Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - urban, mode - rail, mode - tram/light rail, mode - mass transit


Urban transit, Under developed countries, Third world, Light rail transit, Less developed countries, Developing countries


This paper is concerned with the majority of developing nations who lack large resources for public sector projects. It questions the basis of much mass transit planning and attempts to put forward a more efficient way of reaching decisions. It calls extensively on experience of Metro Manila, capital of the Philippines, where an innovative system of metropolitan planning and administration is throwing a new light on 'appropriate' investment in such developing cities. Mass transit systems as currently conceived in such developing cities—fully segregated rail-based systems—are unlikely to be affordable (at least for many years) and in consequence scarce resources should not be devoted to developing and evaluating them. Rather, the principal objective should be to provide low-cost, affordable mass transit—affordable to governments and to passengers. This almost certainly points to road-based systems, or predominantly at-grade light rail transit (LRT) systems, which are usually regarded as 'obviously unworkable' in developing city environments. This judgement is questioned and it is suggested the potential of LRT to provide appropriate low-cost mass transit is not being realized. An approach to determining its potential applicability is proposed. If feasible it should be evaluated against road-based systems before decisions to implement new mass transit systems are taken. While circumstances vary between countries the central message of this paper—that public sector resources have a very high opportunity cost which make all but the lowest-cost mass transit systems very difficult to justify—will hold in all but the higher-income developing economies.