Urban transportation planning


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URBAN transport systems and city patterns have a natural interdependency. Land use patterns, population densities and socioeconomic characteristics influence the choice of transport systems. At the same time the presence of specific transport systems changes the land accessibility and, therefore, the land value, triggering a change in land use pattern and city form. Policy-makers, experts and decision-makers involved in the city planning process are, therefore, expected to play an important role in influencing the future health of our cities.

A large proportion of the urban population in Asian and other low income cities, however, remains outside the formal planning process. These systems rest on the innovative skills of people struggling to survive in a hostile environment to meet their mobility and accessibility needs. Housing, employment and transport strategies adopted by this section of the society is often termed, ‘informal housing, informal employment and informal transport.’ Squatter settlements all over the world are called informal settlements because they are not part of the official plan.

Policies and plans adopted by different cities in different regions of the world have a striking similarity, be they in Mexico City, Shanghai or Delhi. But the disconnect between the policy documents which emphasize sustainable transport solutions, recognizing the environment and health problems of the citizens and the projects approved for construction which primarily address the needs of car users and promote large construction projects, displays strong similarities across the world.

All Indian cities face a crisis of urban transport. Despite investments in road infrastructure and plans for land use and transport development, they face increasing problems of congestion, traffic accidents and air and noise pollution. Investments in road widening schemes and grade separated junctions, which primarily benefit personal vehicle users only (car and two wheeler users), have dominated government expenditure.

For example in Delhi, the total funds allocated for the transport sector in 2002-2003 were doubled in 2006-2007. However, 80% of the funds were allocated for road widening schemes. Similarly, 60% of the funds earmarked for public transport in 2006-07 went to the metro system.1 But cars are owned by less than 15% of the households in Delhi. Therefore, an investment in car friendly infrastructure is not meant for a majority of the commuters.

In the name of promoting public transport, demand for rail based systems (metro, LRT and monorail) are being promoted by several cities, despite the fact that the rail based systems are capital intensive, capacity is under-utilized and requires capital and operating subsidies. The existing metro systems in Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi are carrying less than 20% of the available capacity. All three systems are running with operating losses.2 Nevertheless, the government in Delhi has decided to expand the metro system. Similarly, the state governments of Maharashtra, Karnatka and Andhra Pradesh too have decided to invest in metro systems which will benefit only a small share of the total commuters.


At the policy level, town and country planning organisations and development authorities are expected to prepare city master plans and city development plans. Since 1960, such plans have been prepared for several metropolitan cities. However, these plans have not been effective in managing urban growth. Almost all cities have a slum population occupying land which is not earmarked for them. The growth in every city is invariably accompanied by the expanding size of the urban ‘informal economy’. The rising cost of transport within a city and long working hours force workers to live in proximity to their work-place. A large number of people living in these units are employed in the informal sector, providing various services. The growth rate of squatter households, as compared to that of non-squatters, is nearly four times higher in Delhi.

A large proportion of the urban population living in informal settlements is a captive user of low cost travel modes (walking and bicycles) because many of these residents cannot afford to pay even the low and subsidised fares for buses. The recent eviction and resettlement policies in Delhi have thus adversely affected a large number of poor households in the city. People who have been relocated have reduced access to jobs because the new residential locations are 10-15 kilometres away from their previous places of work.

The process of preparing master plans has been in place since 1960. Master plans are made to provide a long-term vision and guidance for the growth of the city. In 2006, Delhi witnessed demolition of non-compliant uses on a large scale. Similar trends have been observed in other Indian cities. Why is it that after nearly fifty years of the master planning process, cities are still struggling to meet the needs of its residents, many of whom continue to be called ‘illegal’ residents? Is it because of poor plans, or poor implementation processes or a lack of resources or lack of expertise?


Urban travel in Indian cities is dominated by walking, cycling and public transport trips, including those by intermediate public transport (IPT). The variation in modal shares among these three seems to have a relationship between city size and per capita income. Small and medium size cities have a lower income than the mega cities; their dependence on cycle rickshaws and cycles is therefore, more than it is in larger cities.

In some cities, though private buses have been introduced recently, the predominant bus transport operation is under the public sector. IPT modes like tempos, autos and cycle rickshaws assume importance as they are necessary to meet travel demands in medium size cities in India like Hubli, Varanasi, Kanpur and Vijayawada. However, there is no policy or projects planned which can improve the operation of paratransit modes. Often the fare policy stipulated by the government is not honoured by the operators, nor does the road infrastructure include facilities for these modes. As a result the operators have to violate official rules and policies to survive in the city.


