In 2011, nearly 350 million people lived in Indian cities. More than 300 million new residents will join them over the next few decades to become part of the new urban India. This population boom will stress an already-pressured urban infrastructure system, especially with regard to transportation.
Indeed, Indian cities have become synonymous with congestion, noise, and air pollution. Each year, 135,000 people die in traffic crashes on Indian roads. Currently, India has 120 million vehicles, a number that is steadily growing. In 2010, outdoor air pollution contributed to over 620,000 premature deaths, and nearly 18 million healthy years of life lost. Plus, urban transport’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are set to increase almost seven-fold in the next 20 years.
This trend is clearly not sustainable if India’s city residents want to have any sort of quality of life in the future. In order to reverse course, the country must begin scaling sustainable transport and ensuring that it is integrated with land development. This is a topic we’ll discuss extensively during next week’s CONNECTKaro, a sustainable transport and urban development conference co-hosted by EMBARQ India, WRI’s center for sustainable transport in India.
Moving cars, or moving people?
Existing investments to improve urban transport have centered mostly on moving vehicles farther and faster, largely by increasing road space. Urban development planning is often characterized by a separation of land uses, such as residential from commercial. These two trends shunt growth to a city’s periphery and reduce density, leading to urban sprawl and increased trip lengths. 
Such policies also make it difficult and expensive to develop public transport networks with quality service and wide coverage. The result is a cityscape where personal vehicles are the only convenient option.
Building more roads, then, is not the answer. Indian cities will need to invest in public transport, with a priority on city bus services integrated with other transit modes, as well as pedestrian and cycling networks to encourage non-motorized transport. Cities will also need to actively manage their growth and development patterns in order to both facilitate and reinforce the advantages of sustainable transport modes.
Smart investments in urban transport
India is already starting to make strides toward sustainable transport. The 2006 National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) promoted “moving people, not vehicles,” and rightly recognized the need for changes in the way the country invested in urban transport to improve the quality of life for people in cities.
Cities that wish to access funds from the government’s $20 million scheme for upgrading urban infrastructure, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), must comply with standards set out in the NUTP, such as equitable allocation of road space, priority to the use of public transport, and integrating land use and transport planning.
In 2009, Ahmedabad used this funding to launch Janmarg, India’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which has an average daily ridership of 132,033 passengers. This system has served as a success story to encourage other cities around the country to plan and implement similar systems. The concept of BRT is gaining acceptance as a means to scale up mass transit in Indian cities.
Also in 2009, the central government helped 61 cities procure more than 15,000 buses in order to launch new city bus services or augment existing services.
While a significant portion of transportation funding is still set aside for the development of urban roads, central policies like the NUTP—coupled with success stories from cities like Ahmedabad—lend credibility to the idea that investments in sustainable urban transport should be the way forward for Indian cities.
CONNECTKaro: “Making it Happen”
Within this scenario, WRI’s EMBARQ Center for Sustainable Transport recognizes that there is a huge opportunity to improve the quality of life in Indian cities through sustainable transport and integrated development.
EMBARQ India will host CONNECTKaro, a conference on sustainable transport and urban development, on April 15-16, 2013. More than150 experts — including government officials, policymakers, and practitioners in the field of urban transport and urban planning — plan to attend the event.
The theme for the conference is “Karo” – to make it happen – to translate ideas into action. The ideas of sustainable transport and integrated land development have already been demonstrated in a few cities around the world, such as London, Paris, New York, and more recently, Guangzhou, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and others. CONNECTKaro sessions will focus on how these success stories can be adapted and replicated in India.
CONNECTKaro aims to highlight the gaps and consequent opportunities for implementing long-term sustainable transport solutions in Indian cities. We will initiate a dialogue between various agencies working in this field, share knowledge, and review the challenges and barriers in making sustainable transport happen. CONNECTKaro will be a platform where participants will gain a good understanding of the state of practice in sustainable transport and urban development in India.
 Rayle L, Pai M. Scenarios for future urbanization: carbon dioxide emissions from passenger travel in three Indian cities. (Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2010, 2193:124–131)