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The road to safety

Mon, 2015-02-23 21:26

With the highest rate of traffic crashes in the world, Indian cities need to focus on making their streets safe for all road users. Photo by Ryan/Flickr.

This article was originally published in The Indian Express.

As Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, announces a package of assistance on road safety through Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Global Safety Initiative, here is an ugly truth: India has one of the worst road safety records in the world, with around 1,37,423 road traffic fatalities in 2013. This makes up about 10 percent of road crash fatalities worldwide. In absolute numbers, more people die in road crashes in India than anywhere else in the world.

It is estimated that 17-18 percent of these fatalities occur in urban areas. This poses a serious threat as the country is rapidly urbanizing. A recent evaluation of road traffic fatalities in Delhi shows that pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for 63 percent of total fatalities, against 11.4 percent for the country as a whole.

Million-plus cities as well as small and medium towns have witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of fatalities per million population. They also record more road traffic accidents in the evening, which could be attributed to higher speeds, drunk driving and poor visibility. Allahabad recorded the greatest increase in fatalities per million people — 405 percent from 2001 to 2009 — followed by Agra (319 percent).

Things will probably get worse before they get better. Traffic fatalities increased by about 5 percent per year from 1980 to 2000, and since then have increased by about 8 percent per year.

Domestic vehicle sales increased from 97 lakh in 2008 to almost 2 crore in 2014. There is a strong correlation between the increase in vehicles and increase in road fatalities. Some estimates suggest traffic fatalities will grow five-fold in India by 2050 if we do not take adequate action.

Global experience shows that building safer motor vehicles and re-engineered road geometry does not translate into a better road safety record. There are success stories, like Sweden, where a “vision zero” approach to road safety was able to bring down fatalities to five or six annually. The US, on the other hand, managed to bring down the risk of road fatalities per kilometers traveled. However, the total kilometers traveled has grown exponentially in the past decades,  hence total road traffic fatalities continue to be high.

Rather than focusing on improving the safety of fast-moving vehicles, the international road safety discourse now focuses on two objectives: reducing the average speed of vehicles and, importantly, reducing the total volume of vehicle kilometers traveled. Together, this is known as a “sustainable transport approach” to road safety. It includes the redesign of urban streets and transport systems so that greater emphasis is put on public transport, non-motorized transport and transit-oriented development. The sustainable transport approach can also be categorized by the Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) framework, where the objectives are: avoid growth in vehicle kilometers traveled; shift trips to safer and more sustainable modes, like public transport and non-motorized transport, and improve the general condition of transport in terms of safety, time, cost, comfort.

This means India needs a two-pronged approach to road safety, with an equal emphasis on reducing the risk of fatality per kilometer traveled and reducing the number of vehicle kilometers traveled.

There is a critical list of best practices under each approach. Reducing the risk of fatality means strict enforcement of traffic rules —  drunk driving, helmet use, seat belts and child restraint, as well as air bags. It means improving the behavior of all road users: lane driving, keeping to speed limits, using and respecting pedestrian crossings etc. It also means improving road geometry — identifying accident-prone spots and re-engineering them. And finally, it means ensuring that the vehicles manufactured are safer. Governments and planners should require many of these standards by law and build a strong system for their enforcement.

Reducing the number of vehicle kilometers traveled means increasing safe access to presently vulnerable road users — bicyclists and pedestrians. Planners should make access to urban streets safer through better design and adequate space for pedestrians and other non-motorized transport users. It also means encouraging alternate, preferably non-motorized, forms of transport, such as cycle rickshaws, for shorter or local commutes. The use of mass-transit systems such as buses and trains to assist long-distance commutes is strongly recommended.

Planners should rationalize new road infrastructure investments by asking if it is a priority if only a small percentage of commuters own or drive cars. In Mumbai, for instance, just 14 percent use private cars or two-wheelers, whereas the majority spend a large part of their commute as pedestrians or users of public transport. As is often repeated within the transport sector, a rich nation is not one in which the poor have cars but one in which the rich use public transport.

The two things India must get right for its economic future

Wed, 2015-02-11 21:09

Renewable energies and connected, compact cities are the key to unlocking sustainable economic growth for India’s urban future. Photo by Binu K S/Flickr.

Taking even a quick look at India’s current pattern of growth, it’s not hard to see both the rising energy insecurity and the stress that cities across the country are experiencing. Congestion, urban sprawl, and poor access to reliable energy are daunting challenges to the development of the country. However, by developing connected, compact cities and encouraging more renewable energy use, India can pave the way for sustainable economic growth, universal access to energy, and enhanced quality of life for its citizens.

Pollution and poverty are holding the country back

India’s cities are bursting with growth. The country’s urban population will exceed 600 million in the next 15 years, and cities will account for 75 percent of national GDP. However, even economic output is likely to be impacted by congestion, urban sprawl and high levels of pollution. Delhi, Patna, Gwalior and Raipur already have some of the worst air pollution levels in the world. In fact, the World Bank estimates that the impact of growth-only oriented policies are costing the Indian economy a staggering 5.7 percent of the GDP as a result of urban air pollution, and 3.5 percent of the GDP as a result of ecosystem service losses.

India’s quickly rising demand for energy is consistent with the country’s recent urban growth. Large swaths of the country—especially the rural poor—have little or no access to a reliable source of power. With limited natural resources for domestic production, energy will continue to be a serious constraint to growth and development unless policy changes, new business models, and innovative finance solutions are adopted to harness energy-efficient technologies, tap renewable resources, and advance universal access to energy.

Rethinking our priorities for an urban future

Evidence shows that designing connected and compact rather than sprawling cities can save trillions of dollars globally. Recent thinking about urban planning highlights the need for: a) efficient public transport systems that can reliably move city residents to their destinations, b) high-quality, walkable public spaces, and c) environmentally sustainable infrastructure such as reliable water supply and sewer systems.

Focusing on renewable energy to fuel India’s growth has big advantages. Given the increasing affordability of new technologies, renewable sources will provide greater energy security for a country struggling to maintain its rapid economic growth, while also reducing the environmentally harmful impacts of current energy usage

Cities use the most energy, and produce the most greenhouse gas emissions. By focusing on building and appliance efficiency and integrating energy planning models from both the demand (energy efficiency) and supply (renewables, distributed generation) sides, India will make progress toward ensuring reliable and sustainable energy access for all.

Current targets are a good starting point

The Indian government has made ambitious public commitments to both sustainable energy and urban development. It has already announced plans to build 100 smart cities across the country by 2024 in a collaborative public-private partnership. On energy, the government has revised its solar targets for 2022 to 100 gigawatts—more than five times the previous goal—and is considering a new target of 60 gigawatts in wind energy capacity. In fact, discussing clean energy was a big part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda during President Obama’s visit to New Delhi last month.

Recommendations for a new economy

Local governments are the best placed to lead development on smart cities, as well as to look at integrated resource planning. A few immediate recommendations for these governments include:

  • Integrate public transport infrastructure and land development to ensure efficient expansion of urban areas and accommodate growing populations.
  • Focus on infrastructure, especially public transit, water, sewage, sanitation and power
  • Strengthen existing regulation to make sustainable energy more accessible for the poor
  • Reduce power-sector losses and utilize savings to invest in energy-deficient areas in partnership with clean energy entrepreneurs
  • Implement innovative financing models to make distributed and grid-scale renewable energy more viable
  • Focus on better distribution models for power and give micro-grids a boost
  • Strengthen urban governance, by employing more transparent, accountable, and  technology-enabled decision-making processes
Looking at the long-term

In the long-term, the Indian government and its partners—whether public or private—will need a more holistic path towards development. Growth in cities is unstoppable; but why is there such massive growth in Indian in the cities in the first place? The discourse on sustainable development must address the causes of urbanization. Eventually, India’s path to sustainable economic growth will have to take into account the economic geography of land, food, water and energy, as well as the development of peri-urban and rural areas of the country.

Why public transport needs to work for women, too

Mon, 2015-02-09 20:49

Public transport in India needs to be safe, accessible, and responsive to the distinct needs of women. Photo by Benoit Colin/EMBARQ.

