Is anyone in charge?

K.C. SIVARAMAKRISHNAN

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ALONGSIDE demographic and spatial factors such as population increase and density, patterns of land use and employment location, considerations of urban mobility simultaneously demand knowledge of technical issues such as per capita trip generation, transit volume, modal split, vehicular increase and so on. We also need to take into account both passenger and goods movement. Even in situations where resources are not a major constraint, the quality of urban mobility is determined more by public policy and the response of public agencies to market forces, a fact which is unfortunately little appreciated. This paper argues that the poor state of urban mobility is best explained by failure of public policy, exemplified by the fact that no agency seems to be in charge of transport issues at the city level.

India’s total population according to the 2001 Census was 1.27 billion. The urban share of this population stood at 285 million, about 27.78%. This is about 21% of Asia’s and 10% of the world’s urban population. However, these simple averages do not convey an adequate picture of the country’s urban scene. Much of the urban growth is concentrated in large cities. There are 35 cities of more than one million people which together have a total population of about 108 million representing nearly 40% of the urban population. These million plus or ‘metropolitan cities’, as they are usually referred to, have been growing steadily. At the time of the 1991 Census there were only 24; now there are 35.

Those with a population of more than five million are commonly referred to as ‘megacities’. There are six of these at present, namely Greater Bombay (renamed recently as Mumbai), Calcutta (renamed as Kolkata), Delhi, Madras (renamed as Chennai), Bangalore and Hyderabad. The population of these six megacities since 1981 is given in Table I. Note that these figure are according to the area defined by the Census which may not cover the full areas of metropolitan agglomeration.

TABLE I

Growth Rate of Metropolitan Cities

Metropolitan cities/UAS

Population

Exponential growth rate

 

1981

1991

2001

1981-91

1991-01

Greater Mumbai

8,243,405

12,596,243

16,368,084

4.22

2.62

Kolkata

9,194,018

11,021,918

13,216,546

1.72

1.82

Delhi

5,729,283

8,419,084

12,791,458

3.80

4.18

Chennai

4,289,347

5,421,985

6,424,624

2.23

1.70

Bangalore

2,921,751

4,130,288

5,686,844

3.36

3.20

Hyderabad

2,545,836

4,344,437

5,533,640

5.20

2.42

 

The growth of motorized vehicles in most metropolitan cities has been dramatically high. In the 15 year period between 1980 and 1995 the number of vehicles increased by 334% in Delhi, 229% in Calcutta, 116% in Bombay and 371% in Bangalore. In comparison, the population increase itself has been 67, 25, 29 and 60% respectively. In metropolitan cities as a whole the number of motorized vehicles per thousand population is 40. However, in some cities this ratio is much higher. Table II indicates the current levels, as well as growth in recent years.

The two-wheeler phenomenon is somewhat unique to Indian cities. The scooter with a two-stroke engine, discarded in European cities by the ’70s, gained a massive entry into Asian cities, in particular India. From a small number of 27,000 for the whole country in 1951, the production of these vehicles jumped to one million by 1976 and was 2.3 million in 1996. In 2000, the number of scooters, including motorcycles, produced in the country reached 3.4 million. Currently India produces more than 400,000 two-wheelers every month. About 16,000 are exported and the rest, in the main, find their way to the cities. Here again, the largest numbers are to be found in the megacities.

TABLE II

Details of Vehicles Registered in Major Cities

Urban agglomeration/ district

Two- wheelers

Autos/tempos

Cars/cabs

Buses

Goods carriages

Tractors

Total

Bangalore

01.04.1985

195210

12375

58971

3812

12217

5881

288466

01.04.1990

415854

15754

85037

4243

18298

6555

545741

01.04.1995

594639

34335

120103

6454

24625

14220

794376

01.04.2002

1183752

64520

259001

10077

49037

30171

1596558

Chennai

01.04.1985

122123

6115

55529

2945

12337

798

199847

01.04.1990

338486

5580

113783

3657

28917

1871

492294

01.04.1995

565451

20849

148896

4317

23475

1460

764448

01.04.2002

988630

44771

250080

4541

31459

6202

1325683

Delhi

01.04.1985

579064

30017

166263

13522

52370

 

