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2. Features of urban goods transport

2.1 Urban goods transport for inter-market supply and redistribution
2.2. Inter-market transport: collective passenger transport vehicles and specific vehicles
2.3. Urban transport of goods: a specific sector of urban transport
2.4. The number of urban goods vehicles: NMVs and motorized vehicles
2.5. A transport service tailored to meet the needs of the informal trading sector and private individuals
2.6. The cost to users of urban goods transport

Table 1 lists the various modes of urban goods transport in Africa and Madagascar[2], classified in terms of the following criteria:

Table 1. Modes of urban goods transport to supply markets in African cities

Modes of urban transport



Urban transport sector/Organization/mode of traction

Combined goods


Combined goods


Passenger transport
Modern companies


Artisanal sector

One-person taxis
Collective taxis (5 to 15 seats)


Zemidjan (moto-taxis)

Urban freight Artisanal sector

Vehicles (0.5 t- 6t)

Light trucks
Medium trucks
4L, 3 hp, Rapid buses, Jeeps, Covered pickups, Saviem, ZIL, etc.

Animal traction (donkey, horse) (0.3t-1.5t)



Individual manual traction
Two-wheeler (0.03t-1t)
Four-wheeler (0.3t-2.4t)


Walking; porterage

Urban goods transport for the markets and the small-scale traders in the outlying districts has the following features:

2.1 Urban goods transport for inter-market supply and redistribution

The three main types of urban transport used are motorized transport, non-motorized vehicles (NMVs) and porterage.

It should be recalled that walking remains one of the main ways of moving around African towns. The data available on this is scarce, widely varying in quality and “varying widely depending upon the methodologies used; however all the evidence indicates that walking is practised a great deal in many African capitals”[3]. Porterage covers short distances and is used by very small traders. The load carried on foot cannot exceed 30 to 50 kg for a woman, and no more than 80 kg for a man. No information is available on the extent to which porterage is actually used as a mode of transport to supply the markets. It is likely that there is widespread use of porterage in the very small towns (towns with populations under 100 000).

Urban goods are delivered by road; the example of rail transport (the little blue train) in Dakar is still an exceptional case at the present time. In the very large African citiess, however, modes of rail transport using reserved lanes will inevitably develop and be used by the market retailers.

Although boats (pirogues, etc.) play an important part in supplying some cities (e.g. Kinshasa, Cotonou, Conakry) the known cases refer exclusively to the upstream sector of the transport of products destined for the large markets, and not to redistribution in the towns.

2.2. Inter-market transport: collective passenger transport vehicles and specific vehicles

Collective passenger transport is provided only in large cities and generally by public-sector companies, while the artisanal sector dominates the market everywhere, providing between 57 and 95 percent of collective transport in most African cities, except Kinshasa where it provides 44 percent and notably Abidjan where it provides 25 percent in a 1989 estimate (Mandon-A., 1994, op.cit.).

Buses generally play a marginal role, or are used only in very specific situations, in terms of transporting products between markets. For example, one reason buses are used by women retail traders located in remote districts in the city of Antananarivo is the fact that all the bus routes in the city serve the Analakely market (which is still a major centre for the supply of certain fresh products). Another reason is that special fares are continually negotiated with the drivers, on condition that the products are transported during off-peak hours (between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m).

In this regard the case of the little blue train is exceptional. The needs of the traders involved in redistributing goods between the markets are taken into account specifically in terms of the fare scales (a market ticket), timetables, and the organization of the servicing of the depots (waiting time for loading, unloading, volumes carried).

Most of the urban passenger transport is organized using vehicles belonging to the artisanal sector: the individual and collective taxis. The category of individual taxis includes the Cotonou (or Zemidjan) motorcycle-taxis that carry passengers with their loads. Because of the generally high prices charged by the individual taxis (the passenger fare plus the charge for carrying merchandise), only certain categories of traders use them for a limited quantity of goods.[4]

Collective taxis (including cars carrying five passengers, different types of small vans and minibuses with a capacity of up to 25 passengers) generally carry mixed freight on the incoming transport routes. They are used by the small-scale farmers and traders coming from the countryside or from the provincial towns with their produce to offload at the large urban supply markets. Conversely, the role of the collective taxis in transporting goods for redistribution within the town is extremely variable. It depends on a variety of parameters: the size of the town concerned; the number of passengers; the routing network and the ranking of the collective transport facilities; the organization of a specialized urban freight traffic sector; and, the general economic level.

