Integrated Rural Accessibility Planning (IRAP) is a tool for local level planners to capture, through surveys and collaborative analysis, the pattern of isolation of a community and hence derive a hierarchy of actions to be taken to reduce it. It is particularily useful in that roads are viewed as just one way among others of enhancing mobility rather than an end in themselves. Road improvements are a possibility, as are improving tracks and footpaths for local trips and to provide basic access to help people to get to motor roads. Public transport services may be poor or too expensive so supporting intermediate means of transport (IMT) as well as proposing improvements to conventional transport services could complement or replace road improvements. Finally, rather then embarking on costly road investments, relocating clinics and other basic services so as to reduce time spent in travel could be a better solution. Measures can be prioritised by their cost-effectiveness relative to indices of accessibility, preferably set nationally to ensure equity among regions.
IRAP is most pertinent for setting priorities within networks where the simple cost-benefit trade-offs normally used to set priorities for roads where motor traffic is significant cannot be used: that is, for paths, tracks and very low-volume motor roads. Investment in the motorable network is not ignored, since IRAP will indicate the need for them at the community level. However, local residents are not the only users of these roads so decisions about improving them must integrate further information about travel demand.
IRAP is a complex tool to apply and requires structured local training if local participation in execution and analysis, vital for this approach, is to be effective. It involves household surveys, subsequently processed electronically to provide travel patterns. It also involves extensive mapping, of transport infrastructure, topography and the spatial distribution of settlements and services. Finally, the two must be brought together to define and evaluate improvement programmes.
It must be emphasised that IRAP is a decision tool which cuts across many rural sectors, health, water, sanitation, education. It provides not only recommendations about transport infrastructure but also may propose investment in relocating or adding rural services such as schools, clinics, wells and others so as to make them more accessible. In the context of poverty reduction initiatives it provides a tool for accurate targeting of isolation. Successful implementation therefore requires collaboration among ministries active in rural areas. It is best applied within local decentralised structures, where it can be learned, applied and expanded to adjacent areas.