Towards a discussion of support to Urban Transport development in India Energy & Infrastructure Unit South Asia Region

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What is the Government of India policy response to the Urban Transport problem?

  1. The Government of India is addressing these issues. The Ministry of Urban Development, has recently issued a draft National Urban Transport Policy for consultation which can be found on their web site. They recognize the increasing urban road congestion and its associated air pollution. Their strategy puts primary emphasis on the need to increase the efficiency of use of road space by favoring public transport and by the use of traffic management instruments to improve traffic performance and by restraining the growth of private vehicular traffic. Complementing this is a strategy to reduce vehicle emissions by technological improvements in vehicles and fuels. Key instruments identified for support of this strategy are highlighted in Box 1.


  1. The Government of India’s proposed strategy is in many respects along the lines of international thinking on the approach to the urban transport problem. For example, the World Bank completed an Urban Transport Strategy review, Cities on The Move4, in 2002, after consultation with major stakeholders in client countries, including governments, transport operators, and nongovernmental organizations, as well as with representatives of other international institutions. That review linked urban development and transport sector strategies with a strong poverty focus. It noted that sprawling cities are making the journey to work excessively long and costly and that throughout the per capita motor vehicle ownership continues to grow with adverse impacts on traffic congestion and air pollution. Public transport is being stifled by this congestion and its relative performance tends to decline in comparison with the private modes. So the vicious circle of congestion and the decline of public transport is perpetuated. The safety and security of urban travelers are also emerging problems worldwide.

  2. The key policy recommendations of the Cities on The Move review are not dissimilar to those of the Government of India policy paper. The review emphasizes better maintenance of road facilities and improved traffic management, and gives pride of place to the importance of public transport in addressing the burgeoning demand for movement in urban areas. Improved public transport and allocation of road space has been shown to also lead to an improved level of service for those in private vehicles (examples of Santiago and London). This requires improvement in the efficiency of operations (to be achieved through progressive involvement of the private sector in supply under strictly regulated contracts with the public authorities), priority use of existing infrastructure (including fully segregated bus rapid transit systems as well as more modest bus priorities), and efficient use of funds in the investment in new infrastructure. In this latter context it is noted that metro-rail systems while potentially having a role to play address only a small proportion of transport demands, at a very high cost premium, and in any case do not remove the requirement for a city to provide efficient on-street public transport. Cities such as New York, London, Paris, Rio, Sao Paulo and others which have high capacity metro systems also have high capacity bus services with priority on facilities. The need to tap the efficiency of the private sector has been demonstrated. The social dimension of urban transport was addressed both through a concern with the affordability of public transport and through a concern for non-motorized transport and walking.
  3. That summary of the declared positions of the Government of India and the World Bank discloses a degree of agreement in principle, which should be the basis for a very fruitful collaboration in assisting the development of urban transport in India.

What is currently being implemented to address the Urban Transport problem?

  1. The Government of India and many city authorities are dealing with the urban transport issue on many fronts. In Delhi, they are undertaking a major investment in the new Delhi metro system (with funding support from the JBIC). Several new flyovers have been constructed in recent years. Public transport vehicles have been converted to CNG. In Mumbai, the government is investing in a number of urban roads and suburban rail projects. The Mumbai government is also considering implementation of metro system. In Chennai, there has been recent development of a section of elevated MRT system which is a continuation of the suburban rail system, ring roads have been completed and urban expressway construction planned. In Bangalore, there has been extensive discussion of the severe urban traffic congestion problem and urgent measures need to be taken to address this. The city has been discussing metro options.
  2. On the environmental front several measures have been taken to mitigate adverse effects of urban transport on air quality. India now has switched to unleaded fuel. In Mumbai at least the sulfur content of diesel has been reduced to levels at which Euro 3 standards for vehicle emissions can be set. Delhi set an example by undertaking a comprehensive and far-reaching program of measures, of which the most publicized is the mandatory conversion of city’s public transport to compressed natural gas (CNG) in 2000-2002. This clearly reduced the visual impact of “black smoke” in the major public transport corridors. The Supreme Court has now directed a number of other highly polluted cities in India to prepare “action plans” for addressing urban air pollution, incorporating many of the measures adopted by Delhi. But much remains to be done. There remains a need to address the content of sulfur in diesel more generally. With the dramatic increase in use of two-wheelers (especially for example in Chennai), there is a need to introduce measures to ensure the switch of motorcycles from two-stoke to four-stroke. One consequence of opening up of the automobile market to international competition coupled with the introduction of increasingly tighter emission standards has been a shift from two-stroke to four-stroke engines among two- and three-wheelers. According to the new vehicle sale figures, the sale of four-stroke engine two-wheelers increased from 21 percent in 1997-1998 to 79 percent in 2000-2004, with a corresponding decrease in the sale of two-stroke engine two-wheelers (SIAM 2004). There is a need to speed this up to only four-stoke being sold in India and to introduce measures to switch older in-use vehicles to four-stroke5.

  3. So far the World Bank contribution to urban transport in India has been relatively limited, despite the very large commitment to inter-urban road development. The Bank is currently providing funding support to the US$945 million equivalent Mumbai Urban Transport Project (Cr. 3662-IN/Ln. 4665-IN) which supports expansion of the suburban rail system, development of key connecting roads, and pedestrian facilities. In Chennai a further US$150 million equivalent of urban roads are proposed for development under funding of the proposed Tamil Nadu Urban Development Project III. Urban road construction in Bangalore will be included in the proposed Karnataka Municipal Development Project.

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