Men and women use public transport in different ways because of their distinct social roles and economic activities. Since women’s reasons for traveling generally differ from men’s, the purpose, frequency, and distance of their trips are also different. Additionally, safety and perceived social status play a complex role in shaping women’s transport behavior as they move between urban, suburban, and rural areas. Equitable access to public transport is about making the transport system work for women and meeting their need for safe, efficient, sustainable mobility.

Shorter trips, more often, in unsafe environments

According to the UN, women often “chain” their activities by combining multiple stops and destinations within a single, longer trip as a result of their household and caretaking responsibilities. This makes it costlier for women to use public transport, since they may have to pay for numerous single-fare, one-way tickets throughout a chained trip. Additionally, women may be traveling with children, elderly parents, or groceries, adding complications and inconvenience if transport isn’t reliable, simple to use, or physically accommodating. Finally, transport routes beyond the central commuter corridors may not be in service during off-peak hours, when women are most likely to need public transport to access their social and economic networks.

In many cases, women have more domestic responsibilities like taking care of children, running household errands, and maintaining familial and community ties. Public transport has the potential to make employment opportunities, healthcare resources, and education accessible to women. However, due to poor transport planning, women often do not have equal access to public transport, putting these resources out of reach and limiting financial autonomy. Furthermore, sexual harassment and violence in stations and vehicles remain persistent problems for cities around the world. When women continually feel unsafe and lack the ability to report incidents, public transport ceases to be an equitable and accessible form of mobility.

How London, Toronto, and New Delhi are working to make transport more gender equitable

Good design can go a long way in making public spaces more inclusive of women, but ensuring gender equity should also be a priority in the planning, procurement, operation, and evaluation of all modes of public transport. So how are cities changing to make safety and access a reality for women?

London’s public transport operator, Transport for London (TfL) uses information technology to enhance women’s safety. For instance, the Technology Innovation Portal at TfL allows users to submit innovative technological ideas and solutions to meet key challenges, like women’s safety. In 2004, TfL created the Women’s Action Plan, which called for discounted fares as well as low-floor and step-free buses. TfL consulted 140 women’s advocacy groups in London and launched an annual Safer Travel at Night campaign in order to better understand their specific concerns. Today, TfL’s Women’s Action Plan and Gender Equality Scheme have been lauded by the Transportation Research Board as the most comprehensive efforts by transport operators to meet the distinct needs of women.

Metropolitan Toronto Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) is a collaborative relationship formed by various community-based women’s organizations, the Toronto Transit Commission, and the Toronto Police Department to conduct comprehensive safety audits of the city’s transport system. The partnership works to empower women in the community by developing research and policy recommendations based on its safety audits. Then, METRAC engages government actors to create safer neighborhoods, schools, campuses, workplaces, institutions and public spaces. In the past, METRAC has successfully delivered designated transport waiting areas, well-lit parking garages, assault prevention programs, and better safety policies and practices in hospitals and other workplaces.

Jagori, an Indian NGO, addresses issues of women’s safety in Delhi by focusing on the right to participate in equitable, democratic, and inclusive city life, free from violence and fear. Jagori emphasizes the responsibility of local governance and urban planning circles to include women in their decision-making. Since its launch in 2004, Jagori’s Safe Delhi Campaign has conducted over 40 reviews with the help of the app Safetipin, which maps safety scores for public spaces and identifies ways areas of improvement that matter for women.

Making gender equality a priority in transport planning

During EMBARQ India’s Talking Transit Workship in Bhopal, participants discussed the importance of capacity building, public participation, and enforcement for improving women’s safety. Police, transport agencies, and advocacy organizations need to collaborate and coordinate with one another to reduce sexual harassment and violence in public transport, because individual and isolated initiatives—like CCTV cameras—are not enough on their own. Instead, transport agencies need to measure, plan, implement, monitor, evaluate, and share insights in order to make long-term progress and deliver concrete improvements. This requires clearly allocating responsibilities and identifying individuals so that ideas and initiatives are successfully implemented.

Urban transport should equitably serve all city residents, regardless of gender. Women don’t have genuine access to transport if transport systems aren’t designed to meet their distinct mobility needs, and if public spaces aren’t safe or even perceived as safe.

For truly sustainable, equitable cities, we need to make public transport work for women, too.

How to enable safer access to mass transit in Indian cities

Tue, 2015-02-03 01:02

Bus rapid transit (BRT) stations should be easily accessible and safe for pedestrians. Photo by Meena Kadri/Flickr.

It is increasingly recognized that cities are both powerhouses of economic growth and the primary drivers of economic prosperity, worldwide. This holds true for urban India as well, where exponential growth is expected not only in existing metropolitan areas, but also in the innovative form of 100 new smart cities. This rapid growth presents a huge opportunity to create more sustainable, livable Indian cities, but continuing business as usual patterns will only exacerbate the present challenges of intense traffic congestion, poor air quality, and inequitable access to urban transport. To take advantage of the opportunities presented by urbanization, Indian cities can adopt a more sustainable path by prioritizing people-oriented, integrated transport development.

Fortunately, India has recognized the need for sustainable mobility and has invested US$15 billion in the planning and construction of 19 bus rapid transit (BRT) systems and ten metro rail systems nationwide. While these plans and investments are steps in the right direction, many high-end mass transit projects are being planned in areas that are poorly designed for pedestrians and cyclists, resulting in a lack of safety, security, comfort, and convenience. Projects are often planned and implemented in isolation, without proper thought given to how citizens can access transit hubs. Finally, despite their potential role in public life, the areas around transit stations are not yet perceived as integrated places of multi-modal connectivity, where large volumes of people can live, work, and interact with one another on a daily basis.

Creating safe, accessible transit hubs requires local solutions

Non-motorized transport modes like bicycling and walking are common in Indian cities, accounting for between 25 and 55 percent of all trips. However, the focus in planning and development circles remains improving and increasing road space for vehicles. Additionally, projects to improve access to transit stations across the country are often piecemeal and vary in their approach and area of intervention. New transit systems are not always supported by robust feeder systems that connect commuters to their final destinations, even though Indian cities feature a host of mobility options provided by cycle-rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, taxis, and private bus operators. These services should be integrated into mass transit planning to provide last-mile connectivity and greater accessibility for residents.

Although cycling accounts for half of all trips in some Indian cities, cyclist safety is not always a priority among urban planners and designers. Photo by Benoit Colin/EMBARQ.

While numerous international examples of accessible transit stations exist, Indian cities face unique planning challenges and require appropriately localized solutions. Some of these include high density urban communities, the prevalence of non-motorized transport, informal employment, lower levels of enforcement with limited public participation, and uncoordinated institutional structures. Until today, there has been no clear guidance for Indian city leaders on designing safe, accessible transit stations.

Safe Access to Mass Transit: A new manual

To help planners and city leaders overcome these challenges, EMBARQ, part of the Sustainable Cities program of the World Resources Institute in India, has developed the Safe Access Manual: Safe Access to Mass Transit Stations in Indian Cities. The manual presents a sustainable, people-oriented approach to station accessibility. The new manual lays out clear guidelines for developing accessible stations that prioritize pedestrians and cyclists, integrate multiple modes of transport, enhance the local economy, and serve as vibrant public spaces. It further emphasizes equitable access – particularly women’s safety – as well as safety for non-motorized transport users, in general. Finally, the manual suggests tying together the planning, implementation, maintenance, and evaluation of station areas in a single participatory process to allow local and state authorities to better co-ordinate with one another and ensure that safe, accessible mass transit becomes a reality.

This graphic details the safe access approach to station accessibility planning. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

As Indian cities continue to grow at a rapid pace, mass transit stations need to be developed in ways that meaningfully engage with local residents, businesses, city agencies, and other stakeholders in planning and decision-making processes. It’s important to have a clear understanding of the distinct service needs of an area, so that local communities can develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for their surroundings, including their transit station. When city planners properly address issues of equitable access, mass transit stations become safe, dynamic places for all to enjoy.

