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ADB assists member countries in developing Asia to building transport infrastructure and services which contribute towards low-carbon, safe, accessible, and affordable transport systems.

ADB's Work in Sustainable Transport

ADB's existing areas of transport operations, focusing mainly on roads, will remain relevant in most developing member countries in the next decade. While previous ADB projects and transport sector road maps (within country partnership strategies) have addressed some dimensions of sustainable transport, few have done so comprehensively, and there have been gaps and blind spots.

For example, some past projects aimed to reduce transport costs and increase vehicle speeds without considering how to avoid some of the adverse impacts this might bring, such as increased road accidents, noise, and emissions. Some projects sought to make long distance transport more accessible and affordable but did not improve rural roads and bus services or provide facilities needed for women’s use of transport. Some projects emphasized cost recovery to support financial and asset sustainability but did not ask if tariff levels were affordable or whether subsidies were justified for some groups.

In the future, mainstreaming sustainable transport will involve giving attention to all the elements of sustainable transport, and finding the best balance between them in order to develop transport systems that are accessible, affordable, safe, and environment-friendly.

Road Safety and Social Sustainability

Improving road safety

Out of an estimated 1.18 million deaths and millions of injuries globally each year due to road accidents, 60% occur in Asia. This reflects not only traffic growth but also high road accident rates—accident rates in developing Asia are much higher than in advanced countries.

The burden of road accidents falls disproportionately on the poor. According to the World Health Organization, almost half of those who die in road traffic crashes are pedestrians, cyclists, or users of motorized two-wheelers, and this proportion is higher in poorer economies.

To have a more sustainable impact on road safety in developing member countries (DMCs), ADB will increase the scale, quality, duration, and continuity of its support for road safety. Through Sustainable Transport Initiative (STI), ADB will develop comprehensive road safety operations in selected DMCs by providing stand-alone lending for road safety. These operations will support both engineering and behavioral approaches to the safe design, construction, operation, and maintenance of road infrastructure; the use of intelligent transport systems for road safety; and the development of road safety management capacity, road safety performance measurement, and resource mobilization.

ADB will also provide substantial technical assistance for advisory and capacity development to address the current limitations in the institutional capacity of DMCs in road safety. Assistance for project preparation purposes will help to create a sound pipeline of projects on road safety.

Strengthening social sustainability

Since ADB’s overarching goal is poverty reduction, its work on transport should contribute to providing effective solutions to the transport needs of the poor. This includes more participatory approaches to project planning and project implementation, strategies to protect against associated HIV/AIDS and human trafficking risks, incorporating complementary development programs and community based maintenance, improving transport services, providing improved facilities such as public toilets and pedestrian and bicycle lanes to make transport accessible and safe for all users and social groups including women and the elderly, applying core labor standards, and using tariff and subsidy options to increase access for vulnerable groups.

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Urban Transport

About 44 million people are being added to Asia's urban population every year, equivalent to 120,000 people a day. ADB has estimated that 80% of Asia’s new economic growth will be generated in its urban economies since this is where most jobs and employment opportunities are located. These trends are placing an enormous strain on transport and mobility in urban areas. Motor vehicle fleets are already doubling every 5 to 7 years.

To provide sustainable urban transport solutions, the region needs to address rapid motorization which is a major cause of congestion and pollution. Road congestion already costs Asian economies an estimated 2%–5% of gross domestic product (GDP) every year due to lost time and higher transport costs. The region's cities suffer from the highest air pollution levels in the world, with as much as 80% attributable to transport.

New approaches in urban transport

As some large Asian cities are discovering, construction of urban roads will not alone provide a solution. Construction of new roads leads to more purchases of private vehicles which eventually leads to the roads again becoming congested. Moreover, further road building faces severe practical limitations and escalating costs due to the shortage of land in urban areas.

ADB has pilot-tested various approaches to urban transport operations, including public mass transit systems. While the scope of ADB urban transport operations will depend on DMC needs, the following elements are likely to feature, both individually and in combination in future urban transport operations:

  • Public transport systems. These are needed to provide urban populations with safe, secure, accessible, rapid, efficient, and user-friendly transport, and to reduce pollution, congestion, and accidents. ADB support will include bus rapid transit and rail-based public transport systems.
  • Non-motorized transport. Integrated urban transport solutions should make provision for non-motorized transport infrastructure together with pedestrian zones and walkways, segregated cycle paths, and bicycle parking and rental programs.
  • Integrated urban transport planning. Urban transport plans should be integrated with urban land use plans to support more efficient approaches to planning urban expansion and redevelopment, limit trip lengths needed, make sustainable modes convenient for users, and optimize system integration.
  • Demand management. In parallel with improving public transport and non-motorized transport, cities need to use demand management to limit congestion and improve traffic flows by reducing the attractiveness of private vehicle use in busy urban areas. Options range from relatively simple systems, such as charging for vehicle licenses and parking fees, to more advanced computerized road-pricing schemes.
  • Traffic management. Traffic engineering and traffic management systems are needed to optimize traffic flows on the available urban transport infrastructure.

