Over the past couple of years, the world has clearly seen the need for a more sustainable approach to development. This is particularly highlighted and recognized by leaders around the world, and the pathway to achieve this was conceptualized by the United Nations. It is characterized today as the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). The SDG’s are a set of 17 goals that the participating countries would aim to make a reality. The goals were written in a very inclusive way, so as to address many problems that plague not just the developing countries, but also the developed ones.
This article will concentrate on one particular aspect of the SDG 11, which talks about sustainable cities and communities. Given the massive rise in metropolitan cities around the world, it is also seen that the development is often accompanied by increased carbon emissions, and the increased rate of resource depletion. Thus, nations are working toward this particular goal, mainly by constructing ‘Smart Cities’ with increased efficiency of public transport.
One particular aspect that has garnered a lot of interest over the years, is the transportation sector, with local government’s trying to look for more efficient and sustainable ways of transportation. India has taken massive strides forward in this aspect, as it has been long theorizing for ways to make travel more sustainable, while trying to keep in mind key factors such as the pricing and the population of cities.
The major policy effort that has taken shape and has been instrumental in moving towards sustainable transportation is the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP). This particular policy was drafted in 2006, along with the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission(JNNURM) to complement the NUTP in its policy-based solutions, and served as the base documents for several other projects such as the Smart Cities and National Electric Mobility Policy. The NUTP was revised in 2014, to make way for solutions aiming at a lower carbon footprint, and defining city-specific solutions.
The key objectives of the NUTP were to prioritize the movement and transport of more people, and not more vehicles. Thus, emphasis was placed on more space for sustainable transport modes such as walking, cycling and public transport. It was theorized to provide a much more seamless and user-friendly mode of transportation, while emphasizing on less time spent on commute.
Looking in depth at the policy solutions, it has instituted multiple projects on the basis of feasibility studies that were conducted. The studies brought about effective solutions such as the famous Metro Projects in cities with congestion and high traffic density, such as Bengaluru and Lucknow. These Metro projects have seen immense success with the local people, being an affordable and time saving method of transportation.
Other projects, such as the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) in cities such as Ahmedabad and Pune have been instituted, which consist of dedicated bus lanes with the reach of such a system being across the major industrial areas of the city. The success of these projects, however, are debatable. While the projected numbers for the BRTS did indicate a huge change in the amount of people using such systems, the actual numbers indicated otherwise. While the ridership on the BRTS increased only by about 12-17% for the 3 years since the inception, it was in no way comparable to the growth in the number of personal vehicles. There are multiple reasons attributed to this, with the criticism often directed toward the maintenance of the bus stations, lack of enough funding for expansion, and the infrequency of the buses.
Although the NUTP was initially seen as a way and a background on building a more sustainable model of transportation along all parts of the country, it has hit a few roadblocks with respect to the implementation, which has to a large extent remained on paper, or fallen short of its expectations. While most cities have been moving towards looking into construction of Metro’s, a lot of funding has been diverted there. This has left significant lack of funding in other mediums of public transport, and even with respect to the infrastructure needed for it. Bus bays and bus stands remain in a poor state of maintenance, and have not been increased to accommodate for the increased footfall. The policy has also failed to account for the last mile coverage. This includes the connections between residential areas, and localities that are isolated from the city to the bus stands and bus bays. These issues have hindered the complete and successful implementation of the projects under the NUTP, even after its revamp in 2014.
One positive effect that the NUTP and JNNURM brought about is the implementation of new policies that target essential and precise aspects of the transportation sector, that these could not specifically address. IN 2015, the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation ( AMRUT) was launched, which was directed towards smaller cities rather than targeting just the metros. Funds were allocated in order to create footpaths, sidewalks and cycling facilities. So far, only 14 states have actually used this funding though, to enhance multi-level parking facilities and other such facilities to enhance ease of transportation.
The Smart Cities mission, established in 2015 is also another classic example of the kind of solutions the NUTP and JNNURM can bring about. Particular cities were identified, and funds were allocated to make these cities and their spaces much greener with less pollution, congestion, and resource depletion, by making design changes and transportation changes. The transportation changes mainly looked at making the city-centers much more walking and cycling-oriented, and using public transport to commute from the city centers to the residential areas. While the mission is already underway in cities such as Surat, Visakhapatnam, Coimbatore and many more, there is still much more to be done.
The most basic conclusion that can be drawn is that there exists the means, efforts and mechanisms to make sure sustainable transportation is seen as an achievable goal at least by 2030, as depicted in the UN SDGs. However, it is very evident that the policies are not being implemented to its fullest, and needs to be considered and understood seriously by the state and union government. Given the alarming rates of pollution and carbon release, sustainable transportation is seen as the fastest way of controlling these rates, and leaving behind a much safer environment for the next generation of people.