Millennium Post

How to go green on wheels

The Eighth Regional Environmentally Sustainable Transport forum held at Colombo in November 2014 gave an interesting insight into policy formulation, implementation and management of environmentally sustainable transport systems.

Among significant discussions at the conference was the one at BAQ-EST on the crisis of air pollution and global health burden that has already reached alarming levels.

All nations are already revising their vehicle emission norms. Euro VI norms, which are now in place, are so stringent that there cannot be a Euro VII. The European Union is now trying to reduce vehicular emissions through modal shift towards the use of public transport, cycling and walking.
BAQ-EST also threw light on developing nations like India which see two sides of this reality. On the one hand, our cities are still developing with urbanisation of new areas. On the other hand is our increasing capacity to spend which leads more and more people to buy private cars.

At a session hosted by Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment, Director General Sunita Narain had explained, “Unlike developed nations which have already developed their cities in a pattern which encourages use of private vehicles and are now looking to reduce vehicle dependency through car restraint measures, we have the opportunity to choose the appropriate pattern of development which can keep the dependence on personal motorised vehicles at its minimum. Developing nations of the world now face the challenge of transforming their pattern of development to encourage use of public transport, cycling and walking.”

The Bali declaration had set the vision of “Three Zeros—Zero Congestion, Zero Pollution, and Zero Accidents towards Next Generation Transport Systems in Asia”.

Bali vision highlighted the commitment of member nations to encourage sustainable mobility options
through policy, planning, design, enforcement, operation, administration and awareness measures.
While most nations are working towards policy formation, almost all of them are facing problems in implementation and improvements on the ground.

As a first step, countries have started acknowledging that policies need to encourage sustainable mobility options. In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar, a lot of effort has gone into preparing policies for introducing integrated land use and transport planning through transit-oriented development, roadmaps for preparing transportation plans, encouraging use of public transport, policies for encouraging use of non-motorised transport and pedestrianisation. These countries have also attempted to make policies for car restraint through mechanisms of travel demand management.

However, most of these countries face common problems such as difficulties in working in existing cities, lack of technical expertise, lack of general awareness, inter-departmental and inter-project issues along with lack of funding and need for reform in other policies.

When we analyse the reports of all these countries, we realise that all their efforts are being carried out in isolation rather than working on them in conjunction. They are concentrating on construction of only a few infrastructure projects, rather than implementing the whole strategic plan of environmentally sustainable transport.

In the current institutional setup in countries, policies for promoting and adopting sustainable transport are already in place. It is time that the intergovernmental forum for environmentally sustainable transport in Asia now starts focusing on internal restructuring and capacity building of its institutions. They must also start sharing knowledge regarding capacity building of agencies and implementation of projects with each other.

One of the main reasons for this disconnect between policy formulation and implementation can be attributed to planning mechanisms of member countries.

If we look back into the history of these countries, we see that almost all of these countries were initially colonised by traders largely from Europe. Our planning systems, which originated from our colonial past, are still grappling to adapt to the changing needs.

Back then, the ideas of planning and governance were derived from an anarchist line of thought,
which would require the governmental agencies to implement the ideas of the decision makers and hence, the implementation would largely depend on engineers.

After independence, the same government agencies now have to work towards technical support for decision-making, policy formulation, and then implementation, while the work is still largely done by engineers and is still implemented by identifying specific infrastructure projects.

The compartmentalisation of work has led to a disconnect between the intent of the policy and the actual infrastructure work implemented.

To understand this better, let us take the example of road retrofitting works. A planning approach would understand a road as a complex environment made of physical entities embedded in the natural environment, socio-cultural beliefs of citizens of the city and its communities manifest in various spaces, memories of the people embedded in various parts of the road, existing and future infrastructure needs and surrounding buildings, uses and activities.

This approach would try to find out a set of solutions to balance all components, without getting into engineering details of each component. On the other hand, an engineering approach would try to break this complex environment into simplified components. It would then take the physical components and infrastructure requirements to prepare construction manuals. It would leave the other aspects for the concerned professionals to look into.

Both these approaches have benefits only when they complement each other, rather than competing with each other.

Various member countries of the intergovernmental forum are trying to address problems through a planning approach. It requires a lot of initiative towards public participation, stakeholder consultation, sustainable planning, awareness building, educating, operation & management and enforcement.

When the same countries report on implementation, they only consider engineering solutions as deliverables and leave the rest to something that cannot be addressed. This gives a clear indication of the disconnect between planning and implementation which is guided by a simplified engineering approach.

To sum it up, the intergovernmental forum for environmentally sustainable transport needs to now look at institutional restructuring and capacity building of its associated governmental agencies to marry both approaches and achieve transition towards environmentally sustainable transport. DOWN TO EARTH

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