People living in big cities often jostle for space on roads and inside public transport systems in peak hours to reach their workplaces. The same struggle continues in the evenings. To create comfortable ride for urban commuters, governments are accelerating the pace of building metro systems, introducing more buses on roads and taking several innovative initiatives to provide last mile connectivity.Is creating more mobility alternatives a sustainable solution and panacea for mobility problems? Can we create a pleasant commuting experience for citizens?
One size does not fit all and this is true when governments address mobility issues of Indian cities. Every city has its own mobility requirements thus needs customized treatment for its traffic problems. Suburban trains could be viable for a city like Mumbai but it is not as popular in any other Indian city. It is not that people do not accept the better alternatives, if available. Of late Delhi has shown the way. People have been largely dependent on three-wheelers and Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses for several decades but now people prefer metro for commuting. The data suggests that over 24 lakh people travel in Delhi metro on a daily basis.
The success of Delhi metro is a learning for many cities. It has raised the bar of urban mobility services.Delhi Metro is clean, well-signposted, tactile-floored, economical, safe, punctual, well-connectedmass rapid transport that connects most corners of the National Capital Region, from Vaishali in Ghaziabad to Mujesar in Faridabad. The metro system has also given attention to the safety and convenience of women passengers. The network of metros is expanding in many cities of India though those projects are in nascent stage or say, metro is operating to a few stations as of now but these could not become as popular as Delhi Metro. The cost factor in small cities and lack of poor connectivity in other big cities could be the reason of lesser ridership.
To decide the best public transport option for a city, let us revisit the definition of Mass Transit. According to Britannica, “Mass transit, also called mass transportation, or public transportation, is the movement of people within urban areas using group travel technologies such as buses and trains. The essential feature of mass transportation is that many people are carried in the same vehicle (e.g., buses) or collection of attached vehicles (trains). This makes it possible to move people in the same travel corridor with greater efficiency, which can lead to lower costs to carry each person or—because the costs are shared by many people—the opportunity to spend more money to provide better service, or both.”
Evolution of mass transit
With evolving technologies and growth in cities, public transportation systems keep changing. From horse-drawn carriages to rapid metro systems, the transportation systems in cities have undergone humongous change. This is more visible to us when we look at the evolution of transportation systems in growing cities of India. If you look at any small town of India, even today three-wheelers or shared tempos are still predominately used for travelling from one point to another. And as a town grows to a small city, people get buses and readily available taxis. Now app-based cab service is also available in over 200 cities of the country. Cities keep communicating their needs to governments and it is the responsibility of the government to respond to those needs in time. The problem arises when the response time of the government becomes slow and the mobility issues become too large to handle. This is what has happened to many Indian cities including Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Gurugram and many others because the city could not create adequate mass transport systems to carry increasing commuters in these cities. The response time and the quality of response should be given due priority to address the mobility challenges of the future.
Cities keep communicating their needs to governments and it is the responsibility of the government to respond to those needs in time. The problem arises when the response time of the government becomes slow and the mobility issues become too large to handle. This is what has happened to many Indian cities including Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Gurugram and many others because the city could not create adequate mass transport systems to carry increasing commuters in these cities. The response time and the quality of response should be given due priority to address the mobility challenges of the future
Key elements of mass transit
City managers need to ask the first question:why do people travel in their city? The generic answer to this question is: people travel from point A to point B to go about their daily lives. People commute for work, for attending schools and colleges and for meeting their friends and family and for entertainment. The specific answer to this question can be derived by profiling the potential commuters in a city. People make rational choices when they choose the mode of transport to go about their daily lives. And the main components that impact their decisions include cost of travel, time of travel, convenience, accessibility and comfort. The best mode of transport in a city may differ from one person to another based on his profile and needs. Different people in a same city could have the above components in different order when they choose the mode of transport.
Mass transit systems also determine the quality of urban life significantly. The cities with poor public transportation system could face limitations to growth. It has become quite clear that cities and means of travel evolve together. Now coming to the main point, what do cities need in mass transit systems? Apart from considering the profiling of travelers and identifying their needs, urban mobility planners must also define the geographic area in which people function for their daily requirements and how much they are ready to pay for the same. Indian cities are working on metro projects but they need to ask: are they ready to pay metro fares? If yes, the government must go ahead else other viable options must be explored. This also helps in cutting down on the cost of capital infrastructure and operational expenditure.
For example, the cost of running a metro system is significantly higher in comparison to other alternatives. When cities are facing difficulty in providing basic facilities like sanitation and housing, the budget should be spent judiciously.