Looking back at 2018 some misses

As we enter the last couple of weeks of this calendar year, it is time to look back and see what happened, what was achieved, milestones reached and goals surpassed. It is also time to think of and consider what could have been. In the urban governance sphere there are several areas where there is need for urgent intervention. In some of these areas we are left with a feeling that more could have been done.
One such area is urban mobility. The issue of poor air quality in cities has grabbed media headlines in many of our cities. Alongside, traffic congestion and road safety have been irking citizens and engaging policy makers. Effective public transport is part of public discourse since long. However, in general, there has been little in terms of breakthroughs in public transportation. Safe, reliable, comfortable and affordable public transport still eludes us in most cities. Many cities are augmenting or implementing new rail-based options.However, city bus services, the backbone of public transport in most cities have stagnated or deteriorated. Independent studies have shown an over 8% annual drop in ridership of Delhi Transport Corporation buses and drop of 40% over last 7 years for BEST in Mumbai. Ridership in other big cities including Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Pune has fallen; one of the reasons being higher fares in comparison to 2-wheeler use. Inspite of this, bus services run up big losses and therefore curtail routes deemed ‘unprofitable’. City bus services need to be encouraged and promoted as a key element of the public transport architecture as they can also provide good first and last-mile connectivity, soessential for the success of rail-basedmodes. Non-motorized transport has not seen much traction. Some cities (smart cities) are promoting bicycling. However it seems more as a leisure activity than a contribution to solving the urban mobility puzzle. Other potential options such as pedicabs (including battery assisted) and car pool, taxi/auto poolhave not received much attention.
Waste management in cities has grown into a humongous problem with severe implications for the environment and public health. While several states have announced bans in order to become ‘plastic-free’, feeble enforcement has made a mockery of the exercise. The strategy of Extended Producer Responsibility has been oft discussed but with no meaningful progress. While some technologies have been created by Individuals to gainfully recycle/reuse plastic and other waste, adoption and deployment of these has not been widespread. Therefore the problem of waste including plastic waste continues to choke our cities and towns with alarming implications for the future.
Among other disappointments is the inadequate citizen engagement/participation in various national or city-wide initiatives. For example, even in something as rudimentary as source segregation of waste, success is sporadic rather than sustained. Waste disposal on streets and into precious water bodies continues widely but for a little spark of success here or there. Defacing of road furniture, damage to other public assets, and dangerous traffic violations are widespread and make for a poor scorecard of citizen behaviour. Several measures such as water conservation and waste management are crucial in our quest for a sustainable future; these call for whole-hearted, enlightened citizen behaviour and robust enforcement.
Let us look for greater success in all above areas in the coming year. I take this opportunity to wish all our readers and their families a happy and prosperous new year.

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