Cllr Vidhi Mohan: Investment in transport is key to development

CFID member, Vidih Mohan blogs about the importance of investing in transport infrastructure as a often unsung driver for economic development. Vidih is an international development professional specialising in the feasibility and financing of transport projects, and has advised various development banks and multilateral agencies. He is also a Conservative Councillor in the London Borough of Croydon.

Investment in transport is key to development

By Vidhi Mohan

A closer look at DfID’s Aid spending statistics for 2017 shows that only a small proportion was spent on the transportation sector and transport related projects. Under bilateral aid, only 2.5% (£216 million) was spent on ‘Transport and Storage’, which is classified under ‘Economic Infrastructure and Services’. Under the UK’s imputed share of multilateral aid spent however, a bit more detail is provided. In 2016 it has been estimated that UK’s multilateral aid budget contributed around £343 million to the transport sector, with the largest proportion going to roads.

Contrast this to the European Investment Bank (EIB), whose Board recently approved €1 billion of financing for rail, urban and electric transport. This includes investment in new electric and hybrid vehicles, upgrade of inter-city rail links, replacement of trams and trolley buses.

While one can fully understand the need for DfID to prioritise spend on humanitarian assistance, health, and education, there is certainly a case to be made for spending more on the transport sector. There are many reasons why a good quality transport infrastructure can help deliver our development goals.

Transport links provide accessibility to markets, healthcare services, and education. A good quality, safe, and well-maintained rural roads network help those in remote areas access these facilities. It is no use providing hospitals or schools if vulnerable users, including women and children, cannot access them. Further, without proper roads farmers and rural industries will not be able to access markets for their goods.

Apart from transport infrastructure, investment is also required in providing reliable and sustainable transport services, especially bus services connecting remote rural areas. As a majority of people in these areas do not own their own mechanised transport, they will rely heavily on public transport to access services and markets. In the absence of a bus service, they will be forced to use highly inefficient modes like bullock carts, or old polluting vehicles.

In semi-urban and urban areas investment in public transport is key, as it provides a sustainable way of moving people around, while reducing dependence on the car. An efficient, reliable and safe bus or tram network reduces urban congestion, enhances labour mobility, allows people to reach their place of work efficiently, as well as providing employers access to a wider pool of workers. However public transport investment must be in green and less polluting vehicles, helping reduce harmful emissions.

Transport projects tend to be capital intensive, requiring significant investment. This is especially true of new highways, new rail lines, trams and metro systems, and ports. These are levels of investment that are perhaps beyond the purview of DfID. Hence the focus should be on enhancing and rehabilitating existing road, rail and other transport networks. This would require some investment, but the focus should be on providing technical advice on bringing in private sector participation, as well as enhancing the skills and technical capabilities of local operational and maintenance staff. This will not only increase direct employment in the sector, but also bring in investment and jobs as market accessibility improves.

Road safety is another area where DfID can certainly look to invest in, which will help reduce unnecessary loss of life and injuries in some of the world’s poorest countries. Apart from ensuring good quality and well-maintained road surfaces, investment should also be made in driver training for both bus and truck drivers, developing national standards for driver training, and ensuring safe driving practices are stringently enforced.

British companies have significant experience and expertise in building, operating and maintaining high quality transport infrastructure and services internationally. These range from engineering and commercial skills, to providing training and management skills to transport operators. This expertise needs to be harnessed by DfID, helping both those in the poorest parts of the world, as well as generating jobs and business here at home.

Transport investment is not just about cars, buses and trains. It is about providing connectivity and accessibility to public services, jobs and markets people need to enhance their prospects and improve their quality of life.

Vidih Mohan is an international development professional specialising in the feasibility and financing of transport projects, and has advised various development banks and multilateral agencies. He is also a Conservative Councillor in the London Borough of Croydon as well as an active member of CFID.