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Urban transport crucial for India to sustain high growth rate

21st Century India is climbing high on the path of progress and development and aspirations are rising high as well. It requires a lot of policy incentives and investments to meet those aspirations. The major locomotive of this growth has to be driven by urban transport which will further boost the growth and generate employment as well. Efficient and reliable urban transport systems are crucial for India to sustain a high growth rate and alleviate poverty. Urban transport has both direct and indirect effects. The significance of its role stems from the fact that on the one hand it has a direct bearing on the quality of life and on the other it works as a stimulator for poverty reducing growth.

  •  Highway sector budget increased by 12 percent to 64,900 crores
  • Arun Jaitley said that the total length of roads, including those under PMGSY (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana), built from 2014-15 till the current year is about 1,40,000 kms
  • Government claims that construction of PMGSY roads has accelerated to reach 133 km roads per day in 2016-17, as against an average of 73 km during the period 2011-2014
  • The government claims that it would complete the current target under PMGSY by 2019. The government claims that it would complete the current target under PMGSY by 2019
  • An allocation of Rs 19,000 crore in 2017-18 has been made for this scheme. Together with the contribution of states, Rs 27,000 crore will be spent on PMGSY in 2017-18. An allocation of Rs 19,000 crore in 2017-18 has been made for this scheme. Together with the contribution of states, Rs 27,000 crore will be spent on PMGSY in 2017-18

Urban transport and mobility has direct bearing on the quality of life of citizens. As cities have grown over the years, especially after the liberalization in 1990’s, economic and urban growth has also brought its own share of problems. Air pollution has become a cause of national concern now. So much so that the national capital is described as a gas chamber. The airborne suspended particulate matter far exceeds the normal air quality.
Urban transport sector is directly related to air pollution that it creates. It is important for Indian cities to retain their livability in order to attract international capital and compete with other international centers. Environment is as much relevant for economic health as medical health for the cities. The worst affected lot is the pedestrians, whose mobility and safety is always in danger because of non-existent sidewalks and difficult street crossings. Motor vehicles have already pushed off bicycle riders from the street. Secondary and tertiary road networks have been ignored largely over the years.
Industries such as services and manufacturing concentrate around urban areas. It requires efficient and reliable urban transport to move workers and connect production facilities. Urban transport in India is already under pressure and the growth of service and manufacturing sector has brought it under further strain. Cities like Chennai, Bengaluru and even National Capital Region have attracted significant investment in the field of technology because of highly qualified workforce. Cities have grown but urban transport in every Indian city is still struggling. Developing an efficient urban transport system should be part of the broad Government policy aimed at improving the attractiveness and competitiveness of Indian cities.
It is in this context that budget 2017-18 and its emphasis on urban transport and infrastructure becomes important. Finance minister Arun Jaitley provided a lion’s share for infrastructure in his budget. For the transportation sector he allocated massive 2.41 lakh crores. Allocation for highways was increased by twelve percent. Finance minister termed roads, railways and rivers as lifeline of the country.

New metro rail act in the offing

Metro rail has become an important mode of transportation. While in earlier days it was identified with Kolkata only,in the last two decadesstarting from Delhi, now every state is implementing the project in its cities, be it Mumbai, Jaipur, Lucknow, Bengaluru or Kochi. Jaitley in his budget speech identified metro rail as an important mode of urban transportation. He said ”a Metro Rail Policy will be announced with focus on innovative models of implementation and financing, as well as standardisation and indigenisation of hardware and software”. He further added that “this will open up new job opportunities for our youth.
A new Metro Rail Act will be enacted by rationalising the existing laws. This will facilitate greater private participation and investment in construction and operation”. Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said after the budget that funds allocated will give a big boost to infrastructure sector, especially highways. He said highways sector continues to be a focus area for the government and announcements of multi-modal logistics parks and multi-modal passenger stations will be a game changer. But the crucial factor is that National Highway Authority of India will have to raise almost sixty thousand crores to undertake projects worth over 1.5 lakh crores in the fiscal year 2017-18. The government is expecting that Indian companies will be able to generate funds from the global market as tax exemption is available on ‘masala’ bonds and it will help NHAI.

Aviation sector needs overhauling

While the Tier 1 cities have all the amenities at airports and have been turned into world class ones, working force has to move quite frequently to even Tier2 cities. Therefore it is important that land available with Airports Authority of India be put to good use. It has a huge land bank of almost fifty five thousand acres across the country. Now glitzy malls, hotels and convention centres are being proposed. But the important fact is that over the next fifteen years India will require an investment of almost three lakh crores in this sector. And where is that going to come from? Head of aviation and partner at KPMG, Amber Dubey says “many AAI airports, especially in state capitals, have significant commercial value. The revenue generated can be utilised for airport upgradation, development of new regional airports, and for reducing aeronautical charges”.
The government has waived the service tax on airlines offering cheap tickets with the help of viability gap funding to help operator and people at smaller airports that are not commercially attractive. The provision in this year’s Budget is an attempt to make viable the UdeDeshKeAamNagrik (UDAN) more viable.

Innovation will be the key to meet the demand

US based SkyTran Inc. is developing pod car system for urban transport and is willing to build a one kilometre pilot track in India at its own cost. SkyTran, a NASA technology partner, is among three companies that have been chosen by the government to build pod cars—driverless vehicles that run along a pre-determined route. The move comes after a NITI Aayog panel cleared transport minister Nitin Gadkari’s proposal to test three rapid transport systems using pod cars. The government think tank had mandated that these new technologies should be tried on a pilot stretch of about 1km in different places, where the bidders will execute the pilot at their own risk and cost. The NITI Aayog has said stretches selected for pod taxi pilots should be such that each one of them can be further extended to a length of 15-20km, if successful.

Is technology a solution to the woes of urban transport?

Urbanization and rising incomes have been driving rapid motorization across urban India and even in small cities and towns. In the coming years we will have millions of cars on our streets that are already choked. Urgent action is required if we do not want to see the benefits of urbanisation undermined, lowering the productivity from constant congestion and higher level of pollution. Innovation is the key though it has its own challenges especially in the transport sector. It requires ability to adapt and change. Effort must be made to build cities that are accessible, smart, healthy and livable.

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