McKinsey Global Institute projections show India’s urban population soaring from 340 million in 2008 to 590 million by 2030. This urban expansion will happen at a speed quite unlike anything India has seen before. According to McKinsey, it took India nearly 40 years (between 1971 and 2008) for the urban population to rise by nearly 230 million. It will take only half the time to add the next 250 million.
This increasing rate of growth coupled with an expanding middle class has led to higher demand for privately-owned automobiles. The main reason, of course, is that development is making the dream of owning a vehicle for a middle class family achievable. Secondly, lack of adequate access to public transport infrastructure leads many to prioritise taking the car rather than the train.
The swell in the urban population and vehicles on road is having a direct effect on the rate of road accidents. According to Mr. Madhav Pai's article on Connecting Sustainable Transport to Urban Development in India, each year there are approximately 135,000 people who die in traffic crashes on Indian roads. Currently, India has 120 million vehicles, a number that is steadily growing. The growing rate of vehicles is also impacting the environment. In 2010, outdoor air pollution contributed to more than 620,000 premature deaths. Plus, urban transport’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are set to increase almost seven-fold in the next 20 years. The direct consequences of vehicle percentage on road also contributes to increased noise levesl as well as the health issues from pollution emitted through these vehicles.
The World Resources Institute took a different look at urban transport, namely the role of the auto-rickshaw sector in promoting sustainable urban transport. Auto-rickshaws can be used as connectors to public transport and also can be substitutes to private motor vehicles, acting as a door-to-door, cheap transport alternative.
There are already smart urban transport investment projects in India which are leading by example. The shift towards sustainable transport cannot be overlooked - there have been recent initiatives which prioritise the use of public transport as well as a push for more efficient transport planning but a lot more has to be done to bring about positive change.
In my article last week, titled Building the Path to Low Carbon Transport, I focused on the need to shift attention to better the public transport which will contribute towards the reduction of individual carbon footprint. Here, I reemphasise the advantages and dire need to have a good public transport system in place as the transport sector has a stake of almost of 12-18 percent of the country’s yearly energy-related CO2 emissions. India has to recognise the need for changes to rightly invest in urban transport to improve the quality of life for people in cities. An increasing urban population lends great credibility to the idea that investments in sustainable urban transport will be the way forward for Indian cities and the population.
Author: Ajay Pal Singh Chabba/ RESET editorial
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