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Urban Transport Policy: Ensuring Equity

Ensuring Equity The new urban transport policy (NUTP) recently adopted by the union cabinet promises a people-centric perspective to the urgent issues of transportation that exercise most Indian cities. The challenge of urban transport will only increase manifold with India


Ensuring Equity

he new urban transport policy (NUTP) recently adopted by the union cabinet promises a people-centric perspective to the urgent issues of transportation that exercise most Indian cities. The challenge of urban transport will only increase manifold with India’s city and town population expected to increase to about 473 million in 2021 and 820 million in 2051, as against only 285 million in 2001. The sprawl that today constitutes unplanned urbanisation across India has rendered especially acute the question of transportation, whose development, in very many cases, has been made difficult by the chaotic growth of India’s cities and worse, by the mindless encouragement of central and state governments to private transport.

The overall theme of the new policy is one of equity. By addressing an array of issues including modes of public transport, especially non-motorised travel, safety and cleanliness of fuel technology, and land use patterns, the policy promises to radically alter and amend urban transportation. It also seeks to make transportation an integral part of urban planning at the very initial stage, rather than an afterthought. It acknowledges that policies and planning have thus far “encouraged” the automobile sector, which in turn, have led to skewed patterns of road space utilisation, congestion and rising pollution levels. Thus, its focus is on promoting public transport, which would be economic and would also ease pressures of commuting for the common, largely poor or lowincome urban dweller.

These aims are certainly laudable, but the difference between policies as they appear on paper and their implementation is wider than the proverbial slip. Smog-filled skies, congested roads, irate drivers, sweating and harassed commuters are ubiquitous symbols of most of urban India. Despite the admission of the bias towards an “automobile culture”, governments at the state and centre routinely extend sops to automobile companies; to facilitate increased auto use, the bulk of state funding continues to go to roadway expansions and modifications such as flyovers at key intersections. India has seen an estimated 20-fold increase in the combined number of cars, taxis, trucks and motorcycles from 1971 to 2001. In contrast, minimal attention has been devoted to meeting the needs of pedestrians and cyclists, who comprise the poorest sections of the population. The NUTP emphasises the need to improve and substantially upgrade public transport systems across Indian cities. Public transport not only occupies less road space but also causes less road pollution per passengerkm than personal vehicles. Those centres with populations of more than four million would be encouraged to start planning for a mass transit system, adopting a technology that would best suit the city’s requirements in the next 30 years.

In the public arena, the debate over public transport has been largely limited to that between the utility of the “metro rail” versus the bus rapid transport system. But there are a range of other public transportation systems, which could be designed for cities, depending on factors like the urban form, level of demand, direction and extent of sprawl, projections for future growth, extent of population density, etc. There are other issues to be resolved, moreover, such as financing and pricing. Low fares can be sustained by cross-subsidising or maintaining user-differentiated fare categories.

A viable transport policy will work if it is integrated with other urban agencies, especially those regulating land use patterns and if it involves all the stakeholders. The NUTP suggests future urban settlement along pre-planned road corridors and transport networks. The NUTP also hopes to encourage non-motorised forms of transport such as cycling or walking that would be possible through dedicated cycle zones, ensuring the freeing up of pavements or creation of no-traffic zones. This would also mean that alternatives are extended to hawkers and vendors, who are equally integrated into urban livelihood patterns.

While the proposed Unified Metropolitan Transport Authorities will facilitate the “coordinated planning and implementation” of projects and ensure the integrated management of urban transport systems, it will also require extensive coordination between different state agencies to set up a viable transport system. There are examples galore of different government agencies resorting to a quick-fix solution to do away with time consuming or difficult to implement policies. An instance is the recent “mixed” land use policy of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) that permits co-existence of trading and residential establishments. The urban transport policy promises cleaner, less congested and better-planned cities; it may thus appear oriented towards a utopian future. For the present, however, if existing safety regulations and adequate traffic management standards were only adhered to or implemented in the metros and smaller towns, some of the horrors now associated with urban transport could perhaps be mitigated.


Economic and Political Weekly April 22, 2006

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