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Addressing Climate Change in Transport

Asia’s motorized transport emissions have become a significant contributor to the global problem of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that leads to climate change. In 2009, transport was responsible for 23% of global GHG emissions compared with 41% for energy. But by 2035 transport is expected to become the single largest GHG emitter accounting for 46% of global emissions, and by 2050 it is set to reach 80%. Emissions from transport are the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, with the vast majority of projected increases expected to come from developing Asia. In 2006, Asia accounted for 19% of total worldwide transport sector–related CO2 emissions. By 2030, the share of Asia in total worldwide transport sector–related CO2 emissions will increase to 31%.

New approaches in urban transport

In view of the priority accorded internationally to the issue of climate change, there is an urgent need for ADB to assist in developing effective, efficient solutions that can work on a large scale in the transport sector in developing Asia. A useful conceptual tool to guide this work at country and regional level is the avoid–shift–improve approach:

  • Avoid means reducing the need to travel—for example by integrating land use and transport planning to create local clusters of economic activity that require less mobility; by changing how production is organized (e.g. doing more online); and by developing multimodal logistic chains to cut wasteful and unnecessary trips.
  • Shift means changing to more energy efficient modes or routes—such as shifting from road to rail or waterways, or onto well-defined trucking routes; or shifting passengers from private vehicles to public transport and non-motorized modes.
  • Improve means using technologies that are more energy efficient—including through improving vehicle standards, inspection and enforcement; developing improved vehicle technologies and fuels; and improving transport efficiency using information technology

Through the Sustainable Transport Initiative, ADB will expand its operations in developing competitive long-distance railways and inland waterways, and provide support for investment in missing links that will reduce energy consumption and emissions through distance shortening. These will serve as demonstration projects to encourage wider use by developing member countries. In supporting railways and inland waterways, ADB will be promoting business models capable of realizing the potential competitiveness of these modes—within the public sector, privately, or through public–private partnerships.

ADB will also mainstream climate adaptation measures into its transport operations. These will include making climate adaptation adjustments to engineering specifications, alignments, and master planning; incorporating associated environmental measures; and adjusting maintenance and contract scheduling.

Adaptation to climate change in transport

A further dimension of climate change is that transport investments are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Such effects include rises in sea-level, changes in permafrost conditions and locations, changes in precipitation, and increases in the frequency and intensity of storms, floods and droughts. These have consequences to the design, construction and alignment of roads, railway track and other transport infrastructure. In order to address these challenges, ADB is currently developing improved analytical tools to systematically integrate adaptation measures into ADB transport operations.

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Cross-Border Transport and Logistics

Building regional transport infrastructure

As part of ADB’s support for regional economic integration, transport has a critical role to play in enabling growth in trade. ADB has already provided substantial lending for constructing regional road infrastructure and has a large pipeline of planned lending operations. ADB support for transport and trade facilitation led to significant savings in vehicle operating costs and travel time, and reduced border-crossing times; and also to expansion of economic activities, with new industries and special industrial zones developing along the regional road corridors.

Developing the software

ADB’s regional transport operations will need to incorporate improved approaches to assisting developing member countries with transport facilitation. This includes simplifying formalities, processes, and procedures; harmonizing national procedures, operations, and documents with international conventions, standards, and practices; and standardizing in accordance with internationally agreed formats for practices, procedures, documents, and information.

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Partnerships for Sustainable Transport

ADB has entered into partnerships with a range of organizations to support the implementation of the Sustainable Transport Initiative Operational Plan.

Asian Transport Outlook

ADB has initiated the Asian Transport Outlook (ATO) to strengthen the knowledge base on transport in Asia and the Pacific region. The ATO is developed in support of the planning and delivery of ADB transport sector assistance. At the same time, the ATO supports Asian governments in transport policy development and delivery. ADB is working with other interested parties in developing the ATO as an instrument to track the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and other relevant international agreements on sustainable development in the transport sector. Likewise, the ATO also serves as input in regional transport initiatives, such as the ESCAP Regional Action Programme for Transport Development in Asia and the Pacific, the ASEAN Kuala Lumpur Strategic Action Plan and the Environmental Sustainable Transport Forum 2021-2030 Declaration on Sustainable Transport.

The ATO is an open data resource that creates an institutionalized process for transport and policy information collection, analysis and documentation.

The ATO collects, organizes, and shares data on the transport sector in 51 countries using more than 450 indicators. It also documents the institutional frameworks, policies, and financing of transport in these countries. This is a multiyear program initially funded by ADB but eventually intended to become a stand-alone program with funding from multiple sources.

