Rural Transport Policies

Contribution principally by IFRTD

This web page provides information on the important elements of good rural transport policies, illustrated by selective examples from developing countries. In general, rural transport policies provide the framework for defining key development objectives to be achieved through rural transport investments. The policy framework should also broadly indicate the institutional and strategic framework for implementation of rural transport initiatives.

In general rural transport policies take many forms. In most cases they are a component of a broader transport sector policy or rural development policy. In this sense, a stand-alone rural transport policy may not exist, particularly if rural roads and rural development are responsibility of different sector ministries. However, important policy objectives may be embodied within rural development programmes, or rural roads investments programmes.

The terms transport policy and transport strategies are sometimes used interchangeably. Strictly speaking, the policies provide a framework to guide all decisions and actions that need to be taken. The strategy indicates the operational mechanisms of achieving the policy objectives. Both should guide national and local investment decision making relating to the rural transport sector.

There are many countries that have frameworks for addressing development of rural transport infrastructure and services. This page draws examples from 8 countries, namely:

  • Tanzania
  • South Africa
  • Kenya
  • India
  • Bangladesh
  • Cambodia
  • Peru
  • Madagascar

Common objectives of rural transport policies

Many rural transport policies and strategies share some common development objectives. These can be summarised as follows:

  • To provide a coordinated approach for addressing the diverse issues in rural transport. Rural transport problems are complex and affect many different sectors. Implementation of solutions is often split among national, regional, and local governments as well as communities. Implementation also typically falls among different ministries, such as transport, planning, economic development, public works, local government, forestry, agriculture, and rural development. This often leads to uncoordinated planning, conflicts in objectives, wastefulness in resources and a lack of synergies. Rural transport policies have the overriding objective of providing a coherent policy framework for rural transport development.
  • To reduce rural-urban migration so as to reduce the pressure in urban areas. Within the wider policy objective of promoting rural development, rural transport development is an important input to agricultural and cottage industry development meant to foster equitable employment, growth and income distribution amongst the whole population.
  • To balance spatial development: Without government intervention, economic growth commonly leads to spatial inequalities. This is manifested by concentration of opportunities in a few urban areas or particular growth zones. Rural transport policies act as one of the interventions to guide equality in the spatial spread of social and economic opportunities while safeguarding national integrity.
  • To reduce poverty: Rural transport policies are an important instrument for poverty reduction. This is a key objective of many of the rural transport strategies and policies reviewed. Alleviation of rural poverty is directly linked to improved access to economic and social services. Rural access on the other hand is largely determined by quality of rural travel and transport infrastructure and services, especially at the village and community level. Rural transport strategies are intended to provide effective and sustainable approaches to transport services and infrastructure development in rural areas for social and economic development.

Policies must recognise that whilst the provision of transport services is typically in the private sector, the provision and management of the road infrastructure is largely in the public realm. Despite this, transport services require an ‘enabling’ regulation and fiscal environment to encourage their development. Low cost forms of transport (IMTs etc.), which may be discouraged in major urban centres, provide a vital service for the rural poor. Differential policies on vehicle types, weights and sizes should be applied to urban-main routes on the one hand, and rural transport on the other.

Examples of Rural Transport Policies and Strategies


The policies for rural transport and access in Tanzania are contained in section 6.0 of the National Transport Policy. This section is titled "Rural Transport Policy Directions". The policy covers a number of key issues such as community participation, gender mainstreaming, capacity building and private sector development in rural areas, and streamlined institutional arrangements with local government as the key coordinating body. One of the key programme outputs of Tanzania rural transport policy is the Village Transport and Travel Programme (VTTP). VTTP is being implemented in several districts in Tanzania.

South Africa

The National Land Transport Strategic Framework (NLTSF), 2006-2011 embodies the entire spectrum of land transport strategies. The Rural Transport component is contained in page 7, or section 2.12. Non-motorised transport issues are contained in page 8 or section 2.15. There are other strategies, programmes and legal acts that have an important bearing on rural transport in South Africa. These include:

  • Draft Rural Transport Strategy for South Africa (November 2003)
  • The Integrated and Sustainable Rural Development Programme (ISRDP), which is aimed at the coordinated delivery of integrated bundles of services and anchor development projects in 13 development nodes or centres
  • The requirements for integrated development planning (IDP) as set out in the Municipal Structures Act
  • The government's main social and economic development programmes, such as the Poverty Alleviation Programme, the Community Based Public Works Programme (CBPWP), and the Local Economic Development (LED) Programme
  • The Road Infrastructure Strategic Framework
  • The Provincial Land Transport Frameworks that are currently being developed in all of the provinces

See here for more information


The Integrated National Transport Policy is the overall transport policy framework for the Government of Kenya. Rural Transport issues are articulated in page 9, under the title Rural Transport. The policy recognises rural areas as where the majority of the population resides with only 2% motor vehicle ownership. Issues of non-motorised transport are articulated in section 1.2.10. The policy objective set here is to develop regulatory guidelines to streamline the operations of non-motorised transport, and in particular to enhance their safety and efficiency.


