High Volume Transport Applied Research

A five-year research programme funded by DFID to increase access to transport services, more affordable trade routes, and safer, lower carbon transport in low income countries.

Why this research now?

From 2017-2023, IMC will manage the DFID High Volume Transport (HVT) applied research programme along national and regional transport corridors and within cities in low income countries (LICs) in Africa and South Asia.

There is international agreement that transport plays a key role in reducing isolation and poverty, and in facilitating economic activity. Strong transport links can facilitate international trade transitions, which, under appropriate circumstances, boost national income, reduce poverty, and contribute to economic and social development.

The transport sector in LICs is a very large recipient of aid and public funds for investment mainly because this is fundamental to economic development. Research activity is minimal, and the evidence base for huge investment decisions is out of date and often inadequately specific to requirements.

Meanwhile, the pace of change in the transport sector is unrelenting. Transport is being revolutionised by a mix of technological and operational disruptions including electric vehicles, Mobility as a Service (MaaS), new fuels, rapid urbanisation, the Internet of Things, big data, and the China Belt and Road Initiative.

The HVT applied research programme seeks to update technical best practice for transport infrastructure in LICs and actively disseminate it to LIC country authorities so that it is understood and used.

Research will identify how to make long distance strategic road and rail transport and urban transport more affordable and efficient, as well as more accessible, safe and green, with particular emphasis on improving transport for women, children, older people and those who are vulnerable or excluded.

Beneficiaries of this research include governments and peoples in LICs in Africa and South Asia. 

High volume transport in this context covers road and rail networks from passenger and freight perspectives. The HVT programme will expand and develop new technologies and solutions and will learn from and adapt existing transport technologies, materials, designs, planning and methods from high and middle-income countries.

It will also seek long-term partnerships with research institutes, universities, private sector, foundations and government.

The programme includes up to £14 million for research, capacity building and knowledge management/research uptake activities and implementation is managed through a Project Management Unit (PMU).

Programme structure

The programme is split into two parts. Part 1 involved a review of the literature and evidence available under identified research areas and delivered a series of State of Knowledge papers.  This review was used to identify and prioritise what future primary research might be undertaken in Part 2 and its scope. 

Part 2, lasting 4 years, involves the implementation of the Research Framework developed with the information and evidence derived from the State of Knowledge review.  The PMU will procure new primary research in priority areas, adapt existing knowledge from high- and middle-income countries to low-income countries, build capacity, and promote uptake of research findings. The research will address the most pressing issues identified from a combination of state of knowledge review and stakeholder feedback from Part 1 and aligned with DFID priorities.

Research themes

The HVT programme covers the following priority research areas:

Climate change mitigation and adaptation

The International Panel on Climate Change Special Report (2018) on the impacts of global warming of a further 1.5⁰C made it clear that rapid and far-reaching transitions in transport (among other sectors) are required, if global warming is to be contained to 1.5⁰C. Transport has also been shown to have great potential for greenhouse gas reduction.

The HVT programme is focussed on climate change mitigation and adaptation and most of the research to be conducted in Part 2 will inform practices that will contribute to GHG reduction.

Inclusion, gender and road safety

Transport is often not inclusive of women, children and other vulnerable groups, such as people with disabilities or older people. Women may be adversely affected by transport systems as they tend to make more frequent short journeys during off-peak hours and have less access to private transport.

Women and children can be vulnerable to harassment on public transport, while poor siting of bus stops and termini can increase dangers for women, children and other vulnerable groups. Moreover, some 24,000 people die and many more sustain life changing injuries every week through road traffic crashes.

The HVT programme is rapidly building momentum and leadership in inclusive transport. It focuses on people with disabilities – particularly hidden disabilities, as this has been shown to be an under-represented research topic.

Policy and regulation (including engineering)

Good policy formulation and capacity helps to build strong institutions and abiding accountability and vice versa. Stable policy regimes encourage investors and can promote economic growth that is sustainable and has a neutral impact on climate change. The pace of change evidenced by MaaS and other transport operations is presenting many high income countries (HICs) with regulatory challenges. These challenges are exacerbated in LICs due to limited capacity, data and evidence.

High volume transport provides the connection to low volume transport and is fundamental to national economies with typically over 90% of freight and passenger mileage occurring on high-volume transport roads and rail. During Part 2, the HVT programme will undertake policy and regulatory research which will cut across the key areas of climate change, technology and inclusion.

Technology and innovation (including data and decision support systems)

Technology and innovation are major disruptors in transport – from autonomous vehicles to electric cars to mobile applications that have transformed transport operations and services. The future of transport in LICs appears to be increasingly technology driven and HICs are leading the way. LICs must develop transport systems that are clean, inclusive and safe, avoiding the mistakes of middle and high income countries whilst capitalising on transformational technology and innovation.

The transport sector has seen a rapid expansion of decision support systems to inform transport planning and policy. Decision support systems using big data can lead to improvements in asset management, transport planning, demand forecasting, transport operations, regulation, technology, accident prevention, emission reduction, climate adaptation, and many more aspects of transport.

Priority will be given to research projects that focus on issues specific to fragile and conflict affected states context. These priority areas will be studied across three types of transport:

  • long distance strategic corridors for road and rail,
  • urban transport, and
  • low carbon transport.


The work is to influence transport policy making and investments in low income African and South Asian countries. The recipients of the services are relevant transport decision takers and development policy makers, central and local government transport practitioners, private sector, civil society and other relevant stakeholders in these countries.

Primary activities

  • Research: Generation, validation and updating of evidence for effective policies and practices on high volume transport in each of the priority research areas.
  • Capacity development: The enhancement of African and Asian capacity on high volume transport in each of the priority research areas.
  • Operational understanding and knowledge management: Improved understanding of high volume transport across each of the research areas and the enhancement of knowledge management, lesson learning and dissemination.

Intended outcomes for low income countries in Africa and South Asia

  • Increased access to transport services, more affordable trade routes and safer, lower carbon transport
  • Evidence base strengthened on the most strategic and cost effective, safer and lower carbon passenger and freight transport investments and services
  • Support to international poverty reduction by contributing to inclusive economic growth, and supporting the uptake of low carbon transport strategies to reduce green house gas emissions and that high volume transport infrastructure is resilient to stresses of climate change