India’s urban transport story is certainly one of hope. In the last five years or so there has been a huge surge of interest across cities in urban transport solutions, largely due to the success of the Delhi Metro.
Though the Kolkata Metro has existed for around 20 years, it never generated the kind of excitement the Delhi one has. Cities currently implementing metro projects (or expanding existing lines) include Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Jaipur, Bangalore and Lucknow.
It is reported that there are 19 cities currently working on project reports for urban solutions. Ludhiana’s report is said to be ready.
In the popular imagination, the metro is the answer to all transport problems. But metros need to meet certain criteria to be successful. They are capital intensive and can only be effective solutions for cities with large populations, where people have the ability to pay and ensure a high density of commuter traffic.
Not all Indian towns can sustain a metro. There is a view that for a metro to be a viable option, the city concerned should have a population of at least five million along with high commuter traffic.
There is a whole range of urban transport solutions possible for a country like India. Positive change can be brought about by improving the quality and efficiency of public bus transport systems, making them of the kind one sees in western cities where buses arrive on time and have digitised displays; there can be bus rapid transit systems with dedicated corridors; electric tramways; electric trolley buses; monorails; light rail systems. Then there could be metro rails of different intensities. Along with mainline solutions there can be a range of eco-friendly feeder systems. There are also green solutions, such as implemented in some cities of Europe, which have cycling tracks all over. One system feeds into another, which determines the efficacy of the overall urban transport solution.
In Gurgaon, for instance, there is a Rapid Metro coming up, which feeds into the Delhi Metro. There are electric rickshaws in New Delhi. There should be a combination of urban trunk routes and a feeder system. The feeder system has been a historic weak spot in Indian urban transport solutions.
What the country requires is a mapping of the top 100 cities from the smallest to the largest. Then technical choices need to be made. Urban transport choices have to be tailored to the specific needs of each city.
Also, for an urban transport solution to be effective and efficient it has to keep place with urbanization. One characteristic of urbanisation has been growth of satellite towns; we need solutions to enable movement of people from these peripheral towns to their main work centres. So while looking at urban transport solutions, one should not only look within the city but also at the connecting urban nodes.
Given the rate at which India is growing there will have to be more and more satellite towns, from which people commute to the main centre and go back, what in the United States are known as “sleeper towns”.
A plan for a Regional Rapid Transport System (RRTS) has been approved in principle for the National Capital Region. Three lines have been approved under RRTS at an estimated cost of Rs 72,000 crore. They will run between Delhi and Sonepat/Panipat, Delhi and Alwar, and Delhi and Meerut, via Ghaziabad. These will be commuter trains like the metro, but they will not be under the Delhi Metro or the Railways. The urban ministry and the respective state governments will coordinate to run them.
Other innovations are taking place too. There has been a mushrooming of radio taxis. In Gurgaon, there are radio tuk-tuks (autorickshaws which can be called on the mobile). BRTS is also catching on, especially in cities with long, wide carriageways such as Ahmedabad and Indore. BRTS did not work effectively in Delhi, because of space constraints and location challenges. But it has succeeded in cities across the world with wide carriageways. In Delhi, BRTS was squeezed into a cramped corridor. Space for the BRTS was squeezed out by restricting car movement.
Indian cities are ideal for a wide range of urban transport solutions. For example, a city like Chandigarh would be ideal for an electric trolley-bus service or an electric tram service. It has the space, it has long carriageways and no shortage of power. A city like Chandigarh requires lighter solutions than a metro.