Aiswarya Krishnan and Viral Arun Nigam
Mobility plays a significant role in determining the growth and development of a city. Nowadays, mobility in cities is faced with too many challenges including lack of sufficient infrastructure as well as the unaffordability of the available public transport for the segment of population below the poverty level. They are forced to opt for walking or cycling in unsafe conditions (IIHS 2015).
Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) is not a new concept in Indian cities. The urban mobility pattern also changed with the increased rate of urbanisation. It was only in the early 1920s that a public road transport system was established in India. Since then, the rate of motorisation had significantly increased resulting in a CAGR of 9.8 per cent between 2005 and 2015 on the total number of vehicles registered in the country (IIHS 2015). With an increase in the income levels, the dependence on the NMT decreased contributing to less investment in the NMT infrastructure. In spite of the minimal importance given to the NMT infrastructure, it continues to be a popular mode with a modal share of 40–50 per cent in even the metropolitan cities (Jain 2013).
Definition of NMT
The transport systems which are driven without the use of any fossil fuel and are primarily driven by human power, which includes walking, bicycling, cycle rickshaws, hand pulled carts, etc. can be categorised as NMT. An NMT system comprises cycle tracks, walking areas and sidewalks, proper signage, proper parking spaces for cycles, cycle rickshaws, car-free zones, etc.
Importance Given to NMT in Missions/Policies
NMT, which was side-lined as an option due to the heavy rate of motorisation over the years, again came to the forefront as a focus area with the National Urban Transport Policy 2006 (NUTP). But the NUTP did not provide a framework for the cities to implement NMT projects. Though JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) mentioned the need for NMT components at the city level, the fund allocation was not significant enough to make considerable changes in the city level NMT infrastructure. Even in cities where the footpaths are constructed, they are not well maintained. The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) is the first municipal corporation in India to implement the NMT policy in 2014. Various NMT initiatives such as pedestrian-friendly infrastructure as footpaths and modernisation of bus shelters to increase the share of Public Transport have been implemented in the city. In this line, GCC has made bicycle sharing mandatory in the NMT Policy (Urban Update 2020).
Most of the Indian cities under the Smart Cities Mission had focused on NMT and started bicycle sharing systems. Around 75 per cent of the roads in India are dedicated to private vehicular traffic. There are numerous issues faced by cyclists and pedestrians on the roads due to the degraded level of services provided, which increase the risk of accidents and result in declining use of NMT. The mentality of the public that bicycles are poor man’s mode as well as the lack of proper well-laid cycle tracks are also hindering its success. Though the plans look good on the proposal, the success rate of their implementation on ground is unpredictable due to lack of data (Manish n.d.).
Various Cycle distribution schemes, adopted by the States like Tamil Nadu and Bihar focusing on school children, had shown positive impact on reducing the gender gap in the secondary school level by promoting cycling.
What are the Challenges?
The Motor Vehicle Act 1988, which is the primary guiding law for motorised transport, except for the mention in Section 138 about the power of the State Government to make laws to prohibit the use of footpaths and pavement by motor vehicles, gives no guidelines on safeguarding the interest of the NMT users (pedestrians/cyclists). Even the NUTP 2013 gives only a peripheral idea on what should be done with respect to NMT.
The lack of a legal framework to protect the NMT users call for a specific law for NMT. There is also a lack of clarity on whom to be held responsible for ensuring NMT implementation at the city level. There is no guiding institutional framework for the implementation and maintenance of NMT. With the UMTAs (Unified Metropolitan Transport Authorities) too coming into the picture, there is a need for redefining the role of each institution involved for the proper implementation of NMT. Initially, the transport system itself has to reconsider NMT as an integral part of it.
Even though Transport is a subject on the concurrent list, road transport is mostly a monopoly of the State Government. The responsibilities for road improvements or pedestrianisation are vested on the urban local bodies as per the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act. Analysing the budget share allocated for the NMT infrastructure, we can see that it is minimal compared to other aspects of city development because of its less compliance with the city development plans.
As far as the NMT infrastructure is concerned, India does not even have standard guidelines on the pedestrian path or cycle tracks unlike well laid out road construction guidelines. There are no specifications on how footpaths or cycling tracks should be made in the city (NIUA 2016). Despite the fact that a major space of the roads is occupied by the NMT users, roads are still designed giving more importance to the motorised transport systems (IIHS 2015).
Current NMT infrastructure investments in the cities are restricted to cycle sharing and pavement improvement a few kilometres in and around the metro stations or smart city areas. Hence, a lack of coverage of the NMT infrastructure is another challenge.
Why is it the Right Time to Focus on NMT?
This is the right time to reimagine the planning process, because when we look at the global examples, it was at the time of the major oil crisis that the European countries relooked into their policies and focused on NMT policies, thus discouraging the use of private vehicles. It was through policy changes that the NMT modal share was increased in Denmark and Netherlands despite the harsh cold climatic conditions. One of the huge crises we may face once the lockdown is lifted can be the increased usage of private vehicles.
Most of the foreign cities had restricted vehicular traffic on the streets and are advocating for bicycles. With people relishing clean air and nature reviving itself in the current times, this crisis opportunity can be the best time to make people aware of the consequences of relying too much on the motorised transport (PTI 2020). Investing in NMT can be a good option as 56–72 per cent of the trips in Indian Cities are under less than 5 km (Tiwari, and Jain 2008).
Since the way of life and the need for going out too can essentially change in the future, the city planners are advocating for a mass rapid transit system with last mile connectivity (Das 2020), which essentially includes walking and cycling.
Immediate short-term measures can include limiting the number of private vehicles on roads by adopting strategies like odd-even policy or vehicle-free Sundays, so that for commuting a short distance people would practice walking/cycling. Thus, it will evolve as a part of the lifestyle.
Long-term measures would include the following:
Aiswarya Krishnan is Project Associate at CPPR Centre for Urban Studies and Viral Arun Nigam is Research Intern at the Centre for Urban Studies.
Views expressed are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.
This article was first published in Qrius on June 22, 2020. Click here to read