Future of Urban Mobility in India and way forward

Future of Urban Mobility in India and way forward
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Indian cities are characterized by increasing levels of congestion, pollution, road accidents and inequality in access to mobility. The need for better urban mobility in order to build inclusive, safer and more sustainable cities cannot be underestimated.

Status of Urban Transport in India

Major Modes of Public Urban Transport:

  • Buses are the prime mover for both inter-city and intra-city travels in most urban centres. However, in recent times there has been a loss in ridership. Other modes include metro rail, trams, and local trains.
  • Intermediate public transport system (IPT): All Indian cities feature large numbers of auto rickshaws, taxis, cycle rickshaws and forms of informal car pooling
  • The range of public transport services vary considerably across cities. For example: Only Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai have extensive suburban rail services whereas Delhi has limited suburban rail services. Currently, 15 Indian cities have operational metro rail with Delhi having the largest metro rail system.

Problems faced by Urban Transport in India:


  1. Unprecedented Transport Growth: According to Niti Aayog, the number of registered motor vehicles has increased from 5.4 million in 1981 to 295 million in 2019. This rapid growth in demand in the absence of a widespread public transport system has caused a rapid increase in private car ownership in India.
  2. Inadequate Public Transport: According to government data, there are about 19 lakh buses in the country and only 2.8 lakh of them are run either by state transport undertaking or under stage carriage permits. China has about six buses for 1,000 people while India has only four buses per 10,000 people.
  3. Further, a CSE study points out that the share of public transport is expected to decrease from 75.5% in 2000-01, to 44.7 per cent in 2030-31, while the share of personal transport will be more than 50%.
  4. Urban Pollution: According to a WHO study 14 out of the top 15 most polluted cities in the world belong to India. Vehicular pollution has been one of the major contributors to rising urban air pollution in Indian cities along with other factors such as construction activity, road dust and industrial activity.
  5. Urban Congestion: Major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru are ranked among world’s most congested cities. For example: Average speed for vehicles in Bengaluru is reported as 17 km/h. These high levels of congestion have huge economic implications in the form of reduced productivity, fuel waste, and accidents. Further, there is an acute shortage of parking spaces both on and off the streets in the urban centres.
  6. Road safety- Traffic injuries and fatality: India is one of the countries with an alarmingly high number of road accidents. Every year, lakhs of road accidents are registered across the country, which causes deaths to lakhs of people and severe injuries to an even higher number of people. Road accidents not only have a crippling effect on human lives and their families but on the overall economy at large of the country as well.

India recorded 1.5 lakh road accident fatalities in 2020, which was 26.37 per cent of total road accidents recorded in 207 countries. The major reasons for traffic crashes include poor quality of roads, poor traffic management, unsafe and overcrowded vehicles and unsafe driving behaviour.

  1. Equity Issues: Unplanned urbanization in India has led to gentrification (as per upper and middle socio-economic class) of city centres and lower income groups are forced to live in peripheral suburbs which have increased their cost and time they allocate to commute. Most of the lower income groups and urban poor fail to afford private transport and even public transport are high for them. For example, a CSE study ranks Delhi Metro as the second most unaffordable metro (after Hanoi in Vietnam) with lower income group people spending nearly 22% of their monthly transport on Delhi Metro fares.
  2. Mobility for women: Safety or the lack thereof, is the single biggest factor constraining women’s mobility. According to Action Aid UK, 79% of women in major Indian cities reported being harassed on streets. Overcrowding in public transport adds to insecurity and safety issues with a large number of women complaining about harassment in public transport across major Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai.