Learn more about the role of urban design in creating safe, accessible transport systems in the Safe Access Manual here.

Live from Transforming Transportation: Making sustainable urban mobility a policy reality

Sat, 2015-01-17 02:45

On the second day of Transforming Transportation, panelists discussed the challenges and opportunities for implementing sustainable mobility plans. Photo by marcusrg/Flickr.

Transforming Transportation (#TTDC15) is the annual conference co-organized by EMBARQ, the sustainable urban transport arm of the World Resources Institute’s (WRIWRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and the World Bank. This year’s conference focuses on Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity, and takes place on January 15 and 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TTDC15, by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter, and tune in to for video streaming of select sessions.

“Radical change is needed for us to address the challenges of urbanization.” This call to action came from Sherielysse R. Bonifacio, assistant secretary for the Philippines Department of Transportation and Communications, during the second day of the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, DC. Bonifacio outlined how Manila’s car-oriented policies have had disastrous impacts on quality of life in the city. According to her, there are 6.1 million trips by private vehicles in Metro Manila every day. Manila is not alone in its history of car-oriented development. To ensure that cities are livable, sustainable, and equitable, speakers at Transforming Transportation have advocated for a new growth model that prioritizes non-motorized and public transport.

So how do cities get there?

A panel of experts at Transforming Transportation discussed the process for creating sustainable urban mobility policies in Brazil, India, the Philippines, Mexico City, and Copenhagen. Recent mobility law’s in Mexico City and Brazil show how prioritizing sustainable transport can transform cities. However, the panel described how identifying the right policy intervention can be the easiest part of the process. Beyond this, successful sustainable mobility policy changes involve a holistic, integrated approach to mobility, institutional strength with clearly deviated responsibilities, and public engagement to generate widespread support.

An integrated approach to mobility services

According to Rosário Macario, professor at Lisbon Technical University, “The focus of a mobility law should not be mobility but accessibility.” Accessibility is not only a consequence of transport infrastructure, it is also the result of land-use planning. Wagner Colombini, consultant at Logit, described that Brazil’s 2012 mobility law encourages cities to integrate land-use and mobility planning to improve accessibility.

For cities to be accessible, their transport systems must also be connected with each other. Gisela Méndez, capacity building and networks manager for EMBARQ Mexico, described that Mexico City has implemented a number of transport improvements in recent years, from bus rapid transit (BRT), to bike-sharing, to metro rail, and more. Still, she argues that these systems need to be better integrated – a priority of Mexico City’s new mobility law.

Photo by Zhou Jia/WRI.

Implementing mobility policies require strong institutions

Sherielysse Bonifacio and Nupur Gupta, senior transport specialist of the South Asia Energy and Infrastructure Unit at the World Bank, described how weak institutional structures have constrained progress on mobility policies. In Manila, Bonifacio argued that private bus operators have too much control over the city’s transport department, which is not proactive enough in developing a rational mass transport system. “We currently have 300 bus operators [running] on one corridor. You can’t integrate and manage this system.”

In India, Gupta argued that the biggest challenge to sustainable mobility policies are the fragmentation of institutional power. India’s constitution gives states control over urban development. “The elephant in the room is the institutional side… We have a situation where there is huge fragmentation of responsibilities…[and] there is no entity at the local level responsible for urban transport.” This results in constant delays to transport projects, and a lack of integration between city infrastructure.

Involving the public for people-oriented mobility policies

Creating effective mobility policies requires a deep understanding of citizens’ needs. In Copenhagen, Niels Tørsløv, deputy director “City in Use” at City of Copenhagen, explained how the city is using technology to monitor cycling use after sporting events in order to better plan biking infrastructure.

Generating the political will to advance sustainable mobility often requires strong public support. Macario described how Brazil’s mobility law – which prioritizes pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport – was shaped by bringing together diverse stakeholders. It then underwent five years of in-depth discussion among the public. During this period, she described that “the discussion of mobility in Brazil changed completely. People started thinking about mobility differently. That was the cornerstone of the policy.” By “embedding society in the change process,” public support helped push the policy through and is helping create more sustainable cities across Brazil.

Stay tuned for continued coverage of Transforming Transportation later today on TheCityFix! In the meantime, join the conversation online using hashtag #TTDC15 and by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter.

Live from Transforming Transportation: How connected cities are good for people and business

Fri, 2015-01-16 23:50

Day two of Transforming Transportation kicked off with an exploration of how connected cities present opportunities for businesses to better meet citizens’ needs. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil.

Transforming Transportation (#TTDC15) is the annual conference co-organized by EMBARQ, the sustainable urban transport arm of the World Resources Institute’s (WRIWRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and the World Bank. This year’s conference focuses on Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity, and takes place on January 15 and 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TTDC15, by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter, and tune in to for video streaming of select sessions.

The world’s cities are growing at unprecedented rates. Urban areas are expected to add 1.4 billion people between 2011 and 2030 and house 60% of the global population by 2030.

Experts often discuss the idea of creating “connected” cities – compact urban areas featuring public transit, bike paths and walkways – as a way of curbing climate change, improving safety and boosting citizens’ quality of life. As a panel of experts highlighted at today’s Transforming Transportation conference, connected cities also present multiple opportunities and benefits for businesses.

So what is a “connected” city?

“I see a city as connected when citizens have peace of mind regarding mobility – making transportation available so that every citizen in a country can be present in the right place at the right time,” said Arvind Singhatiya, vice president of corporate affairs for OLA, an Indian car service similar to Uber.

Two big factors are converging to influence a city’s connectivity. For one, the rise of technology. “The electronic fabric in cities around the world is, for the first time, providing a level of connectivity that allows other things to happen,” said Michael Dixon, general manager of IBM’s Global Smarter Cities Business program. “We’re seeing people able to share information and make decisions in ways that weren’t possible in the past.”

The other factor is collaboration – allowing all stakeholders, from local government officials to urban planners to citizens themselves, to share knowledge and ideas. “This bottom-up connectivity is very important,” said Marisella Montoliu Muñoz, director of Urban and Disaster Risk Management with the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice.

Opportunities for business to generate impact

We’re now seeing several opportunities for businesses to contribute to better connected, integrated cities like never before. It’s a relationship that benefits businesses as well as the world’s city dwellers. For example:

Rise of the “on-demand economy”

Services like Uber and OLA allow any citizen with an internet connection to access reliable transportation whenever and wherever they need it. It’s a fundamental change in capitalism that presents unprecedented business opportunity. “For businesses, the real opportunity is to work out what are the business models where we can improve service and reduce costs by applying technology?” said Dixon.

A robust job force

Connectivity gives citizens better access to goods and services throughout a city, including jobs. It’s a design that benefits both residents and businesses. “That ability to reach in an affordable way the places where they live to the places where the jobs are has to do with the attractiveness of a city to business,” said Montoliu Muñoz.


Cities around the world face Herculean problems – from traffic congestion to air pollution and its associated health impacts to road accidents and fatalities. Collaboration between businesses, city leaders, urban planners and other stakeholders can foster innovation to solve these difficulties and improve the lives of city residents.

For example, many cities struggle with the problem of “last-mile connectivity.” The city provides public transit systems, but citizens live too far away to utilize them. Enter shuttle systems: “In many large urban cities, you have an arterial rail system,” said Dixon. “The idea of this connected car system where people can get from their homes to transit and back again is very attractive.”

OLA arose to help solve a similar problem in India. Delhi in particular boasts a large population with relatively poor city infrastructure – citizens face challenges in getting to where they need to be on time. OLA’s vehicle-response time is about 15 minutes, and every OLA car replaces the need for about six vehicles on the road, according to Singhatiya. 

Arvind Singhatiya discusses how OLA’s use of technology improves cities’ connectivity while reducing private vehicle use. Photo by Zhou Jia/EMBARQ.

