Getting to work is increasingly difficult in Africa’s sprawling commercial capitals, in large part because of the tidal wave of minibuses and motorcycles that have arrived to take the place of faltering public bus services. The reasons behind the dysfunctional state of urban transport are not difficult to discern. Weak, fragmented, and under funded authorities have been unable to maintain existing services or to plan for expansion. Buses fall apart after running overloaded for years on rutted roads; replacements are soon idled for lack of parts. Fares are too low, and subsidies too irregular, to permit sustainable operations. Commuters walk or resort to largely unregulated and informal services that are dirty, unsafe, uncomfortable, and unreliable. Everybody loses.
The way forward is as clear as the problem itself: Africa’s cities must move quickly toward the model of the metropolitan transport authority used in successful cities around the globe to coordinate planning, regulation, licensing, inspections, monitoring, and enforcement. A way must be found to bring large buses back. Cities that cannot move people become choked by growth. This note summarizes recent research on urban transport in 14 large African cities performed at the World Bank under aegis of the Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic project.