April 01, 2016

The Secret Ingredient: Institutional Capacity

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Implementing rapid transit is a complex task. Governments not only need access to funds and debt finance to build successful rapid transit infrastructure, they must also have robust institutional capacity to plan, finance, design, build, and rapid transit.

There are many examples of countries that had the money for a rapid transit project but it was never implemented due to lack of institutional capacity. In some cases, projects stall halfway through construction due to a lack of oversight, planning, budgeting, or spending. In other cases, there is little or no planning to begin with because planning institutions, if they exist, lack a framework, the political authority, or the technical expertise to make plans and prepare projects. Each of these instances is an examples of how a lack of institutional capacity can be a barrier to rapid transit infrastructure growth, even when funding and financing are in place.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction Offices (UNISDR) define institutional capacity as the capability of an institution to set and achieve social and economic goals, through knowledge, skills, systems, and institutions. While institutional capacity is often mentioned in development contexts and is well understood in general terms, it can be difficult to define in specific terms and in measurable ways.

For the purposes of this study, we created an indicator for three types of institutional capacity related to mobility. While capacity is a broad and complex, the three indicators allow us to make good insights and a more objective comparison of a country’s capacity along organizational, technical, and political legal lines.

  1. Indicator of Transport Governance Capacity of an Institution: Presence of institutions with clear authority to plan, design, and implement rapid transit projects across metro areas.
  2. Indicator of Planning Capacity of an Institution: Presence of well-established mobility plans that guide long-range transport planning.
  3. Indicator of Technical Capacity of an Institution: The record of the country in planning and implementing high-quality, well-designed transport infrastructure without major project delays.

The table below illustrates and compares the institutional capacity of the nine countries in this study based on the indicators above. ITDP’s analysis of rapid transit development made clear that countries with strong planning institutions, unified metropolitan transit governance, and good technical capacity built more rapid transit with higher quality designs.

Institutional Capacity Ratings

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