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Re-thinking Urban Transport

Re-thinking Urban Transport


Cities in developing countries are witnessing severe congestion and deteriorating air
quality. Remedial measures have focused on increasing road capacity or building high-
cost public transport (PT) systems. These have not helped much. Hence, there is a need
to re-think urban transport. This requires recognition that urban transport is different
from inter-city transport. This paper highlights these differences, arguing that different
components of an urban transport system must be integrated if the system is to serve a
meaningful purpose. It argues that the re-thinking has to happen around the prevailing
systems of governance and the current planning and implementation strategy.

Background fuels has raised concerns on energy security.

As the developing world rapidly urbanises, While the six major cities in India have seen a
the share of the worlds urban population is doubling of their urban population between
growing. Today, about half the worlds six 1981 and 2001, the number of motor vehicles
billion people live in its urban areas. This share in these cities has gone up eight times. This
is expected to go up to 70% in the next 20 shows that vehicle growth has been much
to 25 years. Countries like India are expected faster than the population growth. This is
to add as many people to its urban areas in not surprising as travel demand is not just a
the next 25 years as they have today, meaning function of the number of people travelling,
that the urban population in such countries but also a function of how far they travel and
will double within one generation. how frequently they travel. As cities grow, the
travel distances go up, and as income goes
This kind of urbanisation has led to a strain on up, people travel more frequently.
the available infrastructure. One of the services
Figure 1: Stuck in Traffic
adversely impacted has been the transport
system. Severe congestion, as seen in Figure 1,
is a common sight in most cities. Deteriorating
air quality has adversely impacted the health
and well-being of the people, delays in traffic
have impacted the economic efficiency of
cities, road accidents have taken a toll on
human lives and the growing use of fossil

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Of late, the concerns about climate change Intra-city Vs Inter-city Systems

have also led to urban transport being viewed Before going into what such a direction should
as potentially the fastest growing contributor, be, it is important to first recognise that intra-
from the transport sector, to Green House Gas city systems are different from inter-city
(GHG) emissions. systems. Unfortunately, planning for intra-city
systems tend to occur as if it was happening
Unfortunately, the mitigation efforts, so far, for inter-city systems, perhaps because the
have largely revolved around widening roads institutions involved in this exercise have been
or building flyovers, as shown in Figure 2 in used to planning for the latter and do not
short, adding to road capacity. recognise the difference between the two.
Thus, metro lines get decided just as they
Figure 2: Adding to road capacity
would to meet an inter-city travel need, but
do not find enough users. Similarly, a lot of
effort goes into building parking space, but it
does not get used despite the need for such
parking capacity. Some of the key differences
between inter-city and intra-city systems that
need to be kept in mind are the following:
1. Mode choice decisions for intra-city travel
are based on time, cost and convenience
considerations for the entire journey from
origin to destination as against time and
cost considerations for only the long haul
segment in respect of inter-city systems.
Thus, in inter-city travel one would not
A number of high-cost PT systems have also make a choice between taking a flight or
been built in cities around the developing a train based on how easy it is to get to
world but except in few cases, they have led the railway station or the airport but on
to little improvement in congestion. In many how much it costs or how long it takes to
cases, these high-cost systems do not attract get from one city to the other. However, in
the extent of ridership that was expected, intra-city travel, the ease of accessing the
resulting in investments being sub-optimal. metro station or bus station and the ease
It is against this background that we need to of getting to ones destination at the other
re-think what should be done about urban end of the trip would be important factors.
mobility and how this can be sustainable. Thus, access and egress trips are relatively
Clearly, the direction we have followed so far is unimportant for inter-city travel but very
not the right one. This paper seeks to suggest important for intra-city travel.
a possible direction that could be adopted.

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2. Intra-city trips are undertaken every day Rethinking Urban Transport

while inter-city trips are far less frequent, Thus, there seem to be two major issues
thereby making cost an important issue, as requiring re-thinking:
it impacts affordability. 1. The governance structure
3. Intra-city trips are undertaken for important 2. The planning and implementation strategy
livelihood functions like employment and
education, whereas inter-city trips are Governance of urban transport
more for holiday or business. Hence, inter- For historical reasons, the governance of urban
city trips have a high price elasticity of transport tends to be highly fragmented.
demand compared to intra-city trips. Thus,
Often, road based systems and rail based
if one cannot afford an inter-city trip he or
systems are dealt with by different agencies.
she can avoid it. However, such trips are
Further, infrastructure facilities like roads and
not avoidable in intra-city travel.
terminals are the responsibility of an agency
that is different from the agency responsible for
Unfortunately, planning for intra-city public transport. To compound this problem,
systems tend to occur as if it was there is little or no coordination between
happening for inter-city systems, these agencies and each tends to develop and
perhaps because the institutions implement its own plans. Thus, the PT agency
involved in this exercise have been may have plans to increase its capacity but the
used to planning for the latter and do road agency is also widening its roads. This is
not recognise the difference between counter-productive as enhanced PT capacity
the two. should be accompanied by reduced road space
if we are to encourage a shift to PT. Hence, this
Further, it is important to recognise that the kind of situation needs to be corrected and a
transport system of a city does not comprise single agency needs to be responsible for policy
just its roads or just its metro rail system. It has and planning. There may be multiple agencies
to be thought of in a more integrated manner for implementation, but the responsibility for
comprising the network of roads, bridges and planning must be with one agency that has
flyovers, the PT system along with its associated the authority to decide what will get done and
infrastructure of stations, terminals and depots,
the facilities for integration of different systems,
Enhanced PT capacity should be
the regulatory and management systems for
accompanied by reduced road space
the transport system, etc. Within PT itself, there
if we are to encourage a shift to PT.
could be multiple components involving the
Hence, this kind of situation needs
trunk systems, the feeder systems, and others.
to be corrected and a single agency
It is important that all of the above be viewed
in a comprehensive manner when thinking of needs to be responsible for policy
the transport system of a city. and planning.