At Conakry in 1988, at a time when incomes and living standards were extremely low, the Alakabon and the 1 000-kg minibus, which are on the lowest rung of the ladder in public transport, were the most commonly used vehicles at the time for inter-market transport. They were the only vehicles that would routinely accept women traders and their merchandise at a very low price. The inhabitants of Conakry were well aware of the high safety risks involved as well as the uncertainties of passenger stops left to the driver’s discretion.

The transport of goods by passengers on the traditional urban vehicles, conventional taxis and minibuses is necessarily subject to numerous constraints in terms of ease (volume), price, and time (the number of stops made before reaching the seller’s market in the case of collective transport).

2.3. Urban transport of goods: a specific sector of urban transport

In every city there is a specific urban transport sector that specializes in carrying goods between markets and supplying small wholesalers. They have their own specific vehicles, motorized and otherwise, as well as their own depots, most of which are frequently unregulated.

The motorized vehicles are small vans (3 CV, 4L, etc.), small trucks and pickups (covered trucks, old jeeps, etc.), light trucks (mostly three- to five-tonne capacity) and very rarely heavy trucks (seven tonnes) such as those found in Antananarivo. The typical load of the small vans is made up of different kinds of foodstuffs weighing between 300 and 500 kilos. The small trucks and pickups carry an average of one tonne and are used by the retailers who organize group transport and by the small wholesalers. Heavy trucks typically transport foodstuffs and construction materials, although it should be noted that they are rarely fully laden, and that when they do carry more than three tonnes they are usually composite orders placed by several wholesalers. These different types of vehicles are always second-hand and mostly superannuated.

The non-motorized vehicles include bicycles, two-wheel manually drawn vehicles (carts and rickshaws) and four-wheel manually drawn vehicles (carts and wagons), and lastly animal-drawn vehicles (horse- or donkey-drawn carts), and, for example in Antananarivo, a small number of horse-drawn carriages. NMVs are concentrated mostly at the markets or in their immediate vicinity. The carts may also be linked with a commercial centre, however, such as a customs post (the river customs post at N’Djamena), small ports (Conakry), a wholesaler district (Bobo-Dioulasso, Antananarivo, etc.).

Surveys have shown that bicycles carry up to 180 kg, while rickshaws and two-wheel carts carry an average of between 200 and 500 kg, reaching 600 kg in the case of some rickshaws. The four-wheeled carts carry loads of up to 1.5 tonnes. Some two-wheel carts can even take 2 tonnes, in which case (only found at N’Djamena) the cart driver has two assistants.

Both the rickshaws and the horse-drawn carriages at Antananarivo were formerly passenger vehicles (the carriage was known as “the poor man’s bus”, and the rickshaw the taxi of the “peasants” arriving in town). They have gradually been adapted to meet the increasing urban freight transport demand throughout the vast informal sector of markets and small shops. In the case of the Senegalese animal-drawn cart, which carries a load of about 1.5 tonnes, the only passenger accepted would be the owner of the merchandise being transported.

The NMVs are found in every town, regardless of size. It is not an archaic mode of transport in towns with certain traditions; it is very highly developed in large towns in Asia. It is therefore not specific to any particular stage in the urbanization process, or in the development of modes of motorized transport, but co-exists easily with motorized modes of transport, sometimes even competing with them on certain routes.

The distances, the topography of the town and the organization of the traffic system impose certain constraints on NMVs:

Taking all modes of transport together, the majority of vehicles carry less than one tonne. The medium trucks carry less than three tonnes, generally in the form of composite orders.

