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Cover Story

Time to Decongest India Seriously!

India is fast growing to be one of the world’s leading economies. However, Indian cities are collapsing under the weight of unplanned growth and mass congestion.

WORDS BY: RINKU B

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These days, each time any one of us plans to step out of our homes for carrying on important tasks, we shudder to think what the journey might entail especially if it involves commuting long distances. The mind conjures up images of shoddy, pothole-ridden roads, broken footpaths, open and clogged drains, garbage strewn on road sides, fragile bridges that fall down killing innocents every other day and the dreaded long, unending hours in traffic jams on crucial roads. The local commuter trains are overcrowded, packed beyond capacity, are inadequate and people travel in them like sardines in a can. Public transport through buses is time-consuming along with infrequent availability, long wait times and queues, and local transport like cabs and auto rickshaws are expensive, unavailable and are at the mercy of the driver’s mood. Considering the scenario, people living in urban cities who can afford to commute through private cars and motorbikes are left with no choice and are unwilling to compromise. The comfort of not having to race or fight for seats in buses or trains or the pleasure of driving on uncongested streets with available parking is a dream for many living in urban cities. Given a choice, all us would like to relax and commute as human beings through public conveniences however, currently such thoughts are far from reality.

Of course, in the new age, app-based cab service providers are providing some relief to urban commuters through a large fleet of cabs in attractive rates and consumer experiences, however they are not capable of meeting the large number of people that India’s urban cities are home to. Services like car-pooling, monthly passes, discounted rides and more have allowed commuters a better ride however it has also resulted in an upsurge in the number of commercial vehicles on the road that has resulted in higher congestion and air pollution.

India has reported rapid growth in motorisation over the last decade wherein the car population grew from 5.4 million in 1981 to 210 million in 2015. Of course, this rapid growth has come with a heavy price on our infrastructure and public health.

Our cities are collapsing under the burden of severe traffic congestion and resultant air pollution that is adversely impacting the health and well-being of the residents. Furthermore, high number of vehicles leads to higher consumption of energy as well as adversely impacts the country’s economic efficiencies.

By 2025, India’s car population is set to treble to nearly 35 per 1,000 persons. Certain Indian cities, including Delhi, Chennai and Coimbatore will have more than 100 cars per 1,000 persons, suggest estimates by The Energy and Resources Institute. The average peak hour speeds in major corridors in Delhi (16 km/hr), Mumbai (16 km/hr) and Kolkata (18 km/hr) are abysmally poor compared to smaller cities. While several studies have indicated how the

car-to-people ratio is on the lower side in India(20 cars for every 1000 people), an equally compelling fact unique to emerging markets like India is the shrinking speed of traffic. As of 2016, Delhiites spent 3.43 hours on the road for a distance of 40km in comparison to 1.36 hours in 2011.Policies to deal with these problems have aimed at improving our public transport systems in the belief that this will enable people to shift from using personal vehicles. Public transport uses less road space, consumes less fuel and emits less pollutants on a per passenger basis. Hence, India has invested large amounts in high quality metro systems in cities such as Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Jaipur and Lucknow. Several other cities are either building new metros or planning to. Bus systems have also been augmented at a high cost.

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In April 2018, a report issued by Boston Consulting Group – a leading global consulting group – stated that the cumulative cost to the economy caused by traffic congestion during peak hours at four major Indian cities was ₹ 147 Lakh Crore annually.

These cities included Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata. The report brought out some startling facts.
The peak hours for this survey were 7-9 am and 6-8 pm during which commuters spent one and a half times longer to travel a given distance as compared to non-peak hours.

The study across the four cities that was conducted early this year found that Kolkata is the worst city so far as congestion is concerned followed by Bengaluru.
Surprisingly Delhi, which has the highest number of registered vehicles in India at over 10 million, ranked better than the other two due to its good road network which is about 12 percent of the capital’s total area. Kolkata has a mere 6 percent of its total area under road network.

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The report also added that Delhi has the highest share of its residents using private cars for commuting at a whopping 45 percent while Bengaluru is at 38 percent. Mumbai tops the list when it comes to using public transport for commuting followed by Kolkata and last is Bengaluru. The report also claimed that as part of their study, 89 percent of the commuters indicated their plans of purchasing a car in the next five years which will add another phenomenal number of vehicles on the road. However, 80 percent of them also said that they would be happy to shelve the idea if more rideshares and better public conveniences for transport were made available based on ‘price, timeliness and availability.’

