Letter from Bangalore: The Derelict Mile

Sujaya Rathi  reports from Bangalore:
india-bangalore-pedestria woman crossingPrivate vehicles in India have seen an unprecedented growth in past two decades and there is no sign of slowing down.  Many initiatives to curb the trend have not been successful.  This article highlights an important aspect that attribute to the above unsustainable phenomenon, which has been ignored: “The Derelict Mile”.

I commute about 20 miles every day in the same route by car and spend more than $100 every month on petrol, not to forget the cost of insurance, regular maintenance and depreciation costs.  Had I travelled by public transport, I would have saved close $6500-7000 in the last five years.  Why did I not do that?  Reason, no public transit service in India can match the flexibility and the door-to-door service of cars.

Reaching the bus stop is an adventure in a walker unfriendly city like Bangalore with no or encroached footpaths, potholes, competing with private vehicles for space.  Rainy season is a nightmare!  I am not willing to go through this tiresome adventure every day.  In addition, there is no information about the bus routes and schedules at the bus-stops (most bus stops are not demarcated).

There are thousands of commuters like me who would like to use the public transit (as petrol and diesel costs increase) but the last mile connectivity and the reliability issues pose barriers to use the public transit.  This is true for most cities in India.

The transport network is the circulatory system for any city and its economy; we cannot ignore the sub-arterial, veins and venules for functioning of a healthy city

The last mile connectivity provides accessibility to the public transit systems plying on the main arterials.  This would mean having footpaths on every road, that are connected to pedestrian crossings, that connect to transit stops with  shelter, cycle parking, route and real time bus information.

Improving this system is of vital importance, for increased ridership of fixed-route commuters and reducing vehicle trips for short distance travel.

About 50 to 60% of the trips made by the urban poor are by walking or cycling.  The urban poor are resigned to the miserable conditions as they have no choice.  Improving walking and cycling conditions to the arterial road also increase accessibility of the vulnerable population like the old, children, and the disabled, who currently are dependent on others due to the safety issues such as conflict with vehicles while walking, crossing or just waiting for the bus.

Other systems like the shared auto rickshaw systems, and rickshaws (intermediate public transit or IPT) that ply on narrow, congested lanes are functional, affordable solutions for last mile connectivity and personalised flexibility.

india-bangalore-traffic

 Is there a disconnect between policy and planning?

Do the policy makers realize this?The thrust so far has been to increase the public transit, be it buses, or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or the Metro for high density corridors, but not the network leading to it.  It is imperative that for success of any public transit project, focus on network is mandatory.  If thousand commuters each from ten cities start using public transport for fixed work commute due to improved NMT infrastructure, we could save 2 million gallons of petrol per year!

Policies should focus on improving the transport system (not only the corridor) that lead to the arterial roads by having a non-motorised transport (NMT) plan and/or an intermediate public transit (IPT) plan implemented before embarking upon an ambitious public transit project.  Various pedestrian and non-motorized transport guidelines for Indian cities are in place that that can aid this process.

Focus on upgrading the various kinds of intermediate public transit with green technologies, is of utmost importance.

Information technology also plays an important role here in providing  real time information, anticipated travel times, in aiding the person to choose his/her mode of travel.  This should be a pre-condition for sanctioning high level mass transit systems.  Ward level planning needs to be done, to ensure that the specific needs of the population are prioritised and catered for.

These are not highly capital intensive projects.  Budget allocation on a continued basis to this sector is of utmost importance.  However, the wards can also use innovative ways to finance the maintenance and betterment of the assets.

Based on a Ministry of Urban Development study (MoUD) in 2008, small towns are characterized by average trip lengths of 3 km, high NMT trips (37%), and anticipated to decline to 8% in 2031, if current conditions prevail.  Thus, there is an urgent need for a concerted effort to “retain and improve” the NMT modal share, by “improving” the conditions of the NMT use.

In terms of creating NMT facilities (cycling tracks and footpaths), since these form part of the road infrastructure, the 12th schedule mandates that their construction and maintenance lie with the urban local body (ULB)– which is the municipal body.  But these cities have low resources (capital and human) to take initiatives in this direction.  There is a lack of capacity in implementation of these strategies along with realistic sustainable financing strategies.  Thus, there is need for “hand-holding” the ULBs in this effort.

This has important implications on improved accessibility, increasing public transit ridership, less vehicle miles, improved citizens’ health, stronger local economy, and a positive direction towards energy security and low carbon growth path.

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 About the author:

Sujaya Rathi, AICP, is a principal Research Scientist at the Center for Study of Sujaya Rathi IndiaScience, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), a ‘not for profit’ research organisation.  She has 15 + years of experience in the field of integrated land use transportation research and planning in India and USA.  Her work involves development of a Decision Making Framework for Transportation that incorporates aspects of mobility, coverage, environment-friendliness, equity, affordability, energy needs  etc.  Recently she has helped the Planning Commission, Government of India to develop future development scenarios for India, based on systems analysis.  She has a Masters in Community and Regional Planning from Iowa State University, USA and Masters in Economics from Jadavpur University, India.  Her research interests include sustainable urban transport and systems approach to planning.  She can be reached at Email: sujaya@cstep.in Phone: +91 09900087161

about-the editor - 11dec12

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