More cars, flyovers and metros won’t solve India’s transport mess. In contrast, an efficient bus service can free up road space and reduce cost with smaller carbon footprint
IN EARLY 1970s, celebrated thinker Ivan Illich wrote in his book, ‘Transport and Equity’ that the average speed of people in motorised societies is less than that in non-motorised ones. He cited many reasons for this including congestion on roads, one-way system of transport, distance between parking spaces, shops etc, loss of time on hospitalisation due to road accidents (at least once in the life time of a motorist), loss of time in attending legal formalities and lastly, due to police cases related to road accidents and violation of traffic rules.
Those who rejected the observation of Illich would praise him today for his prophetic foresight. In order to gain more speed, safety and convenience; more and more people buy motorcycle first and then turn to private cars. But as a result of increase in the number of motor vehicles, speed of travel declines. Further, motor transportation becomes less safe and convenient.
Cars don't bring convenience
The number of road accidents involving death, injury and disability is rising at an alarming rate. As many as 1,39,091 persons lost their lives in 4.40 lakh road accidents in India in 2012. In search of more safety and convenience; many people turn to SUVs (big cars). But, this intensifies congestion on the roads and increases road blocks.
The vehicle population in India increased from 5 million in 1980 to 145 million in 2011. There will be 47 million cars on Indian roads by 2025. The number of other kinds of vehicles that run on the road like two wheelers, auto rickshaws, buses and big and small lorries and so on also has been increasing. With this, the rate of emission goes to dangerous levels. In India, only 4 per cent of transportation is by private cars; but these contribute 20 per cent of passenger transport emission. Width of the roads becomes inadequate and cannot be increased due to crowding of buildings on both sides.
As the private and public cost for making these facilities in the cities rises, the demand for expansion of the cities or for building new cities grows. All these are indices of development for the car manufacturers, producers of building materials, building contractors and such other powerful groups. On the other hand, the policy of encouraging private cars and neglecting public transportation makes transportation of both the car owners and others miserable.
The policy of encouraging private cars and neglecting public transportation makes transportation of both the car owners and others miserable. The logic of the National Urban Transport Policy ignores the primary objective of keeping “people rather than vehicles as its main focus” and thereby equates the right of the people with that of the vehicles.
The logic of the National Urban Transport Policy ignores the primary objective of keeping “people rather than vehicles as its main focus” and thereby equates the right of the people with that of the vehicles. The policy of encouraging private cars may be aimed at pleasing the middle and upper classes, which constitute the powerful opinion makers in the society. It needs to be mentioned here that a study on urban transportation done in Pune found that car and two-wheeler users receive larger subsidies than bus users when all cost imposed by transport modes are considered.
First flyovers, now metro
Our policy makers offer flyovers and metro rails in big cities as solutions to the problems referred above. However, experience and studies reveal that flyovers and metro rails are not the answer. The State of India’s Environment 2014 report by CSE tells us that there are 66 flyovers in Delhi; Rs 3,148 core spent on 18 of these works out to a whooping Rs 437 crore per km. Experience shows that flyovers built by investing big funds, including foreign loans only helps to shift traffic jam from one point to another. Although the planners do not admit this openly, it is after realising that flyovers are not the solution for the problem of urban transportation, they have turned to metro rails.
The transportation experts in India appear to believe that metro rails would facilitate expansion of public transport facilities. But, the working results of metros in Delhi and Kolkata are quite disappointing. A study done in 2008 found that metro rails have not solved any of the problems of congestion, pollution or of access for a majority of residents in any city in the world. Manila, Delhi, Shanghai, and Mexico city have metro networks of about 48, 60, 148 and 201 kms respectively; but account for only 2,2, 4 and 14 per cent of local trips.
Metro rails have not solved any of the problems of congestion, pollution or of access for a majority of residents in any city in the world. Manila, Delhi, Shanghai, and Mexico city have metro networks of about 48, 60, 148 and 201 kms respectively; but account for only 2,2, 4 and 14 per cent of local trips.
Delhi metro which failed to attract adequate passengers also failed to reduce traffic congestion in the city. The original feasibility study for developing a metro system for Delhi justified the system by projecting a daily ridership of 3.1 million passengers by 2005. This was later reduced to a projected demand for 2.18 million passengers to be transported per day and again to 1.5 million a day. The system was actually operating at around 0.6 million passengers per day at the end of 2007, less than 20 per cent of the projected capacity. Similarly, the Kolkata metro is operating at about 10 per cent of its projected capacity. Most heavily travelled stretches in a city are selected as the first two metro corridors which is why it should be surprising that the Indian metros are operating at such low levels. The study shows that rail based metro transportation systems plays a limited role in most large cities of the world except Tokyo.