India's rural transport policy principles are anchored mainly in the rural access programme known as Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). This programme was launched in 2000 with the purpose of providing all-weather access to unconnected settlements. PMGSY s a 100% Centrally Sponsored Scheme. An important strategy for PMGSY is to ensure convergence with other ongoing programmes in the health, education and rural income sectors. Benchmarks for measuring changes in key social and economic sectors are integrated into detailed PMGSY projects.

Inland water transport is also given prominence in a policy report on the Integrated Transport Policy of 2001. The report emphasises the need for safety interventions and providing proper infrastructure to enable seamless interface with surface transport.


The rural transport policy directions are contained in the National Land Transport Policy of 2004, issued by the Ministry of Communication. The policy objectives are as follows:

  • To provide paved connections between all the economic growth centres and the country's road network
  • To increase rural incomes through use of labour-based methods of roads construction and maintenance.
  • To encourage a high density of vehicles and technologies through tax incentives
  • To create closer linkages between rural development programmes and rural transport
  • To improve roads design - including segregation and gradient bridges to reflect the wide diversity of users.


Under the Ministry of Rural Development (MRD), the Government of Cambodia has been implementing a national rural roads programme. Though no formal rural transport policy exists in Cambodia, the Rural Roads Programme has been working within a draft rural transport infrastructure policy. The policy includes a number of policy statements on issues such as rural road ownership, management responsibilities, financing road maintenance and construction, choice of technology, planning and prioritization of maintenance works, and monitoring standards and specifications. Some of the key innovations in implementation of the draft policy include:

  • Establishment and strengthening of the Village Development Committee (VDC). These are considered the building block of rural development infrastructure. VDCs are grassroots rural development institutions capable of mobilizing the potentials of the villages to create conditions to ensure the sustainability of rural development projects with direct participation of villages.
  • Community-Based Committees for Rural Infrastructure Maintenance: The MRD encourages the establishment of Road Maintenance Committees that can guarantee continued maintenance of roads using Labour-Based Appropriate Technology (LBAT), which focuses on the existing resources and potentials at the grassroots level, such as labour, material and skills.
  • Application of Integrated Rural Accessibility Planning (IRAP); the MRD uses the IRAP as the tool for guiding their rural roads investment programme.

Currently, there are efforts to upgrade and formalise the policy under the aegis of SEACAP 6. The foreseen vision of the new policy is: "Every person living in rural Cambodia will have year-round access to basic needs, economic and social facilities, services and opportunities" the goal has been stated as "to efficiently develop and manage sustainable rural transport infrastructure, modes and services." Specifically the policy is expected to facilitate:

  • Improved access: This will be efficiently developed and managed to ensure optimal economic returns on investment, connectivity to higher order transport infrastructure, benefits to society; and the use of local resources.
  • Complementarity of land and water rural transport infrastructure to improve mobility and access of rural women and men.
  • Affordable rural transport modes and services that are, equitable, dependable and safe.


Rural Transport Policy objectives in Peru have been implemented in the context of Peru Rural Roads Programme (RRP). The policy objective is to improve access for poor rural populations to basic social and economic services and income generating activities through the provision of a dependable system of rural roads. The programme also aims at piloting an intermodal transport system in the jungle regions that would improve access in areas where river transport plays a key role. In addition the programme aims at the policy objectives of increasing the capacity of municipal governments to manage and finance routine maintenance.

The programme seeks to optimise development effectiveness and sustainability through community involvement, with a particular emphasis on gender inclusion


The rural transport policy and strategy (available in French) was approved in 2001. The policy sets out strategies for:

  • the promotion of intermediate means of transport and rural transport services
  • the rehabilitation of the rural road network
  • the financing and management of the rural road network and
  • the creation of a unit responsible for the oversight of the implementation of the policy.

Rural Transport is defined to include rural transport infrastructure (including roads [all but national and urban roads], paths, rivers, coastal transport, railroads and rural air strips) as well as means of transport.

