The future lies in rail

Peter Newman, director, Curtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute, Perth, Australia says there’s everything positive in encouraging public transport for growing cities, in an interview with M.A. Siraj

October 11, 2013 04:13 pm | Updated 04:22 pm IST

Peter Newman

Peter Newman

Sustainable transportation holds the key to health of cities. Car-dependent cities are vulnerable to several pollution-related health hazards apart from congested traffic arteries. Most metropolitan cities in India are facing the ‘death sentence’ in the wake of unprecedented rise of personalised automobiles. Dependency on personal vehicles will need to be replaced by clean, efficient and dependable public transport.

Prof. Peter Newman , Distinguished Professor of Sustainability, and director, Curtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute, Fremantle (Perth), Australia, has emerged as a well-known advocate for public transport, notably the rail. He was in Bangalore to conduct a workshop jointly organised by the Department of Urban Land Transport (DULT) of the Government of Karnataka, Curtin University and the Centre for Infrastructure for Sustainable Transport and Urban Planning (CiSTUP) of the Indian Institute of Science. He spoke to The Hindu-HABITAT on the sustainability of transportation which is the need of the hour.

Excerpts of the interview…

What could ensure sustainability of transportation in our cities?

Cities that were built around cars no longer function. The poor are getting out farther and farther. Politics somehow revolves round cars, and it is very robust in nature.

We should provide space for pedestrians, bikes and public transport, in that order of priority. We in Australia have changed the discourse. We have won five elections successively while advocating public transport. We mobilised public opinion for more and more public transport.

But it seems difficult to wean away people from private transport in this globalised era…

You have to provide options that are dependable, efficient and sound. Too many cars would ruin our cities. The trend in Europe is already in favour of public transport. In Central London, traffic fell by 19 per cent between 2000 and 2009. In the U.S., public transport, particularly rail, is becoming popular. Yet the glamour for car is still very dominant there. You (in India) have the option to go the Europe way or the U.S. way. In Australia, we have been moving towards public transport steadily.

But last-mile connectivity remains a major issue in the context of public transport?

It is not an issue at all. There are several alternatives available. Rail stations need to be integrated with bus. There are also options such as park (private vehicle near the station) and ride, or kiss and ride (drop off at the stations and return of vehicle to home). In Perth (Australia), we have ‘Fast Rail’ that is a bit like Metro which runs at the speed of 130 km per hour with stations at every three kilometres. Melbourne has a vast tram network, the largest in the world.

What could be ideal for Indian cities?

India could experiment with ‘Light Rail’. It goes on the side of the streets, involves no heavy civil engineering work. Your streets are struggling. Light Rail will reclaim the streets for users. 240 persons travel to work in 177 cars but it takes just three buses or one tram.

Metro construction costs $100 million per km, suburban rail $ 50 million per km and Light Rail comes at $20 million per km. It does not need underpasses and overpasses. It has only stops, no stations. The Germans and the French have the best expertise. India could think of “Light Rail” for Tier-II cities like Mysore, Nagpur, Kochi etc., with less than one million people. With a coach width of two metres and two carriages, it can carry 600 people. It runs on electricity, hence no pollution. People and businesses love it. The huge infrastructure being put up in cities (for Metro) is all due to politics.

But the sense of vanity, glamour and status associated with car is difficult to be erased. Besides, India’s automotive sector is booming...

It is quite understandable. It takes time for ideas to sink in and trends to catch up. The West deglamourised cigarettes but the cigarette industry was booming in the East. Research studies indicate that cars are no longer an index of wealth. You can make ‘Light Rail’ a sunrise industry. Bangalore has BEML which can go for manufacturing ‘Light Rail’. Cars are choking life in Indian cities. Anything that does not run on electricity has no future. Indian cities have already hit the wall. China has learned quickly. Shanghai Metro — two lines, 273 stations, 420 km covering 80 per cent of Metro area — was built mostly since 2000 and carries 8 million per day.

What could be the model for ‘Light Rail’ in India?

These could be built and operated by the private sector. Value capture modalities could be followed through urban renewal. Land value increases around new rail lines which can help in building and operation. There are several patterns available. The government could sell land around railway stations.

Copenhagen Metro sold a military base. Canberra will sell a showground site. In Hong Kong, Tokyo and Osaka the government bought land around stations and developed it for malls and markets. The Government is capturing private land value uplift in rail catchments through existing land-based taxes, e.g., in Australia and the U.S.

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