Initiatives to address Urban Transport issues in India

Aerial view of Bangkok modern office buildings, condominium in Bangkok city downtown,Mahanakorn tower with sunset sky , Bangkok , Thailand
  1. Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission JNNURM, 2005: JNNURM was launched in 2005 and closed in 2014 (now succeeded by Atal AMRUT Mission). It attempted to improve the public transport system in larger cities through funding of public transport buses, development of comprehensive city mobility plans and supporting city transport infrastructure projects.
  2. National Urban Transport Policy, 2006: The policy envisages safe, affordable, quick, comfortable, reliable and sustainable urban transport through establishment of quality focused multi-modal public transport systems.
  3. Green Urban Transport Scheme, 2016:.The scheme aims to improve non-motorised transport infrastructure such as dedicated lanes for cycling, pedestrians, increasing access to public transport, use of clean technologies and adoption of intelligent transport systems (ITS).
  4. Mass Rapid Transit/ Transport Systems (MRTS): The metro rail has come up as a favoured alternative of mass transport in Indian cities. In 2017, the government introduced new Metro Policy which aims to improve collaborations, standardising norms, financing and creating a procurement mechanism so that the projects can be implemented effectively.
  5. Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS): BRTS segregates the movement of buses from all other transport modes, and introduces other changes in the road infrastructure that are associated with safety. BRTS is an important component of AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation)
  6. National Transit Oriented Development Policy, 2017: The policy framework aims to promote living close to mass urban transit corridors like the Metros, monorail and bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors.
  7. Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP): The project in partnership with Ministry of Urban Development and UNDP aims to promote environmentally sustainable urban transport in India.
  8. Personal Rapid Transit System (PRT): It is a transport mode combining small automated vehicles, known as pods, operating on a network of specially built guideways. In 2017, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) had called the expression of interest (EOI) for launching India’s first driverless pod taxi systems on a 70 km stretch from Dhaula Kuan in Delhi to Manesar in Haryana. The 70-km stretch from Dhaula Kuan to Manesar will decongest the NCR and ease traffic on NH-8, giving great relief to airport passengers and scores of daily office-goers. The first phase will include a pilot project covering 13-km stretch from Gurgaon-Delhi border to Badshapur Mod with a total of 16 stations. The Transport ministry has earmarked Rs 850 crore for the pilot project. The ropeway-like system runs on electricity and driverless pods and comes down at designated stations, thus removing the traffic burden from crowded roads. The capital cost of the metrino is Rs 50 crore per km against Rs 250 crore per km of the metro.
  9. National Public Bicycle Scheme (NPBS): In 2011, NPBS was launched to build capacity for the implementation and operation of cycle sharing systems across the country. The first public bicycle sharing (PBS) initiative — Trin Trin was launched in Mysuru. Modern cycle sharing systems employ information technology systems to ensure security, provide real-time customer information, and facilitate the redistribution of cycles. These IT features enable the operator to ensure that cycles are available when and where users need them. IT systems also provide a way for the implementing agency to monitor system status and ensure that the operator meets service level standards. A combination of good engineering and constant oversight on the part of the government will ensure that cycle sharing systems can attract a diverse set of users. The toolkit was developed on behalf of the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, as part of India’s National Public Bicycle Scheme.
  10. Promotion of Electric Vehicles: Indian Government plans to have an all-electric fleet of vehicles by 2030. For promotion of electric vehicles FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (hybrid &) Electric vehicles. Under FAME, the Centre subsidizes the cost of electric buses and has sanctioned 390 buses in 11 cities (as of April 2018).


Institutional Challenges & Measures Taken

  • Gaps in Laws and regulations: The urban transport requirements and issues in Indian cities have often been the victim of political will and lackadaisical approach of the executing agencies, groups etc. resulting in project delays and cost overruns Further, the weak enforcement and lacunae in existing laws such as the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 on a number of occasions have proved to be inefficacious thereby emphasizing a need on amendments as per new age requirement. The government has amended the Act and added modifications in the Central Motor Vehicles rules, 1989 to remove the bottlenecks and lacuna.  
  • Poor Institutional Framework: Functions of Urban transport system are performed by multiple agencies under the central, state and city governments which lack coordination and makes accountability difficult. To address to the need the government has recently launched the PM Gati-Shakti Yojna (or National Master Plan for Multi-modal Connectivity) which emphasizes a digital platform to bring 16 ministries including railways and roadways together for integrated planning and coordinated implementation of infrastructure connectivity projects.
  • Land as a Barrier to development of Transport Infrastructure: High cost of land acquisition and time-consuming processes has been a major hindrance to integrated urban transport infrastructure. For example, land acquisition issues have delayed the East-West metro Corridor Project in Kolkata over years. Similarly, until change of government in Maharashtra the country’s first bullet train project got delayed due to negligence by then Maharashtra government in land acquisitions.
  • Human Resource Challenges: Lack of urban transport skills amongst city and state officials is a major challenge in effectively implementing transport projects. The government in this regard is working on mission mode to enhance the skills of the workforce through a number of training and skill development centres, technology embedded programs, induction of new courses and curriculum along with overseas training& induction, partnership and exchange programs etc. as various other measures taken to enhance the skill of the manpower involved. 


