The National Urban Transport Policy adopted by the United Progressive Alliance government is four years old, but few would argue that the government has persuaded the States to implement its ambitious people-oriented mobility framework. Key structural reforms to modernise the transport system in the million-plus cities have not been carried out. Evidently, the States have not viewed the recommendations of the Ministry of Urban Development as important enough to move away from business as usual. The Ministry even provides grants for bus networks predicated on changes being made to the regulatory structure. The most important of these is the creation of a statutory Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority. This new body will coordinate and streamline infrastructure creation and land use, and integrate bus, rail, and feeder services. Yet even recent legislation such as the Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (CUMTA) Act falls short of the goal. It will hardly serve the regulatory objective because the Authority is headed by the Transport Minister and the majority of its members are officials. What is more, the decisions taken by this body are subject to approval by the government, which is also empowered to exempt any agency from the purview of the law. Can such an authority take an independent view on fares, service levels, and infrastructure, when the bureaucrat-members will , in effect, be reviewing their own work?
The regulatory bodies tasked with modernising transport systems need to be strengthened but a more immediate challenge is to improve mobility in cities. There is a clear disconnect between urban planning and the needs of different classes of citizens, with non-motorised road-users getting the worst deal. It is revealing, for instance, that bus fleets in the four big metros have shown negative growth between 2000 and 2007; walking spaces are shrinking, and pedestrians as well as bicyclists perceive increased risk of injury. The NUTP recognised the developing crisis and advocated a people-centric planning approach. But that vision has not translated into structural change. Moreover, even the meagre augmentation of bus fleets has resulted in steep fare increases, making commuting costlier. Research shows that the fare structure for comfortable bus travel must be pegged at less than the marginal cost of using a two-wheeler, if it is to achieve a modal shift. Walking and bicycling should be prioritised, and the integrated use of buses and trains promoted with the single-ticket concept. This must be the first priority for CUMTA and regulatory bodies in other cities.
Keywords: urban transportation