Travel patterns of people living in informal housing or slums are very different from residents in formal housing. Generally, bicycles and walking account for 50-75% of the commuting trips for those in the informal sector. The formal sector is dependent on buses, cars and two wheelers. This implies that despite high risks and a hostile infrastructure, low cost modes exist because users of these modes do not have any other choice. They are captive users of these modes.

Public transport is the dominant mode of motorised travel in mega cities. Buses account for 20-65% of the total trips, excluding walk trips.3 The minimum cost of public transport trips is 20-30% of the family income for nearly half of the city population living in unauthorised settlements. This section of the population is very sensitive to the slightest variation in the cost of public transport. In the outer areas of Delhi, the presence of non-motorised vehicles and pedestrians on some of the important inter-city highways with comparatively long trip lengths shows that a large number of people use these modes for lack of any other option.

A report prepared for the Government of Delhi for projected modal shares shows that in future bicycles and NMVs will continue to carry a large number of trips in cities of all sizes, public transport trips will be in the range of 25-35% of the total trips, and that walking trips will constitute 50-60% of total trips.4 Nevertheless, despite a high share of walk trips and trips by non-motorised modes, the transport infrastructure does not include any facilities for these modes in any city transport plans.


All traffic and transport improvement proposals prepared by consultants for JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) include plans for road widening, grade separated junctions and metro systems. While the road widening and junction improvement schemes have been implemented in a few cities, public transport systems remain on paper because the finances required for metro projects are beyond the capacity of state or city governments.

The justification given for flyover construction is the need to reduce long delays at intersections and provide uninterrupted movement to long distance traffic. But, flyover construction cannot provide long-term solutions because it only improves journey time for a very small length of the road for private vehicles (cars and two wheelers) and little thought is give to its effects further on. On the other hand, flyovers affect public transport users adversely because bus stop locations are shifted away from the intersection to the foot of the flyover, increasing the walking distance by at least 400 m for changing buses going in different directions. With an increase in the speed of road vehicles, bus commuters as well as other pedestrians are exposed to higher risk while crossing the road.5

Thus, flyovers result in short-term benefits for private vehicles at the cost of increasing traffic hazards and inconveniencing other road users. It also encourages people to use cars and two wheelers and move away from public transport, walking and bicycling, resulting in more vehicles, congestion and pollution on the roads. A careful look at the road widening and junction improvement schemes shows that widening is often done by reducing the space for pedestrians. In other words, investment in road infrastructure improvement has primarily facilitated private vehicles carrying a much smaller share of total trips compared to the trips by pedestrians, non-motorised vehicles and the public transport system.


Many city governments are either implementing or planning new public transport systems, be it a metro, mono-rail, light rail, sky bus or bus rapid transit systems. The argument given for introducing new technologies is to serve the expected high density demands on a few corridors in the city. In the last decade and a half comprehensive traffic and transport plans have been made for at least fifteen cities. Travel forecasts for the next thirty-forty years have been used to justify the proposals for light rail or metro systems.

Indian cities have high density developments in the form of urban slums, while other areas generally do not. However, even a subsidised metro system is much too expensive for the low income population, one reason why the demand for metro systems in Indian cities is so low. Today, the Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi metro systems are carrying less than 20% of their available capacity. The metro and LRT (light rail transit) become low cost in terms of energy consumption and pollution only when the system runs to its full capacity. If the supply exceeds demand, the system runs at a loss.


System demand is dependent on the ease of access, low fares, dependability and proximity to potential passengers. The metro, a capital intensive system (Rs 200-300 crore/km), is not suitable for meeting the mobility requirements of a majority of city residents because Indian cities have a medium density development of middle income groups and mixed land use patterns, which results in short trip lengths. For the cost of one km of a metro system, a 30-50 km modern bus network can be developed. This would benefit 30-50 times more people than a metro system. The average cost of a single metro trip is at least Rs 45 compared to Rs 5-7 for a bus trip.

Since cars and personal two-wheelers provide a flexible door-to-door service, it is not easy to attract such users to a metro, even if made affordable. Tickets on the metro are subsidized at least 10-15 times more than a bus ticket for the same journey. Further, all rail based systems have to depend on buses, three wheelers and rickshaws as feeder modes to increase their catchment area. To be successful, a large number of people should be able to access the metro without depending on a feeder mode. Only long distance travellers (trip length at least 15 km) are likely to use a feeder mode. Therefore, in order to realise the social benefits of a metro system, the city structure has to change completely.

