The need for indicators
Transport ministries, roads authorities, donor agencies and the road construction industry all assume that publically-funded road construction and maintenance will enable private sector operators to run appropriate rural transport services. Road investments are justified by anticipated reductions in vehicle operating costs that will (it is assumed) lead to improved transport services. The crucial assumption that private operators will provide appropriate rural transport services in response to road investment is seldom verified, partly due to lack of agreed indicators of rural transport services. Indeed there are many examples in Africa of motorable roads that lack regular and predictable rural transport services.
Rural women, men, children and those with special needs will have opinions as to whether the transport services that link them to markets, employment, healthcare and services are sufficiently frequent, affordable, comfortable, safe and reliable. Those planning and implementing development investments require ways of measuring these parameters so they can compare access provision over time and distance, in order to monitor changes and prioritise interventions.
Rural Access Indicator
The World Bank’s Rural Access Indicator (RAI) equates rural access to proximity (2 km) to a motorable road, ignoring transport services. This long-term development indicator is relatively ‘unresponsive’ to anything except motorable roads. The Rural Access Indicator is the same if the road two kilometres away is paved and has frequent, cheap transport services or is an eroded (but passable) track with one public transport truck a week charging high fares. Upgrading a rough track to a paved road does not affect this indicator despite people’s greater access to markets, services and economic opportunities. There is need for another indicator that will complement the RAI and provide some means of assessing how rural transport services are meeting the access needs of rural populations.
Rural Transport Services Indicators
The research team wish to identify and test indicators that can ‘measure’ rural transport services in ways meaningful to the key stakeholders. If practicable, the Rural Transport Indicators should be consistent and replicable and allow appropriate comparisons over time and space. They should be based on data that is easy to collect and should measure parameters that are relevant to the main stakeholders (passengers, operators, regulators, road authorities and development agencies). The transport service indicators must be responsive to improvements in rural transport services, but they should not vary with other changing circumstances. Therefore, social indicators such as ‘travel time to the nearest medical centre’ cannot be used as these would change in response to changes in health care facilities.
Key indicator components are likely to include actual passenger fares, frequency and journey time. If practicable, they should also reflect safety, security, reliability, predictability, accessibility and comfort, taking into account issues concerning gender, age, disability and socio-economic disadvantage. Other issues may include transport capacity, freight transport and alternative modes of transport.