Case Study: Development of Sustainable Transport System (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

2019-02-11 00:00:00

By Geoffrey Bickford / South African Cities Network

Addis Ababa was shortlisted for the 3rd Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation in 2016. This study tour took place during August 11th and 12th, 2017.


Addis Ababa City is demanding transformed transport system that changes the existing service. The transport challenge in the city is rampant. Despite the heavy investments and developments being undertaken in the city, the supply could not much meet the demand. To address the demand of the city, socially inclusive, economically affordable, environmentally friendly, and technologically advanced sustainable transport system is required. In addition, the rationale behind the initiative is that sustainable and enduring socio-economic development in the city is possible if – and only if – the transport system provides reliable, safe, comfortable and accessible service.

Currently the road-based public transport environment consists of 3 bus-operating companies (2 public and 1 private) as well as midi-bus and minibus taxis. There is a light rail system, which is implemented, managed and operated by the National Rail Agency. There is a large share of pedestrian-based transport, claimed to be responsible for as much as 70% of all trips in the City of Addis Ababa. 26% of trips are made through public transport and 4% private vehicle. According to TPMO, there are 2.2 million passengers and 3.6 million trips daily in the city across this modal split. 

The initiatives shall increase the accessibility and reliability of the public transport system to all users. Pedestrians shall have better walking experience and connectivity. It shall create regulated traffic flow and improved traffic safety. Monitoring and controlling capacity of the traffic management agency shall be enhanced. The city has an urban transport policy that promotes the expansion of mass transport systems and non-motorized transport systems with due regard to pedestrians. It further elaborates the improvement of the traffic management practices through the introduction of intelligent transportation systems.

The initiative focuses on transforming the provision of reliable and sustainable public transport systems and creating smoother and safer traffic systems. The city is developing high-standard mass-transport projects such as 7 BRT lines (of which the B2 corridor is under detailed design phase), 3 public transport terminals, 3 bus depots, 2 “share the bike” (non-motorized transport) pilot projects. Furthermore, an additional bus operator is established, running 300 buses, and shall be increased by 410 more buses in the next five years. The efficiency of the public transport is planned to be improved with the introduction of dedicated bus lanes.


The Transport Project Management Office (TPMO) was established 4 years ago under the auspices of the Roads and Transport Bureau of Addis Ababa. The intention was to provide the relevant authority to support and act on all areas of public transport and traffic management that previously did not exist in the transport structures of the City of Addis Ababa.

TPMO reports to the Roads and Transport Bureau of the City of Addis Ababa and has authority to act on matters of public transport and traffic management, specifically in relation to building capacity, modernising public transport (increasing supply), integrating all aspects of public transport, and enhancing international relations.

Internal to the city, the Roads and Transport Bureau and the City Road Authority are critical stakeholders with which the TPMO are required to align and communicate plans and activities. Externally, and in line with the mandate to improve international relations, TPMO has partnered with an impressive array of international bodies working in transport. These include World Bank, Bloomberg Foundation, Japanese International Co-Operation Agency, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), Lyon Town Planning Agency and French Development Agency.

TPMO has seemingly taken an opportunistic approach to leveraging partnerships to supplement capacity and funding for project work. The extent to which the various partnerships are structured into a coherent long-term arrangement is unclear. However, through the approach TPMO has been able to develop an impressive amount of parallel work streams that address different areas relating to public transport and traffic management. 


For improved traffic flow and safety, the city has initiated the development of an Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), building parking facilities (structural and open-lot systems) integrated with public spaces. It is being furthered with a design review of the existing road networks and intersections. Road Safety Strategy has been developed, and action plans are being prepared.

To enhance the operational capacity of the Road and Transport Bureau, a new structure has been enacted and has commenced operations. These new institutions (Public and Freight Transport Authority, Traffic Management Agency, and Drivers and Vehicle Control Authority) shall decentralize operations for effective results.


1. Capacity constraints were often raised as a challenge to being able to establish and implement the full range of work streams required for public transport and traffic management improvement. To address capacity issues, TPMO has drawn on international partners to supplement capacity in critical areas. A good example is the planning support for the BRT provided by the City of Lyon in France. 

2. Funding constraints were also a point that was mentioned frequently limiting the ability for projects across the spectrum to be implemented. To address funding constraints, the TPMO has also relied on international partners. For instance, the Road Safety Strategy work is funded by the Bloomberg Foundation. 