841236

01.04.1990

1113236

58934

354810

17844

92778

 

1637602

01.04.1995

1617732

74981

588309

26202

125071

 

2432295

01.04.2002

2265955

86985

989522

47578

161650

 

3551690

Greater Mumbai

01.04.1985

167338

32351

236186

22506

46840

3427

508648

01.04.1990

305099

41814

302122

10878

75405

3623

738941

01.04.1995

434802

101597

313537

16291

83517

6070

955814

01.04.2002

787527

212862

547224

20718

124718

8215

1701264

Kolkata

01.04.1985

160556

4968

177736

15736

62514

10375

431885

01.04.1990

217304

7100

219079

18330

75083

11480

548376

01.04.1995

294110

10146

270039

21352

90179

12703

698529

01.04.2002

467756

27003

380079

28923

105687

28003

1037451

Delhi is also the two-wheeler capital of the country. Out of a total of 3.55 million vehicles registered between April 1985 and April 2002, nearly 2.27 million were two-wheelers. Until recently these vehicles used two-stroke engines. It is only in the past three years that the industry has shifted to four stroke engine technology. As indicated in the earlier table, in the other cities of Bangalore, Madras, Bombay and Calcutta, the predominance of the two-wheeler is similar. It is important to understand that scooter and motorcycles represent the quickest change-over from public to private transport because of personal convenience. The capital cost on an average is about US$ 1000 and the market ensures easy and quick financing. The decline in the quality of public transport has also been an important contributing factor.

 

The situation is aggravated by the proliferation of private motor vehicles. While production of motor vehicles in general has been increasing in recent years, the manufacture of private cars has gone up significantly. Compared to 2.34 lakh vehicles in 1998-99, the production more than doubled in 2003-03 at 7.81 lakh vehicles. Though the automobile industry claims a rise in exports, the bulk of the production is sold within the country. The Ministry of Road Transport Research Wing publishes the Road Transport Year Book containing some very useful data. The table given below indicates the production of different types of motor vehicles as well as their sale over a six-year period. As mentioned earlier, the period between 1985-2000 saw a phenomenal rise in the number of vehicles in Bangalore, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. The population increase in the cities certainly did not warrant this. It is more the result of rising incomes and consumption patterns.

 

The data is given in full because city-wide information is not usually known. In every metropolitan city, the increase in motor vehicles, particularly non-transport vehicles, has been alarming. For instance, in the one-year period 2002-2003, Delhi added 86,624 cars, which works out to 237 per day. It is reported the figure crossed 90,000 during calendar year 2005. The number of two-wheelers increased by 1.63 lakh or 447 per day. Chennai was not to be outdone, with an addition of 86,260 cars (236 per day) and 2.54 lakh two-wheelers, which works out to nearly 700 per day. In comparison the addition of buses is modest.

 

While the production and sale of automobiles are regarded as positive features in the country’s industrial development and its economy, no attention is given to their impact on the cities. The automobile industry is content to demand that road space in the cities be expanded, traffic facilities improved such as through flyovers, better management of traffic, a ban on slow moving vehicles and so on. There are, however, limits to expanding road space. Delhi is considered as one of the better endowed cities in this regard with about 16% of the land space allocated towards roads. But even in Delhi with its passion for flyovers, there is little relief to buses or pedestrians. Whatever benefits accrue from flyovers are only temporary and rapidly used up by an increase in the number of vehicles.

 

Even as little priority is given to providing road space for public transport vehicles in Indian cities, the distortions are far worse as far as taxation is concerned. The revenue realised for some states in India is given in Table IV. Except in Andhra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Orissa these taxes do not account for the bulk of revenues. In the case of Delhi, out of Rs 3,815 lakh as road tax revenue, the contribution of private motor vehicle tax is no more than Rs 470 lakh, whereas bus passenger tax came to three times, i.e. Rs 1,071 lakh. The rates and pattern of MV tax for private vehicles as well as buses are archaic, arbitrary and indicate no particular rationale of revenue yield or equity. It is also common knowledge that financing a private car purchase today is one of the easiest and quickest transactions in India. In comparison, financing for taxis and buses at reasonable interest rates remains a time consuming and difficult exercise.

