Globalization and containerization have brought unprecedented changes to European-Asian transport links. With the bulk of world trade concentrated in a few major ports, remote areas have suffered from a desertification of trade, which has hurt economic development. To remedy this, the International Road Transport Union (IRU) works to reopen trade along the ancient Silk Road. It also campaigns to double the use of bus and coach services to achieve sustain-able mobility everywhere in the world. Success of both goals would stimulate trade, investments, tourism, and local employment.

The biggest impediments to land trade routes between Europe and Asia, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study, include administrative barriers and inappropriate border procedures. International Road Transport Union (IRU) pilot projects support this conclusion, revealing that these administrative barriers and inappropriate customs procedures account for almost 40 percent of road transport time along the Silk Road. About 32 percent of transport costs are from unofficial payments and levies paid by transport operators in transit and at borders. One could expect the same or even more dramatic findings in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

These invisible barriers to trade block development, sustaining poverty’s status quo. But countries that implement the key UN multilateral trade and international road transport facilitation instruments, such as the UN Harmonization and TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers) Conventions, could change this.

Lifelines on wheels

Use of the Silk Road would help solve trade issues, but sustainable mobility is just as critical to reducing poverty around the world. Buses and coaches are often lifelines to jobs, education, and healthcare for many citizens. These vehicles reach areas that rail and air do not, especially for low income people, those who cannot drive, and people with disabilities.

Official data identifies buses and coaches as one of the best collective transport solutions for short and long distances. Safe, green, efficient, affordable, and socially inclusive, buses and coaches are an optimal response to current and future mobility challenges when used effectively. But policymakers tend not to integrate buses and coaches into transport policies. Worse, they may design ill-informed, improper, and even restrictive legislation.

To remedy this, the IRU’s Smart Move campaign provides accurate, reliable, up-to-date facts and figures, so that informed legislation feeds policies that double the use of buses and coaches and encourage citizens to use them whenever possible.

Doing so could take hundreds of millions of cars off the road, returning the existing infrastructure to a more sustainable transport mode. Moreover, achieving Smart Move’s objective of doubling the use of bus and coach transport would create millions of new jobs linked directly or indirectly to daily operations.

Both of these IRU goals—facilitating the international movement of goods on the Silk Road and doubling the use of bus and coach services—are realistic and achievable policy objectives. They can be achieved if political priority is placed on removing barriers to road transport by implementing required measures, incentives, and policies that steer road transport toward an efficient future.

The International Road Transport Union (IRU) is the implementing partner of the TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers) Convention under UN mandate. The TIR Convention facilitates and secures international road transport around the world, allowing customs-sealed vehicles and freight containers to transit countries without border checks. It contributes significantly to reducing border waiting times while enhancing security, decreasing costs, and significantly increasing road transport efficiency in many regions of the world. It is the world’s only universal customs transit system.

This article was made possible with the help of Virginia Tanase, senior transport specialist in the Transport, Water, Information & Communication Technologies Department of the World Bank.