Congestion of traffic on roads, in parking areas and public places leading to traffic jams and huge crowds that cannot disperse are a part of our daily lives, with increasing noise pollution and an overall deterioration in the quality of our day to day lives.

Dr. Ashish Verma and his group at the Indian Institute of Science have analysed mobility trends in four groups of cities based on their population from BRIC countries. The Indian cities – Delhi, Bangalore, Lucknow, Indore and Guwahati have been studied. Other BRIC cities – Sao Paulo, Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, Dalian, Jinan, Curitiba Capital, Fortaleza, Samara, Belem, Uberlandia, Naberezhnye, Cherepovez, Pskov, Uglich, Voronezh, Nyagan and Murmansk were also included in the study.

On studying a wide range of indicators on population, urbanization, road and transport, the group arrived at a set of conclusions that can make movement easier in growing cities. Their work has been published in the journal Urban Transport last month.

Dr. Verma says, “Bangalore and many Indian Cities are currently trapped in a vicious circle of congestion (see figure). It all started with the economic boom in the country that began in early 1990s and resulted in exponential growth of car ownership particularly, since a car is largely seen as a symbol of wealth in the Indian Society (from small cars to SUV/MUVs now and to luxury cars in future). This resulted in more congestion and delays while traveling on our city roads and started the vicious circle of congestion with public pressure to increase road capacity. Addition of new flyovers/underpasses, road widening etc. followed, leading to easy and fast movement by car, which further favoured urban sprawls. It then led to further increase in number and average length of trips, eventually getting us back to square one i.e. more congestion and delay on the roads and further forcing us into the same loop again.”

The group’s research has found that Netherlands was largely in the same mess of congestion about 40 years before, but chose a sustainable mobility path. Today, almost 60% commute trips daily are made by cycle in cities like Amsterdam. Historically, if one compares the mobility development in India with that of USA and Europe, there seems to be a time lag of almost 50-60 years with respect to USA and 40-50 years with respect to Europe. This is specifically in terms of saturation levels of motorization rates and infrastructure development which happened much earlier in USA and Europe as compared to India, where it is still at a very low level. Verma says, “What is facing Indian cities is not new and USA and Europe have gone through this about forty to fifty years, ago.”


Road widening, building flyovers and elevated roads are unsustainable, says Dr. Ashish Verma at IISc Bangalore

India and other fast developing economies of BRICS, unfortunately, do not have the luxury of being untouched by climate change, carbon footprints and their possible consequences as was the case of USA and Europe. Verma suggests more sustainable ways to manage congestion.

He adds, “Sustainable ways can work only if Bangalore and other Indian cities stop following the Western ways and stop the madness of constructing/ expanding more and more roads, flyovers, elevated roads etc. Unfortunately, this is happening in spite of a clear message from our National Urban Transport Policy that says ‘focus on moving people rather than vehicles’.” Their study also finds more scope for shifting towards sustainable transport structure in India, owing to lower vehicle ownership values compared to other BRIC cities.

Today the road length per unit population or per unit area in Indian cities is much lower compared to cities in the developed world and so are motorization levels. At the same time, the length of public transport and cycle tracks per unit population are also very less in Indian cities as compared to many cities in European countries. Says Verma, “If we decide today that we will not match western levels in road indicators but focus on increasing density of sustainable modes, then we certainly have the opportunity to leap frog to sustainable development. It is equally important to be aware that no commuter will adopt sustainable modes like public transport, walking, bi-cycling unless they are attractive travel options for them as compared to their personal vehicles.”

Sustainable Transport

India should look for sustainable transport infrastructure

“As of now India does not have high quality public transport for us to travel safely and comfortably from our point of origin to the point of final destination nor does it have a well connected network of high quality walking and bi-cycling infrastructure (also well integrated with public transport) that provides us safe end-to-end connectivity. To achieve this level of sustainable infrastructure, a complimentary set of policies like congestion charging, parking restrictions, priority for public transport, pedestrianization of the core of the city and various incentive schemes to promote usage of sustainable modes etc. are required along with funding infrastructure development for sustainable modes,” insists Verma.

In fact, this is the way of ‘sustainable’ mobility that many European countries like, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland etc. have adopted – which India should follow in lieu of the Western way of highway. This would also make the Indian population much healthier and might reduce the health expenditure of the country!