Data for change

Thanks to sophisticated technologies and software systems, businesses and governments now have access to increasingly robust data sets. Sharing this data between the two groups can improve business and ensure good policy-making. For example, Uber recently agreed to share its transportation data with the city of Boston. OLA plans to do the same with some of the 60 Indian cities in which it operates. “We are using analytics to understand commuters’ behaviors and using technology to asses roads and traffic conditions,” said Singhatiya. “This will help authorities to identify where they need to have flyovers, and which places have more traffic during specific days.”

Planning for the long-term sustainability of cities

Of course, these are just a few opportunities for businesses to impact connectivity. The space is continually evolving and innovating.

Perhaps the main lesson to keep in mind from today’s session is that investing in connectivity is simply good strategy – for businesses, for cities, and for citizens. “When cities are connected, businesses grow because every transaction happens at the right time,” said Singhatiya. “And this leads to a growth in economy.”

Stay tuned for continued coverage of Transforming Transportation later today on TheCityFix! In the meantime, join the conversation online using hashtag #TTDC15 and by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter.


Live from Transforming Transportation: How can smart cities work with the sustainable development agenda?

Fri, 2015-01-16 01:18

As Transforming Transportation 2015 kicks off, panelists discuss the essential role of transport in the future of sustainable urban development. Photo by ruimcc77/Flickr.

Transforming Transportation (#TTDC15) is the annual conference co-organized by EMBARQ, the sustainable urban transport arm of the World Resources Institute’s (WRIWRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and the World Bank. This year’s conference focuses on Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity, and takes place on January 15 and 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TTDC15, by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter, and tune in to for video streaming of select sessions. 

2015 is a crucial year for the global sustainable development agenda, and cities will play an integral role. A new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations is expected in September 2015, and a draft of the SDGs earlier this year put new emphasis on sustainable cities. At the first panel of this year’s Transformation Transportation conference, leaders from India, Mexico, the Netherlands, and the OECD discussed how urban transport can be integral to sustainable development.

The change may need to be sweeping, according to Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico and current chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

“The current sprawling urban model is promoting social exclusion,” Calderón said in the conference keynote address at the World Bank on January 15. “We need to change the way we organize cities, because the current model … is impossible to continue.”

Photo by Aaron Minnick/WRI.

Shankar Aggrawal, secretary of the India Ministry of Urban Development, noted that with nearly 31% of Indians living in cities, “The transportation sector needs to undergo a huge change. We have to go in for public transport … We need to create cities that are designed for citizens, not cars.”

In Mexico City, a new mobility law aims to eliminate thousands of the pollution-emitting, poorly maintained micro-buses now used for public transport. The city also built pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares and zero-emissions corridors, restricted car use, and is expanding metro lines, the Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system, and bike-sharing.

“I’m convinced that mobility can improve quality of life in Mexico City,” said Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera through a translator.

Cities and transport also play a key role in the climate change agenda. Transport is responsible for 22% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and these emissions are rising faster than those for any other sector. Cities contribute about 70% of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, despite only accounting for 2% of global land.

There is often debate about what constitutes a sustainably smart city as far as transport is concerned. Jose Viegas, secretary general of the International Transport Forum for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said that beyond using new technologies, smart cities must have clear strategic objectives. Uniting different levels of government around a common set of objections can be difficult, he said.

Pex Langenberg, Vice Mayor of Rotterdam, noted it was important to involve the private sector in these big urban changes: “Never forget, don’t do it by yourself – ask the private sector to help and do their share.”

Stay tuned for continued coverage of Transforming Transportation later today on TheCityFix! In the meantime, join the conversation online using hashtag #TTDC15 and by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter.

The rise of technology-enabled taxis in Indian cities: A Q&A with OLA’s Arvind Singhatiya

Tue, 2015-01-13 02:18

Technology-enabled taxis are helping fill a mobility service vacuum in Indian cities. Photo by

New mobile technologies are helping transform mobility services in cities worldwide, including across India. EMBARQ India interviewed Arvind Singhatiya, Vice President for Corporate Affairs at OLA (formerly OLA Cabs), to better understand how mobile technologies are helping to meet growing demand for urban mobility in India.  

Why is a service like OLA important for Indian cities? How has OLA grown over the last few years?

Indian cities are the country’s growth engines. With the current growth rate, the need for reliable mobility services has become critical. There is a huge gap in supply and demand of public transport with decreased resources and increased commuters. The rise of private vehicles has added to the challenges of urbanization, including increased traffic and parking problems in Indian cities. However, the growth of smartphone use and mobile Internet has enhanced access among city dwellers.

The name “OLA” comes from the Spanish word “hola,” which means “hello.” A trademark of ANI Technologies, OLA first introduced the concept of booking a cab through an online mobile platform in India in 2011. In the short span of three and a half years, the mobile app has become country’s most downloaded and used app. The number of vehicles using OLA software grew from 100 to 60,000 in this time, and total commuters grew from a few hundred to more than 100,000 every day in 54 cities across the country.

OLA has helped citizens understand and use intermediary public transport (IPT) instead of their own vehicle because OLA is equally convenient. It addresses the challenges of vehicle ownership like cost and parking struggles. We estimate that a single OLA cab removes 6 cars from the road.

In addition to cabs, OLA software is now empowering auto-rickshaws in the country, a hugely unorganized sector, but one that has the potential to reach every commuter. Common challenges with three-wheelers are non-transparent fares and undue haggling with drivers, but those piloting the OLA software for rickshaws have accepted the platform and decided to follow the government meter fitted in them, making rickshaws visible to customers through the app and making payment more transparent.

Most drivers using OLA software are actually micro-entrepreneurs who own the vehicle. We help drivers with business intelligence to enhance their earnings; with the use of analytics we are able to identify high demand zones in every city that helps drivers get more bookings and helps commuters get a reliable service all the time.

How is the demand for mobility services in Indian cities expected to grow? What role do taxi aggregator services like OLA play within the larger urban mobility network?

The exponential rise of OLA’s service is clear evidence of the mobility service vacuum existing in India. These are exciting times and the mobility revolution is about to begin. India is on its growth trajectory, the new government and its policies are business and investment friendly, and mobility will become one of the most important factors for growth. We are not just aggregators but an online transport facilitation platform, which is a much wider term embracing all possible modes of transport that can be accommodated by our platform. We look forward to playing an important role in the growth story of India.

In your opinion, what are the key actions city leaders can take to support sustainable and efficient mobility? 

Mobility has become a basic need and the easiest way to fulfill it for some is to own a private vehicle. This may not be the best solution; promoting intermediate public transport should be the first step to ensure last-mile connectivity for any public transport system anywhere in the country. A robust public transport system complemented by efficient intermediary public transport (cabs, rickshaws, and more) solves half of the challenges in mobility.

Multi-modal transport through public transport and intermediary public transport should be backed with a common payment system that integrates the whole system and gives commuters a seamless experience. A robust public transport and intermediate public transport system should be supported through taxation to discourage use of personal vehicles in order to improve the city traffic and parking challenges. This will also address the issue of vehicular pollution by reducing vehicles on roads.

Mobility should now be at the helm of urban planning discussions. A city transport plan looking at the way people move around by different modes of transport is essential. These include walking, cycling, bus, train, taxi, motorcycle, car, freight vehicles, and more. To develop the most effective mobility plan, it is vital to involve the public to ensure that the end result is something that brings them the greatest benefit.

What does a supportive ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship in urban mobility look like to you? 

There are a few key factors for a supportive ecosystem. Transport-related legislations should be updated regularly to keep up with the country’s changing mobility environment. A simpler regulatory regime that ensures commuters’ safety and security and accommodates innovations is necessary. In other words, we need fewer gray areas in regulations.

Integrating land use and transport planning also offers clear benefits in reducing travel time and enhancing accessibility. Finally, alternative mass transit options need to be explored by appropriate studies and research.

TheCityFix’s Year in Review: Urban sustainability trends to watch

Mon, 2014-12-29 21:01

What moved the dial on sustainable cities in 2014? TheCityFix’s Year in Review recaps trends to watch for the urban future. Photo by Birger Hoppe/Flickr.

