Informal paratransit in the Global South

Authored by: Roger Behrens , Saksith Chalermpong , Daniel Oviedo

The Routledge Handbook of Public Transport

Print publication date:  May  2021
Online publication date:  May  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367418724
eBook ISBN: 9780367816698
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter synthesises current knowledge of informal paratransit services in cities of the Global South and discusses prevailing policy issues and emerging trends. The scope of the chapter is limited to unscheduled public transport and for-hire services operating in whole, or in part, within the informal economy. The chapter focuses on three regions of the Global South: Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It reviews current knowledge in relation to business models, regulatory regimes, and operating practices. While illustrating that the sector is heterogeneous across, and within, these regions, this review shows that informal paratransit services are usually operated by small businesses organised into associations that exert varying degrees of self-regulation. Service operations are seldom free of state regulation, but the extent can vary. Operating environments often have considerable infrastructure deficits, and driver employment conditions can be exploitative. Services are, in many cases, a response to gaps left by formal public transport undertakings. Prevailing business models, however, make operators demand-responsive, often providing the only service available to vulnerable groups. It is argued that important policy issues relate to integration with other public transport modes, service quality, and safety improvement. These challenges are compounded by poorly resourced regulatory authorities, often subjected to pervasive corruption. An important emerging trend identified takes the form of potentially disruptive technologies, most commonly in the form of ride-hailing apps. These platforms may have a significant impact on operating practices, and few cities have regulatory frameworks in anticipation of this change. Experience suggests that attempts to change business models and operating practices can be met with resistance. Policy intervention in this sector therefore requires careful analysis of local contexts and options.

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