Smart transport for Smart cities

Smart, bold, big bang, world standards  are the words of our time.

Ashwani Kumar has an article which could have been just easily titled as Last mile challenges for transport policy. This is something which is ignored abjectly in our country. Cities are expanding to all kinds of regions with very very poor connectivity of public transport at all levels. In cases where there is public transport, last mile remains elusive. So whichever way, people have no choice but to rely on private transport:

Lack of good last-mile infrastructure is the result of a systemic malaise in our urban transport planning. To compete successfully with cars and motorcycles, public transport must strive to provide a door-to-door service to commuters, but our transport planning is based on aggregate flows. This flawed approach not only results in an inappropriate choice of mass transport system, but also leads to neglect of the last-mile infrastructure. It is assumed that the municipal authorities will develop walking and cycling infrastructure, while the feeder buses are planned without making any financial commitment in the metro budget.

National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) as laid out by the Ministry of Urban Development in 2006 makes all the right noises about promotion of public transport, walking and cycling. Though NUTP discusses suitability of different mass transport systems like metro rail, bus rapid transit (BRT) and sky bus in different urban contexts, it does not mandate a minimum investment on the last-mile infrastructure as a part of different mass transport projects. Nevertheless, there are a few initiatives by some cities like Chennai where the municipal corporation has earmarked 60% of its transport budget to improving NMT infrastructure with a special focus on the last-mile access to mass transits. It is a step in the right direction which other cities should emulate. Ideally, last-mile infrastructure should be developed as an integral part of a mass transport project to avoid the problems in retrofitting.

The central government has suggested population based norms to propose metro rail or BRT systems in cities. It is a reactionary approach. Urban transport is an integral part of urban planning. A proactive mass transit policy, coupled with a transit-oriented development (TOD), can obviate the haphazard growth as witnessed in our cities. Besides, choice of a mass transit system should depend on the urban form, space availability and travel patterns in a city rather than just the population numbers. For example, BRT could be an efficient and cost-effective choice to handle urban growth in new areas due to its low fixed cost and easy scalability. A smart public transport system is a sine qua non for a smart city. There are many successful examples of mass-transport-centred urban planning all over the world ranging from Singapore to Copenhagen. There are also many instances of failures, especially satellite cities, due to a poor public transport.

Why just in a smart city? Good and effective public transport is sine qua non for basic existing cities as well. Most countries have developed them without much buzz and fanfare. Actually a lot of criticism actually. In India, we are made to believe as if some favors are being done by the policymakers giving us all these basics. Worst is all we get is new buzzwords and new schemes in names of politicians.

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