With urban growth come a number of opportunities to positively transform our cities. And while the unique challenges faced by city leaders are shaped by local contexts and histories, their actions reveal broader trends in how cities worldwide are changing to better serve their residents. Supported by a combination of political leadership, citizen innovation, and global knowledge networks, 2014 was a year of remarkable progress for urban sustainability.

So, what moved the dial on sustainable cities in 2014? These three major trends are ones to watch for the future of our cities.

Sustainable cities are on the international agenda

More than ever before, building socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable cities was a priority issue for the international community in 2014. Although discussions around global development typically take place among national leaders, action often begins at the city level. In many cases, the ambitious, innovative local actions city leaders take are taking have done more to advance sustainable development than national actions.

This focus on cities was reflected in multiple international arenas. For instance, the latest draft of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes an explicit goal to make cities “safe, inclusive, and sustainable.” The Medellín Declaration put forth at the end of the seventh World Urban Forum (WUF7) in March places equitable cities at the core of global development. Finally, climate negotiators at the U.N. Climate Summit and COP20 built strong consensus around the importance of cities in winning the fight against climate change.

These developments bode well for advancing urban sustainability as we move into a pivotal year for the international agenda. In 2015, we can expect to see the finalization of the SDGs and an international climate agreement at COP21, all leading into 2016’s HABITAT III conference on housing and sustainable urban development.

New and exciting innovations in urban mobility

More people in cities means we need mobility options that move beyond the personal car, and 2014 provided us with plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of sustainable urban mobility. From established solutions like bus rapid transit (BRT) scaling up to newer shared-use mobility systems like bike-sharing, car-sharing, and ridesharing taking hold in emerging economies, it was a year of major progress for cities built to move people, not cars.

Sustainable mobility solutions continue to grow as cities move away from auto-dependency. Graphic by EMBARQ (2013).

While the specific reasons vary from city to city, there are a few explanations for these growing trends that ring true across the board. For one, the number of new technologies to fuel citizen participation and innovation grew substantially in 2014, tapping the power of businesses and civil society to help city leaders advance sustainable mobility. Additionally, we’re also seeing a generational shift away from car culture towards more flexible mass transit and shared mobility systems. In places like Mexico, India, and Brazil, the preference for sustainable mobility options over cars has even been embedded in official policy.

Cities are growing, and this is a good thing

It almost goes without saying at this point, but our cities are growing at an unprecedented scale and pace. According to the 2014 revision of the U.N. World Urbanization Prospects, 66% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050, up from 30% in 1950. Africa and Asia are currently the only regions with majority rural populations. They’re also the fastest urbanizing regions and are expected to be solidly urbanized by 2050. Asia is already home to 53% of the world’s urban population, and China – which boasts the world’s largest urban population – is building its national development plan around urbanization.

Does this rapid urban growth present challenges for creating sustainable, livable cities? Certainly, but it also means there are huge opportunities to improve quality of life for billions and boost global economic growth through city-level action. Not only that, but these goals go hand in hand. Analysis from the Better Growth, Better Climate report released in September shows that sustainable, connected urban development could save cities US$ 3 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next 15 years. Cities may be the source of many challenges to sustainable, equitable development, but they’re part of the solution, too.

Trends we’re looking forward to in 2015 

Progress in 2014 does not mean we can rest on our laurels in the year to come. Rather, we at TheCityFix hope that 2015 will be a banner year for urban sustainability.

We hope mayors and city leaders will take bold actions on climate change, traffic safety, public health, urban equity and other chronic challenges for the world’s cities; we hope their citizens will not rest until they do. We hope to see more platforms for financing sustainable solutions and global networks to help cities make urban sustainability a reality. And of course, we hope to see many of you – our wonderful readers – again in 2015 as we continue to chronicle the latest trends, innovations, advances, and ideas in sustainable cities and urban mobility.

Check out the other entries in TheCityFix’s Year in Review series for more on the movements and moments that shaped our cities in 2014. 

The need to visualize public transit data for better bus systems in India

Wed, 2014-12-17 03:19

As Indian cities invest in information technology services, minimum standards should require the use of visualization tools to better utilize transport data and improve bus planning. Photo by EMBARQ.

Over the past decade, many transit agencies in Indian cities have implemented information technology services (ITS) to improve bus planning and operations in urban areas. These typically require huge investments financed either by the city government or by the transit agency alone. However, using such technologies alone does not guarantee tangible improvements in level of service. Without the appropriate analytic tools to analyze transit data, technology implementation results in the mere procurement of hardware that generates a huge amount of data without supporting any real decision-making.

Minimum standards must be created that require transit agencies to use various analytic methods and create easy-to-read operational reports that can be generated from this rich data as part of the technology procurement process. Better visualizations and analytic tools can make use of valuable transit data to provide a wide range of insights for transit agencies – from whether buses are arriving on time to which bus stations are used most – improving transport planning and the user experience.

Current ITS reports waste the potential for useful data analysis

Indore became the first Indian city to implement an Automatic Vehicle Location System (AVLS) to track public buses in 2006, while Mysore is the most recent city to deploy AVLS technology. Still, the format of AVLS-generated reports has hardly changed over time. AVLS’s are used to create a wide range of reports, including:

  • Speed violation reports
  • Skipped stops reports
  • Missed trips reports
  • Improper stopping reports
  • Route deviation reports
  • Harsh breaking/rapid acceleration reports
  • Schedule adherence reports

While these reports seem important, the format in which they present data makes it difficult to draw any conclusions from them. For example, one day’s harsh breaking report generated from the AVLS system in Mysore ran hundreds of pages. Similarly, the schedule adherence report for a single day is 130 pages, a sample of which is shown below.

This sample extract from a schedule adherence report shows that despite the information’s importance, the report’s format makes it difficult for transport planners to draw any conclusions. Image from Mysore ITS Report 2013/EMBARQ India.

Further, the system generates reports on issues of little use for urban transit planning. For example, it generates speed violation and route deviation reports, despite the fact that buses operate on extremely congested roads, and there is not much possibility of a driver deviating from his or her route while carrying passengers.

Currently, the only practical use of AVLS’s in public transport in Indian cities is passenger information systems that display the anticipated arrival time of the next bus at a stop. However, there has not been any research on the accuracy of these systems. Similarly, data from electronic ticketing machines is often only used for daily earnings and passenger count reports, despite their vast potential.

Making ITS data useful through data visualizations and analyses

The use of simple visualization techniques using data generated by ITS can transform these monotonous reports into powerful tools for transit managers. EMBARQ India’s Bus Karo 2.0 report provides examples of visualizations developed from AVLS and electronic ticketing data that can improve planning by answering key planning questions.

Are bus schedules reliable?

By representing schedule adherence report data in a graph comparing time of day and bus stops, an entire day’s worth of data for a bus can be shown in a single image, as shown below. The yellow line shows where buses should be located at a given time, represented by distance travelled. The gray line clearly shows where a bus driver deviates from his or her schedule.

This bus schedule adherence report visualization from Bhubaneshwar can show the reliability of individual bus drivers. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

This data could also be translated into a quantitative measure, which would enable a transit manager to rank each driver and identify the best and worst performers. This information can be used to implement a rewards and penalties incentive system to encourage drivers to adhere to the schedule.

Using the same AVLS data from all buses on a particular route, a simple graphical representation of arrival patterns can be created to understand the reliability of the transit service. The graphic below shows the variation in times between buses arriving at a particular stop – known as “headway.” The yellow line shows that buses are scheduled to arrive at consistent intervals, though the gray lines show that the time between bus arrivals varies.

This headway analysis report from a stop in Bhubaneswar shows the inconsistency of bus arrivals. In a scenario where the planned arrival time is consistent throughout the day, a standard deviation of zero would correspond to total reliability. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

Which bus stops do passengers use most?

Just like AVLS data, ticketing data from electronic ticketing machines can also be used to develop graphics that improve transit planning. For example, the data can be used to map ridership and boarding and alighting (disembarking) patterns at each bus stop, as shown in the graphics below.

