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Urban Transport in India: Moving People Not Cars

Sustainable Management at Bard | Friday December 27th, 2013 | 1 Comment

india travelBy Juzer Rangoonwala

In 2010, outdoor air pollution caused 620,000 premature deaths in Indian cities. Urban population in India is estimated to double in the next few decades and at the same time greenhouse gas emissions from urban transport energy use are set to increase seven fold. The need to change this unsustainable trend inspired Madhav Pai to join the cause of sustainable mobility.

Madhav is a Civil Engineer. Born in the vibrant western Indian city of Mumbai, he holds a Master’s Degree in Transport Planning from University of California, Berkeley. While he resided in the San Francisco Bay Area, he spent four years managing and executing several transport planning, demand estimation, transport modeling and traffic engineering projects. He also spent two years as a researcher at the Institute of Transport Studies at the University of California Berkeley, where he was involved in assessing the short and medium term impacts of City Car Share on travel behavior in the city of San Francisco.

Madhav could not forget Mumbai, however. He joined EMBARQ India, an affiliate of EMBARQ – a World Resource Institute (WRI) Center for Sustainable Transport. A not-for-profit initiative with a mission to catalyze and help implement sustainable transport solutions to improve quality of life in cities, EMBARQ works with local transport authorities to reduce pollution, improve public health, and create safe, accessible and attractive urban public spaces.  Directing EMBARQ India from Mumbai, Madhav is responsible for overall leadership and management of the program. He has become the leading expert in sustainable mobility in India today with over 12 years of experience leading, designing and managing urban transport programs and projects in India, Asia and United States.

Madhav has led and managed EMBARQ’s involvement in Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and city bus system projects in cities of Bangalore, Colombo, Indore, Jaipur, Naya Raipur and Surat. He has conducted capacity building initiatives with the Ministry of Urban Development, the World Bank and the British High Commission. Madhav is also the lead author of “Bus Karo” (“Karo” means make it happen) a guidebook on bus operations and planning. His work on progress of BRT projects under implementation in Indian Cities and his analysis on the Urban Transport situation in Indian Cities have also been recently published.

“Urban transport should be about moving people,” Madhav says, “Not moving cars. In a recent blog post Connecting Sustainable Transport to Urban Development in India, he describes transport investments needed to move away from increasing road space to making public transport a priority, focusing on city bus services integrated with other transit modes, as well as pedestrian and cycling networks to encourage non-motorized transport.

In Smart Urban Design for India’s Sustainable Future, Madhav outlines three key ingredients to better cities:

First is planning – the need to design transport and land use together. Existing investments mostly gravitate toward moving cars more quickly. Also, urban development is often characterized by separation of land uses such residential and commercial. This leads to peripheral growth and reduced density causing increased trip lengths. Integrated land use and transport planning encourage supportive land use practices and minimize the need to travel.

The second ingredient is partnerships – attracting and leveraging private investment. Most of investment in Indian cities will come from the private sector. Establishing public-private partnerships and channeling the investments them toward sustainability projects is essential.

The final ingredient for a better city is a long term vision. A political commitment to create and keep a long term locally shared vision is critical for a sustainable vibrant city.

Major cities in India like Mumbai are growing out, not up. Spread-out cities lead to longer trips that consume more energy, waste time, and pollute the air. Longer travel times and more cars on roads often lead to more traffic accidents and deaths. India alone accounts for 15 percent of global road fatalities. Madhav is determined to change that.

 Juzer Rangoonwala is an MBA in Sustainability candidate at BARD College.

[Image credit: bleuguy, Flickr]


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  • SVS

    Very good initiative – congratulation to Mr Pai, and to 3p for posting this.

    The importance of creating highly sustainable transportation in the ‘modernization’ of India cannot be over-emphasized. India will eventually have the largest urban population in the world, and the current ‘direction’ of growth is grossly unsustainable.

    Quite a few other Urban Planners and Practitioners have emphasized similar priorities in various forums, but there have only been very sporadic and minuscule efforts (considering the scale and rate of India’s urban growth) from the government corporations.

    Thus the most critical of the three ingredients pointed out by Mr Pai will be the last one – having political vision, will and commitment. Executing large scale, long term, urban transport infrastructure is one of the toughest things to do – given the complexities of Indian urban fabric, and the unsustainable momentum already built up over the past couple of decades since India’s economy ‘opened up’.

    Along with systems for bus-transport, I would also give equal priority to the creation of pedestrian and bicycle lanes separated by a green belt (however small) from motorized lanes. Provided the facility, the ‘common man’ in Indian cities would still tend to commute by walk or bicycle to local destinations <2 km. But currently the entire road space is taken up by motor vehicles (4 & 2 -wheelers). Thus it is practically a life hazard (through accidents & unbuffered vehicle pollution) to commute by walk or bicycle in 90% of urban roads. So people (even those who cannot afford the rising petrol costs) use 2-wheelers, and increasingly, cars, for ridiculously small distance commutes for work or leisure.

    The sooner steps are taken to reverse this unsustainable trend the better.