From Gridlock to Guidebook: Transformative Insights for Urban Transport Planners in Africa and Beyond
Cities across developing countries are grappling with the intricacies of urban mobility challenges. As populations burgeon, motorization escalates and urban sprawl grows, urban planning is becoming ever more pressing and its complexities ever more pronounced. Douala, Cameroon’s largest city and economic capital, stands as a testimony to these challenges. The city's evolving landscape has placed a spotlight on the need for adept urban transport planning in the face of rapid urbanization, inefficient public transport networks, and the proliferation of unregulated transport services – all of which are contributing to city gridlocks, hindering socioeconomic development and polluting the environment.
A Convergence of Urban Mobility Leaders
In response to the mobility challenges faced by the city, in June 2022, the World Bank launched the Douala Urban Mobility Project (PMUD) which aims to improve urban mobility and support inclusive urban and economic development along select Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors and feeder lines. Its design was spurred by the pressing need to alleviate urban congestion, reduce travel times, and supply safer and more efficient transport options for Douala's residents. It is against this backdrop that the World Bank (WB) partnered with the Africa Transport Policy Program ( to organize the Leaders in Urban Transport Planning (LUTP) training workshop hosted by the Douala City Council from June 19-23, 2023.
Given PMUD's ongoing implementation and the city’s quest to adopt sustainable urban mobility solutions, Douala served as a fitting venue and living case study for cities aiming to deploy bus-based public transport systems and professionalize informal transport sector operators. Over 40 urban transport specialists and decision-makers attended the week-long LUTP training; they hailed from cities in Haiti, Cameroon, Djibouti, and the Central African Republic. By bringing together representatives from cities grappling with challenges akin to Douala, the session aimed to foster peer-to-peer learning and collaborative problem-solving through presentations, group exercises and case studies tailored to their needs and local contexts.
Facilitated by eight trainers from the WB and SSATP, the workshop commenced with introductory remarks from the World Bank and Douala City Council representatives, as well as an introduction to the LUTP program. To foster knowledge exchanges and set the stage for later discussions, the first day focused on identifying the urban transport challenges faced by each delegation. With this aim, representatives from Douala and Yaoundé, Djibouti City, Bangui, and Cap-Haitian presented their unique challenges, and had an opportunity to discuss gender implications in urban transportation. This was followed by an interactive group exercise on sustainable urban transport planning centered on the case of Malaga. On the second day, emphasis shifted to exploring effective institutional setups for urban transport planning; understanding the informal public transport sector from the perspectives of users, regulators and operators; and analyzing alternatives for urban mobility projects. The final day of the workshop focused on bus operations and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems, including a case study on the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), a presentation on the Dakar BRT, and lessons learned from other BRT implementations in the continent. With many thanks to the Mayor of the Douala City Council for organizing, the workshop culminated with a technical visit to a depot of the Cameroonian Urban Transport Company (SOCATUR) as well as construction works sites and intersections along the prospective BRT corridor.
Main takeaways from the Douala LUTP training workshop
- The prevalence of informal transport systems across cities in developing countries: One of the prominent revelations of the LUTP session was the similarities across cities. Delegates from Djibouti City, Bangui, Douala, Yaoundé, and Cape Haitien all noted parallel challenges, especially concerning the ubiquity of informal transport providers. Discussions on the regulation of moto taxis prevalent in Douala supplied crucial insights on ways to manage the informal sector and integrate it into comprehensive urban transport strategies.
- The importance of a strategic, integrated, and multimodal approach to transport planning: Emphasized throughout the session, this approach ensures that cities can cater to the diverse mobility needs of their residents while also addressing challenges related to congestion, among others. Aligning transport with land-use planning would not only enhance accessibility and connectivity but also contribute to more sustainable and livable urban environments. In this vein, the implementation of BRTs should not be seen in isolation but as an integral element of a broader strategy. Moreover, having the right policy and institutional framework is paramount in facilitating efficient decision-making, promoting innovative solutions, and ensuring a holistic vision for the future of urban mobility.
- Public bus operators face a myriad of challenges: Across cities in developing countries, public bus operators are often at the frontline of urban mobility challenges, navigating environments with inadequate infrastructure, including subpar roads and limited bus stops. The dearth of efficient traffic management lengthens commute times, making it hard for operators to keep regular schedules, thereby diminishing the appeal of bus transit for potential users. The absence of proper regulatory frameworks can lead to the unchecked rise of informal transportation modes, which further siphon off ridership from formal bus systems. This competitive landscape, combined with a lack of necessary financing, makes fleet expansion and modernization a daunting task. To address these challenges, there is a pressing need to invest in infrastructure improvements, implement comprehensive traffic management solutions, set up clear regulatory guidelines that prioritize public transport, and secure sustainable financing mechanisms that support the growth and enhancement of public bus services.
- Consensus on the necessity to modernize the paratransit industry: There is a pressing need to organize and professionalize the paratransit industry. To improve urban mobility and ensure safety and reliability for users, it's crucial to modernize this sector's fleet and operations. This can be achieved through measures that involve vehicle retrofitting and renewal, driver training, introducing digital payment systems, and creating regulatory frameworks that recognize and integrate paratransit services into the formal urban transport system.
- Inclusivity, a core tenet of effective urban transport: Disparities in urban landscapes, particularly in developing countries, often mean that marginalized groups, including those with limited income or physical disabilities, are disproportionately affected by poor transportation systems. A well-planned urban transport system ensures accessibility and mobility for all residents, encompassing their diverse needs. By focusing on inclusivity, cities can address societal inequities that manifest in mobility challenges. An inclusive urban transport system that offers affordable and accessible transportation options aids in connecting marginalized communities to economic opportunities and essential services. Additionally, recognizing and accommodating the distinct mobility needs and priorities of both men and women is vital, as they may have different travel patterns, safety concerns, and accessibility requirements.
At the end of the workshop, participants praised the immersive, week-long format of the LUTP training, appreciating the quality of the presentations and case studies, the interactivity of discussions with the trainers, and the fruitful knowledge exchange and networking opportunities with the other participating delegations. As the curtains fell on the LUTP workshop of Douala, one thing was clear: the delegates were returning to their respective cities with invaluable knowledge and insights that will help them pave the path towards sustainable, inclusive, and efficient urban transport systems for all.
Testimonials from LUTP participants:
- “This LUTP training enabled me to enhance my expertise in urban transportation. Additionally, it helped me develop new knowledge in the transportation field. I find that the LUTP training is of excellent quality, the reception is very welcoming, the trainers are highly professional, and the atmosphere is very pleasant. I am deeply grateful for all the efforts of the World Bank."
- “Thanks to the LUTP session, I was able to realize the real and hard work involved in planning high-quality urban transport, which must be in line with the realities of the society in which it is implemented. More so, I realized that the basic unit for thinking about the organization of an urban network is the citizen—the user—who must have a fluid network that reflects his or her reality.”
- “In Bangui, there is a proliferation of two wheelers that satisfy a huge portion of transport needs, but this gives rise to negative externalities which we have difficulties solving. The LUTP training has helped us better understand how we can organize and professionalize these informal operators, and the need to integrate them into a more comprehensive urban mobility strategy.”
- “Gender gaps have not always been considered in our projects, but this LUTP training enabled me to better understand the importance of taking into account gender in urban transport planning for a more inclusive and effective urban transport system. Henceforth, all urban transport projects will be prepared and implemented to respond to the specific needs of men and women in Cameroon.”