TABLE III

Production of Motor Vehicles in India

(In numbers)

Category

1998-99

2002-03

2003-04

% Change of 2003-04 over2002-03

1

2

3

4

5

M&HCVs

80528

120502

166102

37.84

LCVs

55363

83195

109122

31.16

Total Comm. Vehicles

135891

203697

275224

35.11

CARS

390709

557410

781764

40.25

Multiutility Vehicles

113328

165920

206776

24.62

Scooters

1315055

848434

935319

10.24

Motorcycles

1387286

3876175

4355137

12.36

Mopeds

672167

351612

334494

- 4.87

Total Two Wheelers

3374508

5076221

5624950

10.81

Three Wheelers

209033

276719

340729

23.13

Grand Total

4223469

6279967

7229443

15.12

Note: M & HCVs = Medium and Heavy Commercial Vehicles.

LCVs = Light Commercial Vehicles.

Source: Road Transport Year Book 2003-04.

Private sector money goes mainly into the production and distribution of private vehicles. For instance the cumulative number of buses in the country as a whole as of 2000 was less than 600,000 as compared to the total of 48 million vehicles. Between 1999 and 2000, the cumulative number of buses increased only by 19,000 as compared to half a million cars and two million two-wheelers. To aggravate matters, vehicle taxation has been unimaginative and favours private transport vehicles rather than buses. In many states of India private vehicles pay a one time tax ranging from Rs 1,000 to 4,000 at the time of registration, a figure which bears little relation to vehicle cost. On the other hand, buses pay a tax calculated on the basis of passengers, including standing passengers.

 

Congestion is one obvious outcome of vehicular growth and in particular, the two-wheeler phenomenon. Congestion is, therefore, widespread and vehicle speeds are as low as 8 to 12 kms per hour on some arterial roads during rush hour. However, during non-peak hours speeds can be high resulting in accidents. For the country as a whole, about 400,000 road accidents were reported during the year 2000 resulting in about 79,000 fatalities and 400,000 persons being injured. It is disproportionately higher in metropolitan cities. Figures available for 1998 indicate that in the five megacities considered in this paper, accidents numbered about 60,000 with 4,355 fatalities.

Given the high growth in vehicles and the resultant congestion, let us look at the situation regarding mobility of passengers. It is estimated that per capita trip generation in megacities is about 0.8 to 1.1. Public transport modes in these megacities have had different histories. In the case of Bombay and Calcutta where growth has been mainly linear, the suburban railways carry a significant volume of transit. The suburban railways are not the same as intercity commuter trains, though they are operated by the same railway companies sharing the track infrastructure.

 

In both Calcutta and Bombay, the suburban trains are electric multiple units, transporting passengers from the suburbs through the metropolitan area and terminating at the city centre. As stations are located all along, passengers make use of these trains within the metropolitan area as well. In the case of Madras, suburban train services were developed on the meter gauge in three radial directions. In these three cities the trains account for nearly one-third or more of the transit volume. In the case of Delhi, buses are the principal means of transit. In Madras and Calcutta they account for an important share of the transit as well. Because of limited road space, the need to serve different localities and flexibility in operating schedule, mini buses have also been introduced in these megacities. However, the volume they carry is still limited.

 

The need for mass transit and the scope for its adoption in the major cites of the country has been discussed for more than three decades. Feasibility studies and project reports are far too numerous to list. However, concrete action has been inverse to the amount of debate and reports. The first effort to build a dedicated rail based mass transit system was taken in Calcutta in the 1970s to be partly underground and partly on the surface. The initial project envisaged a 30 km system expected to carry about 20% of the transit volume, but what is now operating is a 13 km line used by about 2% of the total volume.