Proposals for the promotion of IMT include (i) the provision of micro-credit through existing credit facilities; (ii) promotion of bicycles, mainly through an importation tax cut; (iii) promotion of animal traction through user information sharing. Within this project component it will be tried to create a national networks of users, producers and promoters. This network in turn would be linked to existing international networks.

Institutional framework for implementation of rural transport policies.

Rural transport and travel policy objectives cut across a number of rural development sectors and involve several levels of Government. The complexity of the policy issues involved makes policy formulation a complex process. It requires horizontal coordination across the various sectors, and an iterative approach combining top-down and bottom-up approaches involving communities. The institutional framework for rural transport is made more complicated by the fact that the transport sector may want to assume the primary responsibility for setting its own targets and investment objectives. There are further complications where roads and transport services are administered by two or more sector ministries, for example, national roads may come within a roads ministry, rural roads under a local government and transport operations under ministry of transport. This is the case that holds for example in Kenya.

For this reason, in many countries rural transport policies are implemented through agencies responsible for rural development. These could be the Ministry of Local Government or Ministry for Rural Development. These arrangements enable coordination of investments in rural transport to fit with targets in other rural development sectors such as education, health care delivery, agricultural development, gender empowerment, employment creation etc..

Innovative features in a good rural transport policy

Should reflect that rural transport is a service to other sectors, and therefore the institutional arrangements for planning and implementation should be inter-sectoral.

Should recognise that the key components of rural transport are rural transport infrastructure [RTI] and Rural Transport Services [RTS]

Should factor in social impacts. For example, in the Republic of South Africa, the Rural Infrastructure Investment Framework [RIIF] recognises that some roads cannot guarantee economic returns, because they serve a more fundamental "developmental" function. In such cases, appraisal methods should factor in the longer-term developmental impacts to justify the investments and the subsequent maintenance requirements.

Should consist of bottom-up and top down planning: This is for example well articulated in the Tanzania National Transport Policy [NTP] and exemplified in the implementation of the Village Travel and Transport Programme [VTTP] in Tanzania.

Gender integration: The Peru Rural Roads Programme [RPP]. At the onset, the programme recognised that the constraints on travel faced by women include heavy time burden and limited control over household resources.

Key challenges

Promoting development of Rural Transport Services: In many cases, implementation of rural transport solutions does not go beyond development of infrastructure. Improving rural transport services should be an important rural transport policy objective, but there seems to be little experience in this area. Fiscal and administrative incentives, tailor made credit and elimination of price fixing and licensing constraints are strategic measures through which governments can promote better transport services including use of low-cost vehicles.

Poor coordination and unclear responsibilities: There is a need to provide a coherent legal framework and clear assignments of management responsibilities for both the local government and the community rural transport infrastructure. Few countries have achieved this but many are working towards it having realised the importance of bringing all roads under regular maintenance.

Ensuring adequate financing: Administrative decentralisation is not sufficient. Fiscal decentralisation is required, coupled with central government transfers. Past focus has been on allocation of donor funds for capital works. There is a need to establish an adequate and steady source of financing for rural transport investments.

Appropriate Standards: Rural roads are often over-designed, resulting in waste of scarce resources which leaves poorer communities unconnected or with unreliable access. Over-design can be a result of political pressure, attempts to overcome institutional and financial weaknesses, or the application of standard designs by road type instead of actual volume and type of traffic. Where vehicle flows are low, first priority should be given to the establishment of basic access (least-cost, reliable all-season access), where affordable, and the improvement of intra- and near village simple infrastructures such as foot-bridges and tracks. Once these basic needs have been met, existing basic access roads can be considered for upgrading to higher standards, if economically justified and available resources allow.

Local Resource Based Strategies: Too many transport infrastructure interventions in the past have been based on imported technologies and rationale. Policies should encourage the use of local resource based approaches; making the best use of local labour, skills, materials, small enterprises and of course communities.

Local Private Sector: Past efforts to promote the local private sector to construct and maintain rural road infrastructure have typically not been sustainable. More attention needs to be paid to effective policies and strategies to enable these important enterprises to be established and survive!

Other references

United Republic of Tanzania, Ministry of Communications and Transport: National Transport Policy 2003

Department of Transport, South Africa: National Land Transport Strategic Framework 2006-2011

Banjo George and Richard Robinson [2002]: Developing Rural Transport Policies and Strategies; World Bank Technical Paper, World Bank, Washington D.C.

Gilliam, K., And Shalizi, Z. [1996]: Sustainable Transport: Priorities for policy reform. Development in Practice, Washington DC; The World Bank

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Updated February 2010