Analysing the transport policy of India’s growth engines

Indian cities should rework land use planning, public transport provisions and fees imposed on private vehicle owners to create a sustainable transport policy.

The recent announcement by the Delhi Chief Minister to implement an odd-even licence plate policy has brought back the relevance of the transport policy in running the city. Often considered to be the backbone of the cities, the public transport in Indian cities has not been exemplary. With congested Western Highway in Mumbai to clotted roads in Bangalore, one of the common factors restricting the growth and the sprawl of the cities has been its inefficient transport policy.

In 2008, Union Internationale des Transports Publics (UITP), an international organisation of public transport with the European Union Committee came up with a Green Paper on Urban Transport. As per the paper the three pillars of sustainable transport were defined as:

  1. Land use planning and addressing the environmental impact of urban sprawl;
  2. Restricting private car usage in urban areas; and
  3. Developing high quality public transport

Land use planning plays a vital role in restricting the congestion and pollution caused due to traffic. For instance, in his book Triumph of the City, Edward Glaeser explains the benefits of a compact city as it reduces a higher amount of carbon footprint in comparison to a sprawl or the sub-urban lifestyles. The short distances in a compact city reduce the amount of fuel burned by the cars and in most cases incentivise walking to work. For instance, due to artificial shortage of land in Mumbai, the Central Business District (CBD) is unaffordable. Hence, the upper and lower middle income population is forced to shift to the suburbs creating large sprawls. This distance from work incentivises people to use private vehicles to work on a daily basis and increase the carbon emission in the city along with the traffic. To get a better perspective of the problem, Delhi and Mumbai have been ranked 2nd and 3rd largest sprawl respectively as per the UN’s State of the World’s Cities 2012-13 report.

Reducing the use of private vehicle has been a common objective across transport policies for cities like Mumbai and Delhi so as to reduce the congestion and pollution in the cities. One of the direct ways to hamper the use of private vehicle can be by increasing the cost of using a vehicle by imposing parking fees or by charging surge prices to enter CBD during the peak hours. In place of policies with high implementation cost like odd-even licence plate policy, imposing fee for entering CBD such as the regions like Connaught Place will reduce the usage of personal vehicle and add to the municipality’s revenue. Similarly charging parking fees for the vehicles in the CBD regions will increase the cost of using a private vehicle for daily transits. However, in order to make these policies effective, the quality and the quantity of the public transport needs to be improved.

For the public transport to be efficient and comfortable, there needs to be an increase in the quality of the public transport options available. In addition to this, the quality standards need to be maintained to attract larger number of people. Bangalore is a good example for both the success and the failure of public transport. Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses have done a commendable in connecting the cities to the airport. These Volvo buses are commonly used by the local population are they are well connected to the different ends of the city and provide high quality levels. On the other hand, Bangalore sees some of the worst traffic due to the unavailability of optional modes of transport. As per a study done by Quartz, the annual monetary cost of traffic to Bangalore’s IT & BPO industries is $6.50 billion (Rs 39,6087.41 crore). Bangalore is still entirely dependant on the road transport with a limited metro availability. This lack of an alternative increases the pressure on the limited public transports in the form of buses and auto-rickshaws.

In all, the transport policy of India’s growth engines needs to be transformed severely in order to keep the engines moving.

Devika Kher is a Research Associate at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher.