Table of Contents

  • Under the overall direction of Mr. Weimin Ren, Director of the Transport Division, and Ms. Jo Yee Yung Fung, Chief of the Sustainable Transport Section, the study was coordinated and led by Mr. Ishtiaque Ahmed, PhD, Economic Affairs Officer, Transport Division of ESCAP. The text was prepared by Ms. Fuyo Jenny Yamamoto, consultant and a doctoral candidate, Taoyaka Program, Hiroshima University, Japan and informally edited by Mr. Selim Denoux, Research Assistant, Sustainable Transport Section, Transport Division, ESCAP.

  • Rural areas across much of Asia are undergoing profound economic, social and demographic changes. Not only goods and people, but ideas, values, and cultural practices are moving both physically and virtually, across multi-layered transport networks. “Vertical connectivity”, or connectivity between micro-, meso-, and macro-level networks, is becoming increasingly more important for the development of agricultural value chains; access to jobs in urban areas; the reduction of food loss and waste; rural tourism; health supply systems; disaster preparedness; and other dimensions of rural development. Policymakers therefore need to take a more comprehensive approach to rural transport planning to ensure that these different network levels are connected.

  • Rural areas across much of Asia are undergoing profound economic, social and demographic changes. Improvements in transport networks have made isolated areas more accessible, while Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and mobile telephony have facilitated communication between these areas and towns and cities. More and more rural residents are engaged in socio-economic networks beyond their village boundaries. Not only goods and people, but ideas, values, cultural practices, and so on are moving, both physically and virtually, across multi-layered networks.

  • Much attention in the rural transport literature is directed to “first mile” and “last mile” connectivity, as these are seen as the “weakest links” in rural transport systems. However, with increasing volumes of people and goods moving between different network levels, policymakers also need to look at how the different levels of the transport network fit together:

  • The target of rural transport policies in most developing countries is infrastructure development. The emphasis of rural infrastructure development policies has evolved over time, with a shift from large-scale road construction programmes in the 1950s and 60s, to integrated rural development approaches in the 1970s and 80s, to more targeted road development projects in the 1990s. In line with governance trends in the 1990s, many countries began to systematically decentralize part of their infrastructure budgets to local governments. In response, countries started to adopt the Integrated Rural Accessibility Planning (IRAP) tool developed by the International Labour Organisation, which emphasized a more participatory approach to rural infrastructure development which reflected local people’s priorities as much as the governments (see, for example, Nepal’s experiences in Donnges, Ojha and Pearse, 2005). The 2000s saw a return to large-scale, national government-driven rural road programmes, such as the Pradhan Mantri Gran Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) programme in India.

  • A diverse range of rural transport modes and services can be found in the Asia and Pacific region. In many rural areas, non-motorized transport modes, such as walking, cycling and riding animals, are still the predominant mode for first/last mile connectivity10, while human and animal traction and agricultural machinery such as tractors, are commonly used to carry agricultural produce. Informal sector entrepreneurs also provide services, including trucks, pick-ups, ‘rural taxis’, motorcycles, bicycles, and animal-drawn carts (UNCRD, 2015). In Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, and the countries along the Mekong River, inland water transport systems are the main mode for riverine communities. Meanwhile, for island and archipelagic countries, ports and inter-island shipping services are the main transport mode for passenger and good movements.

  • To design effective rural transport policies, governments need a large volume of data as well as the technical capacity to analyse this data. In theory, governments have transport sector data management systems (TSDMS) to monitor the various activities taking place in the transport sector and evaluate the results of the strategies and policies (Nogales, 2015), but country practices vary widely.

  • Rural transport connectivity is clearly an important transport sector goal for governments in Asia and the Pacific. More investment in rural transport infrastructure can help improve connectivity, but it needs to be targeted to link different network levels together. Meanwhile, investments in rural transport services and nodes are also needed to improve the efficiency of rural transport systems. To achieve the best outcomes, the cooperation of policymakers at all levels is needed.