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what will not. Singapore presents, perhaps, of most of the city inhabitants usually
the best example of how integrated planning thought of in terms of the distance to the
rests with a single agency, namely the Land nearest PT station. This is also measured
Transport Authority (LTA). in terms of how efficiently land markets
are organised and how well land use
Planning and implementation regulations are geared to allow high
strategy density use near transit stations.
In as far as the planning and implementation It must be integrated. PT usually operates
strategy is concerned, it is important that each over a network, often extending to several
city prepares a comprehensive plan for its hundred kilometres. Invariably, certain
transport system. This would usually start with portions of such a network would have high
a vision of: demand and certain portions would have
1. What kind of a city the people want a relatively lower demand. This necessitates
city that is compact and people move short the use of different modes, with rail based
distances when moving from one place to systems generally being used on high
another, or one where people can have demand portions and bus based systems
large gardens and spaces around their on lower demand segments. Other forms
houses, but do not mind travelling long of PT are also common in many cities.
distances to work? This means that the different modes must
2. How do they want to travel in good PT operate as one integrated system and
or by non-motorised transport (NMT), not as fragmented bits. Commuters must
such as cycling and walking, or would they see the system as one facility that allows
prefer to drive their own cars, despite the them to move from any point in a city to
congestion they may encounter? any other point, if required by transferring
3. How much are they willing to pay for travel? from one mode to another, in a seamless
and hassle-free manner. If such transfers
Once some of the above issues are decided involve purchase of fresh tickets, long
upon, it is relatively easy to design a transport waiting periods and difficult transfer from
system for the city. Of course, in doing so, one station to another, then the system is
it needs to be recognised that the transport not a well integrated one.
system needs to be comprehensive and takes It must be safe. This means that the people
care of the entire journey, namely from origin who operate the system must have the
to destination and not just from station to competence to operate it safely and the
station or bus stop to bus stop. The following vehicles themselves must be safe and fit
are some key characteristics of a good for use. This is usually ensured through a
transport system that have to be kept in mind: system of licensing the operators after they
It must be easily accessible. This means have undergone the required operational
that it must be available, within easy reach competence tests. Besides, there are

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established systems to ensure that the ensured through cost efficiencies and
vehicles and other infrastructure are safe a reasonable return on the investment.
for operations and properly maintained. Highly loss-making services will not be
It must be clean. This generally refers to the sustainable. Such sustainability is generally
extent of pollution that it causes. There are ensured through the mechanism of fare
also requirements for the periodic testing of fixation in a manner that takes this principle
road transport vehicles to ensure that they into account coupled with systems that
adhere to prescribed emission standards. allow subventions from the public budget
It must be affordable. This means that the to cover the losses in operating otherwise
fares for the use of PT must be reasonable socially desirable services.
and not determined in a monopoly market.
These fares must take into account the If roads are largely used by high
objectives of public good that PT serves. speed motor vehicles then it is not
This is generally ensured through external safe for pedestrians and cyclists. This
determination of fares whereby the is not equitable. If segregated foot
responsibility is rarely left to the operator. paths and cycle tracks are part of the
It must be equitable. This means that it road geometry, it would make the
must offer equal availability to all. If roads roads equitably available.
are largely used by high speed motor
vehicles then it is not safe for pedestrians
and cyclists. This is not equitable. If
In conclusion it may be said that urban transport
segregated foot paths and cycle tracks are
problems are growing rapidly in cities of the
part of the road geometry, it would make
developed world. The manner in which they
the roads equitably available.
have been addressed so far may be suitable
It must be sustainable. This means that they
for inter-city travel, but need to be different
must be financially sustainable and also
for intra-city travel. Changes are necessary
sustainable from a larger environmental
in the institutional structures and also in the
point of view. While environmental
way projects are planned and implemented.
sustainability is sought to be ensured
Coordinated and holistic planning is the key.
through the mechanisms for emissions
Often, this is more an Art than a Science.
control, financial sustainability has to be

The views contained in this paper are entirely those of the author and not necessarily those of the World Bank or
its Directors.

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O.P. Agarwal is currently a Senior Urban Transport Specialist at the World Bank
and functions as its Urban Transport Advisor. He assists in and advises on all
urban transport projects of the World Bank, across all regions.

For nearly 30 years, he was a member of the civil service in India and on one of
his assignments, he headed the Urban Transport Division of the Ministry of Urban
Development, Government of India. He was the key author of Indias National
Urban Transport Policy and also developed a five-year action plan for improving
urban mobility in Indian cities over the 11th five-year plan.

He was also the Managing Director of the Urban Mass Transit Company, a joint venture company in India,
engaged in developing sustainable urban mobility solutions. He has a Masters degree in Transportation
and a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering.

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