide them with a platform to participate in co-designing more inclusive mobility solutions.

On-street participatory mapping in Lusaka during high volume transport project activities – two women and one man with face masks stand at a whiteboard with magnets mapping transport and refer to a sheet with star-shaped stickers

On-street participatory mapping in Lusaka during high volume transport project activities.
Photo: Daniel Mwamba / Zambia Road Safety Trust.

By involving vulnerable users throughout the planning process, decision makers can better understand the short- and long-term implications of decisions and how well transport services will meet user needs. However, transport planners need the institutional capacity to engage and respond to the needs of vulnerable groups. This includes strengthening the technical capacity of government agencies to carry out policy consultations, allocating specific budget lines for the engagement of vulnerable groups and funding of data collection on mobility trends to inform policy change.

3. Prioritize low-carbon climate-resilient transport

Transport infrastructure is vulnerable to damage and unsafe conditions caused by a changing climate. This is especially the case in certain African countries where ageing infrastructure, underfunding, poor maintenance and rapid expansion of urban areas have resulted in overstrained transport networks. Adapting the design of non-motorized transport infrastructure to climate change needs to be given higher priority to ensure it can to deal with higher temperatures and heavy rainfall. This is important for maintaining safe walking and cycling routes, which many people depend on in African countries.

Safe walking route along new non-motorized route through centre of Kampala, Uganda

Dedicated lanes along non-motorized transport route through the centre of Kampala, Uganda provide safer environment for pedestrians and street vendors. Photo: Wasike Yusuf Arby.

Greater awareness of how climate change is impacting non-motorized transport infrastructure is needed. This requires enhancing the technical capacity of transport planners to understand the climate risks and measures that can address these. There was limited expertise in climate resilience in the four case study countries of Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia, and climate resilience was a low priority in cities compared to reducing the economic impact of road traffic congestion. While there was interest from planners to access technical support on this issue, such as learning how to run vulnerability and risk assessments, additional financial resources were needed to support this and any resulting measures.

Investing in low-carbon transport options like walking and cycling not only offers low-income and vulnerable transport users an affordable means of getting around, it also helps reduce local air pollution, congestion and road safety. In addition, it mitigates climate change by providing low-carbon alternatives to motorized transport. Consideration needs to be given to mass transit options like electric buses as well, with SEI research showing that during extreme weather events, people are less likely to make walking and cycling trips. Any options for mass transit need to be affordable, low-carbon and climate-resilient.

In the next stage of this research, SEI will test a range of participatory methods in Uganda and Zambia to develop guidance and tools to achieve more inclusive and climate resilient transport planning in Africa.

About the project

The Inclusive Climate-Resilient Transport in Africa project is funded by UK Aid through the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office under the High Volume Transport Applied Research Programme  and managed by IMC Worldwide.

The research team is comprised SEI York and SEI Africa, UN Environment’s Share the Road Programme and local partners in Uganda and Zambia. The project will raise awareness of the needs of low-income disadvantaged user groups and the effects of climate change on transport infrastructure. It aims to enhance capacity of transport planners to assess the mobility needs of disadvantaged groups in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia and Uganda.

Read the report

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