Third World Transportation

 Jeremy Hubble - May 5, 2005

Development of transportation infrastructure is crucial for economic development; however, poor implementation can lead to adverse consequences. Without adequate transportation infrastructure, a country cannot access external markets. Furthermore, industrialization requires the internal movement of goods and people. Workers must be able to access the areas of production. Raw materials must be transported to factories, and finished goods must be transported to the eventual consumers. The internal transportation system must be capable of handling the needs of the industries in the country.

In addition to the movement of goods, the transportation network provides foreigners access to a country. The airport provides the primary means of access for the elite travelers. Business investment in a country requires visits from the business leaders. Without the necessary infrastructure, it is unlikely a country can attract the capital needed to industrialize. A positive impression of the transportation infrastructure, however, can encourage a positive few of the country. In addition, tourists provide a significant source of hard currency and a positive impact in the economy. A well-developed transportation network can thus serve to be a significant asset to the economy. However, there are also costs and benefits to consider in the development of the transportation network.

Types of Transportation Investment

Investments in air transportation are most commonly geared towards international access. Airports provide the primary means of human access to a country. They also provide a means of transporting high-value and perishable goods. They provide little direct value to the general population (who often cannot afford airplane tickets). However, they indirectly help to support additional industries and job opportunities. Very few countries can claim to be connected to the global economy without an airport.

Ports and ground transport provide additional means of facilitating international trade. Ports provide access to low-value good transport. The initial industries of developing nations often special in low-value, time-insensitive goods, thus making investments in ports a logical step. The ports provide the primary means of exporting these goods to other nations. Ports have also existed for millenia, and thus many regions already have ports that can be modernized. Especially for tropical island nations, ports provide a means of connecting to the cruise-ship business. These ships often bring in large numbers of visitors, and can thus have an important impact on the economy.

Land-based transportation can also be developed to facilitate international trade. Roads and railways provide an important means for sending goods to neighboring countries. Pipelines and other specialty transport means can also be used to move bulk quantities to and from a country. Development of ground-based transportation networks must also take in to account the networks of neighboring countries. If the railroads are at different gages, then additional effort will be needed to allow goods to transfer from one railroad network to another. Similarly the types of vehicles that travel the roads of neighboring countries must also be considered.

Internal transportation also helps to facilitate international trade. In addition, it allows for the mobility of the general population of the country. The road network is one of the primary means of internal connectivity. The roads can be used for internal mobility for the general population via a variety of vehicles. They can also serve as internal transportation of goods and as a means of external transportation. Rail networks serve primarily as a means of transporting goods. However, urban rail networks are available in some of the largest areas to serve the transportation of people.

Conflicts with Transportation Investments

International transport facilities often create conflicts due to land use decisions. To maximize value, airports need to be located close to the central city. However, residents also desire to live close to the urban centers. Farm land closest to the urban center is also highly valued, due to the easy access to markets. In addition to the dislocation required by the airport, the pollution (both sound and air) produced by the airport as well as associated airport traffic can also be problems. The pollution impacts areas near the airport, thus decreasing their value. This may enable the poor to locate closer to the city center. However, this location will only be at the expense of the general quality of life.

Internal transport can pose more significant conflicts. From an international perspective, the road network should be set up to maximize speed between major traffic centers. This can often be used in conjunction with the airports. Tourists and business travelers like to be able to travel quickly from the airport to their destinations. Thus, a road system that allows fast travel is desired. Furthermore, large, comfortable vehicles that they can use are also required. The costs of these vehicles makes them beyond the reach of most of the common citizens. Thus, the facilities that are created become primarily for the use of the wealthy visitors.

Transportation development practices in developing countries have followed a number of different paths. In Mexico City, development has focused on freeways

Focus on Freeways in Mexico

Greater problems arise when these facilities take the place of existing facilities that are used by the population. Freeways that are developed provide the foreigners with the  rapid transportation that they are accustomed. However, these roads usually prohibit bicycles, pedestrian, animals, and small vehicles that the population uses for their transportation. Furthermore, they create barriers to perpendicular movement, and often consume land that had been used for a usable road. In addition, the faster travel entices increased travel, thus increasing the pollution levels in already congested areas.

An example of development is the “segundo piso” in Mexico City. Mexico City currently suffers from extreme air pollution, caused to a large extent by automobile usage. Mexico City also extreme automobile congestion and an extremely popular subway system that is second only to Moscow in daily ridership. However, when faced with congestion on the freeways the government official stated that the only way to relieve congestion was to demolish buildings or build a second deck. They failed to acknowledge the option of additional investment in transit – an investment that would be directly usable by a greater number of people, and more efficiently move people through the city. However, car travel is seen by the mayor as a better way for upper-class people to travel.