This graphic shows ridership at each stop – called the “load curve” – created from electronic ticketing machine data in Visakhapatnam. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

This boarding and alighting (disembarking) visualization is created from data collected in Bangalore. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

Creating new standards for ITS reports

ITS are of no practical use unless combined with visual and analytical tools that process the data generated to help understand performance and evaluate the effectiveness of a particular route or the transit system as a whole. This potential has not yet been reached in any of the cases where ITS are being used in Indian cities. Developing a manual on the minimum standards for data visualizations and analytics from transit data could make it easy for transit agencies to include these deliverables as part of ITS procurement, thus making effective use of the enormous sums of money spent on ITS technology.

Learn more about visualization and transit management in EMBARQ India’s Bus Karo 2.0 report.

Increasing mode share of bus transport in Indian cities

Fri, 2014-12-12 22:30

EMBARQ India is releasing Bus Karo 2.0, which analyzes bus services in cities across India and will inform urban planners, designers, and bus operators in order to help increase bus mode share. Photo by Benoit Colin/EMBARQ.

Like many cities around the world, Indian cities are experiencing urbanization, motorization, and increasing congestion. Coupled with declining public transport use and infrastructure expenditures that promote a car culture by building roads and flyovers (overpasses), Indian cities are losing out on the standard of living that residents deserve. The next decade requires focus on precise and system-wide improvements. The call of the hour is to introduce operational, infrastructural, technological, marketing, and financing innovations to double the mode share of public buses in the next decade. For Indian cities to be livable, city bus and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems must become an integral part of urban development.

Buses are the backbone of urban mobility in India

As of 2005, buses made up over 90% of public transport in Indian cities, and serve as a cheap and convenient mode of transport. There are approximately 35,000 buses operational in Indian cities. Of these, eight of the biggest cities – Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Pune – account for 80% of all buses.

Pilot initiatives and bus reforms in recent years have reinforced that city bus systems will continue to be the backbone of urban mobility in India because they are cost effective, more sustainable, and easier to implement than other infrastructure-heavy mass transit systems like metros. The graph below shows the current mode share of bus transport in ten major Indian cities.

Bus mode share varies significantly from city to city in India. Graphic by EMBARQ India. Data from 2007-2011 (excludes non-motorized trips).

How can Indian cities improve bus services?

Recognizing the need for improved bus services, many Indian cities have transformed mobility through the implementation of innovative bus transit solutions in recent years. For example, the BIG Bus Network in Bangalore provides high-frequency bus services along major arterials in the city, a driver training fuel efficiency program – initiated by the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) – has now been implemented by bus operators in cities across the country, and BRT systems have been introduced in cities like Indore and Bhopal, to name a few. To ensure that city bus services continue to be major transport modes, promoting innovation among bus operators is imperative.

While these advancements have begun to establish best practices for Indian cities, there is still need to examine the challenges faced and the lessons learned during implementation and continued operations. In addition, greater effort is required for these innovations to succeed in the long term. The industry is comprised of several authorities and players, facing various difficulties. Bus manufacturers, for example, continue to use truck chassis to build buses, compromising their safety, comfort, and convenience. There is also a shortage of skilled workers to manage adequate maintenance and operations standards, which is a significant problem for operating agencies. Furthermore, there is a lack of coordination among multiple players to allocate land for transit infrastructure needs, resulting in the industry falling short of its potential.

Today, EMBARQ India is releasing Bus Karo 2.0 – Case Studies from India, which provides an overview of the current state of urban public transport systems in India. Findings in the report highlight the phenomenal growth of bus transport and the implementation of new technologies, service financing methods, and management techniques. The report takes a close look at key areas like planning and operations, support infrastructure, fuel efficiency training and management, technology applications, branding and marketing, and financing models. The map below shows the extensive work by EMBARQ India analyzed in the publication.

EMBARQ India is improving bus systems in cities across the country. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

The way forward is to maintain this momentum and gradually work towards increasing public transport’s mode share in Indian cities. Specifically, EMBARQ India transport experts strongly recommend that by 2020, bus transport in Indian cities should comprise at least half of the modal share of all motorized trips in cities with at least 10 million people and at least one-third of the modal share in small and medium-sized cities. As mobility needs change, it is important that a city’s transit system responds effectively and swiftly. Bus transport has proven to be flexible to such changes with minimal investment and greater efficiency.

To learn more about bus transport in Indian cities, read the full Bus Karo 2.0 report here.

Friday Fun: These maps help to visualize the world’s urban growth

Sat, 2014-12-06 03:18

Want to see what the world will look like in 40 years? These maps will help you comprehend the urban growth that is transforming countries worldwide. Photo by Charlie Ma/Flickr.

We are living in the midst of the urban century. Though it is common knowledge that the world is urbanizing, it can be striking to visualize this growth on a map. This animation from Unicef maps countries’ urban populations from 1950 to 2050, and shows that urbanization is a global phenomenon set to continue for decades:

Graphic by Unicef.

As seen in the animation, a number of African countries will go from less than 25% urban in 1950 to more than 75% urban in 2050. From 2010 to 2050, Nigeria’s urban population will nearly triple from 79 million people to 218 million. But this growth pales in comparison to the transformative urban growth occuring in Asia. As shown by the map below, much of the world’s population is concentrated in Asian countries:

Image by Valerie Pieris.

Asian countries are undergoing a century-long rural to urban migration. Unicef’s animation shows that in 1980, both India and China were less than 25% urban, with 160 and 190 million people living in cities, respectively. By 2050, India and China will both be more than 50% urban with staggering urban populations of 875 million and 1.04 billion, respectively.

Some of this urban growth is concentrated in megacities

According to the United Nations, there were ten megacities with ten million people or more in 1990. Today there are 28, and by 2030, they estimate that there will be 41. This map from Statista shows that the top 15 megacities will absorb a striking number of new residents over the next decade. For example, between 2011 and 2025, Dhaka, Bangladesh is set to grow by eight million people, and New Delhi is expected to add ten million.

Graphic by Statista. Data by UN Population Division, World Economic Forum.

As they grow in population, many of the world’s biggest cities have rapidly growing urban footprints. This visualization of Lagos, Nigeria, for example, shows the city’s geographic expansion, which has accelerated in recent decades:

In some parts of the world, cities’ growing urban footprints and rising populations are creating an urban region of clustered cities – called a megalopolis. For example, in China’s Pearl River Delta, nine cities are becoming a megalopolis that covers 16,000 square miles.

Image by The Telegraph.

In 2012, The Guardian reported that planners will spend £190 billion (US$ 296 billion) until 2018 integrating transport, energy, water, and telecommunications services among the region’s cities. Including the special administrative zones of Hong Kong and Macau, this cluster of urban areas has over 60 million people.

Rapid growth is also happening in smaller cities

The world’s urban growth is not limited to megacities. In countries worldwide, small- to medium-sized cities are also in the midst of rapid expansion, as shown by this chart from the United Nations:

There will be more than twice as many medium-sized cities in 2030 as there were in 1990. Graphic by UN/World Urbanization Prospects.

How can we deal with the world’s urban growth?

Urban growth – particularly in megacities – can create distinct challenges including housing shortages, air pollution, congestion, and more. However, well managed growth can help create sustainable, livable urban communities. A growing consensus is emerging around the science of people-oriented cities that are connected by sustainable transport, compact, and coordinated through effective governance. Ensuring that cities can be equitable, sustainable, and livable will be the defining challenge of the urban century.


In photos: Mumbai celebrates four weeks of Equal Streets

Wed, 2014-12-03 02:24

Now in its fourth week, Mumbai’s Equal Streets movement has given citizens the opportunity to reclaim their streets as public spaces for people. Photo by Mansi Jain/Facebook.

Linking Road is known as one of Mumbai’s busiest streets. On any given day, it is choked with cars, taxis, buses, and rickshaws from every possible direction. In addition, noise pollution emanating from motorized vehicles has made the environment increasingly stressful. Suffocated with this congestion and pollution, Mumbai has been gasping for a breath of fresh air. It has become a rare sight to see a child cycling to school, even though this was a popular mode of transport for many children less than two decades ago.

