Automobile sector is a good example. Despite some dispersion
in recent years, the bulk of US auto industry is located
in Detroit. Similarly, Chennai stole a march over other
cities, and emerged as the auto industry capital of India.
The increasing concentration software sector in Silicon
Valley or Bangalore shows that such a clustering effect
attracts even the otherwise foot-loose service industries.
rapid urbanization and prosperity predictably led to dramatic
growth in the number of motor vehicles on roads. There are
now over 80 million vehicles in India, and 7 million are
added every year. About 70% of all vehicles are two-wheelers
and over 12% are cars, while buses account for only 1% and
goods vehicles about 5%. Public transport still accounts
for a sizeable share of urban trips: 30% in cities between
1 and 2 million population, 42% in 2-5 million population
cities, and 63% in over 5 million cities (Sreedharan 2003).
Those averages conceal huge variations. For instance, Public
transport in Hyderabad City accounts for only 37% market
share. But even where public transport exists, it is generally
inefficient, slow, underfunded, poorly managed, uncoordinated
(between rail and bus, for instance), and unreliable. Predictably,
more people are depending on private transport, congesting
and polluting our cities. Traffic is crawling, and it now
takes about two hours each way for the poor and middle calls
commuters in big cities to travel between home and work.
Dignity, health, peace of mind, and life and limb are in
public policies have aggravated this urban transport crisis.
As John Pucher et al in an excellent 2005 paper point out,
lack of rational planning and land-use controls resulted
in rampant sprawled development extending rapidly in all
directions in most cities. This has greatly increased the
number and length of trips for most Indians, forcing increasing
reliance on motorized transport. Deliberate regulations
to encourage several commercial centers meant that there
cannot be efficient or viable public transport links. Low-density,
sprawled decentralization typically generates travel needs
which cannot be met by public transport, leading to rapid
growth of private transport, and the consequent congestion,
pollution and transport paralysis. Wider roads and flyovers
only lead to more private vehicles and greater congestion.
poor are particularly badly hit by this skewed development.
Longer distances and greater traffic hazards make it virtually
impossible for them to walk or ride bicycle. Growth of slums
and ghettoes in appalling living conditions is a direct
consequence of the transport crisis resulting from irrational
development. Our roads are unfriendly to pedestrians, bicycle
riders and public transport. Excise reduction, low interest
loans, low motor vehicle tax (as opposed to 2000 Euros in
Europe and $ 5000 in China), precedence to cars over buses
and people in traffic regulation, and poor parking regulation
actively encourage private transport and discourage public
transport. Not surprisingly, the fastest growth in oil consumption
(8.3mt of petrol and 39.7mt of HSD in 2004/5) is in autofuel
Stephen Goddard (Economist, Nov.13, 2001) perceptively points
out, this road to autocentricity in the US has led to overuse
of the motor vehicle and is erasing the very mobility that
highway building sought to achieve, while causing freeways
to crumble beyond the resources of government to repair.
Sadly, India is following the US model of autocentricity,
instead of planning, designing and running first-rate public
transport systems in our cities. Given our huge concentrations
of population and phenomenal commuter traffic, our cities
are ideally suited for well-designed public transport systems,
and sensible urban land-use.
is not lost yet. Recent initiatives in several major cities
are encouraging, if insufficient. The draft National Urban
Transport Policy (2005) of GOI is a sensible document reconciling
the growth of automobile industry with rational urban transport
choices. Huge investment in public transport carriers and
infrastructure, a common transport authority for rail, road
and other mass transport systems, rational land use policies,
higher taxes on private transport with revenues flowing
to public transport, greater competition in management,
effective regulation to enforce standards, and active discouragement
of private vehicles in city hubs are all eminently feasible
and vital for balanced growth of our economy and cities.
does not cost much. Back of the envelope calculations indicate
that about Rs.5000 crore capital investment and annual subsidies
of Rs.1000 crore would make vast difference by transforming
our bus transport in all the 42 major cities of India. That
is equivalent to about 30 kms of new metro rail, and ten
days' of power subsidy in all states respectively! Can we
summon the political will and professional competence to
make our cities livable and prosperous?