Economic Development as the Solution in India

India is also working on the construction of major expressways connecting congested cities and suburbs. The road network in India currently caries a large mix of vehicles: cars, motor-rickshaws, bicycles, bicycle-rickshaws, pedestrians, horses, mopeds, trucks, buses,  motorcycles and even the errant cow. All of these vehicles move at varying speeds, though none very fast. A freeway would allow the automobiles to move at a much quicker speed. However, only the wealthy can afford automobiles. Furthermore, automobiles carry very few people per the amount of space consumed, and they produce a large amount of pollution. Freeway construction is also quite expensive. Foreign visitors are likely to be using cars as their primary means of transportation, and thus they will likely pay tolls to fund the expressways. However, the local governments need to devote significant amount of money upfront to the construction. And they will be sacrificing the land to a use that is thought be many to be inferior to other possibilities.

Further conflicts can be seen in the development of the new Bangelore airport at Devanahalli. Bangelore is a major industrial city in India, often viewed as the “Silicon Valley” of India. The poor condition of the airport was viewed as an impediment to the regions economic development. Thus, the new Devanahalli airport has been proposed at a “greenfield” site 34 kilometers from Bangalore. After construction, commercial traffic would be restricted at the current airport (located within the city limits). Since the new airport is located at a great distance from the city, an upgrade of the main road is also proposed. This upgrade would transform the road in to an expressway, having 4-6 lanes, and providing flyovers bypassing the major intersections. The airport and expressways would be funding primarily by private entities with government assistance. Revenue for the roads would come from tolls, while the airport would derive a significant amount of revenue from development of land in and near the airport.

The development of the airport and the roadways has focused on the benefits to the regional business community. However, the needs of the environment and the local residents has not been given attention. The plans do not have any features to address those people that have been dislocated by the construction. It is assumed that the economic development of the region will benefit them and provide all that they need. Thus, economic development as viewed as a solution to the immediate problems of those in its path. 

Emphasis on Cars in China

China also is in an interesting situation where the general transportation policy is moving in the opposite direction from North American and European countries. While, developed countries are trying to encourage alternatives to the automobile, China is encouraging increased automobile usage. The government decided in 1994, that the auto industry would be a key part of economic growth (Zacharias, 2002). The government encouraged production of automobiles (often starting as joint ventures with foreign automakers.) It also devoted additional money to the construction of roads – especially large highways.

The policy focus on the automobile has had a significant impact on the large cities, where other factors contribute to increased transportation demand. The number of trips made has been increasing along with the length of the typical trip. This is caused in part by the rapid population growth. As in many other developing countries, rural laborers are migrating to the major industrial cities to seek employment. Furthermore, land allocation has been liberalized. In the past, most Chinese workers would live in housing provided by their employers in a location close to their employment. Economic reforms in China are increasingly separating the connection between housing and work. Thus, allowing people to live in locations that they see fit. (Shen 1997.)

Shanghai currently has an urban environment that is not well suited for motorized travel. Only 9% of the land area is devoted to roads. This compares to 40% in Los Angeles and 25% in most typical developed cities. (World Bank, 1996). The density is also very high, with 5 million people living in 100 km2. (Shen, 1997), making it nearly twice as dense as Manhattan.1 The primary means for navigating the city have been via foot and bicycle.

Economic growth have had a significant impact in the changing of mode choice, and the increased number of trips. As people earn more, they are able to afford to buy vehicles. A bicycle is relatively easy to afford, and provides a means of increased mobility. Motorized vehicles, such as cars and mopeds cost a great deal more than bicycles and require ongoing fuel costs. However, they provide the ability to travel greater distances with minimal exertion. As the residents earn more, they migrate towards these vehicles. Furthermore, foreigners almost exclusively travel via cars.

Policies to relieve congestion also have had an impact on mode shift. In order to better utilize the scarce road space, policies have been implemented to encourage use of public transit. Metro lines have been constructed, with the first line opening in 1995 (Shanghai Metro, 1995). Additional lines have been added, and an aggressive expansion plan is in place. However, the bulk of public transit consists of buses. In 1998, there were 9500 buses in circulation in Shanghai (Zacharias, 2002). They are cheap, and the government has made an effort to make them more comfortable. However, they tend to move at an average speed of 10 kilometers per hour (Shen, 1997). A typical bicycle rider can travel faster than a bus at a lower cost, and with increased flexibility.

Alternative policies have sought to restrict bicycles from certain areas, and thus increase the transit use. In some cases this has had some small degrees of success. However, the significant advantages of bicycles make users reluctant to give it up. Furthermore, the modifications often have additional side effects. By restricting bicycles from roads, buses can move at a faster pace for a short time. However, cars quickly come to consume the additional space. The cars are much less efficient in their use of space, and thus congestion increases, even while total capacity decreases.

