The Papua New Guinea transport network comprises three main transport modes: the road system, ports and airports. The Government owns and operates the national network, comprising national roads, the 22 declared ports and 21 airports. It also owns and operates the air and marine navigation and communications infrastructure. Other non-national transport infrastructure is owned and operated by provincial and local level governments, communities, charitable institutions and private interests.

Population distribution, growth rates and migration are principal factors in the demand for transport. Papua New Guinea has a low population density compared with most other countries, provincial population densities varying between a low of 2 persons/sq. km in Western Province to 66 persons/sq. km in Eastern Highlands, with a national average of 15 persons/sq. km.

Papua New Guinea's population remains predominantly rural based and widely distributed with many small villages located in inaccessible mountain valleys, inland river tributaries and along the coastal margins.

The Highlands Region stands out as both a large population concentration and a relatively high population density. Southern Highlands, one of the least accessible provinces, has the largest population of any province although the population densities in Western Highlands, Simbu and Eastern Highlands are the highest in the country, between 50 and 70 persons/sq. km, so they generate more concentrated travel demand.

The Papua Region, in particular the provinces of Western, Gulf and the northern parts of Central Province remote from Port Moresby, have the lowest population densities as well as being crossed by several large rivers with extensive coastal deltas. This presents a challenge for the economic provision of transport infrastructure and services.

The Islands Region, have the second highest population densities to the Highlands, with much of the population around the coastal margins, making coastal shipping of particular importance as a mode of transport both for inter-island services and for services around the island coasts.

Economic Activity and Transport Demand

Efficient transport networks and services are a necessary underpinning to economic activity, for overseas trade, for supply of the main urban domestic markets from centres of rural production, and for distribution of consumer goods to large and small communities. Transport connections allow traditional subsistence-based village economies new opportunities to increase the specialisation of goods and services they provide through wider access to markets. This can take the form of the sale of surplus produce, develop into smallholder cash cropping and then larger scale ventures.

While transport connectivity is a necessary input to development, other complementary inputs are also needed in education and specialist training, and commercial services such as post and banking.

Social Services Delivery and Transport

The delivery of social services, in particular basic education and health programmes, is facilitated through good transport accessibility. Good access makes it easier and cheaper to recruit, retain and support teachers and health workers in remote posts. It also lowers the cost of importing building materials and supplies for the construction and operation of schools, aid posts and rural hospitals. Good transport accessibility makes it easier for pupils to attend school and for patients to access health services, and increases the effective reach of these services. Outreach programmes such as vaccination, health education and disease prevention, pre- and neo-natal support are facilitated by transport access. Other community interaction and support for youth, women, and social and religious participation are strengthened. Transport connectivity promotes social cohesion at local and national level.