How is India responding to the crisis? In March 2003, the finance minister of Delhi, delivering his budget speech, promised more money so that the capital could become, as its chief minister has put it, "the flyover city of Asia". Think more road; give vehicles more space: this grand, now globally debunked, style of mobility management is precisely the mantra planners and politicians in India swear by. This in a nation where urbanisation and its resultant heartburns - congestion and pollution - are phenomenal.
More, not merrier
Between 1951 and 2000, while the total urban population in India increased just 4.6 times, the number of vehicles bounded up 158 times. According to the planning commission, transport demand in the country has grown at 1.2 times the gross domestic product growth rate. And metropolitan cities, with just about 11 per cent of the total population, have 32 per cent of the country"s vehicles.Most of this increase is in the form of two-wheelers. According to a May 2000 article in the Indian Journal of Transport Managementin 1988 one in every 16 families in Bangalore owned a car and one in four had a two-wheeler. By 1998while there was a car per 10 familiesalmost every family owned a two-wheeler. Two-wheelers today form about 64 per cent of the fleet in Delhi and about 73 per cent in Chennai. However, in such cities, a shift towards cars is apparent. In Delhi, for instance, transport department statistics show 164 cars are registered every day, compared to 117 two-wheelers.
With the increase in number of vehicles, the rate of travel in urban centres is also shooting up. In Delhi, the average number of trips per person per day has increased from 0.49 in 1969 to 1.00 in 2001, says a household travel survey by Operations Research Group. There is also a rise in average distance traveled due to the physical expansion of the city.
Despite Indian cities having lower vehicle ownership rates than cities in developed countries, the problem of congestion is far worse here. In Kolkata, says Sudarsanam Padam, former director, Central Institute of Road Transport, Pune, the average speed during peak hours in the central business district (cbd) area is as low as 7 km/hr. Bangalore currently has average speeds of about 13-15 km/hr in its cbdbut this is expected to go down to 3-8 kms/hr in the next 15 years, says M N Reddi, the city"s Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic). According to Padam, congestion on Indian roads means a loss of Rs 300crore every year.
Public means pallid
An efficient and adequate public transport network is obviously a dire need. But when available rail and bus mass transport facilities provide only 37 million trips against a demand of 80 million trips per day by no means can such a system be called adequate or efficient. In fact, there has been a decline in the percentage share of buses from 11.1 per cent in 1951 to 1.3 per cent in 1997 for the whole country.
Dedicated city bus services are known to operate in only 17 cities and rail transit exists only in three out of 35 cities with populations in excess of a million. Even where they operate the bus service is grossly inadequate. While the bus fleet in Chennai Metropolitan Area increased just about three times between 1972-73 and 1996-97 passengers increased more than four times in the same period. In comparison between 1981 and 1997 the number of passenger cars went up by more than four times and two-wheelers by 11 times.
The failure to develop a reliable bus system has spawned various explanations: ancient crumbling vehicles; lack of skills or capacities of state transport authorities; a philosophy of loss-making and political pressure. Also, buses in India use the standard truck engine and chassis and so are not specifically designed for urban conditions.
Bicycles, cycle-rickshaws and walking - modes that could work wonders to reduce congestion and pollution levels - are associated with the poor in India. For 60-year-old Rafiqbhai, who cycles to get to any place from his home in the Jamalpur area of Ahmedabad, there is no other option. "I cannot afford to take a bus or autorickshaw on a regular basis, so I am forced to cycle. This is no easy task as there is hardly any place for people like us on the main roads or the bylanes" he says.
While bicycles and cycle-rickshaws are disappearing from some of the bigger cities, some have chosen to drive them off the road as a matter of policy. Traffic departments in Lucknow and Guwahati have banned non-motorised transport from most arterial routes for most of the day. A disregard for walking is similarly quite evident. Existing infrastructure ensure fast movement of cars at the cost of pedestrians. Pavements and footpaths - where they exist - are either encroached upon or made narrower to increase roadwidth for the benefit of motorised traffic. These are not issues that the government is unaware of. In its 1998 report rites categorically states: "Non-motorised transport is vital to urban mobility." It goes on to recommend footpaths on all arterial/sub-arterial roads and cycle tracks or lanes in all small-and medium-sized cities and on the major city corridors with over 10 per cent share of cycle traffic.
