The writer is former chairperson, UP Forest Corporation; former principal secretary, forest & environment; former chairman, UP Pollution Control Board, and former Honorary Secretary, Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), UP Regional Branch
Lockdowns and subsequent slow resumption of transport services during Covid-19 pandemic have highlighted the need for an overhaul of transportation systems. As the world emerges from Covid-19, the governments should focus on sustainable and greener transport systems. The recovery policies from Covid-19 should include a low-carbon transport.
The current transportation systems contribute emission of greenhouse gases ,environmental degradation, and poorer health . In fact ,transport sector contributes to 23 % of the globe’s greenhouse gas emission resulting from burning of fossil fuels. Road transport takes up about 75 % of this transport sector emission and this may increase in the future if it not checked. In metropolitan cities like New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Pune, vehicular air pollution is responsible for 30 percent to 41 percent of all particulate matter 2.5 emissions, which cause serious diseases. The adoption of Bharat Stage VI (BS6) emission standards will ensure that the emissions norms in India are at par with global standards. However, it will not ensure the mitigation of pollution caused to older vehicles, disorganised mode changes or inadequate route planning .It requires policies and actions which not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport sector but also result in greening the sector.
Apart from air pollution, another issue related to transportation sector is congestion on roads, which results in economic losses, wastage of time, poor health and increases in road accidents. Four Indian cities Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune and New Delhi are among the top ten most congested cities of the world. The widespread and increasing demand for private transportation exerts pressure on public transport infrastructure and causes congestion. Motor vehicles sales in India rose from 14,40,455 in 2005 to 38,16,891 in 2019. While the road length has increased, the vehicle density ( number of vehicles per kilometre of road length) has also risen, from 28 vehicles in 2010 to 41 in 2016.This causes lot of wastage of time due to congestion every year. This also undermines the capabilities of public transport providers to operate at their full potential.
Pollution and congestion are two major systemic issues in transport system in India. Huge infrastructure projects provide access to several regions of the country. However , end to end connectivity is not done in a planned manner. Policies to discourage private vehicle travel should include those that increase the cost of their ownership and use (e.g., registration fees and distance- based charges ), as well as regulatory measures such as urban vehicle access regulations.
India must adopt policies and create systems that embrace green technologies – electric vehicles (EVs) that run on clean fuel; low carbon fuels and clean, comfortable and affordable mass transit options. Though the toxic emissions might be produced by plants generating electricity, power can be tapped from renewable technologies like hydro-electric, solar power and wind turbines. Under National Electric Mobility Mission Plan, first proposed in 2012, it was decided to encourage the faster adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles through government-industry collaborations , to allow India to emerge as a leader in EV manufacturing by 2020. There has been some progress in the use of EVs like buses and three-wheelers in public transportation , but more efforts are needed.
Indian railways is an important mode of transport, has 68,000 kilometres of track and serves over 8 billion passengers a year. Passenger and freight-mile emissions from trains are much lower than those recorded by vehicle traffic. Work on greening the Indian railways is going on, with over half of the network electrified, and a target to electrify the entire network in the next three to four years. When fossil fuels are replaced by renewable energy sources, and net zero carbon emissions are achieved by 2030, it would mean eliminating emissions of 7.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.
Covid-19 has forced a greater focus on the need for physically distanced modes of transportation, such as walking and cycling. Worldwide, various cities have initiated efforts to focus on including pedestrian and cycling facilities in their transportation systems. India must prioritise and enhance the adoption of all non-motorised forms of mobility (NMT).The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs through the Smart Cities Mission, has announced a ‘CYCLE4CHANGE’ challenge, which intends to create extensive cycle networks in Indian cities through various interventions, such as bike lanes, non-motorised zones in cities and community-led rental schemes. Through this challenge, the government aims to promote cycling as a safe and green solution to the recovery for cities, businesses and communities post lock down. Many cities have started rapidly expanding bike lanes and providing incentives for travel via low emission modes. One of the focus areas of the Smart cities Mission, launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MoHUA), is improving transport and connectivity and providing an impetus to walkable communities. It aims to reduce congestion, air pollution and resource depletion, makes design changes and provides amenities within walking or cycling distance for most of the population. It aims to promote transit-oriented development, public transport and last-mile transport connectivity, technological upgradations in urban transport with the introduction of citywide command and control centres using Intelligent Traffic Monitoring Systems (ITMS). Another key component is the creation of data centres and ITMS to coordinate transportation across various modes. The key NMT (non-motorised transport) projects are public bicycle sharing schemes, electric bus and electric rickshaw fleets, IT-enabled fleet tracking for e-mobility options, and EV (Electric Vehicle) charging and parking bays.
Governments should also promote public transport. Building trust in governments’ capacity to manage the public health risks of public transport will be critical in preventing a lower use of public transport. The risk of transmission of Covid-19 among users of public transport can be reduced through face mask requirements, disinfection protocols, thermal screening and contactless payment options. Metropolitan transport fund can be created and used to strengthen public transport.
In addition to providing quality infrastructure, incentives such as subsidies for the purchase of bicycles should be provided. Participatory planning through ward committees, especially for bicycle lanes and pedestrian infrastructure, transport routes and mode planning. The 15-minute neighbourhood’ is a concept that aims for providing everything that people need to be within a 15 minutes walkable distance. Such a need has been felt acutely during Covid-19. Such neighbourhoods can be connected to a larger city block through buses and public transport. Greening the transport sector post Covid-19 is a great challenge but it is essential to meet this challenge, to address the twin issues of air pollution and traffic congestion.