New Internationalist

Transport - The Facts

October 1980

In these facts we look at the priority of helping the poor in rural areas ‘Down on the Farm’; the energy efficiency of different vehicles ‘Energy Efficient’; the transport priorities of rich and poor world governments ‘Driving Around’; and take a global snapshot of the biggest transport industry of all - cars.


Some idea of the work needed in fetching and carrying for small farmers in the Third World is provided by these figures. About 70 per cent of farming involves transporting crops, seeds, water, tools, insecticides etc. These carrying requirements (together with the three hours or more a day needed for fetching water and firewood) are so heavy they are often not satisfactory met. Potential harvests are reduced, and crops that do ripen can rot due to the inability to transport them to market.


When comparing the energy of passenger vehicles, one of the most important provisos is how many seats are filled. So there is a considerable variation in bus/metro efficiency in rush hour conditions (when they are presumed full) and off-peak (presumed half-empty).

Amongst the least efficient vehicles are powerboats and Concorde. To rub salt into the wound, neither operates at anything like full capacity. At the other end of the spectrum is the bicycle. A winner in conservation terms (particularly as its seat is always filled), its use is restricted by weather and topographical conditions, fear of accident, inability due to age, infirmity, distance and laziness.


In Third World countries private cars serve the needs of only the wealthiest - or of top government officials. They cost precious foreign exchange both to import and later to keep running and feed with petrol. So do lorries and buses, but they (while of little help to the poorest) are far more relevant than the car to the needs of the general population.

How far imports of private cars com­pared with commercial vehicles are controlled is an indicator of in whose interests the government is governing.

The statistics for developed countries point to a different conclusion. One reason why Sweden and the United Kingdom have fewer commercial vehicles per 1000 people than Australia and the United States is probably that they can rely more on their railway system.


There is a lot of heavy lifting on and around Third World farms. This is a survey of the items and the quantity­in kilograms(kgs) per hectare-to be transported for different crops in Malawi.

**Requires a lot of water for the spraying of insecticides.
The more successful the harvest the bigger the problem of moving the crop.

Click to enlarge

This feature was published in the October 1980 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 092

New Internationalist Magazine issue 092
Issue 092

More articles from this issue

  • To Fetch and Carry

    October 1, 1980

    Third World transport planners have often been distracted by the Western world's love affair with the car. John Howe explains.

  • A Bicycle made for you

    October 1, 1980

    Ian Barwell outlines the case for bikes to be brought into the mainstream of traffic thinking.

  • Pedalling in Penang

    October 1, 1980

    Trishaw, drivers threatened by city planners. Peter Rimmer reports.

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