Making Mass Transit a Priority in India


A view of Hyderabad. Photo by pangalactic gargleblaster.

“We clearly want to move into a much stronger system of public transport in order to avoid excessive dependence on individualized forms of transport, which are both energy using and emission generating,” Montek Singh Ahluwalia, head of India’s Planning Commission, said today. His comments came just one day after a speech by India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying that India may “overhaul” its public transportation system

It’s a promising sign that India’s government is taking its urban transport issues seriously. In his speech yesterday the Prime Minister called for India’s Planning Commission to come up with a “comprehensive policy” for public transport. This policy should dovetail nicely with India’s National Urban Transport Policy, which has been crafted to incorporate many of the principles of well-designed and vibrant cities. One of the policy’s highlights: “Encouraging integrated land use and transport planning in all cities so that travel distances are minimized and access to livelihoods, education, and other social needs, especially for the marginal segments of the urban population is improved.

As India’s urban population mushrooms, and its expanding middle class develops a voracious appetite for consumer goods, including personal automobiles, its residents have tasted both the sweet and bitter fruits of development: higher living standards but a degraded urban environment scarred by congestion, poor air quality, and deteriorating public space. It’s an unsustainable path which must be altered if India is to maintain its booming economy and continue to lift millions of people out of poverty.

This is a very exciting time for India. Can strong policies to promote public transport shape the development of India’s cities? Or will efforts by the private sector to produce and sell super-cheap cars to car-hungry Indians prove too powerful for the government to overcome?

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