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India will have 450 million cars 20 years from now
Urban transport planner N Ranganathan sees dark days ahead for the country’s already choking roads. He tells TOI-Crest that our government may just have woken up too late to the crisis.
Will our cities someday come to a halt?
Looking at the growing number of vehicles on Indian roads and the inadequate capacity to accommodate traffic, they just might. A recent estimate says the total number of vehicles in India will be 400-450 million in the next 20 years or so. Now we have nearly 60-70 million. Most of these vehicles will come to the cities. There will be efforts to face the situation though these will not be enough. For example, Delhi got the Metro. All cities are getting flyovers and new roads are also being built. However, the quality of service will fall, speed will reduce and total travel time will be more. Besides, there'll be greater risk of accidents. While the demand (for roads) is already accelerating, supply is crawling. Look out for more cases of road rage.
What went wrong in our policy? And this is even after we became aware quite early of the role transport and mobility plays in economic activity and growth.
Initially, urban planning did not get proper attention. The second Five Year Plan focused on development of backward areas. This was because a majority of leaders then were from rural areas. But, as it came to light in subsequent years that urbanisation was contributing to GDP in a big way, things started to change. The Third Plan focused on creating a master plan for cities.
Subsequent Plans put emphasis on urban development, but it was more about constructing flats and developing areas for meeting the housing demand. Then the automobile boom hit the country. While vehicle ownership kept rising in cities, improvement of road networks got little importance. This led to chaos in cities like Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kanpur, Lucknow and Kolkata.
However, Mumbai managed to face this as the railways there were forced to play a key role in public transport. But the railways did not take up the same task in other cities. They shied away from this responsibility despite the fact that railway lines pass through all cities across the country.
Are future cities learning from experiences of mega cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata so far as transport planning is concerned?
Not really. Government and authorities are focusing only on making cities commercially viable. Agencies focus more on sellable land. When commercial viability becomes the priority, less space is kept for cities' transport needs. At least 20 per cent of total land in any city should be reserved for transportation needs. Delhi is still moving despite having the highest concentration of vehicles because nearly 15 per cent of its land was kept for roads. In Kolkata, it's only 6 per cent. We can imagine what would have been the traffic situation in Kolkata if it had vehicles like Delhi does.
What should be the focus of already crowded cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and also those emerging as major urban centres?
The world over, all cities have undergone the same cycle of growth, saturation and revival. Recent surveys and estimates suggest that the growth of Indian cities will stabilise in the next 20-30 years. But there will be more problems and challenges for city managers in the next two decades as they try to meet growing transportation demands. There has to be more focus on improving public transport and strengthening the bus system should be a priority. In cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, we need to have dedicated elevated corridors for buses and public transport so that they don't halt at traffic junctions. This will reduce private vehicles on roads and will encourage people to shift to public transport. The Metro service is another major solution, but we must understand that this is an expensive proposition. There is a need to strengthen intermediary public transport (IPT) - auto-rickshaws and taxis. Auto-rickshaw is the best alternative to private transport if authorities manage them properly. You don't need to create parking space for them and it works like private vehicles, from your home to workplace or any other destination.
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