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A myopic view of transportation

It's as much a social as an infrastructure issue.

News reports such as the recent killing of three members of a family in South-east Delhi over a parking dispute, or the harassment of women in public transport or on the road, raise a very important, but totally ignored, facet of transport, namely, its social linkages and impact.

Road accidents and road rage are two other grave social challenges of transport that we haven't really been able to recognise as emerging from the way our cities and transport systems are planned and designed.

In 2012, India lost about 140,000 lives, just on account of road accidents. It was the sixth leading cause of deaths in the country. Besides, nearly 500,000 persons were injured due to road accidents. Loss of lives, especially of bread earners, and even accident related injuries, have a socio-economic impact on aggrieved families that is irreparable.

We hardly study the colossal negative externalities of the way our transport systems are growing.

Our current approach to transport systems planning and development places the focus on planning standards, technical designs, techno-economic feasibility, civil works and system operations and management.

For example, when we design parking, it is really about design standards, parking requirements, and project execution.

Over-technical approachHow the transport systems will interact with communities is not really considered. The social impact of large transport systems, non-availability of public transport services, inadequate street lighting, poor road facilities and design, non-availability of parking spaces aren't really the subjects of concern for urban managers.

We don't have an understanding of what transport systems, and the way they are growing, is doing to our society.

While we do predict that the number of cars will grow from 15 to 45 million in the next 10-15 years, we look at it merely from the perspective of demand for additional road spaces, parking, among other things, but not from the perspective of what it will do to our population - their travel behaviour, their work-residence decisions, their attitude towards public transit and other road users, their aspirations, empowerment.

The impact is evidentThe approach is similar for all transport projects, where social issues i.e.We might plan a public transit system 'that is techno-economically the best possible solution' for a given situation, but we do not consider aspects related to affordability of poor, safety and security of vulnerable users like women, the elderly, and the needs of differently-abled populations, etc.

The impact of this neglect is becoming evident but this is not being attributed to the right reasons.

We expect that in the next 20-30 years, almost half of India's population will live in cities.

The pressures of such massive urbanisation will be clearly felt on all kinds of infrastructure, including transport, and a critical question would be socially equitable distribution and socially-inclusive design of systems that we plan.

It is critical that we examine the social linkages of transport systems and need to internalise these relationships in our planning.

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