The rapid surge in India’s urban population has led to a space shortage in all the major cities. The impending crisis has been further deepened by the restricted Floor Space Index which has resulted in unabated horizontal growth and high congestion in Indian cities.

GOVERNMENT POLICES TO TACKLE DECONGESTION:
The Government of course has an important role to play here in effectively planning our cities better with regards to roads and railways, public conveniences like busses, metros and alternate transport methods. For the last few years, the Union Road Transport Ministry has been playing an active role in decongesting major cities, supporting innovative solutions like personal rapid transport and electric buses, developing bus ports, and assisting state transport undertakings in improving their bus fleets. The ministry has also drawn up ₹ 15,000 crore plan to decongest cities. “The plan is to decongest cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore through innovation in urban transportation. The states require financial aid for this from the central government, which cannot be met through the standard budgetary support the ministry receives every year,” an official said.
The Centre also envisages development of bus ports in collaboration with states in major cities and plans to set aside ₹ 2,000 crore as part of viability gap funding for the purpose.

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Furthermore, the Union Minister has asked for an additional budgetary support of ₹ 25,000 Crore towards investing in some serious steps to decongest Indian metros. For 2017-18, the government allocated ₹ 64,900 crore to the ministry of road transport and highways. The ₹ 25,000 crore sought for 2018-19 is in addition to ₹ 79,000 crore the ministry has asked for other programmes.

The Ministry also wants to extend support to States through a special provision from the proposed ₹ 25,000 crore fund for electric bus and personal rapid transport initiatives. Of this, ₹ 2,000 crore will be for the procurement of electric buses. An equal amount will be spent on promoting personal rapid transport like pod taxis. The Government will soon seek expressions of interest for launching the country’s first driverless pod taxi system on a 70 km stretch from Dhaula Kuan in Delhi to Manesar in Haryana. The road ministry has envisaged a model of operation for state transport undertakings on the lines of Transport for London, a local government body responsible for the transport system in Greater London.

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INCREASE IN FSI:
The rapid surge in India’s urban population has led to a space shortage in all the major cities. The impending crisis has been further deepened by the restricted Floor Space Index which has resulted in unabated horizontal growth and high congestion in Indian cities. FSI could be described as the extent of buildable area allowed on any given plot. India’s FSI, according a 2017 NITI Aayog report, is severely low – in the range of 1 to 1.5.
To address this issue, the Union Government has formed a panel to explore the possibility of upward revision of Floor Space Index (FSI) norms in all major cities in the country. The Housing and Urban ministry has asked the panel comprising of officials and external experts for a time-bound review of FSI norms so as to promote compact, vertical growth in India’s urban space, The Indian Express reported. The Ministry has also asked urban local bodies of the seven major cities — Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad — to submit a report within the next 10 days on their existing FSI norms and usage.
The ministry’s move is based on a 2017 NITI Aayog report that said that paucity of land can be “countered by expanding space vertically through the construction of taller buildings”. It said that the permitted FSI in Indian cities is low – in the range of 1 to 1.5. The report cites the national capital region, with a low-rise Delhi and highrise Noida-Gurgaon, standing 123 on the density scale. In comparison, Shanghai is place 423rd while Tokyo (632), New York (944), Chicago (965) have even lower population densities as also more green open spaces. Notably, cities such as New York, Chicago, and Tokyo exceed the average FSI of Indian cities by 12 to 20 times.

SATELLITE TOWNSHIPS TO THE RESCUE:
Almost all major metro city today is flanked by a satellite township that helps ease the load of the city’s bustling congestion whether on transport and traffic or housing or quality of life in general. Areas like Noida, Greater Noida, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Sonepat have benefitted the NCR region, more specifically Delhi.

Navi Mumbai has benefitted Mumbai. Yelahanka has benefitted Bengaluru and Mohali has benefitted Chandigarh. So besides being in the close neighbourhood of major Indian cities, these satellite townships also offer a slew of world-class amenities, facilities and opportunities to residents that most major cities would deliver.

The first and the foremost reason for any satellite town to emerge and develop is linkage via good road connectivity. Once easy accessibility is in place, other things like infrastructure, amenities, residential areas etc. soon follow and fast growth and development happens. While at the growth of the satellite towns, property rates are lower than the prime areas and when the satellite themselves become prime areas, the property rates increase.

Prominent Indian Satellite Cities include
Gurgaon: This started off as a satellite town to Delhi, the prime city and over the years due to excellent link via Metro rail and Highways, Gurgaon itself has emerged as the prime city and now having the surrounding areas like Sohna via Sohna road acting as a satellite town to Gurgaon.