Phase 1 of the ATO ran from November 2020 to April 2021.  Currently the ATO is in an interim phase, which will run until September 2021 after which it is intended that Phase 2 of the ATO will commence.

Asian Transport Outlook Outputs

ATO Sharable Database

The information collected through the ATO is documented in Excel Workbooks that are available for download. The information is initially organized by categories and sub-categories.

 Infrastructure (INF)
 Transport activity and services (TAS)
 Access and connectivity (ACC)
 Road safety (RSA)
 Air pollution and health (APH)
 Climate change (CLC)
 Socio-economic (SEC)
 Miscellaneous (MIS)
 Policy (POL)

For information on the structure of the ATO sharable database, please see the ATO user guide.

Data will be released in batches. Following the initial launch of the ATO, containing 234 indicators in March 2021, a second version of the Sharable Database was published in May 2021 with 58 new or modified indicators.

View on the Data Library

ATO User Guide

The ATO user guide provides an overview of the ATO indicators documented in the ATO Master List of Indicators divided by main categories and sub-categories. It describes the procedures for adding, subdividing or deletion of indicators.

The ATO user guide also describes how to sort ATO indicators by type or scope as well as their linkages to global and regional processes on sustainable development and climate change. It also defines the linkage between ATO indicators and ADB’s Operational Priorities under ADB Strategy 2030.

The structure of the ATO shareable database is also described in the guide. It also includes an introduction to the different country typologies that can be applied to presenting individual ATO indicators.

Download ATO user guide.

ATO Indicator Master List

The ATO consists of over 450 national and regional level transport related indicators divided over 8 main categories:

  1. Infrastructure (INF) describes in quantitative and qualitative manner (a) physical road, rail, waterways-ports, aviation-airport infrastructure that enables transport, (b) ICT Infrastructure, (c) infrastructure to produce different types of fuels used in transport)
  2. Transport Activity and Services (TAS) describes in quantitative and qualitative manner all forms of transport activity and services through the use of transport infrastructure. This includes description of the vehicles used in transport
  3. Access & Connectivity (ACC) describes access (physical or digital) provided by different forms of transport and the connectivity characteristics of transport systems at different geographical scales
  4. Road Safety (RSA) describes all information related to the safety of transport and combines: (a) information on traffic accidents (fatalities and injuries) (b) safety features of transport infrastructure, (c) safety features of vehicles used in transport
  5. Air Pollution and health (APH) describes all information related to transport related ambient air pollution and non-road safety health related and includes (a) Ambient air quality, (b) vehicle related air pollutant emissions, (c) fuel quality characteristics, (d) general health related information, e.g. activity levels.
  6. Climate Change (CLC) describes all information related to transport related climate change and combines: (a) ambient GHG emissions, (b) vehicle related energy consumption and GHG emissions, (c) climate vulnerability and impacts of transport infrastructure
  7. Socio-Economic (SEC) describes all information on: (a) socio-economic parameters that drive the development of transport, and (b) specific economic impact of transport and its externalities on society at large as well as on households
  8. Miscellaneous (MIS) a rest category for all other indicators.
  9. Policy (POL) Policy (POL) provides an overview of transport policy documents and policy targets, covering all categories of the ATO.

A full list of the indicators included in the ATO is available in the ATO Master List of Indicators.

It is expected that over time indicators will be added to the ATO, or that indicators will be dropped from the ATO.  If this is the case the Master List of ATO indicators will be updated. The first planned expansion of ATO indicators will be the inclusion of policy related indicators, which will be done before April 2021, during phase 1 of the ATO.

In addition to this national and regional level database, an urban level transport database is under development which will capture transports systems in 460 cities in Asia and the Pacific. An initial version of the urban database will be online at the end of the Interim Phase by the end of September 2021.

ATO analysis

ADB actively encourages the use of ATO data in transport research and policy analysis. We would highly appreciate if you could share the results of your analysis with the ATO team at [email protected]

In addition, the ATO team will also carry out its own analysis ATO data and information. This analysis will result in brief documents focusing on specific topics.

The ATO will be also be used to support the tracking of the 2030 Aichi Declaration on Environmentally Sustainable Transport – Making Transport in Asia Sustainable. This Declaration to be agreed upon by the 25 member countries of the Regionally Environmentally Sustainable Transport (EST) Forum in October 2021 is coordinated by United Nations Center on Regional Development (UNCRD).

ATO Policy Information

As part of the process of collecting policy information 51 country profiles have been developed and a country by country overview of transport related policies and targets have been developed. Transport researchers who would like to access these documents for research purposes and/or would like to contribute to the QA-QC process are requested to contact the ATO team at [email protected].

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