Providing inclusive transport services in areas with low population density is a challenge for many countries, both in the global North and South. As patterns of transport demand and supply are tied to population density and income levels.
Higher-income countries face the challenge to provide public transport services in rural areas that can meet the needs of the full range of social groups, while remaining affordable and financially sustainable. Rising operating costs for traditional services and constraints on public funding have eroded the ability of local authorities to maintain previous service levels. Low density and dispersed populations combined with strong competition from private cars make it difficult to operate profitable commercial public transport services, leading to higher unit costs for providing these services. Ageing societies and increasing population concentration in cities are further contributing to an increase of these costs.
In lower-income countries, public transport services in rural areas are often still yet to come, due to a lack of infrastructure, financial and institutional capacity, affordability and a lack of critical user mass. As an estimated 1 billion people living in rural areas around the world cannot access basic services, essential infrastructure investments can make a crucial difference to socio-economic welfare. Extending and improving road networks is a precondition for introducing transport services in rural areas. Enabling the use of bicycles can serve as an important development tool in rural areas, where access is limited. Bicycles empower the rural youth, and especially girls, as examples from South Africa and India show. However, infrastructure maintenance is often a serious financial and capacity challenge for rural communities.
New mobility services hold the potential to improve transport provision in rural areas. Consolidated mobile applications provide access to information and mobility services which allow for the development of new collective and personalised services. New actors are entering the public transport market; car-sharing and ride-sharing are now being considered as real options for public transport service provision. Demand-responsive transport is considered particularly suitable for rural areas because of its flexibility and ability to adapt to local needs, although developing a critical mass of users is a hurdle. New route planning software and innovative ways of providing information enable more efficient planning of journeys in response to users’ needs. While one single approach is not sufficient, a broad range of available solutions could make a shift in providing inclusive transport in rural areas. Sharing data and coordinating among transport providers will be crucial to overcome fragmentation in service provision for rural areas.
Jose Luis Irigoyen
“We cannot define sustainability in a way that excludes parts of the population. We need to incorporate both urban and rural, when talking about inclusive transport.”
K. L. Thapar
“Societies must not only function on commercial and economic considerations. We need to acknowledge the socio-economic contributions made by rural areas and the people living there. Transport planning must empower rural communities.”
“Inclusive transport services provide better access to rural communities they did not enjoy before. Transport policy in this sense is both a means for equity and economic opportunity.”
Themba Tenza (replacing South African Minister Peters)
“Providing inclusive transport in an effective manner depends on the policy package. In South Africa, it needs to tackle inequality, poverty and unemployment.”
Oscar de Buen
“In lower income countries, the issue of inclusive transport provision in rural areas is about providing access to basic services, as a means of poverty reduction.
Vice Minister of Transport, Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications, Chile
President, World Road Association (PIARC)
Director, Transport and ICT Global Practice, The World Bank
Minister of Transport, South Africa
Founder and Chairman, Asian Institute of Transport Development
Moderator, Broadcaster, Journalist and Businesswoman