Making Sustainable Urban Mobility a reality

 

The 4 day event of the 6th EST or Environmentally Sustainable Transport Forum and the 4th  Urban Mobility Conference held in Delhi was the first year report card on the Bangkok 2020 declaration, which is the vision for Asia in promoting sustainable transport towards a green economy. I had the opportunity to be present during all the 4 days going through the preceedings and deliverations taking place in parallel sessions covering topics like:

  • Public health and Safety in Public transport
  • Integrated approach to transport planning
  • Intelligent transportation systems or ITS
  • Mobility patterns
  • Particulate matter or PM and its consequences
  • Breaking the current mobility trends
  • Making cities more livable and walkable

Lot of sessions, sessions and more sessions. Experts from Europe, USA, Seoul, Japan, SE Asia and India. And the huge number of knowledgeable delegates. All gathered together to discuss the new and innovative ways to move forward in designing better and more livable sustainable urban  cities with prime focus on transportation and mobility.

“Look at the DNA of the city and build accordingly” – ITS expert, IBM

Countries the world over are looking at making their cities more environmentally and commuter friendly and this calls for re-looking at their current transportation systems. The much older and established cities don’t have much choice in terms of redesigning. It is in the new developing cities in different countries where the large opportunity lies – by looking at the DNA of the city and then designing it according to its needs – also known as Smart City Solutions promoted by IBM. For example, Ahmedabad is looking at the next manufacturing hub and it needs to be developed accordingly.

The key drivers for this push is coming from the rather obvious and often overlooked reasons and these need to be addressed in the next 10 year window of opportunity since these are inevitable to increase if some sort of action plan is not put in place.

  • Rapid Urbanization
  • Population explosion
  • Increased Vehicle ownership
  • Increased number of trips made
  • Congestion of traffic situation in tier 1,2, & 3 cities
  • Inadequate infrastructure
  • Climate change challenges

Where India stands

India’s 6 major metropolises have grown 2 times their size in population but the motor vehicels went up by almost 8 times during the same period. Cost of travel has increased and the worst ones to be affected are the poor. The Non-Motorised (NMT) vehicles have become an impossible mode of transport. The safety of the women and elderly who are most vulnerable are also a cause of concern on the Indian roads.

New improved buses with Smart ticketing

India stands at a point where it can take raod traveled by other developed nations or it can see what it really needs and then build its infrastructure accordingly. Delhi has seen the Metro Rail Network criss-crossing the city with the aim of finally adding more than 400kms of lines, that will be more than the London underground system. Bangalore and Chennai also have started their phase 1 of metro network. In other parts of the country, BRTS or Bus Rapid Transport Systems have been developed to make a considerable impact in the way people commute. In other areas, “Para-transport” options or the likes of Rickshaws, 3-wheeler Autos, bicyles, horse buggies and what have you are being explored to organize this sector.

Missing in Action: Auto makers

The unanimous recognition is : Car is the problem. And the people who make cars were missing. It was ironic that the transport manufacturers were not present at the meet. It would be interesting to hear their response and what they feel about promotion of cycles, public transport and the reduced use of car. Because for an effective urban mobility system, cars are not in the picture – they get phased out as people switch to more sustainable forms.

“they are in the transportation business and not in the car-making business”
 

Any sustainable practices we see from our favorite car manufacturers – hybrids, clean fuels, landfill free sites, resuing used oil, chippings etc and ISO standards and green certification and lables accumulation – in the end, they are puttting a product on the road that will utilize the premium “road space”. Once they understand that they are in the transportation business and not in the car-making business, can we see some real forms of sustainable transport being made available.

Bob Keefe - sitting 2nd from right

Health concerns

Bob O’ Keefe from Health Effects Institute, US, came hard on the health effects and dangers of rising pollution levels. Nitrogen oxide or NOx kills – anywhere in the world – more so in Indian cities. The particualte matter in Delhi is 5x more than normal limits. And for a country of billion people only 44 studies have been conducted – which is a pittance.

Commuter Pain Index is one of the highest in cities of Bangalore and Delhi. And looking at the car penetration in India, which is only 30/1000 people – in a way Indians haven’t even started driving yet!

Riding the 'Solecshaw' - Solar battery run Rickshaw

Way forward

ITS or Intelligent Transport System is one of the ways that cities can effectively enhance their existing transportation management apart from making their cities more walkable and using the land more effectively. Japan, Singapore and S.Korea are the leaders in ITS. Officials from Japan showed some excellent examples on how they have managed to implement ITS through out the length and breadth of the country. With less than 5000 fatalities a year and aiming to bring it down to less than 2500 fatalities/year on the roads, Japan is a model country that the world can follow. 

Many other developments were showcased which I have not covered in this post – like the Smart Identity Solutions, Integrated Multi-modal transit systems, Feeder networks and the launch of Common Mobility Card – “More”. I will be looking at these and other topics in detail in my following posts in an attempt to answer the question – Is Sustainable Urban Mobility a possibility in the Indian context?

Summing up, the strong political will shown by Kamal Nath, the Urban Development minister, in his final valedictory address, gives some glimmer of hope in the urban transportation scene – in the otherwise slow and often crumbling bureaucracy.

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  1. […] The Automobile industry and the car manufacturers. Period. Just to drive home the point, I attended “Urban Mobility Conference” last year, and attended this “Walkability Forum” – and I didn’t see […]

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