The advantage of a road based mass transport system is that at one-twentieth of the cost of other mass transport systems, a high quality public transport system can be provided within walking distance. Bogota (Colombia) and Curitiba (Brazil), both considered models of public transport, have decided to expand their BRT system in order to cover the whole city by public transport which does not require subsidy, restricts car usage and has major positive impacts on safety, pollution and energy consumption.


Under JNNURM, the Government of India has identified 63 cities for providing assistance in upgrading its road infrastructure.6 Detailed guidelines have been provided to ensure that public transport gets priority in these cities. For getting approval for transport projects, the guidelines recommend that the transport infrastructure improvement schemes have to be in compliance with the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP).7 Since NUTP specifically focuses on public transport, pedestrians and bicycles, cities are modifying the earlier road expansion projects to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and bicycle inclusive plans. BRT and bicycle inclusive plans for five cities have been approved by the central government and another five cities are at different stages of planning.

However, even now it appears that pedestrian and bicycle facilities are not the focus of these projects. In the six lane arterial roads, two lanes are reserved for public transport buses, but there is a reluctance to provide quality facility for pedestrians and bicyclists. This is reflected in the priority for space allocation for various modes in a restricted right of way. In order to accommodate two or three lanes for cars and an exclusive lane for buses, pedestrians and bicyclists have been given less than desirable space. This is despite the fact that nearly fifty per cent trips are either by pedestrians, bicycles, or intermediate public transport systems. The main motivation for preparing BRT projects seems to have been to become eligible for the grant in aid offered by the central government at the earliest. It is yet to be seen whether public transport, NMV and pedestrian friendly infrastructure is created when these projects are implemented.


Though implementation of BRTS has commenced in Delhi, it seems that the primary focus is actually accommodating the demands of the major stakeholders of the ‘transport industry’ in the form of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, the Public Works Department, light rail transit and monorail industries. The first phase of the metro is carrying only 20% of the projected trips and facing operating losses, yet extensions of the metro line are being actively pursued by the government. Clearly, providing an efficient and safe transport to the majority, and using public money in the most efficient way is not the driving force for implementing BRTS in Delhi. The company that has been instituted to implement the project – Delhi Integrated Multimodal Transport System (DIMTS) – is also preparing plans for light rail transit and monorail.8 BRTS road designs have been modified to ‘improve’ car flow so that after the construction of the BRTS lanes car users are not inconvenienced, even if it means reducing safety and convenience to pedestrians and bicyclists.


The rapidly expanding cities in other parts of the world (for example Shanghai, Mexico City and Johannesburg), are characterized by a significant proportion of the city population being dependent on the informal sector. A majority of the population in these cities is also dependent on walking, bicycling and public transport. Historically, these expanding cites have been different in many aspects.

Shanghai until the mid ’80s had a controlled economy and invested in public housing and bicycle infrastructure. Since the opening up of the economy major changes were made in government policy and the car industry was declared a pillar industry in China; in the last decade, elevated highways, satellite towns and mono-functional districts have put human scale transport infrastructure on the back burner. Shanghai’s new official policy is to reduce cycling which has already seen a drop from almost 40% to 25% of all trips between 1995 and 2004. The city has been successful in attracting more car use which doubled during the same period leading to increased average commuting distances of up to 70%.

Around 50,000 minibuses and microbuses are handling a majority of the trips in Mexico City; however, 40% of the city’s transport budget between 2000 and 2006 was spent on Segundo Piso, an elevated highway used by less than one per cent of its residents. In the South African apartheid era, Soweto and other townships were deliberately surrounded by high speed freeways and rail lines akin to moats to keep people in rather than out. Johannesburg’s public space is taken over by traffic, shockingly illustrated by its accident statistics of 56 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants compared to 3 in London, 7 in Mexico City and 13 in Delhi. The percentage of stranded people who walk to work (often in dangerous circumstances) for more than 30 minutes, because they cannot afford any form of public transport, has increased. 46% of house-holds are spending more than 10% of their income on transport. Mini-bus taxis, the major public transport mode, receive no operating subsidy. But the provincial government is planning to invest US $2.7 billion for a rapid rail project.9


It is clear that in the name of development and progress, auto-based mobility solutions have dominated the public transport policy agenda and investments in the rapidly expanding cities. Sustainable transport concepts are used more to promote capital intensive systems like metro rail which does not have an extensive catchment area but requires huge capital. Modes used by a majority of the people – walking, cycling and buses – do not become the focus of a sustainable transport policy agenda. At the same time the ‘mature’ cities (London, New York, Berlin) which developed around rail based public transport networks, too have become dependent on automobile based mobility.

