At the Asia and the Pacific Transport Forum 2022, Woochong Um, Managing Director General, Asian Development Bank (ADB), shared his views about the transport sector, new initiatives, its challenges, and the opportunities in the fast-changing world. Excerpts…


Since the last transport forum two years ago in 2020, there has been an unprecedented change in the understanding of the transport and mobility sector by the people. The Covid-19 pandemic is coming to an end, but its impact is still being felt in the world. The pandemic period has been very challenging. Despite the challenges, however, there are a lot of opportunities to transform to a better and more sustainable transport sector in the postpandemic era. It is an opportunity to reimagine the future of mobility.

While the pandemic impacts must be acknowledged, it also needs to be seen as part of a wider vision and a long-term strategy for the transport sector – a strategy that aligns with international agreements, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Paris agreement. There is also a need to focus on the decarbonisation of the sector.

Sustainable and decarbonised transport

The theme of the Transport Forum 2022 is accelerating sustainable and decarbonised transport. The most fundamental dimension of the forum was that transport should provide access to all in the most inclusive manner.

Inclusiveness is fundamental to development, whether it is access to education, health services or economic opportunities. Transport is considered a means to an end. Although the transport sector may not have a standalone SDG at present, it makes a meaningful contribution to the SDGs. When it comes to access, data shows that 630 million people have inadequate rural access and 1.4 billion (61 per cent) of the urban population lack good access to public transport. Transport is clearly much broader than just getting people or goods from one point to the other. While providing access, transport must be sustainable. Sustainable transport is defined as accessible, affordable, environmentally friendly, economically and financially sound as well as safe.

The main factors to focus on in terms of safety include road crashes, road fatalities and injuries. It is acknowledged that transport activities are growing in the region and they will continue to grow in the future. Data shows that compared to the global average, transport in Asia is characterised by a large infrastructure deficit or low level of access, high cost, low but fast-growing vehicle ownership and high levels of emissions. There are some notable aspects of transport in Asia. The region accounts for 97 per cent of the total electric vehicles worldwide.

This is primarily because of the dominance of two-wheelers and three-wheelers. This is an aspect where the region leads the world in the decarbonisation of the transport sector. The infrastructure deficit in the transport sector in the region requires additional funding of about 2.4 per cent of the gross domestic product. It is obvious that bridging the infrastructure funding gap requires a collective effort by governments, development partners and the private sector. Looking at it as a halffull glass rather than half empty, this deficit can be seen as an opportunity. The countries are still in the early stages of development and any good decision will influence the future of the transport sector and have a positive impact at scale.

The transport sector must also address its negative externalities, such as congestion, emissions and road crashes. There are very promising initiatives around transport decarbonisation. Road safety is also a growing public health concern globally and regionally and it requires increased attention, aligned with the UN Second Decade of Action for Road Safety, 2021-2030. More than 2,000 people lose their lives in road crashes in the region every day and many more sustain serious life-changing injuries. Many of these crash victims are the only family income earners. This social and economic loss needs to be focused on and stopped at once. The Transport Forum 2022 revolves around five main areas – transport decarbonisation; accessible, safe and inclusive transport; innovations and knowledge solutions; quality infrastructure investments; and sustainable transport by 2030.

These areas are consistent with the ADB Strategy 2030, and its operational priorities.

Recent initiatives

It is obvious that transition is already happening. Many innovative projects and programmes have been developed in the region over the past few years. These need to be replicated at scale to achieve the desired goals. ADB extends its assistance to governments to develop a total solution for the transport and mobility sector.

Some of the recent innovations and trendsetting projects from the region include the following:

  • Integrated Bus Transit Corridor in Peshawar, which provides people-centric urban transport.
  • Bishkek Electric Buses and Transport Infrastructure Enhancement Project in the Kyrgyz Republic that contributes to the sector’s decarbonisation and reduces carbon emissions and traffic congestion.
  • Actions for Improved Road Safety supported by the Asia Pacific Road Safety Observatory, whose major founder and secretary is the ADB, that raise awareness of road safety at all levels and sets new standards and ambitions.
  • Regional Road Development and Maintenance Project in Mongolia that is helping in building climate and disaster resilience, while providing institutional strengthening for road maintenance.
  • The Land and Marine Connectivity Project in the Solomon Islands, which improves the accessibility, efficiency, and disaster resilience of the transportation network.

In sum

We are in the middle of the greatest transformation of the transport sector to ever take place. There are many more such innovative projects and initiatives to get inspiration from. The pandemic gave us a glimpse into a world that prioritises pedestrian travel and non-motorised options. It also provided us a stark reminder that all transport planning must focus on sustainable options and mainstream disaster preparedness and resilience in its design. The International Climate Agenda calls for accelerated change towards decarbonisation and transport must become smarter and better to be able to keep pace with the always changing future