ADB introduces a new data tool to transform transport planning

We live in a world where we can order goods of all kinds from halfway around the world, and discover them on our doorsteps within days. If each package could tell a story, it would be one of journeys across road, rail and sea — a tale of intricately connected transport networks and global supply chains, working in unison.

Transport infrastructure investment is key for moving people and goods across the region, and for city planning in general. According to ADB estimates, infrastructure needs in developing parts of Asia and the Pacific will exceed $22.6 trillion through 2030.

To provide greater support to countries as they embark on huge infrastructure projects, ADB has created a strategic transport planning tool. This web-based decision suppport tool, SIFT, visualises various transport-related datasets in Asia Pacific on a map, such as data on GDP, populations, and transport infrastructure. The tool can also analyse the relationship between traffic flow volumes and travel times, with the congestion effect taken into account, among other functions.

SIFT essentially forecasts future traffic and travel demand based on these data. It demonstrates how the traffic between each origin and destination will be split between road, rail, or sea. This means that SIFT can simulate the flows of the entire transport networks, and model future changes in both transport demand and connectivity.

What does this look like in practice? Take for instance that a country’s government plans to expand one of its ports, and improve the access roads that lead to it. The SIFT tool can model the time and cost saving as a result of shifting from land-based rail or road transport to maritime transport for longer-distance trips.

In the same vein, if shippers decide to change their shipping mode of choice, then “flow patterns change, and there are implications on environment and emissions and road congestion and air pollution”, explained Kuancheng Huang, Senior Transport Specialist with the ADB.

The value of the SIFT platform lies in its usefulness in helping policymakers “identify the most impending infrastructure gaps, and comprehensively evaluate potential investment projects”, remarked Huang, at a recent knowledge sharing webinar. According to him, “solid evidence-based analysis” needs to always be a part of this process.

SIFT supports policymakers by allowing them to compare investment scenarios that will provide the greatest improvement to networks within the planning horizon. “It’s no longer just a black box that the transport professionals can use to justify their decisions,” Huang pointed out. “Funds will never be sufficient, especially given the impact of COVID-19. Every dollar counts.”

Data collection can be a challenge in this region. Previously, ADB has allocated resources to collect local data in parts of Southeast Asia and Central Asia. But for efforts like these to be sustainable, data collection should be carried out in a collaborative way, with organisations like the ADB and governments in developing countries all playing a part, Huang said.

Beyond transport planning, the SIFT tool can potentially be of great use in other sectors, once the required data are available. Tools like these help to reduce the complexity of planning improvements and investments in transport networks. It is key that governments have information that helps them make decisions on “the greatest investment in the short term, while making plans for medium- and long-term regional connectivity”, Huang concluded.

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Asian Development Bank - Transport

Asian Development Bank - Transport

Supporting the development of low-carbon, safe, accessible and affordable transport systems for Asia and the Pacific. Follow for #sustainabletransport insights