For the past four Sundays, however, it has been absolutely refreshing to watch Mumbaikars reclaim their streets.

It is a delight to see the city’s children have the opportunity to actively enjoy open streets every Sunday, away from their indoor video games. Photo By Priyanka Vasudevan/EMBARQ India.

Since Equal Streets was launched in Mumbai on Sunday, November 9, 2014, nearly 40,000 Mumbaikars have joined in the celebration of open streets.

The number of cyclists is increasing every Sunday, bringing Mumbai a step closer to the initiative’s larger objective of creating streets for people, not cars. Photo by Sachi Aggarwal/EMBARQ India.

The level of excitement at Reebok’s Zumba stage is palpable every Sunday. Photo by Sachi Aggarwal/EMBARQ India.

Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement has changed the thinking of thousands of people, and it is only the beginning.

The Morning Drum Circle at Equal Streets highlights the new ways people are using public spaces when cars are not present. Photo by Pooja Sharma/Facebook.

Every Sunday morning, the streets are filled with residents – cycling, performing yoga, dancing, playing football or cricket, rollerblading, or even enjoying Carrom – a local board game.

People practice yoga on the usually chaotic and congested Linking Road at Equal Streets in Mumbai. Photo by Zubin Gheesta/Facebook.

A flash mob partakes in a beautiful fusion of Bollywood and the Indian folk dance Kathak on the inaugural day of Equal Streets. Photo by Priyanka Vasudevan/EMBARQ India.

Kids and adults enjoy a comfortable round of board games right in the middle of the street. Photo by Priyanka Vasudevan/EMBARQ India.

In the coming weeks, Equal Streets is working towards launching campaigns around urban tree cover, climate change, and other environmental issues, hoping to make this initiative an even stronger community movement.

See more pictures from Mumbai’s Equal Streets events below, and on Facebook, and keep up with the events on Twitter.

A street performer attracts a crowd of people during her hula-hoop act. Photo by Anil Patel/Facebook.

People of all age groups take advantage of Equal Streets. Photo by Priyanka Vasudevan/EMBARQ India.

Open data benefits cities and citizens: A Q&A with Jyot Chadha

Thu, 2014-11-13 00:29

EMBARQ India’s Data Visualization Challenge opens important data sets to the public, empowering citizens to change Indian cities’ understanding of urban transport. Photo by mydearboy/Flickr.

EMBARQ India spoke with Jyot Chadha, head of EMBARQ India’s Initiative to Catalyze Urban Innovations, about the launch of a new Data Visualization Challenge, which encourages citizens to use publicly released data to create data visualizations that shed light on mobility in Indian cities. The visualizations will serve to highlight potential uses of public data, encouraging city agencies across India to make data public and foster innovation.

What is the Data Visualization Challenge?

Jyot Chadha: In partnership with the Institute of Urban Transport, EMBARQ India has launched the Data Visualization Challenge by making public key data sets around urban mobility in India. To participate in this challenge, anyone can download these data sets and develop creative and interesting visualizations that depict mobility trends in urban areas. We’re looking forward to seeing new ways of tackling the basic question, ‘how do we move about in Indian cities?’

In addition to using data sets released for the challenge, participants are encouraged to do their own research along the theme of urban mobility, using other data from verifiable sources and clarifying their research methodologies. Visualizations will be considered for six awards: most beautiful, most creative, most comprehensive, most insightful, most innovative, and best overall.

Submissions are due by November 19, 2014, and the finalists’ work will be showcased at the Urban Mobility India (UMI) 2014 Conference, organized by the Ministry of Urban Development in New Delhi from November 25 to 28. The Honorable Minister for Urban Development, Mr. M. Venkaiah Naidu, will present the award.

What is the larger idea behind this challenge?

JC: At EMBARQ India, we’re keen on facilitating and catalyzing innovation and entrepreneurship in the fields of transport and urban development. In the last decade, we’ve seen the emergence of technology being used to improve the quality of service in public transport. This digitization has resulted in huge amounts of data being captured, ranging from passenger ticketing information to real-time vehicle tracking. When analyzed, this data can tell us a lot about how people live and move about in cities. In addition, this data can also play an important role in sparking innovation in these areas. For example, app-based programs that help commuters navigate cities better, or dynamic pricing mechanisms based on travel patterns.

We have seen from global examples that cities and transit agencies benefit from making their data public. Take Mexico City, for example, within a month of the city’s transit agency opening their data, data sets were downloaded 683 times, and the data was subsequently used to power 28 apps that saw a total of 5.5 million downloads! This evidence suggests that opening data leads to innovation, which results in substantial benefits to passengers and potential users of transit services.

How will you use the results of this challenge to influence agencies to open up their data to the public?

JC: Selected entries from the Challenge will be displayed at UMI 2014, and viewed by hundreds of attendees from various transit and development agencies, civil society, academia, and others. We hope that by using this platform to showcase what can be done with data, it will serve as an initial demonstration to agencies that opening up their data to the public will benefit both agencies and commuters. The Data Visualization Challenge is a cost-effective and robust way to engage with the community of technologists, urban designers, data scientists, and businesses in Indian cities.

The Institute of Urban Transport is revolutionizing this space by opening up its data sets to the public. Through this challenge, EMBARQ India hopes to encourage more agencies to make their data publicly accessible, and encourage public participation that can improve the quality of life in cities.

Graphic by EMBARQ India.

100 smart cities in India: Governing for human impact

Mon, 2014-11-10 22:18

India’s new ‘smart’ cities should not be evaluated by their use of technology, rather by their ability to solve the country’s persistent urban challenges. Photo by Sandeep Shande/Flickr.

This summer, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to build ‘100 smart cities’ across India in an effort to take advantage of the country’s recent urban boom and catalyze investment in Indian cities. His initiative will cost the government 1.15 billion USD for the first year, and will emphasize building new smart cities rather than implementing smart infrastructure in existing cities. While there has been much discussion – positive and negative – in the media and political circles surrounding the initiative, Modi himself is ready to accelerate the project, and has taken steps to reduce delays in decision-making and necessary approval processes.

One consistent piece of the mainstream rhetoric around smart cities in India has been the transformative power of technology. New technologies are already making waves in India’s auto-rickshaw sector in cities like Chennai, but are not yet widespread across different sectors or in cities throughout the country. The ability to monitor traffic behavior, improve energy provision, electronically unify health care information, and more accurately predict transit ridership, for example, is expected to create profound changes in how cities operate.

Despite this overwhelming emphasis on the technological and financial inputs for smart cities, these undertakings – like any urban development project – should also be evaluated based on their outcomes. In economic terms, the difference between outputs and outcomes is subtle but important, creating a dividing line between the end result of a project and the real change it creates in people’s lives. Evaluating for outcomes holds city leaders accountable to ensuring that the scale of investment matches the real benefits for citizens.

While shifting investment toward technology-savvy infrastructure in cities can be seen as a positive step, regulating how this technology is leveraged will be key in creating on-the-ground change. New technologies offer the potential for safer, more efficient cities with higher quality of life. This potential can only be realized, however, through effective governance that leverages technology to respond to the needs of citizens.

Defining success for India’s smart city boom

At the end of the day, smart city development is an opportunity to learn from and improve upon failures in urban governance to enhance quality of life for all Indian citizens. The birth of smart cities creates a chance to catalyze progress in three key areas:

  • Improved governance structures and practices
  • Equitable economic growth and access to basic services
  • Human connectivity through mobile and Internet connection

Improved governance creates the foundation for smarter cities, and is essential for cities’ use of technology to improve service provision. Many Indian cities lack adequate cooperation among different sectors of government, and instead focus too often on public-private partnerships without first focusing on coordination across government departments. This can result in ineffective spending that fails to create sustained impact. Prime Minister Modi has emphasized that a key component of smart cities is improving the way city governments function. He has stressed the need to promote coordination across departments and reduce delays in decision-making. For example, the use of data is a key component of technology-enabled smart cities. However, when this data is siloed across a range of government arms, its potential is lost. A more efficient and connected government provides the basis for an investment-friendly environment that generates and sustains economic growth, in addition to better service provision.