Increased shifts to motorized transportation also has significant environmental impact. The air in most Chinese cities is of extremely poor quality. The emissions standards for Chinese vehicles lags behind the standards of developed countries. The increased use of motorized travel adds to the significant industrial pollution to create extreme air pollution.

The spatial form of the city has also changed to further encourage additional trips. Mixed use development has been replaced by more spatially diverse development. Large commercial structures have replaced the housing structures in the city center. The more wealthy residents seek out more living space, thus encouraging them to move to the outer edge of the developed area. Thus a pattern similar to the urban sprawl in the United States is seen, with the connected increase in travel times. New residential areas also tend to be further from bus stops than the older developed areas. (Shen, 1997) Increasingly, residents also live at a greater distance from their jobs and their shopping location, thus requiring greater vehicular travel.


The elites most often control the development decisions in countries. They often have the means to afford an automobile. In many developing countries a driver can also be had for very little cost. The key decision makers thus rarely have to experience the conditions in which most of the citizens live. Even their experience on the roadway is sanitized, with their primary view the slow speed at which they are moving. From this background, increased investment in road networks seems to be the logical conclusion.

They are joined in this by the international elite forces. These include international diplomats as well as key corporate executives. When these elites visit the country they are first exposed to the airport. And from there, they are quickly whisked in to a car to their hotel. The transportation system presents their initial view of the country. Though they might proclaim intentions of helping the country for the masses, they have very little exposure to the system that the common people use to move around the country.

This separation is further exacerbated by the cost of motorized travel. Cars are expensive. Thus, they are restricted to those that have means, and become a status symbol. As cars initially gain in popularity, a segment of the population will seek the lowest cost car. This will often be a highly polluting car that may not even meet the lenient pollution control standards of the country. Driving skills may also be lacking in these new drivers. Furthermore, they also may feel superior to other people that are still traveling without a car. All of these factors work together to make the roads more dangerous.

The rulers are faced with a difficult to control situation. They can attempt to regulate cars. An absolute restriction on car use is nearly impossible in the globalized world. If the nation can portray an image of old-time tourism or install a hi-tech rail system, they may be able to thrive without cars in a global economy. However, either of these would take considerable effort. Most developing countries do not have the resources to enforce such a regime. Even if they had the resources, they would be unlikely to enforce such a plan as it would diminish their advantage.

Restricting car use may be another alternative. However, this poses political difficulties. Since a car is something that many people aspire to obtain, placing restriction on its use will also offend many who do not yet own a car. Furthermore, unless regulations are significantly strong, they may not be truly enforceable. Mexico City attempted to restrict car usage by only letting half the cars drive each day. The wealthy simply bought two cars, enabling them to legally drive on both days. Others would switch plates or get junker cars. In the end, the improvements in air quality and reduction in congestion did not result.

From an elite perspective, the ideal solution thus would involve improving the flow of automobile traffic. A logical approach would be to restrict non-motorized traffic from the major roads. This would help to portray an image of a more developed country and speed the flow of motorized traffic. However, it would also make travel much more difficult by all those non-motorized travelers that currently use the roads.

A second alternative would be to build new infrastructure. This is a costly alternative that requires a great deal of investment. In dense urban areas, subways and other metros can be the ideal method for moving people around. These can often be built without significant long term alterations of the urban form. Roadways can be improved. They can also be widened; however, widening roadways may require relocation of groups of people at structures. Furthermore, enhanced roadways, with their greater traffic can make it more difficult for people to cross the streets, thus limiting mobility. New highways in the outer reaches of the urban area on the surface are a more logical approach. The area hasn't developed, so construction will be cheap. Furthermore, this is the area where new, spacious housing for the nuevo-elite is likely to be built.

As a lower cost version of infrastructure, additional options can be provided in the existing infrastructure. Buses can be improved, and new bus routes can be started to allow for greater mobility. Traffic control mechanisms can be put in place to help traffic move in a more orderly manner. Emergency response teams can be created to help respond to incidents on the roadway to enable the traffic to prevent bottlenecks. These can provide short term solutions for minimal cost. However, in dense areas, they will be stop-gap measures until more permanent solutions are reached.


A transportation system is a key component needed for modern economic development. The automobile can be a great engine for economic development. However, an American-style highway system would be prohibitively expensive, and require mass relocation of much of the population of developing cities. Foreign pressure may make it difficult to implement other transportation schemes in the short run. However, without an adequate plan to manage transportation growth, a developing city could drown in its own success. 


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