Consider the state of public transport in your city – How accessible is the network of public buses or trains…How cost-effective in terms of your intended destination? If you live in an Indian metropolitan city which has begun metro operations, is the situation better or has it become worse? Then consider India’s financial centre, Mumbai, with a population of 13.9 million and a governmental budget sufficient for an additional INR 36 billion for the construction of the Shivaji Memorial in Arabian Sea. Compare to Tokyo, Japan’s financial powerhouse, with a population of 12 million residents. Despite recent upgradation of Mumbai’s BEST buses, the stark contrast of public transport systems in both cities is testimony to poor planning in urban development, rather than access to resources. While Mumbai has the second highest migrant influx per year after Hyderabad, India’s annual rate of urbanization of 2.37% has burdened the public infrastructure in nearly 500 cities comprising more than 70% of the India’s urban population.
Although capacity building has become a developmental norm since decades, instead of adequate development that envisions future needs, governmental projects for urban transportation have been playing catch up. Despite initiatives for city-specific Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority(UMTA) and the Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP) including capacity building projects being implemented under various schemes such as Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Urban Transformation (AMRUT), India’s public transport system (Fig. 1) remains fragmented and lacking in meeting the requisite demand.
According to Rupa Nandy, Regional Head, UITP India (International Association of Public Transport), the biggest challenge is that “there are no adequate public transportation systems that exist in India.” Combined with multiple authorities instead of a centralised authority, “seamless journey experience to the user” has been difficult to achieve. Although Kolkata (57%), Hyderabad (49%), and Mumbai (44%) utilize public transport than any other mode of transport, public transportation facilities in major Indian metropolitan cities are inadequate on varying parameters such as availability, frequency, capacity and fleet condition. Compare India’s population of nearly 1.37 billion to Singapore’s 5.70 million. Perhaps the hybrid challenges of developing urban transport can be addressed with best practices from Singapore’s development planning which has resulted in nearly 80 per cent of trips (4.24 million) in the country performed on Public Transport comprising of bus, MRT, LRT, Taxis.
To mitigate the burden of urbanization on infrastructure, the central and state governments have initiated multiple initiatives such as developing metro rail systems (Fig. 2) and technological integration through data sharing such as General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). However, inadequate support from the public transportation available in many urban agglomerations in India has resulted in the expansion of private vehicle ownership and shared mobility services, which has caused traffic congestions across multiple cities. According to NITI Aayog’s Transforming India’s Mobility Report, “Citizens spend almost 1.3-1.6x additional time in peak traffic for our top four metros, compared to 0.6x for Singapore and Hong Kong.”
Adoption of technological solutions have been similarly fragmented. While Kochi was the first city to integrate GTFS data with the Chalo app for commuters, Delhi is rapidly integrating its public transportation system through initiatives such as the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System, mobile applications such as PoochhO and the Common Mobility Card (ONE). NITI Aayog’s Transforming India’s Mobility Report suggests that economic loss of congestion has been estimated “at over USD 22 billion annually for India’s top four metros.” In addition, challenges in India’s urban transport development include safety issues such as adequate installation of CCTV cameras, and enhancing accessibility for persons with disabilities through the Accessible India campaign.
Despite multifarious transport development schemes being implemented, including the Pradhan Mantri Jal Marg Yojana (PMJMY)’s mission envisages creation of 110 new waterways across the country, the diversity of India’s urban agglomerations present hybrid challenges for transit-oriented urban planning. Even as Nirmala Sitharaman recently announced a INR 102 lakh crore national infrastructure pipeline, the Indian Government has already begun multi-administrative integration, beginning with Indian Railways’ restructuring through the Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS). While effective utilisation of technological solutions can enhance seamless integration in multi-modal connectivity, customising city mobility plans for mode appropriateness are essential to developing the transport infrastructure and ensure productive deployment of resources. Even as public transport agencies in various small towns and metropolitan cities of India compete with ride-sharing services such as Uber and Ola expanding across the country, the hybrid challenges of developing urban India’s existing public transport systems will require faster adoption of technological solutions and strengthening integrations between multiple operators and agencies around the country.
Cover Image Source: World Bank