The 1990s was the decade of the family car and two-wheeler in urban India. The phenomenal increase in personal transport signalled the coming of age of middle class India. It also initiated urban chaos. Traffic jams, pollution, road accidents, gas-guzzling, lack of parking space, shrinking pedestrian walks and disappearing trees. While some cities like Hyderabad have tried to manage this more intelligently, others have allowed private transport to destroy public space and peace. This cannot go on. Of course, there will be more car owners as Indians prosper. Of course, more families will drive to work, shopping and weekends. Of course, there will be more demand for wider, better roads and more parking space. Private transport is bound to increase. However, along with all of this urban India will need more public transport. The inauguration of the Delhi Metro is an important but small step in this direction. Not only will Delhi need a more comprehensive mass rapid transit energy-efficient public transport system, but so will Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. All these cities are already facing the problem of private transport boom. Other cities are not far behind. In fact, some of the smaller cities are even worse off with narrower streets and virtually no public transport.
Large urban agglomerations the world over have shown that public transportation is an essential feature of civilised urban life. While the United States has the luxury of open spaces to be able to afford more private vehicles on its streets, most industrial nations have little space available for wider and more roads and hence public transport has become a vital necessity for all and not just for those who cannot afford private transport. High paid and busy executives in Londons financial district, the City, routinely travel by the London Underground to and from work. In cities like Tokyo, Paris, Brussels and even New York the metro has come to replace the private car for people who are busy and whose time is more important than their comfort. The Kolkata metro was the first urban transport project that was conceptualised not just as the poor mans means of transportation but the busy mans as well. Delhis modern metro should also change attitudes to public transport. It is a safe, sensible, environment-friendly, cost-effective and quick way to get to work and back home. To be a real alternative to private transport, it must be affordable and comprehensive.