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Moving towards a sustainable transit system

Not many would disagree that tackling urban transport in large cities has emerged as a key challenge for our city planners and local governments. This has primarily happened because we never paid enough attention to urban transport planning and approached it more as a response mechanism rather than a tool to guide future growth. We have failed to integrate transport development with city growth and the result, hence, should not be a surprise to us. The number of personal vehicles in our larger cities is growing at an unforeseen rate, four times faster than the growth of population in these cities and more than doubling in a single decade. We are following the trend of many other Asian cities of higher two-wheeler share in our fleets, as high as 75% in the larger cities and a declining share of people preferring to walk and cycle. We have a huge shortfall of organized public transport services in cities. Only 20 cities in the country have some sort of organized bus services.

Undoubtedly, we have to gear up to address these challenges on an urgent basis, which primarily implies that we have to move more people by public transport and arrest the declining share of cyclists and pedestrians. As short-term goals, we need to draw up public transit and non-motorized transport plans for our cities using advanced transport planning tools. We have to be careful in not repeating the mistakes of the past by isolating transport planning from urban development. There can be no one public transit model that would fit all the cities. While larger cities with a population of more than two-three million may need high capacity systems such as Metro rail, the others can accrue the same benefits from less expensive options such as bus rapid transit system or just introduction/improvement of city bus services. The decisions for the type of public transit for the cities are critical as they will determine how fast we can get the services. High capacity systems usually will take longer time for construction and will need massive funds.

Whatever the public transport model is, its success in attracting people would depend on how well the system is planned and integrated with other transit systems in the city. A person taking public transport should be offered as much convenience as possible in terms of easy access to a transit station by providing proper non-motorized transport connectivity, feeder services and adequate parking space at transit stations. The commuter should be able to inter-change between public transit modes easily with a single ticket and should be offered a clean, less crowded and comfortable ride. These measures do play a big role in making public transit services successful, as observed in many cities of the world. Very few Indian cities have started thinking of these concepts and have a long way to go in terms of implementing these.

Going a step beyond just infrastructure provision, cities need to take demand management actions in order to discourage people from using personal modes. World experience has shown that an effective shift to public transport can occur only if transport demand management measures are adopted in tandem with increased provision of public transport. While, with increasing per capita incomes and growing aspirations to own private vehicles cannot be easily discouraged, it is possible to discourage the routine use of personal vehicles through an intelligent combination of interventions such as congestion pricing, high parking fees, reduced space for parking, park and ride facilities, etc.

While we improve public transit services, it will be important for us to also build a safe environment for cyclists and pedestrians. Although declining, Indian cities still have a high share of about 40% non-motorized transport users in our modal mix. This share needs to be preserved and arrested from further decline by ensuring adequate and segregated space for these modes. Non-motorized transport users need to be considered on a par with motorized vehicle users and should be provided with comfortable and safe environment in terms of shading, lighting, provision of conveniences and safe crossings. There has to be a way to promote cycling as a fashionable mode rather than a poor man’s mode, a behavioural change that can only come about by rigorous awareness/educational campaigns. Schemes such as rent-a-cycle need to be introduced in order to encourage people to use cycles rather than their two-wheelers and cars for short trips. Large office complexes, university campuses should be an ideal place to start such schemes.

In parallel to infrastructure provision for non-motorized transport and public transit, Indian cities also need to start practising integrated land use and transport planning. Integrated development concepts can be translated through designing self- sufficient neighbourhoods, transit and non-motorized transport oriented designs, mixed land uses, zoning and density regulations, carefully designed building byelaws, and correct locational and scale decisions, which can be instrumental in reducing the need to travel, reducing the length of journeys, encouraging use of public transport and non-motorized transport, and reducing reliance on motorized personal transport.

The aim should be to provide enough low-energy intensive modal choices, i.e., cycling, walking and public transport to the city population through integrated planning concepts. Stockholm and Portland, Oregon (US) are a few good examples of integrated land use and transport planning where mixed-use and compact development concepts have been successful with the support of good quality public transport. Within India also, developments such as old Delhi, Jaipur, etc., have numerous lessons of integrated development concepts for city planners. There is need to translate all these concepts in the city plans and ensure their implementation. Capacity building of agencies dealing with city and transport planning is required in order to be able to implement sustainable planning practices.

Tags: urban transportation, sustainable transport, India

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