Sonipat: While realty prices in NCR continue to remain high, satellite towns like Sonipat bestows buyers with real estate properties – retail, residential and commercial, at a much better rate, leaving considerable scope for investors to make profit. Another major reason for this area to emerge as a favoured destination for realty investment is the KMP Expressway, being close to completion, will offer speedier access to the international airport and will enable the growth of a novel financial corridor.

New Town, Kolkata: This neighbourhood town of Kolkata is an evolving satellite city with the area brimming with ample of commercial spaces, entertainment hubs, high-end planned residential projects, central business centres and IT and business parks. The robust and good transport system with major arterial road along with infrastructure marvels like the planned metro line that runs from Gariya to Dum Dum is also going to be the most operative public transport in years to come, thus adding more value to this destination.

Navi Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, Vasai, Palghar: Areas around the Mumbai city has witnessed tremendous growth and has become an established commercial, IT/ ITeS and residential hub. In the western region Mumbai also saw the extension of city limits growing into the MMR region which encompassed Navi Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, Ambernath Vasai, Palghar etc. Wagle Estate, Ghodbunder Road, Thane- Belapur Road have become the focal point of commercial and IT / ITeS developments.

Amravati: From being a well-known industrial destination, the city is now moving towards being a known residential hub because of its aesthetic and pleasing architectural marvels, future plans for a smart city,

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a multitude of industries coming up, various educational centres and enhanced tourism. The city also boasts of a robust rail network and airport which will also add an added advantage to its property markets. Amravati offers an effortless connect to major cities like Nagpur, Mumbai, Raipur and Pune as well.

Yelahanka: First interpreted as a satellite town in the Silicon Valley of India, Yelahanka is a part of the northern suburbs of Bengaluru city. Similarly, to other parts of Bengaluru, the growth of the vast IT sector is majorly accountable for generating active concentration on the real estate front here.

Pendurthi: This place in the south boasts of excellent infrastructure facilities and is truly an attractive destination from a realty perspective. The formation of the Visakhapatnam-Chennai Industrial Corridor has been the major growth driver in this region.
The infrastructure marvel has brought about with it various benefits like improved connectivity, effortless power transmission and delivery network. This further will lend a positive push to the industrial development and IT companies in the vicinity, thus paving way for residential real estate.

ENCOURAGING ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION:
Active transportation, such as walking, cycling, in-line skating or skateboarding, is a great way to reduce greenhouse gases.
Active transportation as an alternative to vehicular travel is associated with a number of social benefits, including increased social interaction, social networks and social capital which is becoming a common evil in the towns of the country.

Decline in use of cycles in urban areas can be attributed to the factors such as Lack of safe cycling conditions in the cities; Lack of innovative cycle promoting schemes like bicycle sharing; and Social perception about cycling and preference of motorized personal transport over cycle.

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The Indian Roads Congress (IRC) code for urban roads, Urban Development Plans Formulation and Implementation (UDPFI) guidelines and the new Code of Practice for design of Urban Roads prepared by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), all clearly provide for cycle tracks as an important cross-sectional element of urban roads. Very few cities in the country, however have constructed cycle tracks. These networks have problems related to bad design, lack of maintenance, encroachment, inadequate lighting, etc. There are no dedicated investments proposed for cycle tracks in city budgets and city mobility plans.
Environmentalists and activists have come up with two approaches to fight the menace of traffic congestion in our large cities. The first has to do with scaling up affordable, comfortable and reliable modes of transport such as the Metro and the bus rapid transport system, albeit with last mile connectivity. The second — that is more popular across the globe — is to dis-incentivize car travel using the pulls and pressures of demand management. For instance, recommends the Centre for Science and Environment, the government should take away all the hidden subsidies for car owners.

Parking fees in Indian cities are among the lowest in the world (the median daily parking charge is $1.32 compared to $66 in London), there is no congestion charge for cars hardly pay anything for using roads. Compared to other means of transport, buses, the mainstay of public transport in our cities, end up paying the highest road tax. This tax burden should shift to private vehicles, if we are serious about decongesting our roads.

In conclusion, there are some key learnings from the findings above. There seems to be a certain chain of thought that says that app-based services are weaning commuters away from public transport, and not possessing their own vehicles so they should be discouraged. That theory is not true. In India, this does not hold true as typically, commuters who use the bus cannot afford anything more expensive than the bus. Likewise, people who can afford using the Metro rail users shift to app-based cab services as last-mile connectivity to the metro is very poor in India and transfers between two lines are often cumbersome. Besides, during peak times, metros can get crowded.

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