Why should a road network exist? The answer is, because people, and businesses, need roads. Roads aren't there just for the benefit of road administration officials or politicians, even thought it might seem like that sometimes!
Hence the concept of "road stakeholders" - the beneficiaries of the existence of the road network.
There are many types of road stakeholders, sometimes referred to as road users. For instance:
- Commercial businesses that need roads to transport their goods
- Trucking companies, using the roads extensively every day
- Agricultural enterprises transporting their produce to markets
- Households needing access to shops, markets, schools & healthcare
- Private motorists travelling to visit family and friends
- Bus operators, and passengers travelling on public transport
- Motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders and animal powered transport
- Pedestrians, walking along roads on foot
- Government, to provide services to people, such as health & education
Everyone has concerns about where roads are built; how well they are maintained; how dust, noise and pollution affect people close to the road; road safety (particularly where fast moving traffic is mixed with pedestrians and slow moving traffic); and other concerns.
Historically, when road networks became important to the development of countries, governments took control of what roads were provided and how they were managed. However, in recent years, the bureaucratic working methods of government departments have often proved unable to properly understand rapidly developing road stakeholder needs, and have been ineffective in achieving value for money on behalf of the public.
Over the past few decades, a better understanding of what makes a commercial business successful has led to the conclusion that in all business sectors understanding customer needs is of paramount importance in making a business work well. Managers guessing what their business customers want simply isn't enough, there is a need to communicate with individual customers and find out what they like, what they dislike, and what they would like to see in the future. The same principles have been extended in some countries to services provided by governments, such as providing road networks. This may either be done by seeking customer feedback to existing government organisations, or alternatively by operating the administration of roads on a more commercial style basis.
Stakeholder involvement is also associated with improving governance. If road stakeholders can see the details of how money is being spent, it is more likely that they will raise objections when the wrong projects are selected or value for money is not being achieved.
Road stakeholders can become involved in road management in a variety of ways, for example:
- Businesses lobbying government - Businesses affected by the extent and condition of the road network may lobby Ministers and politicians directly. Since the economy, and hence the well being, of the country depends on successful business, politicians should listen to business requirements. However, in some cases this can be counterproductive, if individual businesses or business sectors lobby in their own self interest to the exclusion of the needs of others.
- Selected representation - A mechanism, such as a road fund board or a road advisory board which includes representatives from road stakeholders groups such as truckers' associations and bus operators, may be set up to provide input on behalf of road stakeholders. This can work well if the selected representatives truly represent road user needs, but sometimes the selection is too closely controlled by government officials to avoid independent opinions, and there is also the danger that in some cases representatives may act in their own self interest rather than on behalf of others.
- Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) - Independent interest groups and stakeholder organisations may represent a good cross-section of road user viewpoints, but they may also often lack power or influence. NGOs may, however, be a useful source of relevant information to the media, who can then inform a wider cross section of road stakeholders through newspapers, radio and TV programmes.
- The public - In a democracy, the public periodically get the opportunity to elect a new government. A government that has performed badly can be voted out of power, and politicians promising better solutions for the future can be elected. While a government might be concerned about their public image while in power, at election time they are selling a package of policies, within which providing roads is only one component. A government is most likely to be re-elected based upon their governance track record in all sectors, rather than their performance in the road sector alone. Public opinion is important, but in many cases a government can survive poor performance on roads if performance in other government activities is better.
Stakeholder involvement in the road sector is still a developing science; solutions will vary between different countries dependent upon a variety of factors. Hopefully, more examples of positive politics will assist in improving road stakeholder influence.