TABLE IV

Revenue Realised From Motor Vehicle Taxes/Fees for 2002-03

(Rs in Lakhs)

States/UTs

Total

Motor vehicle tax

Commercial vehicle and other fees

Passenger tax

Goods tax

Fines

Andhra Pradesh

91869.00

16736.00

6566.00

21823.00

35704.00

9040.00

Gujarat

81180.88

51091.82

7320.69

1019.36

21.72

21272.29

Karnataka

69749.71

42715.87

5188.36

….

17617.75

4227.73@

Madhya Pradesh

43542.00

7576.00

8190.00

13406.00

14370.00

Maharashtra

105853.00

90244.00

140.00

11573.00

…..

18.22

Punjab

44370.55

8549.91

5450.37

26675.00

1945.88

1749.30

Rajasthan

64605.27

7579.42

20537.93

16114.62

16360.68

4012.62

Tamil Nadu

73934.97

27241.28

17356.81

16884.71

11492.94

1959.23

Uttar Pradesh

85093.47

24475.03

23372.64

19135.56

16034.24

2076.00

West Bengal

25072.00

….

…..

…..

…..

…..

UTs

Delhi

3815.49

470.17

743.20

1171.19

1195.85

235.08

….: Not indicated; @ Rs.55.52 lakhs shown as other also included.

Source: Road Transport Year Book 2003-04.

Under-funded from the beginning and delayed at every stage, the metro rail in Calcutta reached an operational stage in 1978. In the case of Madras one of the suburban train lines is being extended to the city in stages as some kind of transit facility. In the case of Bombay a World Bank financed transit improvement project is focusing on improving the frequency of suburban train services, road improvements and improvements in the bus system. Bangalore is still debating its transit options.

The first phase of the Delhi metro system covers a length of about 65 kms, out of which 12.5 is underground and the rest on the surface or partly elevated at an estimated cost of $ 2.2 million. Delhi metro is undoubtedly expensive. But thanks to significant Japanese aid and political clout that Delhi exercises in mobilising funds, the first phase was completed in a little over seven years. In a country otherwise plagued by notorious delays in executing public projects, the Metro construction agency in Delhi has been a singular exception. This success has also prompted the neighbouring jurisdictions of Delhi such as Noida and Gurgaon to seek extension of the metro system to their areas. The Commonwealth Games scheduled to be held in 2010 has given a further boost to the Metro. However, attention to alternative forms of transit is still limited. After several years of persistence, a beginning is being made with regard to dedicated busways.

 

In considering public policy responses to mobility the most prominent factor is institutional fragmentation. Roads and their maintenance are usually the responsibility of the public works departments of the state (provincial) though some roads are looked after by the city government. The registration of motor vehicles, licensing and vehicle taxation are handled by regulatory authorities or departments of the province. Regulation of traffic and penalty for road violations is invariably handled by the police, which in Indian cities is not under the jurisdiction of city governments. Traffic engineering, including signals, is shared between city governments and police. The operation of transport vehicles such as buses, trains or tramcars are the responsibility of individual utility companies whether private or owned by the state. The production and sale of automobiles is in the hands of the private sector industry, with no limits on the number of vehicles that can be sold. Taxation on production, including excise duties, is the central government’s prerogative, while registration and other user fees, if any, are state level responsibilities. Demand management hardly figures in the terminology of urban transport policy.

Public sector investment in transport infrastructure has invariably favoured flyovers and expressways. These are of considerable benefit to private vehicles rather than public transport. Nevertheless, in most Indian cities these appear to be the preferred investments.

International experience in improving urban mobility has brought forth several measures, such as augmenting public transport capacity, reducing travel time, improving inter-modal integration, priority for public transport, etc. On the regulatory side, several initiatives such as area licensing, limiting parking space and high parking fees or park and ride facilities are also recognised as useful. The congestion tax in London, recently introduced despite several doubts, has proved to be a successful initiative. This example clearly shows the need for public awareness and support in undertaking such measures.

The present scenario in Indian cities, however, indicates that urban transport as a subject falls through the gaps between several institutions and is indeed ‘nobody’s baby’. In the meantime, market forces continue to encourage proliferation of private transport and pre-emption of public choices. The situation is unlikely to change until congestion and pollution bring movement on the megacity roads to a virtual halt.

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