ADB Needs to Scale Up Support to Sustainable Urban Transport Solutions

The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) support to Asia and the Pacific’s transport sector has helped improve domestic connectivity and economic efficiency in the region, says a report released by ADB’s Independent Evaluation Department (IED).

ADB Support for Transport, released today, assesses the performance and results of ADB’s support for this sector during 2010–2018. Transport sector—which covers road, urban transport, rail, and other subsectors such as air, multimodal logistics, transportation policies and institutional development, and water transport—is one of ADB’s largest portfolios, constituting almost a third of its current total lending. During the evaluation period, ADB’s support for the sector totaled $38.2 billion. Of this, nonurban road constituted $26.4 billion (69%), urban transport at $5.9 billion (15.4%), and rail at $3.7 billion (9.6%).

ADB’s priority during the evaluation period was financing transport infrastructure, but there was insufficient attention to delivering sustainable transport services such as accessibility, safety, affordability, and environmental impact, says the report. Noticeable positive outcomes of ADB support were enhanced domestic connectivity and lessened travel time. The report highlights the increasing demand for mobility and freight movements in the Asia and Pacific region, requiring quality infrastructure standards and affordable services that are sustainable, safe, and environment friendly.

The strategic directions issued in 2010 to guide ADB’s interventions in this sector over the last decade provided initial momentum for increased support to urban transport. While this trend was not maintained, there has been an uptick in 2019. ADB support for railways increased, but urban transport continues to be a high priority for the people of this region. Private vehicle ownership is rapidly outstripping urban road network capacity. Some cities are choking on vehicular carbon emissions and this needs urgent attention. For greater impact in the future, transport sector operational directions need to be discussed at the country level and included in ADB’s country partnership strategies

The report observes that for the region to maximize value from existing transport networks, funds to maintain current transport infrastructure will be as important as new investments.

“The cost of maintaining infrastructure is not paid sufficient attention when assessing potential infrastructure investment. For improved sustainability, Asia needs more efforts on maintaining transport infrastructure parallel to new investments,” said the Director General of ADB’s Independent Evaluation Department Marvin Taylor-Dormond.

ADB estimates the costs of meeting the increased demand for transport infrastructure in Asia and the Pacific to be more than $500 billion a year. However, investments in the sector so far have mainly come from public funds, with only a small share coming from the private sector.

“Public funds alone cannot finance such large amounts. As of now, private sector participation has been limited, but eventually, they would have to step up and increase their investments,” said IED Director Nathan Subramaniam. “Removing barriers and constraints and applying innovative approaches is key to attracting private sector investment.” 

The report recommends that ADB rebalance its focus between transport infrastructure and services and align future sector directional guidance with ADB Strategy 2030, including a clear consideration of the different needs and requirements of its developing member countries in terms of financial support and technical assistance. ADB should further strengthen its efforts to mainstream international agendas, such as climate change, road safety, social sustainability, and regional integration and cooperation by promoting accessible, affordable, safe, and environment friendly transport systems. The report advocates the application of a comprehensive and cross-sectoral approach and usage of all lending modalities available to ADB to achieve these results.