The service provided by these vehicles is the “hidden face of transport” in African towns. But this is true in so many other places, and it would be useful here to refer to the problem of urban goods transport in European towns, as described in a recent article on this subject:

“Urban goods transport is as invisible to commercial, technical and social law as it is concerned to public law. Even though goods delivery is very important in terms of the law (...) it must be noted that ‘urban goods transport is not a juridical category of activity’. There is no precise definition of what is meant by urban transport apart from the definition of the trade of an urban transporter, since most of the tools and the regulatory requirements (entry into the trade, nomenclature of jobs, wages...) only refer to vehicles of over 3.5 tonnes. This ceiling of 3.5 tonnes is the main criterion used to draw a number of social, technical and commercial distinctions up to which level there is no salvation - indeed no existence at all.”
Anything under 3.5 tonnes is therefore considered to be a light goods vehicle (LGV), and although they account for most urban goods transport (60 percent of the vehicles/km), they mostly fall outside the scope of regulatory constraints. “The urban goods vehicle does not exist” (Dufour, 1996).

2.4. The number of urban goods vehicles: NMVs and motorized vehicles

Data on the numbers of these vehicles, whether gathered for specific surveys or from the government departments responsible for transport and traffic, is often kept by the local authorities. Generally the number of NMVs is underestimated, and no information exists to distinguish between urban goods vehicles and other vehicles (light goods vehicles). Here are a few figures to provide some idea of the numbers involved:

At Antananarivo the number of goods vehicles was very small (averaging 10 for each truck depot) and there was the same problem of identifying the regular and the occasional hauliers. Yet Antananarivo and Conakry share almost identical features in terms of living standards and incomes, and as capitals of countries which have been through a long period of government intervention in marketing and food supply. In Senegal, where the level of development of the economic circuits is quite different, at the Thiaroye wholesale market (the city of Dakar, municipality of Pikine) over one hundred regular vehicles (vans and pickups, 4Ls and 504s) were counted in 1996 at the official truck depots alone. It is not known how many ‘work buses’ with market season tickets there are in Dakar, but there must be a large number according to the various sources.

One can compare these figures with the number of vehicles providing collective transport. For example in Lomé (with a population of about 800 000 in 1993), where the provision of this type of transport is considered satisfactory, there are about 3 000 collective taxis. In Bamako (with the same population) the total number of vehicles in the artisanal sectors is just over 1 000, with less than 100 buses, which is insufficient even though the official data is no doubt underestimated.

As far as NMVs are concerned, Africa does not have as many as certain Asian countries.[5] A quick overview based on available data, however, shows that the NMVs frequently run into thousands in cities with populations of 600 000 to 800 000. Although accurate figures on motorized vehicles are not available, the example of just one wholesale market in Dakar shows that in a city of this size there may be several hundred. It is therefore by no means a marginal sector.

2.5. A transport service tailored to meet the needs of the informal trading sector and private individuals

These modes of transport are perfectly geared to meet the specific goods- transport needs of market retailers, small food wholesalers or private low-income earners. Although the traders make up the majority of regular customers of urban goods transport, the inhabitants of the city are also frequent users. They use it for the transport of their staple commodities (sacks of rice and cans of oil) and for all bulky and voluminous objects, particularly construction materials (a fundamental aspect of the economy of the city inhabitant town is do-it-yourself building). Truck transport, which could be provided by local companies, would be inaccessible to them because it is very costly, and as far as the traders are concerned it does not have the necessary flexibility to provide services that accurately match their specific needs.

By choosing transport by cart, rickshaw or specialized motorized vehicle, the traders are provided with several essential services and advantages:

2.6. The cost to users of urban goods transport

In the case of NMVs and all motorized vehicles with a small carrying capacity (4L, 3CV, etc.), fixed prices are set at a per unit rate depending upon the typical weight of the product (a sack of rice, a 25 kg basket of vegetables, etc.). For larger trucks charges are made by the tonne. Prices obviously vary depending on distance and load volume, which makes pooling an attractive proposition. Prices can also vary - and this applies particularly to the NMVs - depending upon the time of day, competition from the “irregulars”, the financial needs of the drivers (at the beginning or the end of the day), and the agreements established with the customer (season ticket holders vs. occasional customer).

Transport costs in terms of tonne/kilometre for typical loads according to the vehicle are set out in Table 2 below.