Recommendations by National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog:


  • It calls for a 3C Framework (Clean, Convenient and Congestion free) for transforming mobility in India. To achieve this, it lays down the following action-agenda:


  • Connect Bharat:

Niti Aayog calls for a Safe, Adequate and Holistic Infrastructure (SAHI) for the Indian population including women, elderly and the disabled. Major recommendations for achieving this:

  1. Increased emphasis on safety and accessibility
  2. Leveraging multiple modes of transport – road, rail, coastal and inland waterways, small regional airports, ropeways etc.
  3. Higher usage of data for holistic mobility needs


  • Optimize Travel footprint:

It calls for increased emphasis to reduce congestion caused by passenger and goods flow in urban areas. Major recommendations include:

  1. Integrated land use – Planning residential and commercial complexes in an integrated manner so that travel time is reduced
  2. Focused policy based measures for optimizing travel
  3. Data-based measures such as intelligent transport systems


  • Promote Seamless Public Transport:

It calls for an efficient and convenient public transport to address the issue of air pollution and congestion in Indian cities. Major recommendations include:

  1. Data-driven planning and urban transport, with a clear hierarchy amongst different modes- from non-motorized(pedestrians, cycles) to public and lastly private transport.
  2. Focus on multi-modal systems
  3. Make public transport affordable, comfortable and accessible for urban India, to ensure better adoption


  • Adopting Green Modes and Technologies:

It calls for rapid adoption of electric vehicles and non-motorized transport (NMT). Major recommendations include:

  1. To improve adoption of non-motorized transport, the routes and paths should be planned so that they integrate seamlessly with public transport.
  2. To ensure safety for NMT users by outlining norms & dedicated traffic signals should be a key priority.
  3. There should be a clear push toward clean technologies. This has to be enabled through ecosystem development which includes domestic manufacturing, deployment of charging infrastructure, etc.


For effective execution of this actions-agenda, the Niti Aayog recommends to optimise the following strategic enablers:

  • Skill development which will ensure high employability and address the issue of human resource demand
  • Intelligent Transport systems based on ongoing technological developments
  • Well-defined Governance mechanism involving different stakeholders.
  • A strong public awareness and communication campaign




The Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India (MoUD) came out with the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) in 2006 to bring about comprehensive improvements in urban transport services and infrastructure. The policy focus was on moving people rather than vehicles. Eight years later, Institute of Urban Transport (India), a professional body promoted by MoUD, undertook a comprehensive review of the NUTP 2006. After a series of consultations, that included taking cognisance of recommendations of working groups on urban transport, interviews and comments of officials from various cities, review of international practice, and several workshops and roundtable discussions, the NUTP 2014 was finalised and published.

The National Urban Transport Policy 2014 recognises the huge deficit in urban transport services and infrastructure both in quality and quantity. The use of desirable modes of transport — walking, bicycle, and public transport — is declining and the use of undesirable modes, i.e. car and two-wheelers, is growing. As a result, congestion is increasing, urban mobility, as well as road safety, are declining, and pollution, use of fossil fuel, and accidents are rising by the day.

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a Delhi-based non-governmental organization, has forecast that India’s commercial energy demand and emissions would increase by about six to seven times by 2031-32, if nothing is done to curb the emissions. The NUTP 2014 seeks to encourage growth of urban transport along a low carbon path. The progress in implementation of the NUTP in our cities also needs greater participation of citizens and central-state coordination. Changes need to happen before Indian cities double in population by 2050 (World Economic Forum, 2016). 

The government is making stupendous efforts on strengthening the transport infrastructure in the country. From roads to waterways and railways all sectors of transport are being revamped to cater to the needs of ever-increasing vehicular traffic and urban population in the country. Adequate infrastructure for moving people through means, such as bicycle tracks, dedicated pedestrian pathways, green-fields etc. are also being developed at multiple levels to promote eco-friendly transport options.

Therefore, the need of the hour is to focus on public transportation (PT) in India, especially, low carbon non-motorised transport (NMT). As income levels increase, people too aspire to shift to private transport, due to infrequency and unreliability of public transport. As a result, the use of such desirable modes of transportation (such as NMT or PT) is declining and the use of undesirable modes (i.e. car and 2-wheelers) is growing. To keep India walking, the government needs to oversee an incremental and mixed mode approach for a transition into a low carbon pathway. Cities and states needs to be pro-active and may consider following interventions for sustainable urban mobility solutions:


