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India@100: Urban Mobility Upgrade

To meet the demands of the growing urban crowd, we will need smart, sustainable transport

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma


India is on the move. The aspirations of a 70-year young nation are overwhelming and ask for a concerted effort in urban mobility as the number of people in the urban ecosystem increases at a rapid rate. India’s rate of urban population growth is expected to climb, partly due to migratory flows, especially youths seeking jobs. By mid-century, half of India’s population, about 830 million people, is expected to be urban dwellers, which will challenge government capacities to provide basic services and infrastructure.

With the rural urban divide narrowing, transportation system in India is all set for a giant leap. Efficient, integrated, agile technology and digital expertise are the four pillars on which the urban mobility market is set to evolve in India. This further provides an exciting opportunity for all stakeholders.

While transport is an enabler of economic activity and  social  connectivity, a bias  towards  private  motorised  transport  rather  than  accessibility  has  led  to  increasing  passenger-km travelled per capita and created a vicious cycle, where to address congestion, more  roads  are built  which are  soon overwhelmed  with  the  rising number  of vehicles. The objective should be to reduce the vehicle-km travelled per capita and to give the travelling public a viable choice of low-emissions public transport alternatives.

In 2006, the National Urban Transport Policy proposed the metro rail system for every city with a population of 2 million. In 2014, the government revised the policy and announced that it would provide financial assistance for the implementation of a metro rail system, to all Indian cities with over 1 million population. This underlines the importance and the efficacy of Metro rail services as a preferred mode for mass transportation in emerging India, while trams and mono rails are also projected as key carriers.

The transport sector currently accounts for 23 per cent (and rising) of global energy-related CO2 production. Between 1990 and 2011, transport sector CO2 emissions increased by 53 per cent. In the same timeframe, the share of railway CO2 emissions in transport decreased from 4.2 per cent to 3.3 per cent, whilst the number of passenger-km transported by rail grew 61 per cent and rail freight-km grew 55 per cent. It has a great scope to contribute towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. 

It is a moment to leapfrog the polluting industrial phase experienced in the Western world and that is why a lot of focus is going to be on sustainable transport. The urban mobility solutions are going to be cleaner and greener. They will be shaped by disruptive technologies such as the move to on-demand mobility; the impact of autonomous vehicles; and the growth of electric vehicles.

In this evolving backdrop, innovative solutions in the urban mobility space such as driverless metro will go a long way towards decongesting the metro coaches and offer a more comfortable journey since trains will operate as per standardised norms — no sudden acceleration and braking by unskilled drivers, while enabling structured time gap between trains. All these contribute to fewer wear and tear of trains, thus lessening life-cycle cost. Intelligent solutions are going to further define the future of urban transport in India. Urban mobility is also expected to become faster with the introduction of GST, which will decongest the state borders. It is also expected to become easier with the ongoing Dedicated Freight Corridor railway project and the government’s intention to promote riverine mobility throughout the country.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Bharat Salhotra

The author is managing director at Alstom Transport India

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