A question of planning
Urban planners place the blame for burgeoning private vehicles on the way Indian cities have been planned. N Ranganathan, former Professor Emeritus, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, says that though transport is usually the second largest consumer of urban developed land (next to "residential" use) the actual availability and provision in master plans is much below recommended norms. There has been no effort to change land-use structure in relation to transport technology. The plans at best attempt to graft the transport system on already established structures, he points out.
The rites report advocates integrating land-use and transport as mandatory before master plans are developed for cities with population of one million and above. But efforts to promote mixed land-use have fallen through because of the mushrooming of "unauthorised settlements" and pavement dwellings.
Current wisdom suggests the way out is to set up satellite towns and extend the city boundaries. Even rites recommended appropriate planning to develop new urban centres with employment opportunities, housing and other civic amenities, to discourage migration to existing urban agglomerations. However, it qualified this recommendation by proposing the launch of a programme to prepare revised integrated transport master plans for all cities with a population of two million and above in the next two years.
The race for roads
A direct consequence of the lack of city planning for urban transport has been an acute shortage of road space in most Indian cities. The rites report says the space occupied by roads, railways and other transportation facilities in Indian cities is low at 3-20 per cent of the total area, as against a standard 30 per cent in developed countries. The total road area in Mumbai, for example, is 12 per cent of the city compared to 23 per cent in London and 25 per cent in Paris. According to Bangalore"s traffic police, the traffic volume in the city is 1.5-3.6 times its road capacity. Surveys have shown that up to 39 per cent of roads in a large number of metropolitan cities in India are encroached upon by on-street parking and vendors.
This has led to drastic and irresponsible initiatives from politicians and town planners alike, with the emphasis overwhelmingly on increasing capacity. A former mayor of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation was quoted in the media as saying: "We want to cut down existing footpaths to provide more road space to motorists." Chennai has already done away with many pavements to provide more space to vehicles based on the argument that pedestrians don"t use them because of encroachment. The rage for more and wider roads, flyovers and freeways has caught on. Ahmedabad is planning 10 flyovers and Kolkata is going for five, while Delhi wants 45 and Mumbai 50. While rites agrees that some of these capital-intensive projects are justified, the fact remains that most Indian cities cannot afford such solutions. The imperative, therefore, is to take recourse to transport system management measures designed to reduce congestion and increase road capacity. See: Road map
Who pays for the mess?
The existing fiscal management of urban transport in Indian cities serves to aggravate problems. Private vehicles get away with congesting and polluting more and paying far less than the mass transport options. Thus, while the problem is subsidized, the solution is taxed. The Union government"s recent 8 per cent cut in excise duty on electric vehicles, passenger cars and multi-utility vehicles has served to boost car sales by 15 per cent - adding to pollution and congestion loads.
While in most states private vehicles pay only a lifetime tax, mass transport vehicles pay a tax every quarter. A study by the Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala)-based National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (ntprc) shows that heavy vehicles, which constitute only about 13 per cent of all vehicles in the state, account for 84 per cent of the total tax revenue. As against this, two-wheelers account for 53 per cent of total vehicles and only 3.4 per cent of the tax revenue.Cars, jeeps and taxis account for about 22 per cent of total vehicles and only about 10 per cent of the tax revenue, while autorickshaws account for 10.9 per cent of total vehicles and a disproportionately low 2.3 per cent of tax collections.
ntprc believes the road taxation structure in India should reflect factors such as vehicle price and capacity, its impact on traffic congestion and environment and damage to roads. Since older vehicles pollute more, consume more energy and are less roadworthy, the government should set statutory age limits for all types of vehicles used intensively. A road tax surcharge should be imposed on these vehicles to discourage their use and fiscal incentives should be given for their early replacement.
Indian cities are perfect examples of how not to have an integrated institutional mechanism to manage transport. The responsibility of managing transport - policy, planning, investment, operations and maintenance, and management of urban transport-related infrastructure and services - is usually scattered among central state and local authorities. This, according to the World Bank, leads to debilitating institutional weaknesses. It creates a lack of technical capacity to manage urban transport, especially at the local level. Municipalities or states usually have no money to fund urban transport infrastructure to make new investments or put money into maintenance. They are hardly able to pay attention to cost recovery and user charges.
According to ritesthough it is not uncommon in different parts of the world to find several government agencies involved in urban transport the central issue in India is that responsibilities assigned to different agencies are rarely responsive to the cities" demands. Although public agencies are collectively responsible for nearly all aspects of urban transport (including planning)as individual agencies they operate only on the basis of departmental priorities and procedures rather than the city"s needs.
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