  • A Comprehensive and Integrated Transport Plan for Each City: City transport is administered by various modal agencies such as the city bus corporation like DTC, the municipality, the rail and metro-rail corporation, the city development authority like DDA, etc. What is really required is an integrated process of transport planning for co-ordinated inter-city and intra-city transport. Sustainable urban transportation system, however requires, integration of Land Use and Transport Planning. The Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy will build a roadmap in integrating public transport systems with the built environment. 
  • Future centric and smart transport systems : More and more cities in the country are going for MRT, LRT and monorail transport systems. With a well-known fact that these are capital intensive transport systems that require massive capital and operating subsidies, for most of the rapidly growing Tier-II and Tier-II cities the urban rail transit system being developed seems to be the most viable option towards a sustainable, clean and eco-friendly transport option as long term public transport assets. However, seeing the population densities, urban form and socio-economic conditions of the cities a more interactive transport option can also be envisaged where Intermediate public transport (IPT) modes like e-rickshaws, shared autos and cycle rickshaws and NMT can be prioritized as they can meet the travel demands in small and medium size cities. Even within large cities, 20 to 30 per cent of the family income of nearly 50 percent those living in unauthorized settlements is spent on public transport.  Therefore, a mixed modal strategy can also be ascertained in different cities to cater to different segments of the population.
  • System-based Approach is Critical : Transport networks cannot exist in silos. Sustainable urban mobility calls for Intermodal Integration, i.e., integration of various modes of transport to provide seamless connectivity for the commuters. Last mile connectivity is an important factor for determining the success of public transport system in a city.
  • Empowering Municipal Governments and Citizens : Municipalities needs to be empowered by providing autonomy in functions, finances and functionaries  for better citizen engagement in city planning. The Smart Cities Mission focuses on developing sustainable and shared mobility systems, in addition to laying smart roads, street redesign and smart parking systems. Huge resources are being spent on improving urban transport projects such as real time bus tracking system, smart bus shelters and junction improvements (MoHUA 2018). There is need to create demand from the bottom-up level to increasing citizen participation and urban practitioners’ awareness.
  • Making Public Transportation Accountable : For Indian cities to be livable, urban mobility, especially, public transport such as bus and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems must become a vital part of urban growth. We need to think of innovative ways of financing our PT ventures and operate to dis-incentivize private vehicles. There is need to improve operations of PT by adopting Intelligent Transport System (ITS) and GPS tracking of buses for better route planning. This would induce a long term behavioural change where people are encouraged to go for public transport. Additionally, different modes of urban rail transit (rapid transit, suburban rail, monorail and tram systems) need to be greatly emphasized for a clean and eco-friendly transport system.
  • Providing Barrier-free Integrated Transport Solutions For Vulnerable Groups : To make cities more inclusive and to address the requirements of the vulnerable sections of the population, planners need to take into account the concerns of different segments of the population during transport planning. Women represent the largest share of public transport users around the world, yet they face many barriers that limit their mobility and entry into the formal work-force. Therefore, all experiences of public transport, such as those of women, children, the poor and the disabled needs to be taken into consideration, budgeted and planned for. The buses and train corridors, stops and junctions need to be well lit, easily accessible and located in crime-free areas.


Way Forward


For India to achieve resilient and inclusive cities, it is necessary to continuously plan for a low carbon model of growth in our cities, rather than focussing on physical infrastructure for vehicle mobility alone. The need is to build compact cities with a mixed land use and integrating transport planning with land use planning which emphasizes, on one hand, women participation and lead to inclusive sustainable urban growth, on the other. The planners, city authorities and civil society all have to join the mission to make our cities a better place to live in. The need is to implement NUTP for more mobile cities.


  1. To address the institutional challenges there is a need for better cooperation among different transport agencies, departments, and ministries as well as better coordination of transport and land-use policies. Further, there should be adequate funding to address various issues plaguing public transport infrastructure
  2. To address the issues of urban congestion and urban air pollution, it is important to augment mass and share transit capacity and discourage use of private cars by enforcing restraint measures through parking policy, low emissions zones approach, tax measures and congestion pricing.

Further, policies toward enhancing public transport should promote inclusive access to mobility.

  1. Well engineered, safe infrastructure for travel should be ensured. Further, there is an urgent need to address the issue of low woman mobility by ensuring women safety through gender-sensitive transport policies, dedicated seats/ coaches and emergency helplines.
  2. There should be focus on enhancing non-motorised transport. Focus should be to encourage use of non-motorised transport for short distances. Further, Pedestrian zones, bike lanes should be made to ensure safety to commuters. For example, well designated Bike-lanes and bike-sharing solutions have promoted use of bicycles as a mean of transport in cities like Amsterdam and Paris.
  3. Commuters should be provided with multiple modes of connectivity. To ease out travelling, a single smart card can be provided. For example, London’s Oyster ‘smart’ card enables a commuter to change from one mode to another with minimal loss of time or effort.



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