Let’s Get People Moving, Not Cars

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Christopher Kost, Technical Director, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)

A smart and sustainable transport system plays a major role in the vision of a Smart City. Christopher Kost, Technical Director, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), throws light on what all Indian cities need to do to ensure a lasting solution to transport woes

Smart cities embrace the fact that urban transport is about moving people, not vehicles. They prioritise transport investments in efficient, sustainable forms of mobility like public transport, walking and cycling. They accept that transport solutions like wider roads and flyovers do not provide a lasting solution to cities’ transport problems—instead, these forms of infrastructure lead to high levels of air pollution and unsafe roads, while citizens remain stuck in traffic.

What’s Needed

To keep pace with its urban growth, India needs a 10-fold increase in its mass rapid transit supply. Developing countries like Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have four-five times more rapid transit than India. They are expanding their systems at significantly higher rates because they are creating surface systems like bus rapid transit (BRT) that are cheaper and quicker to implement. BRT systems feature dedicated median lanes for buses, allowing commuters to bypass congestion. They also provide features such as stepless boarding, off-board fare collection, and real-time passenger information to reduce delays and improve customer service.

Rapid transit, though important, is not enough. Many Indian cities have skeletal bus services or none at all. In their absence, people depend on intermediate public transport modes that are uncomfortable, unsafe and highly polluting. The lack of reliable public transport is causing a shift to private two-wheelers and cars. Hence, a formal bus-based public transport service is a necessity in all urban areas with a population of over two lakhs. In all, Indian cities will need over four lakh new city buses and mini-buses by 2030.

Walking & Cycling

In addition, streets must be redesigned to support walking and cycling — the clean modes of transport that still play an important role in Indian cities. While more than a third of all the trips in most of our cities are made by foot or cycle, public transport trips, too, start and end on foot (or cycle) — making walking and cycling integral to India’s transport systems. Indian cities need to build 30,000 km of wide and accessible footpaths and 20,000 km of cycle tracks over the next decade.

Finally, investments promoting walking, cycling and public transport will not bear fruit unless Indian cities stop counter-productive car-centric investments, like flyovers and elevated roads. Cities need to enforce an immediate moratorium on infrastructure that is focused on speeding up travel by private cars, often at the expense of safety and mobility for other road users.

Technology in Transport

Technology is key to many elements of a sustainable transport network — driving elements from the real-time arrival displays in a BRT station to cashless fee collection in a smart on-street parking system. However, technology is not a substitute for making the important political decisions that govern our transport systems: prioritising public transport and non-motorised transport when we allocate road space, or charging adequate fees for the use of road space by personal motor vehicles.

Way Forward

Indian cities have tremendous potential to make transition to a more liveable future if we adopt a sustainable transport paradigm. If we focus on building cities for people—not cars— we will enjoy cleaner air, safer streets, better access to jobs and education, and less time spent stuck in traffic.

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