Urban Transport in India
April 26, 2012
Indian cities will grow exponentially in the coming years. Given the challenges of rapid urbanisation, a key focus area for policymakers, citizens and business alike will be cheaper, cleaner and greener urban transportation.
According to the UN’s “World Urbanisation Prospects” report released in 2011, India – home to ten of the 30 fastest growing cities in the world – will witness the highest urban population growth by adding close to 490 million more people between now and 2050. Corresponding figures for other countries such as China and the US are 341 million and 103 million respectively. Urban growth, the primary reason for rapid urbanisation in India will account for two-third of this projected increase in population. The remaining one-third will result from the overall population increase. In contrast, urbanisation in countries like the US will result from the overall increase of urban population.
This “unprecedented” increase in urban populations will provide new opportunities to improve education and public services. At the same time however, it will pose new challenges of providing jobs, housing, energy and infrastructure for mitigating poverty, while the haphazard expansion of cities will also impact urban transportation.
Urbanisation and urban transport in India
India has more than 80 urban areas that are already grappling with many of the challenges mentioned above. These challenges arise because government and city planners have approached urban planning more as a knee-jerk reaction than from a strategic planning point of view to guide future growth. They have failed to integrate urban transport development with city growth and today are faced with a huge challenge in providing sustainable transport system to a population that is engaged in a variety of economic activities. Though an array of transport modes is available, Indian cities lack the necessary infrastructure to cater to this increased travel demand.
An associated problem has been the declining reliance on public transport. As a result the numbers of personal vehicles in Indian cities are growing at an unforeseen rate. Though significant improvements in public transport have been made, these trends are still visible in many of the metropolitan cities including Delhi and its satellite towns like Noida, Gurgaon and Ghaziabad. For instance the number of personal vehicles per 1000 population in Delhi has expanded by about 4 times in the last three decades where the number of buses per 1000 population has increased only 2.3 times.
According to available data for all India, the share of public transport buses declined to 0.9 percent of total vehicle in 2008 from 11.1 per cent in 1951. Several studies also reveal that cities without good mass transit systems showed a higher growth rate in vehicular population as compared to those with mass transit systems. Average vehicular speeds in many of these cities were as low as 10 kilometres per hour during peak hours.
The root cause of this problem is the failure to adapt the urban public transport system to the unique needs of these emerging cities. As a result, many cities in India today are faced with urban transport challenges like:
- Mixed traffic flow and mixed land use
- Severe congestion, pressure on existing public transport networks and increased travel demand
- Excessive delays, low speeds and high travel times
- Increased fuel consumption and air pollution
- Safety issues
- Exacerbation of problems due to Rapid urbanisation
- Poor public transport & infrastructure deficiencies
- Exponential growth in vehicle ownership
These problems are likely to intensify, if not multiply. With the transport sector already contributing to over 9 percent of India’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the increased use of private means of transportation will adversely impact energy use and environmental quality.
Government policies, interventions and existing gaps:
Undoubtedly, India needs to gear up to address these challenges, which primarily implies that it has to move more people by public transport using clean technologies.
But, urban transport in India is a state subject and in the absence of any guidelines from the central government, investments have been distributed and not centralised. Realising the importance of a pro-active approach, the government of India in 2006 enacted the New Urban Transport Policy (NUTP). The objective of this policy is to ensure safe, affordable, quick, comfortable, reliable and sustainable access for the growing number of city residents to jobs, education, recreation and such other needs within its cities. It seeks to achieve this by:
- Incorporating urban transportation as an important parameter in urban planning
- Encouraging integrated land use and transport planning in all cities to minimize travel distances
- Bringing about a more equitable allocation of road space with a focus on ‘people’
- Encouraging greater use of public transport and non-motorized modes
- Enabling the establishment of well-integrated & focused multi-modal public transport systems
- Establishing effective regulatory and enforcement mechanisms to allow for a level playing field s
- Establishing institutional mechanisms for enhanced coordination in planning and management
- Introducing Intelligent Transport Systems for traffic management
- Reducing pollution levels from urban transport systems
- Taking up pilot projects that demonstrate sustainable urban transport systems
- Building capacity (institutional and manpower) to plan for sustainable urban transport
- Establishing knowledge management system that would service the needs of all stakeholders
- Promoting the use of cleaner technologies
Notably, the National Environment Policy (NEP) was also enacted in the same year, further highlighting the need to reduce urban transport emissions. Simultaneously, the launch of the US$ 20 billion Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in 2005 provided the much-needed State financial support for investments in urban transport infrastructure. Supported by these two policies, NUTP has identified a wide spectrum of public transport technologies ranging from high capacity and high cost technologies like the underground metro systems to high capacity and low cost bus rapid transit systems.
Recent Developments in Indian cities
Of late, there has been increased recognition of the importance of public transport as a means to mitigate congestion and environmental degradation in urban areas. Cleaner technologies and new mass transit systems are on the anvil in several cities. For instance the Delhi Metro (a rail-based mass rapid transit system, serving the Delhi and its satellite towns), which began initial operations about seven years ago, is one of the largest metro networks in the world. The network consists of six lines with a total length of 190 kilometres with 142 stations of which 35 are underground. Bangalore in south India has also recently launched its rail based mass transit system to cover 33 km in two lines. Similarly, other cities like Hyderabad and Chennai have rolled out plans and Mumbai proposes to put in place an integrated urban transport system that will combine the suburban rail network with a metro rail system, hovercrafts and sea links.
These initiatives have already shown significant results. For instance, the Delhi Metro transports nearly 1.8 million passengers daily and is estimated to be responsible for keeping around 91,000 vehicles off the city’s roads daily. This has helped reduce pollution levels in the city by 6.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year, leading the United Nations to award it “carbon credits” worth US$9.5 million, the first time ever for a metro network.
While these are some examples of cleaner urban transport technologies several challenges remain to be tackled, which – depending on how one looks at it – could be a cause of worry or provide an opportunity. Indian cities need to draw upon international best practices in urban travel demand management, implementation of intelligent traffic systems, adoption of clean technologies and transport planning. Capacity building in agencies dealing with city and transport planning are also required in order to implement sustainable urban transport systems.
All this will require substantial investments. According to the Credit Rating and Information Services of India Ltd (Crisil) Infrastructure Advisory, India will need US$ 87 billion investments up till 2027 to meet its urban transport needs. These investments will lean toward capital intensive mass transit systems like Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) and rail-based public transport. But the government is constrained by its budgets. Additionally, these new projects require skill sets that are not easily available in the government sector or the country at large. To overcome these problems, India will need to seek expertise from other parts of the world and explore possible public private partnership models, both in financing and implementing these projects.
John L Khiangte