3. Integration and co-operation with the National Rail Agency (responsible for the light rail system in the city) has been limited. This is seemingly a difficult issue to address, as there seem to be no intergovernmental planning structures supporting and recognising the multiple transport authorities that exist in the city. 


The institutional approach seems to be the real innovation in this project nomination. TPMO is established as a support to the existing transport institutions at the city and has the mandate to research, plan, experiment, implement and monitor across a range of transport areas, i.e. pedestrian safety, public transport, traffic improvements such as parking – this seems to be the innovation for this candidate. The BRT plan and the other strategies and plans are not necessarily innovative in their own right as they are recognisable in many other cities and contexts. The infrastructure is not being planned for in a significantly unique or innovative manner.   

However, the establishment of a bus operator working prior to infrastructure delivery is a novel approach – as the operations is the area that customers experience and can make or break the success of a project. The city has established a new bus operator, the Shegar Public Transport Enterprise that will migrate to operate BRT services once the infrastructure is delivered. Currently the city has 3 bus operating companies (2 public operators and 1 private operator) all currently operating in a mixed traffic environment. The view is that the new operator will create necessary additional capacity, as demand will increase due to the dedicated lanes provided by BRT. 

An impressive aspect of the TPMO is their ability to partner with multiple international urban and transport support organisations as a way to address capacity and funding shortfalls. This demonstrates innovation in how to get an ambitious set of plans and projects achieved in a constrained capacity and resource environment. The long-term sustainability of these partnerships is not clear as they are largely project-based and in different areas of transport. It is also not clear what these partnerships and the funding and capacity support associated with them means for the priorities of the TPMO. From the tour it was difficult to assess how the projects showcased indicated a coherent approach to improving public transport service and pedestrian environment and safety, as these projects were largely in planning phase with limited implementation. Whereas projects relating to traffic improvement seemed to be receiving significant attention and innovative practices were displayed in the approach to these projects. 

The experimentation that is taking place around the improvement of intersections was found to be exceptionally innovative. Whereby temporary signals would be put in place to test the impact such signals would have on the flow and safety of the intersection was an innovative methodology around planning. Using small experiments to build an evidence base for outcomes related to interventions that could then inform large investment programmes is an exceptionally innovative approach to transport planning. If the TPMO could consider this same experimentation methodology around all aspects of their work, especially in areas of public transport and NMT, it could strengthen their approach and contribute to a demonstrated prioritisation towards sustainable transport in a highly innovative manner.  

The major gap is the poor co-operation and co-ordination with the National Rail Authority as there are potentially important lessons to be learnt and important operating integration aspects to be considered in the implementation of the BRT and other infrastructural upgrades to pedestrian network that would perhaps benefit from a more co-ordinated approach.  


TPMO has been nominated for their institutional approach to planning for public transport and traffic management in an African city context. Over the course of the tour, the delegation was exposed specifically to their Road Safety Strategy supported by the Bloomberg Foundation, yet to begin implementation, the building of new bus depots, traffic management experiments, the planning for the Cities BRT system supported by the City of Lyon Town Planning Agency through a city-to-city partnership and the ITDP, and the development of parking solutions for traffic management. It is clear from these activities that the TPMO has the authority to plan, contract, and implement projects within the City of Addis Ababa. 

Lessons learned

1. Institutional architecture is important to consider in city transport planning and delivery. TPMO is the outcome of a city-based response to be better positioned outside of the bureaucratic environment to be able to work in an agile and responsive manner in the context of Addis Ababa while still being accountable to the city government. 

2. By having a partnering mandate, the city has been able to capacitate and develop programmes through support that it otherwise would not have been able to achieve. 



1. The opportunity to think through the institutional challenges and how best to position institutional mandates and authority in the context of transport is a major lesson for other cities. The inspiration is not to replicate what TPMO is but to think what institutional arrangement might be best for a specific city. 

2. Partnering with aligned organisations to get the work done is inspirational. The important lesson from Addis Ababa is to ensure that the partners’ support is channelled into priority areas in a coherent manner. 

3. Experimentation in transport to build context-specific insights is exceptionally inspirational, and many cities could learn from the traffic management approach across all aspects of transport planning and investment approaches.