In the case of Delhi metro cost of capital alone accounts for subsidy of Rs 35,000 per passenger per year. This is not sustainable.
Why not the bus?
Since comparatively smaller percentage of passengers make use of metro rails, it cannot play the role of a public transportation system required for India. More people are moving by bus, motorcycle, bicycle or on foot because metro stations are generally far away both from the residence and work place of majority of the people. According to the Ministry of Urban Development’s 2008 report, walking remains the dominant form of travel in cities. In Mumbai and Delhi, the share of pedestrians is 45 per cent and 33 per cent respectively. So, what is needed is an efficient system that focuses on equitable road space to the people rather than vehicles by plying adequate number of buses through bus rapid transit system (BRTS) on routes convenient to the people.
Bus service is abysmally poor in India with a meager 1.29 buses per thousand passengers as compared to 10.3 buses per thousand in Brazil. The number of buses per 1,000 persons in Singapore and Hong Kong are 3.2 and 2.8 respectively, but that for Delhi is merely 0.3. There is ample evidence from across the world that in big cities, BRTS is much efficient than metros,
Sadly, bus service is abysmally poor in India with a meager 1.29 buses per thousand passengers as compared to 10.3 buses per thousand in Brazil. The number of buses per 1,000 persons in Singapore and Hong Kong are 3.2 and 2.8 respectively, but that for Delhi is merely 0.3. There is ample evidence from across the world that in big cities, BRTS is much efficient than metros, This is a low-cost option compared to the metro and mono rail. While BRTS costs Rs 15-20 crore per km, metro costs Rs 300-400 crore. BRTS carries around 12,400 passengers per hour per direction in Delhi while metro carries 25,000 but the latter is 20 times more costly than BRTS.
Further, people who travel by BRTS save 70 per cent in time and 50 per cent in travel cost. Because of these advantages nearly 23 per cent of two-wheeler owners, more than 25 per cent of regular auto rickshaw users and about 3 per cent of car owners have shifted to BRTS. Therefore, our policies should encourage increase in the number of buses and BRTS that provide low-cost and environment-friendly travel which besides reducing congestion on the roads, also reduces import of costly oil. But still, our planners neglect this to promote sale and use of cars.
Low cost but still neglected
Despite the advantages for BRTS, our planners are inclined to metro rails. There are some reasons behind this approach of the ‘experts’: One, the minority but influential car owners oppose BRTS because they feel that road space belong to them. Two, our ruling class is interested in big-budget projects without considering their efficiency and economic feasibility. This may be because of the influence of foreign lending agencies which grant big loans for metros and mono rails but are not willing to lend small loans for BRTS. While metro and mono rails give orders for imported equipments and components from foreign manufacturing companies associated with them, BRTS can be developed with equipments and components available in the country.
The minority but influential car owners oppose BRTS because they feel that road space belong to them. Our ruling class is interested in big-budget projects. This may be because of the influence of foreign lending agencies which grant big loans for metros and mono rails but are not willing to lend small loans for BRTS
Although the government cites lack of funds as an excuse for its inability to develop a bus system, it faces no problem to mobilise big funds to develop metro and mono rails. It is true that there is lack of funds in the short-run for improving bus system but in the long-run, it can help to earn not only the finance needed, but also a surplus.
No shortage of funds
The demand for cars, especially luxury cars that cost Rs 5 to 50 million in India is growing and there is stiff competition to secure fancy registration numbers by bidding any amount of money. This is indication of a growing tribe of people prepared to shell out any amount of money to exhibit their esteem. Is this not a potential source of mobilising funds by the government? Raising the tax rate of luxury cars is one sure source of additional revenue. Making purchase of long-term bonds for Rs 10 lakh and above mandatory for registration of luxury cars can be another source of funds for the development of public transportation. Our governments and planners are averse to the suggested kinds of resource mobilisation from the rich and the superrich because they are committed to take less from the pockets of these sections. So, the problem is not lack of source of funds but the unwillingness to tap those sources.
Instead of the current policy that is tilted in favour of production of more cars, the suggested policy will support production of cars, buses and bicycles. Our planners are not unaware of this possibility.
Instead of the current policy that is tilted in favour of production of more cars, the suggested policy will support production of cars, buses and bicycles. Our planners are not unaware of this possibility. But, why they refuse to adopt such a policy is a big question.
The writer is Honorary Professor at Vichara School of People’s Economics, Mavelikara. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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