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close this bookEnvironmental Limits to Motorisation (SKAT, 1993)
close this folder5. Transport needs and NMT in the Third World
View the document5.1. Transport policies in the Third World
View the document5.2. Constraints to NMT
View the document5.3. NMT in urban areas
View the document5.4. NMT in rural areas
View the document5.5. Women and bicycles - Overcoming cultural prejudices

5.2. Constraints to NMT

There are, however, some adverse factors for developing non-motorised transport which have much more to do with the psychology and image of non-motorised transport.

5.2.1. Status of NMT as "transport for the poor"

A columnist of a Swiss review once referred to a cartoon by Sempe where 30 years ago, the owner of a factory was shown opening the garage and taking out a car whereas his worker took out his bicycle to go to work. Today, the cartoon shows the industrialist riding a bike, whereas his worker opens the garage and takes out his car!

4 different cartoons by Sempe

But in a developing country, this would hardly be possible: neither would the worker have a car, nor would the industrialist ever ride a bicycle. Even now that sport and fitness have become fashionable, the manager still drives in his Mercedes to a park for jogging, rather than riding a bike.

Static exercise cycles are in high demand in India: "Hero has sold more than 20'000 of them -the Allegro Brand - to hotel chains, health clubs and the newly health conscious affluent urbanites from Bombay to Calcutta."134 - yet none of these customers would like to be seen riding a bicycle on the streets!

Modern types of "mountain bikes" in nice colours are now available in India; but only occasionally do they have gears. They are not made for the middle-class, except for young students under 16, before they are allowed to ride a scooter.

The bicycle as a means of transport has a "poor man's image" and a middle class person feels ashamed to ride one. Bank managers in Bangladesh - who are not too well paid - would rather walk than use a bicycle.

Because the commuting cyclist and walker tend to come from the lower-income community, and because they bear little or no taxation, they tend to be ignored when traffic and transport planning issues are being decided.135

5.2.2. The high status of cars and motorbikes

Motorbikes, however, are the symbol of belonging to the rising middle class. Like the "Volkswagen" in the fifties in Germany, bought with the last saved pennies, a motorbike gives the male member of the family a prestige for which many other consumer needs are sacrificed. In some countries, lighter motorcycles and mopeds are also used by women.

Motorcycles do use only slightly more road space than bicycles, especially light ones. Heavy, fast and noisy motorbikes, however, not only pollute but tend to create an aggressive climate which can seriously worsen the position of cyclists and pedestrians.

Even more than motorbikes, cars are status symbols, especially in newly industrialised countries, where brand new Mercedes or BMWs are exhibited proudly by the owners to demonstrate the acquired wealth.

Cars are also status symbols in Europe and Japan; but the ownership of opulent cars is becoming more and more shameful, and excessive car-driving is considered a bad attitude like smoking among environmentally conscious people.. Moreover, all social strata in Europe use public transport more and more: a Swiss government minister or bank manager travels by tram or train for commuting just as every other citizen.

In most developing countries, however, the elite and especially government officials use cars for almost all their trips, very often company or government cars. This makes it harder for them to understand the needs of NMT and "windscreen-perspectives" are even more common in the Third World.

5.2.3. Safety: how to calm aggressive traffic?

It is estimated that more than 500'000 road users die around the world in traffic crashes every year, more than in many wars. This means that possibly more than 50 million persons are seriously injured. Except in Western Europe and North America, "vulnerable road users (VRUs)"136 constitute more than 60% of road traffic fatalities.

The pattern in developing countries is quite different from that in industrialised countries. The victims are usually not those in the car but pedestrians and cyclists. Buses and trucks in India account for about 60% of the known crashes.

Traffic safety has been tremendously neglected in developing countries: most drivers do not have a proper driving training and the maintenance of buses and other vehicles is poor. Traffic laws are not properly enforced for cars, and after an accident, it is quite usual for the driver to escape.

Traffic calming with the purpose of increased safety is an essential precondition for a bicycle and pedestrian-friendly environment. The aggressiveness of motorised drivers is a major hindrance to the emergence of such a climate. Dinesh Mohan in India has proposed many measures for improving safety, such as installing speed governors at 40 km/h maximum speed in all buses and at 70-80 km/h for intercity buses; marking 40% of road space for pedestrians and slow traffic, painting all bicycles yellow or orange, encouraging the use of helmets, and so on.

Unfortunately, the social awareness for improving traffic safety is very poor in India: a populist state Government has abolished the need to wear a helmet on scooters and motorbikes, and injuries have increased immediately.

5.2.4. Expensive bicycles

In many developing countries, prices for bicycles are often too high. Under competitive conditions, a simple sturdy bicycle should not cost more than 20 to 30 dollars, as in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, China. But in Bangladesh, a bicycle costs twice as much as in West Bengal, and in some African or Latin American countries, bicycles are not available for less than 100 dollars.

The price of a bicycle depends greatly on the foreign trade regime, as the import content is usually quite high. A bicycle is composed of more than 1000 different parts and only in large countries like India or China is it possible to produce everything within the country. But even in India, there is a need to import some alloys for high quality tubes, to produce exportable bicycles.

Without a liberal trade regime, it is not possible to produce cheap bicycles. In Bangladesh, for instance, the duties for bicycle parts are up to 150%, much higher than for imported cars. In Africa, restrictive import regimes and the absence of local production facilities are the main reason for the non-availability or high price of bicycles.

The price is, a very crucial element: The result of high bicycle prices is that those who would like to have one can not often afford it, while those who can afford prefer to buy a car or motorbike.