Sustainable transport needs augmentation to ‘New Transit Cities’ model

Initiatives of ‘sustainable transport’ in the recent budget may need further enhancement to ‘new transit cities’ model in the coming years.

sustainable transport

By: Surjith Karthikeyan, Deputy Secretary, Government of India

The metropolitan cities in India displays its transport history in its long-lived infrastructure and settlement structures. The ‘locked in’ patterns and characteristics may not reverse quickly even if the stimulus is reversed and may reinforce further trends in same direction. In Indian metropolitan cities, due to economic activity concentration in the heart of the city, its mobility are usually ensured by public taxi cars or private cars plying all over the locality, which is relatively cheap and reaches the nearest starting point of journey of the traveller.

The existing transport design in this city evolved historically based on the market requirements and that any move against the same may be counterproductive and may ultimately affect the livelihood of various stakeholders. Non-adherence to strict time table of operation as also the opportunistic behaviour of public transport buses, shortage of buses during the peak hours, further deteriorates the provision of public transport in key areas. 

In this context, Government initiatives as part of PM GatiShakti, a transformative approach for economic growth and sustainable development, announced in the recent budget, is an eye opener. Facilitation of multimodal connectivity between mass urban transport and railway stations, designing of metro systems and civil structures to be re-oriented and standardized for Indian conditions and needs, may improve the transport sector.

Promoting a shift to use of public transport in urban areas complemented by clean tech and governance solutions, special mobility zones with zero fossil-fuel policy, and EV vehicles are indeed steps in the right direction.

World Bank indicates that by 2031, around 600 million people are estimated to reside in Indian cities. However, only about 20 cities of India with population over 5 lakh has some kind of organised public transport and a few has rapid transit. The share of public transport actually showed a declining trend from 70% (year 1994) to almost 40% (year 2007) in large Indian cities. Also, in Indian cities, accident rates as also fatality rates are one of the world highest, mainly affecting the vulnerable and the poor, who doesn’t possess their means of transportation.

India’s population of 377 million (31.2%) is residing in urban areas as per 2011 census. This according to the estimates of United Nations is expected to grow to 590 million (40%) by 2030 and 875 million (58%) by the year 2050. Though 30% of the total population is residing in urban areas, India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contributed by those urban areas is approximately 63%.

Indian cities are also confronting with a series of issues even with the current size of the urban population, which include inter alia severe congestion; increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transport sector; deteriorating air quality; exploding growth in the number of private vehicles (largely motorcycles) and increasing road accidents. This with the expectation of the growth of urban population, the situation could easily get out of control. This indeed may thwart economic development efforts of India unless the vision in the recent budget is taken forward in the right spirit by the respective state governments. 

Need focus on new transit cities

New Transit cities are characterised by provision for package of services so comprehensive, convenient and integrated that competes with car ownership with focus on improving ‘mobility’ and ‘accessibility’. The key issues faced by Indian metropolitan cities include inter alia weakness of the bus system, long travel times due to increased congestion. This forces the public to depend more on passive franchise such as car/auto taxi service, private cars, and motorcycles for short journeys. 

The cities in India need simplification of the networks and reducing duplication in various bus services, providing bus connectivity to suburban railway stations, ferry services, sea plane services, metro and monorail systems etc., so as to reduce the density of public taxi cars flooding the roads during the peak hours. It also requires redesigning the timing, frequency and connectivity of bus, trains services etc., for synchronizing the same with various other services such as metro and monorails, which are run by the various metropolitan and state Governments. 

The other key aspects required include inter alia public transport fair restructuring, synchronization and provision for a single travel card for accessing various transport services. These proposals should be holistic and coordinated one, covering restructuring of various modes of transport in solving the pending demand of addressing congestion in the cities. These types of transit oriented development minimizes the inconvenience in space, smoothens the physical connections made when transferring between various public transport lines, thereby reducing the waiting times incurred when transferring between public transport lines.

The single travel card for accessing various transport services reduce the inconvenience of passengers in payment when transferring between lines. This will ultimately reduce the traffic delay due to friction. These types of proposals needs to be supported by additional fleet services wherever needed, so as to minimize the inconvenience caused to passengers in peak hours in major roads. 

Care should be taken for setting fares, network planning and timetable coordination. Transfer friendly timetable needs to be supported by transport friendly fares. This means that the transport must be free, with passengers paying for the distance travelled, rather than for the number of modes used, generally through a system of fare zones. This incentivizes the daily office commuters who has to take different modes. This initiative, if supported by periodical tickets will be an added environmental measure. 

Finally, Integrated Transport Authority integrates different types of buses and modes of transit, including the Bus Rapid Terminal and future metro lines. It helps the Government to reorganise the same for improving the quality of services, thereby attracting people to public transport and reducing private cars on road ultimately leading to ‘New Transit cities’.

Disclaimer: Views are personal. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author. These views and opinions do not represent those of The Indian Express Group or its employees

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