Millennium Post

Revolutionise smart city transportation

As traffic cops and planners tear their hairs apart, making torturous efforts each day to control the mindless explosion of vehicles on roads across metropolises, it is time to reinvent transportation systems in the proposed smart cities.

 Already, the meteoric rise in production of motorised two- and four-wheelers has led to rapid motorisation on roads across India leading to severe congestion, deteriorating air quality, increasing incidence of road accidents and a phenomenally increasing energy bill. Poor infrastructure has rendered walking and cycling unsafe, and public transport has been inadequate.

The modern urban transportation infrastructure has presumably incorrigible inefficiencies. So far, urban transport planning has emphasised on providing for the personal motor vehicle. ‘Public transport systems have been planned in isolation with the result that a well-integrated multi-modal system has not come up. This has resulted in high cost facilities not giving the outcomes that were sought,’ concedes the Government’s latest draft concept note on smart cities.

India loses Rs 60,000 crore a year due to traffic congestion, fuel wastage, slow speed of freight vehicles and waiting time at toll plazas, according to a study by the Transport Corporation of India and IIM, Calcutta.

Mobility for all is the core of a smart city. Seoul, Singapore, Yokohama, Amsterdam, Bogota, Mexico and Barcelona (all considered Smart Cities) have a sound transport system as the mainstay of their ‘smartness’. Different modes are being experimented the world over and have been deployed. These include Personal Rapid Transit, comprising a network of individual pods travelling on a rail system, cybercars (road vehicles with automated driving capabilities) and Straddling Bus—developed in mainland China, this bus is tall enough to allow cars to pass underneath it, but short enough to pass under overpasses. It helps decrease congestion.

Sophisticated Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) are being implemented in Singapore: to enhance mobility, reduce fuel consumption, lower emissions, to improve safety and for economic competitiveness. Singapore has also implemented a number of transport initiatives that include free public transportation in pre-morning peak hours, a vehicle quota system, congestion charge and an extensive public transport system.

Mass transit is more efficient, cheaper and sometimes faster than personal vehicles. While the metro has been successful, the BRT in its present form is an utter failure in the national capital. What India requires is composite mass transportation system.

The Capital’s BRT is a ‘joke’, according to Enrique Penalosa, who, as mayor of Bogota (Colombia), launched the BRT corridor in the city.  Penalosa promoted a city model giving priority to children and public spaces and restricting private car use, building hundreds of kilometers of sidewalks, bicycle paths, pedestrian streets, greenways and parks.

Non-motorised road users, including cyclists and pedestrians, constitute more than 60 percent of all road fatalities in India. Hence, future cities must have a sustainable transport system that ensures safety and is also environment-friendly as the transportation industry is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Crucially, massive dedicated breathing space is necessary for non-motorised transport--pedestrians and bicyclists. An integration of the two alone will also help protect the environment.

ITS is just one part of urban transportation. Penalosa rightly argues that ‘an advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport’. The urban activist, who created 70 km of bicycle highways in Bogota, says hundreds of kilometers of greenways can criss-cross cities in all directions. Children can walk out of homes into these greenways or protected bicycle highways: a city in which every other street would be exclusively for pedestrians and bicycles. At major intersections, underground ramps could be built, so pedestrians and cyclists do not cross motorists. Thus, accidents would be immensely reduced.

‘Governments should acquire all land around cities. In this way, their cities could grow in the right places with the right spaces, with the parks, with the greenways, with the busways,’ he says.
For smooth integration, transport systems should have been planned ahead of creating satellite townships.  Around most cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad our town planners have faulted--the damage has already been inflicted. Land has been sold to private builders around a 60-km and even 100-km radius around these cities. It may now be quite late to acquire land around metropolises where urbanisation is in progress. For smart cities, there is still the way—if the will exists.

In India, the scenario is mostly topsy-turvy. Metro trains cannot ensure complete last-mile connectivity.  The lust for owning motorised vehicles has grown exponentially  E-rickshaw parts are imported and the vehicle assembled even before it is decided if these are necessary and where these should ply.

Parties play for political gains by allowing autos and e-rickshaws to ply by thousands. These modes have only messed up roads and must be barred from the new cities. The wake-up call in cities is yet to be heard; even if it is, it may fall on deaf ears for the driver at the wheel is convinced that s/he right royally owns the roads and streets. Walking, cycling and public transport should be the primary means of mobility. Personal motor vehicles need to be actively discouraged. Smart cities will definitely require changed mindsets.

The author is an independent journalist

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