Table 2. Urban freight costs for food supply and redistribution in Africa and Madagascar


Mode of Transport

Motorized vehicles

Non-motorized vehicles

Type of vehicle



Collective taxi

Work bus




2-wheel 4-wheel cart

Horse-drawn cart







300-2 000


500-1 500



500-1 400











500-1 000



What is interesting about these figures is not the comparison between prices in different cities (the tariffs are set out in three different currencies) but the relations that can be established within the same cities between the prices of different modes of transport available there.

Transport charges for rickshaws and carts are virtually identical in all three Sahelian cities. The prices in terms of tonnes/kilometre for average loads of 0.2 tonnes (rickshaws) and 1 tonne (four-wheel cart) lie between CFAF 400 and 1 200 according to the length of the journey (2-5 km) at N’Djamena and Bobo-Dioulasso (before devaluation) and between CFAF 300 and 2 000 at Dakar (2-10 km).

In each of the cities examined no major differences exist between the average cost of motorized vehicles and NMVs with an equivalent carrying capacity (4L, 3CV) and the rickshaws, pickups and carts. At most there is a slight increase in the average price for the NMVs compared with the motorized vehicles (the difference has to do with the short journeys and the small quantities transported by the majority of NMVs, which are two criteria for high transport costs).

For motorized vehicles, the law of decreasing returns that is typical of the freight transport comes into its own: the prices for vehicles covering 12 to 15 km carrying between one and two tonnes are the lowest of all the different vehicles (Conakry and Antananarivo).

The prices are particularly low for small quantities carried over long distances. For examples, two cases (about 15 km each): the collective transport facilities in Conakry (the Alakabons and the 1 000-kg minibus) and the season-ticket system for the Thiaroye work buses plying the Thiaroye-Castors route at Dakar (FG 80 and CFAF 100 tonne/kilometre respectively).

In the final analysis, the choice made by the traders between different forms of transport certainly depends on cost (particularly when choosing between conventional taxis and other modes of transport). Above all, however, it depends on the quantity of the goods to be carried, the distance, the way in which the destination market is serviced by public transport, and the speed at which the delivery is to be made. The result is a fragmentation of the transport market with each type of vehicle dominating one particular market segment for one particular route, one particular type of commodity transported, or one user category.[6]

Although the goods transport service is organized to perfectly match the demand of traders and private individuals, the market retailers are faced with the daily problem of travelling between their homes and the supply markets, and between the latter and the markets where they normally sell their goods. The cost of these journeys can sometimes be high, even higher than the freight cost itself.

[2] These are the cities mentioned in the first part (Bobo-Dioulasso, N’Djamena, Conakry, Dakar, Antananarivo), the cities for which we already know the inter-market modes of transport (Cotonou, Ouagadougou), and the cities on which the relevant data already exists (Bamako, Ziguinchor) from other surveys.
[3] For example, according to a recent survey, in Bamako one journey in two is carried out on foot; in Lomé the oldest data shows that one-third (32 percent) of journeys take place on foot; Ouagadougou, because of the domination of two-wheelers (bicycles and mopeds), is one of the rare exceptions to the general rule (Godard and Pochet, 1995; Garcia-Oriol, 1993; Cusset and Sirpe, 1994).
[4] All passengers may carry one piece of baggage free of charge; in the case of a trader with merchandise, a charge is made for the volume transported in addition to the passenger’s fare. This is decided by the driver. The driver may also refuse to take the trader if he considers that the merchandise is too bulky.
[5] “In Bangladesh, the cycle rickshaw fleet is estimated to grow from two-thirds of a million in 1988 to over one million by 2000. More than three-fourth of Bangladesh’s cycle rickshaws are in urban areas. They account for a major share of urban freight movement in many Asian, Chinese, Indian and Pakistan cities. Of all land-transportation in Bangladesh, NMVs produced 60 percent of all passenger-kilometres and 36 percent of freight tonne-kilometres in 1985. Annually, each urban cycle rickshaw accounted for 32 810 passenger miles and carried 94 tonne-miles of goods” (Godard, 1994, op. cit.).
[6] It is for this very reason that when there is competition between two vehicles within the same mode of transport with similar customers and loads, one of the two disappears altogether (as at Bobo-Dioulasso in the case of the two-wheel carts).

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