What Bangalore and every other city in the country needs for orderly growth is a cogent transport policy, says M.A. Siraj

An average healthy person can walk six kilometres in an hour. It should be amusing to know that average speed of an automobile in the central business district of Bangalore is just about six km an hour. Kolkata does a little better with seven km/hour. It only goes to prove that the old French proverb “The more things change, the more they stay the same” perhaps does not apply anywhere more aptly than it does to Indian situations.

This is not unique to Bangalore and Kolkata alone. Cities in India are attracting hordes of people but they are increasingly losing their efficiency and viability. Imagine the wastage of fuel and time and the distress caused by pollution to a vehicle-user who could have covered the same distance walking or astride an environment-friendly bicycle.

Now enlarge the picture on the national scale and sample the following:

The motorised vehicle population in India stood at 140 million in 2011, according to a study by the Indian Institute of Human Settlements. In 1987, we had 12.6 million vehicles. In 1997 this number had increased threefold to 37.2 million. The basic problem is not that we have too many vehicles in the country. By world standards, we still lag far behind many other developing countries in term of vehicle ownership in that we harbour 15 per cent of the world’s population which rides just about five per cent of the world’s vehicles.

The real problem is that the automobiles Indians possess are concentrated only in a few cities. It is rather alarming to note that 32 per cent of these vehicles ply the constricted roads of our cities where merely 11 per cent of the total population of India live. Delhi has 1.4 per cent of the people but they own around 5.6 per cent of the total automobiles in the country.

Urbanisation is inevitable

There was a time when urbanisation was considered immoral on social and cultural grounds. But during the last 23 years of economic liberalisation there has been a paradigm shift in our mindset as well as approach. Going by the contribution of the cities to the Gross National Product (GNP) — currently 60 per cent— urbanisation is taken as inevitable and that sense of guilt that characterised allocation of greater resources to the urban development has vanished. Yet the gaps have remained and imbalances have led to chaotic growth of urban areas. Transportation has been the major victim of, lopsided at best and deficient at worst, the flawed planning.

Efficiency of cities largely depends upon the effectiveness of its transport systems, i.e., efficacy with which people and goods are moved through and between them. Poor transport systems stifle economic growth and development, and the net effect may be a loss of competitiveness in both domestic as well as international markets.

The economic efficiency of cities and the well-being of their inhabitants are directly linked to mobility or lack of it. Twenty nine per cent of Indians were living in cities by 2001 and their share is set to grow to around 37 per cent by the year 2021 and the number of metropolitan cities is projected to rise to 51 by 2021. These demographic changes have boosted the demand for transport, something that most Indian cities are not able to meet. Consequently, our overloaded streets lead to congestion, delays, pollution and wastage of fuel and accidents and fatalities, to put some of the factors that are negatively impacting the efficiency of Indian cities.

Policy gaps

Where did the policy and the planners err? It is in matters of composition of means of transportation. In 1977, two-wheelers comprised 39 per cent of the total vehicles which increased to 69 per cent in 1997. The share of buses, the prime means of public transport, was negligible. For instance, two-wheelers and cars together constitute more than 91 per cent in Kanpur, 88 per cent in Hyderabad and 86 per cent in Nagpur whereas buses constitute 0.5, 0.5 and 0.4 per cent respectively. The share of buses declined from 11.1 in 1951 to 1.3 per cent in 1997 as a whole across the country. Travel demand has been going up substantially across India all these years. This is owing to three factors.

First, the urban population has been doubling every two decades. Secondly, the rate of mobility is also increasing i.e., the average number of trips per person per day. According to a study by Sudarsanam Padam and Sanjay K. Singh of Central Institute of Road Transport, Pune, in Delhi the average number of trips per person per day has increased from 0.49 in 1969 to 1.10 in 2001.

The trip rates for Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, and Pune are 1.26, 1.26, 1.22, 1.05, 1.20, 1.57, and 1.48 respectively. Thirdly the trip lengths too have been soaring. For example the average trip length on Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses increased from 6.4 km in 1972 to nearly 18 km in 2001. Currently, it is estimated that the average trip length of four mega cities varies from 12.7 to 13.5 km. There is also a change in the pattern of trip distribution; more and more trips are being made in urban areas for work, followed by education. For example, more than 60 per cent of the total trips in Mumbai is meant for work and around 31 per cent for education.

Steep rise in travel demand

The net consequence of such development is a steep rise in demand for transport in almost all cities across India. The annual growth of travel demand is increasing at the rate of 2.2 per cent in Kolkata, 4.6 in Mumbai, 9.5 in Delhi and 6.9 in Chennai. The demand has clearly outstripped supply. On average during peak hours in Mumbai, the actual occupancy in a suburban train is in excess of 4,000 passengers, whereas the maximum desirable capacity is 2,600 passengers.

The gap between demand and supply is more or less similar in all cities across the country. Estimates for the metropolitan cities show that approximately 80 million trips will need to be catered to per day, whereas only 37 million trips are being provided by the available rail and bus mass transport facilities. A World Bank study suggests that for every extra one million people in a developing city, an extra 3.5 to 4 million public transport trips per day are generated.

What is evident is that in the absence of an adequate and efficient public transport system, a large number of private and para-transit modes and players have entered the market to meet the travel demand. Such a proliferation of vehicles results in acute congestion, inordinate delays, accidents as well as mounting fatalities, high energy consumption and intense pollution of the environment.

Political prestige rather than rational calculations has often guided urban infrastructure policies. It is pointed out that 87 per cent of investments under JNNRUM schemes has gone for flyovers and other civil works rather than addressing the actual transport needs.

The need of the hour is formulation of a cogent urban transport strategy that is both pragmatic and holistic in its approach.