The current understanding of sustainable transport policies recommends mixed land use patterns and high densities in cities. This ensures short trip lengths suitable for walking and bicycling. Cities in low income countries consume less transport energy in comparison to cities in the West. High densities, intensely mixed land use, short trip distances, and high share of walking and non-motorised transport characterize these urban centres. However, their transport and land use patterns are so confounded by the spectre of poverty and high levels of complexity that it becomes difficult to analyse their characteristics using the same indices as those used for cities in highly motorised countries.

The idea of sustainability in low income cities and mature western cites may well be different. In Delhi, environmental concerns ended up in measures to ‘clean’ the city of pollution and traffic congestion, both hurting the poor by evicting them from city centres and industrial jobs and increasing costs of transport. There is a conflict of meanings regarding the word sustainability between the rich and the poor. For the rich sustainability can be achieved through a technological fix – cleaner engines, fuels and metro systems. For the poor, sustainability is a lifestyle and employment issue, more addressed by city form, land use and accessibility concerns. This conflict manifests itself politically, with no easy or quick solutions.


The growing cities, mostly in Asia, Africa and Latin America are characterized by diversities and heterogeneity in socio economic conditions. These mega cities are agglomerations of several small cities having multiple economies, in close proximity to each other. One economy serves the needs of the affluent and features modern technologies, formal markets, and the outward appearance of developed countries. The other serves disadvantaged groups and is marked by traditional technologies, informal markets, and moderate to severe levels of economic and political deprivation. A majority of the population is dependent on walking, bicycling and public transport.

The current understanding of transportation issues in these cities has prompted ‘improvement’ in the transport situation by disintegrating public spaces for uninterrupted movement of private vehicles. Improvement in road capacity in these cities has meant reducing pedestrian and bicycle facilities, removing street vendors, restricting pedestrian movements and constructing grade separated junctions.


If sustainable transport is to be promoted, the following issues must be kept in mind:

* Stricter emission laws in the West did not reduce total emissions.

* Cities in many low income countries at present have desirable modal shares. The challenge is to preserve them in future amidst growing car and two wheeler ownership.

* If these have to be preserved and encouraged, then clean technology alone is not sufficient. It may have an adverse effect by increasing the use of two wheelers, and shifting people from bicycles to motorized public transport systems. Both may lead to an increase in accidents and possibly harmful emissions.

* Sustainable transport needs inclusive cities. Inclusive cities are also safe cities. It implies going beyond physical infrastructure as also providing the opportunity for honest living. Inclusive streets ensure not only safe mobility – reduced risks of traffic crashes – but also reduced street crimes and better social cohesion, and makes public transport, bicycling and walking attractive, and the preferred choice for commuting.

Over the last decade there has been a serious effort in several cities to bring land use and transport strategies closer together. However, despite investments and expertise, the process of moving towards more sustainable urban structures where movement is based on public transport and non-motorized mobility has remained slow.



1. GNCTD, Outcome Budget 2006-07 of Government of NCT of Delhi. Government of NCT of Delhi, Delhi, http://delhi-planning.nic.in/reports/PDF/Tpt.pdf (accessed June 2007), 2007.

2. G. Tiwari and M. Advani, Demand for Metro Systems in Indian Cities.TRIPP working paper. Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme, IIT Delhi, 2006.

3. RITES, Route Rationalization and Timetable Formulation Study for Bus System of Delhi. Transport Department, Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, 1998.

4. Ibid.

5. U. Gupta, Pedestrian Risk at Urban Intersection. Final Report. B.Tech project, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Delhi, 2007.

6. Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, Ministry of Urban Development, New Delhi, http://jnnurm.nic.in/defaultud. aspx# (accessed July 2007), 2006.

7. National Urban Transport Policy, Ministry of Urban Development, New Delhi, http://urbanindia.nic.in/moud/programme/ut/TransportPolicy.pdf (accessed July 2007), 2006.

8. Transport, Chapter 12 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2005-2006, Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. http://delhiplanning.nic.in/Economic%20Survey/ES%202005-06/Chpt/12.pdf (accessed July 2007), 2006.

9. H. Knoflacher, P. Rode and G.Tiwari, ‘Moving People Making Cities’, Urban Age, newspaper essay, Berlin. http://www.urban-age.net/01_introduction/intro_investigation_ M+T.html (accessed July 2007), 2007.