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Do African cities have a selection between public transport and congestion?

In a report, Alstom recommends that African governments expand the light rail system. The subway saves money and is much greener.

In many African cities it is difficult to put the adage “Metro, work, sleep” into practice. In fact, from Tunis to Abidjan, via Lomé or Kampala, citizens spend most of their morning and evening traffic jams. This is mainly due to a glaring lack of infrastructure and efficient public transport. However, according to Alstom, the light rail could be the ideal solution. The French multinational specializing in the transport sector has just published a report showing that metros, trams and commuter trains could be very beneficial.

We don’t know for sure, but congestion comes at a price, especially in terms of unnecessarily wasted fuel. Not to mention the environmental cost of gas emissions. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), traffic jams in Lagos alone cost 19 billion dollars a year. And $8 billion for Egypt, according to Alstom. For its part, the World Bank estimates the cost of congestion in Tunisia at 2% of national GDP. Congestion could cost the African continent a total of $488 billion by 2030.

29 million fewer cars every day?

The French company assures him: “A larger investment in light rail would bring equivalent social and economic benefits, enabling the development of safer, healthier and more inclusive cities. Increasing rail’s modal share to 20% by 2050 means 29 million fewer cars on African roads every day, leading to a significant reduction in congestion, road accidents and air pollution. In addition, according to Alstom, 258 jobs can be created for every kilometer of newly built rails.

Although Alstom is inevitably committed to more rail kilometers, the group makes an important observation: “Africa’s population is growing rapidly and the continent’s rate of urbanization is the highest in the world”. In fact, “the urban population will increase from 600 million in 2021 to more than 1.3 billion in 2050.” And for Alstom, “one of the biggest challenges is to ensure that this growth is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

Egypt on top?

The Stadtbahn would therefore be the solution, both economically and ecologically. But why are African cities taking so long to get started? On the occasion of COP27, Alstom recalls that Egypt was the first in Africa to open a metro line in 1987. A country that today has “three operational metro lines, two future metro lines and two monorail lines under construction.” Enough to reduce almost 600,000 cars a day, congestion and CO2 emissions.

Nevertheless, real political will is needed to develop the S-Bahn. On this side, it seems that some countries are not yet ready to expand their public transport. The World Bank recently recalled that for Tunisia, no fewer than six ministries – transport, equipment and housing, energy, finance, local government, investment and international cooperation – are “in various ways affected by urban transport”. A disorganization that “does not allow users to have a satisfactory quality of service”.

Encourage managers to choose rail

So if the S-Bahn is supposed to enable savings, how can executives understand that they can only benefit from it? “The light rail is more affordable than the car and other unofficial private modes of transport, which will allow passengers to get to work more easily and access basic services such as education and health,” says Alstom. This would be a very economical solution for users: Tunisian households, for example, spend almost 10% of their budget on transport.

“Given the positive impact of rail transport in African cities, Alstom recommends that governments include urban rail mobility in their local and national development policies to enable long-term planning and secure larger investments,” reads the French multinational’s report.

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