Whitelegg: Not nearly enough from India (So please contact us!)

Another morning ruuh hour in Kolkata

 Morning rush hour in Kolkata

Professor John Whitelegg  writes in the lead editorial of the latest edition of World Transport Policy & Practice (WTPP Vol 21, No. 4, February 2016) *:

India has been in the news a lot in re­cent months mainly for its poor air qual­ity, deaths and injuries on the roads and the serious damage this does to quality of life, family life and the economy. In the 23 years of World Transport Policy & Practice (WTPP) we have not car­ried enough material by Indian authors and want to use this editorial to encourage more submissions from that country.

We would like to explore the underlying fac­tors that have produced such a large loss of life and decline in quality of life and also to explore the links between transport and poverty alleviation. We know that there are some very impressive projects under­way e.g. to assist rickshaw pullers and pedallers to secure a better income and provide an enhanced and invaluable trans­port choice.

We know that Kolkata has one of the world’s oldest tram systems, a metro, an urban railway and river ferries but we hear very little about how these assets are being put to use to encourage higher levels of use and lower level of car use. We hear about the abolition of die­sel fuelled vehicles and car rationing by odd/even number systems in Delhi but we don’t know how effective these have been. We also hear very little about pedestrian and cyclist facilities in Indian cities and the contribution they can make to air quality, reducing congestion and alleviating pov­erty. So please contact us!

I have always thought of India as a splen­did example of rich community life, sup­ported by highly accessible activities and destinations in its cities and an eclectic mix of low cost transport choices to bring people into contact with other people and the destinations they need to reach. On several visits to Kolkata over 10 years ago I was amazed at the richness of what I could do, see and buy on the streets and the number of attractive shops, business­es, tea stands and restaurants was very impressive indeed. Of course the picture is more complicated than this with huge problems of death and injury in the road traffic environment, overloaded and un­pleasant conditions on buses, underfunded trams (in the case of Kolkata) and severe air pollution. These problems were there in the 1980s but they are now getting a lot worse and at an increasing rate.

In my 2015 mobility book — “Mobility: Transport Planning Philosophy for a Sustainable Future“, I discuss India in some detail. These are short extracts on the growth of mobility, decline in walk­ing, cycling and public transport, deaths from air pollution and deaths on the roads. For more details and for original sources please refer to Chapter 13 of “Mobility”.

  • India’s private motor vehicle mar­ket (motorised 2-wheelers and cars) grew by more than 85% between 2003 (around 59 million vehicles) and 2009-10 (around 110 million vehicles) at an average annual growth rate of 11%
  • Public transport mode share de­clined in Indian cities between 1994 and 2007
  • Modal share for non-motorised transport (walking and cycling) declined in all Indian cities. Cycling modal share has come down from an average of 30% in 1994 to less than 11% in 2007, at­tributable to an increase in trip length as a result of urban sprawl, inadequate fa­cilities for cycling and growth in private motor vehicle ownership and use

The growth in car ownership and use and the transformation of land that could grow a lot of food for India’s urban millions is a very serious problem. Cities spread out, food growing potential declines, the urban poor and not-so-poor suffer a degraded en­vironment with more noise, stink and dan­ger and ugly flyovers and the daily stress of trying to cross roads or cycle to nearby destinations. This is the central problem in the global and Indian mobility crisis ad­dressed in my new book “Mobility” (details below).

Indian politicians have fallen into line with the poor example set by US, Eu­ropean and Australian governments and have allocated huge amounts of money to roads, flyovers and motorways all of which add very little to the quality of life of mil­lions of India’s citizens and indeed make it much worse. Billions of dollars spent on moving one tonne of metal around a crowded city is poor quality physics, a ma­jor public health problem and mops up a great deal of public money that could be spent on schools, health care, buses, local trains, walking and cycling facilities.

WTPP21-4.india china table

As a European, so-called sustainable trans­port expert, it is not for me to criticise In­dia and the way that transport spending and its outcomes impacts on over a billion people. There are excellent commentators on India in India. It is however the glo­bal problem that concerns me and there is a need for all of us on this beleaguered planet to speak out say “Enough! This is not right”.

So I want to suggest that in India those involved in policy debate and how Indian public funds are spent engage with some radical, original thinking and tell us all if they are doing this already. India does not have to follow the discred­ited model pursued by USA or UK. It can strike out on its own intelligent and truly democratic path. On the assumption that India and the global community wants to eliminate death and injury in road crashes and believes in social justice so that we can do things correct a system that is pun­ishing older people, women and children then we need to do a very small number of things everywhere on this planet and India can take the lead.

The specific things that can be done include:

  • Every road and every street in every town and city must have a 2me­ter wide pedestrian pavement on either side that is well maintained and is high­er than the street level so that vehicles cannot stray into people space.
  • This also applies to rural areas where it is known that people walk or cycle along a highway that carries trucks and buses and these large vehicles bring danger in their wake
  • Crossing points. All roads need safe crossing points for pedestrians. There are a number of ways of doing this but a low cost option is a raised “table” so that the pedestrian can walk across a surface that is higher than the road surface and a vehicle must slow down to cope with the vertical displacement.
  • Huge improvement in bus services (vehicle quality, emissions, driver and conductor training, overcrowding). This will need investment but nothing like the scale of investment for highways and flyovers. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is also a good idea on principal routes and cor­ridors. Special attention has to be given to safety and security of women.

Like all other countries on the planet In­dia has to make choice. It can either go along with the mobility fetish (more roads, flyovers car parks) and very little attention to the needs of people who walk, cycle or take a bus or it can go truly democratic and ethical and introduce changes that benefit all ages, both genders and ordi­nary everyday trips that citizens of every level of income need to make. My guess is that India’s citizens prefer the ethical op­tion and something that is fair and kind to children and older people. We will see.

John Whitelegg


World Transport Policy and Practice

INdia Delhi Make way for buses campaign

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About the author:

Managing Director of Eco-Logica, John Whitelegg is Visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University, Professor of Sustainable Development at the Stockholm Environment Institute, and founder and editor of the Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice. Research interests encompass transport and the environment, definition of sustainable transport systems and a sustainable built environment, development of transport in third world cities focusing on the relationships between sustainability and human health, implementation of environmental strategies within manufacturing and service industry and development of environmental management standards. He has published widely on these topics. John is active in the Green party of England and Wales and is the national spokesperson on sustainable development.

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About the editor of World Streets

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: climate@newmobility.org) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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