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The challenges of greening transport

TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.

The challenges of greening transport

India must prioritise  and enhance  the adoption  of all  non-motorised  forms of mobility (NMT)...

The challenges of  greening  transport

Expert Expressions

Expert Expressions

VN Garg

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.

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