The American Economic Association's registry for randomized controlled trials
Access to Transport in Rural Malawi
Last registered on January 28, 2015
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Access to Transport in Rural Malawi
Initial registration date
January 28, 2015
January 28, 2015 1:00 PM EST
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Contact Primary Investigator
Other Primary Investigator(s)
University of Washington
University of Michigan
University of Michigan
University of Maryland
Additional Trial Information
This study draws lessons from an original randomized experiment in Malawi. In order to understand why roads in relatively good condition in rural areas may not be used by buses, a minibus service was subsidized over a six-month period over a distance of 20 kilometers to serve five villages. Using randomly allocated prices for use of the bus, this experiment demonstrates that at very low prices, bus usage is high. Bus usage decreases rapidly with increased prices. However, based on the results on take-up and minibus provider surveys, the experiment demonstrates that at any price, low (with high usage) or high (with low usage), a bus service provider never breaks even on this road. This can contribute to explain why
walking or cycling is so widespread on most rural roads in Sub-Saharan Africa. In terms of policy implications, this experiment explains that motorized services need to be subsidized; otherwise a road in good condition will most probably not lead to provision of service at an affordable price for the local population.
J-PAL website summary
Goldberg, Jessica et al. 2015. "Access to Transport in Rural Malawi." AEA RCT Registry. January 28.
Sponsors & Partners
In order to understand how roads in relatively good condition in rural areas impacts public transportation provision, a daily minibus service that connected five rural villages and the nearby market town was subsidized over a four-month period.
The intervention was divided into two phases. In the first phase, which was intended only to measure take-up of public transportation, 100 households were randomly selected to receive a bus pass that allowed the members of that selected household to use the bus at zero cost to travel to and from the market town. In the second phase, to measure the impact of price on take-up, 406 households were randomly assigned to one of seven bus pass prices. After completion of a baseline survey, a meeting was called at each of the five villages. At the meeting, one member of each household was asked to select a ticket from a bucket to determine the price of one round trip on the project bus. Prices varied between zero and 500 Malawi Kwacha (US$3.57). After the household member was assigned the lottery ticket, the number was recorded and the price was stamped on the household’s bus pass. Any member of the household could use the pass but had to pay the stamped price.
On all trips a conductor was present to check bus passes, collect bus fares, monitor cargo loading, and conduct rapid trip-purpose surveys of all passengers. Minibus owners and drivers near the market town were also interviewed in order to obtain a broader understanding of the market for transportation in the region.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Minibus usage and impact of subsidy.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
The sample site includes a cluster of five villages located 17 kilometers from a market town which offers a large weekly market, a health clinic, and access to further means of transport. In total, 542 households were listed in the five villages (in a complete census). A circular circuit track connects three of the five villages, with the other two villages within 10 minutes walking distance. This track was identified to serve as the bus route to use in picking up passengers. While there is some evidence of irregular transport on the road between the village cluster and the market town, there was no evidence of a bus or any other mode of transport intended for passengers that operated along the road connecting the village cluster and the market town.
We report on the second phase of a two part design. Of the originally listed 542 households, 514 households were successfully interviewed and were eligible to participate; 406 of these households are included in the second phase analysis. Participation in phase one and phase two was by random assignment. After selection, a baseline survey was conducted interviewing both men and women. After the completion of the baseline survey, a meeting was called at each of the five villages. At the meeting, a household-level lottery was explained. One member of each household was asked to select a ticket from a bucket. Each ticket contained a number to signify the price of one round trip on the project bus. Prices of a round trip included the following categories: MK 0, MK 10, MK 20, MK 50, MK 100, MK 300, MK 500. After the household member was assigned the lottery ticket, the number was recorded and the price was stamped on a bus pass unique to that household. Bus ridership records were kept by a supervising member of the field team and we report on these here.
In addition to collecting data on individuals and households, we also conducted in-depth interviews among minibus owners and drivers, of which two were providing bus services to the market town (not from the cluster of villages included in this study). Minibus owners and drivers near the market town were interviewed in order obtain a broader understanding of the market for transportation in Ntchisi district.
Experimental Design Details
One member of each household was asked to select a ticket from a bucket.
Village and household level
Was the treatment clustered?
Sample size: planned number of clusters
406 households in 5 villages
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
The study was conducted between July 2009 and January 2010. Before the commencement of the bus service, a household census was conducted in each of the five villages. Of the 542 enumerated households, 520 contained eligible adult household heads; these households were invited to participate in the study. A baseline survey was conducted, interviewing the household head or spouse, randomizing the gender of the respondent; 89.8 percent of the eligible households were interviewed at baseline.
Distribution of prices:
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Supporting Documents and Materials
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
University of Michigan Health Sciences IRB
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post Trial Information
Is the intervention completed?
Is data collection complete?
Is public data available?
Reports and Papers