Smart cities should also be evaluated based on their ability to provide equitable economic opportunity and access to basic infrastructure for all residents. Like effective governance, widespread access to basic infrastructure is a prerequisite for effective technology-driven urban improvements. When pursuing increased competitiveness and economic growth, smart cities cannot lose sight of the challenges faced by India’s urban poor. For example, increasing school graduation rates, or improving public health issues like child mortality and water-borne diseases should be core focuses of smart cities.

With the right priorities and effective governance structures, smart cities can use new technologies to improve service provision and quality of life.

Balancing governance and technology for smart, livable cities

The challenge for smart cities in India will be to evolve from the notion of ‘smart’ as one rooted in technology to one rooted in governance. Technology is only as useful as those who wield it. Strong governance structures and a focus on equitable quality of life improvements can help smart cities provide the framework for India’s future cities, and for future cities worldwide.

The author would like to acknowledge Dr. Vinay Lall of the New Delhi-based Society for Development Studies for the inspiration for this article.

Divya Kottadiel and Wanli Fang also contributed to this article. 

Mumbai is ready For “Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement”

Fri, 2014-11-07 04:55

Car ownership is on the rise in Indian cities, but Mumbai’s new Equal Streets movement will help people take back the streets every Sunday while encouraging community interaction and active lifestyles. Photo by

Every day, Mumbai residents are being squeezed out of spaces to walk or cycle by the sheer pressure of cars, whose numbers are growing rapidly each year. A recent report by the Munich-based global consultancy Roland Berger Strategy Consultants stated that the Indian passenger vehicle market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12%, and will reach annual growth of five million cars by 2020. According to consultancy Strategy&, India will be third largest market for annual vehicle sales in the world by 2030.

Despite having a lower rate of car ownership than other developed and developing countries at present, India is rapidly catching up. Graphic via Skolkovo Institute for Emerging Market Studies.

In an attempt to help reclaim streets for people, EMBARQ India has initiated “Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement” with the help of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and Mumbai Traffic Police, and with support from the Times of India Group. Equal Streets will be held every Sunday, starting this weekend on November 9.

In addition to the omnipresent danger posed by motorized transport on the roads – which are in fact public spaces – Indian cities face a rising toll of air and noise pollution, traffic crashes, completely eradicated footpaths, increasing investment in roads and flyovers (also known as overpasses), increasing traffic speeds, high stress levels from driving, and the loss of tree cover from increasing automobile infrastructure that has left Mumbai gasping for breath.

How do we deal with this complex web of problems to create more humane and environmentally sustainable streets instead of highly unequal roads that favor cars? How do we make cities and their streetscapes more livable? How should we reclaim some street space for pedestrians and cyclists?

EMBARQ India is launching “Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement” with the intention of correcting this fundamental imbalance. The movement strives to put the people at the center of road use for major roads, including Linking Road, SV Road, and a section of Juhu road in the suburbs of Mumbai. Through this bold movement, communities will regain some control of major roads and declare them closed to motorized traffic for a few hours every Sunday morning, and perhaps eventually more.

The equal streets loop is a stretch of 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) including: Linking road, SV Road, and a part of Juhu road in the suburbs of Mumbai. Graphic by Naresh Kuruba/EMBARQ India.

The mission: Establishing the right to equal space in the city

Everyone, regardless of their class or wealth, will have equal access to the open spaces of the Equal Streets loop. One side of the road will be closed to vehicular traffic to create a 6 kilometer (3.7 mile) open space for people. The other side will remain open for general traffic. People of all age groups are welcome to interact with their community and participate in activities like yoga, aerobics, cross fit, Zumba and street dancing.

Through cycling and open streets, Equal Streets aims to create active communities and connect citizens and happy neighborhoods. Photo via Cycle Day, Bangalore.

Equal Streets, as the name suggests, gives Mumbai residents an opportunity to access the roads as public rather than private spaces. It seeks to rid select roads of an oppressive hierarchy whereby motorists believe that they have a right to occupy the majority of space while pedestrians and cyclists are pushed to the periphery, always in danger of being injured, and suffering from toxic vehicle emissions.

In every corner of Mumbai, there are conventional and non-conventional spaces that should be opened for public use. Equal Streets can network such spaces by connecting them with walking and cycling tracks. This promotes healthy activity and seeks to correct the sedentary lifestyle in which even children now partake.

This comic from the official Times of India contrasts the vibrancy of the Equal Streets portion of roads with the damaging, stress-inducing portion for motorized vehicles. Graphic via official Times of India.

While Equal Streets certainly aims to be a fun, community-building event, at its core it is an important statement about public space and democracy in urban India. According to Binoy Mascarenhas, Manager of Urban Transport for EMBARQ India:

This movement does not end at declaring a car-free day but aims at raising greater public awareness regarding the significance of public spaces in Indian cities. Thus Equal Streets is not a one-off initiative but a sustained movement by the people. The objective is to provide walking and cycling tracks throughout all neighborhoods in the city. This is the assertion of a democratic principle, based on the rights of citizens to equal space in the city, which should be a part of Mumbai’s Development Plan. The closure of certain streets to motorized transport will result in achieving the larger mission.”

Can’t join in Mumbai this weekend? Follow the Equal Streets movement on Facebook and Twitter, and stay tuned for more coverage on TheCityFix.

The role of private developers in sustainable mobility

Wed, 2014-10-29 20:32

Gated communities are on the rise on Bangalore’s periphery. As demand for housing increases and incomes rise across Indian cities, private developers play an important role in promoting sustainable development by ensuring access to alternative modes of transport. Photo by Ed Yourdon/Flickr.

Rapid urbanization in countries such as India is raising people’s incomes, creating huge demand for housing, and increasing vehicle ownership rates in the upper-middle and middle classes. By 2030, 50% of India’s population is expected to live in cities, and this will in turn create a huge demand for housing. To cater to the housing demand, private real estate developers in several large Indian cities are building large gated residential communities. These are primarily located in peripheral areas of the city where land is cheaper, but supporting public infrastructure is often severely limited. There is strong evidence that the interaction of transport patterns and urban form can be cyclical, such that more car-oriented urban development in locations farther from the city fosters increased vehicle ownership. This in turn requires more land to accommodate the increased infrastructure requirements for private vehicles. To address this need, developers construct more residential communities in peripheral locations. The design of the new developments, therefore, risks creating and perpetuating residential communities’ dependence on private vehicles. Household surveys conducted by EMBARQ India in these developments in Bangalore show that in comparison to the rest of the city – where 6% of people drive cars – 70% of those living in these gated communities drive.

Peripheral residential development increases demand for private vehicles in Bangalore. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

Transport thus has a strong spatial structuring effect on cities. This is evident by the over five-fold increase (466%) in the built up area of Bangalore from 1973 to 2007, with growth primarily occurring at the city’s periphery.

Focus on private developers

A session at EMBARQ India’s CONNECTKaro conference earlier this year focused on the role of private developers in building a sustainable built environment. The session also created awareness for the need to develop indicators and benchmarks to measure how the built form impacts travel patterns in Indian cities. These indicators and benchmarks will encourage private developers to incorporate design practices that promote sustainable transport patterns and create neighborhoods and communities that are energy-efficient, inclusive, safe, walkable, lively, healthy, and climate resilient.

EMBARQ’s vision for the 2030 City. Graphic by GEHL architects.

The authors of this blog were part of the discussion panel at the conference, with Ashwin Mahesh representing the Residents Welfare Association (RWA) at L&T South City, a gated community in South Bangalore, as well as multiple citizen action and civil society groups in Bangalore, and Anjali Mahendra representing EMBARQ India. Along with the authors, other panelists at the session included an architect from eminent architecture firm Prem Chandavarkar, Rangesh A.V. of the Bangalore development Authority (BDA), and Chandrashekar Hariharan, a leader in the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) and a private developer of sustainable residential communities himself. The session was designed to gather perspectives from multiple key stakeholders on these issues.

EMBARQ India’s current work with private developers focuses on influencing the design of upcoming developments through design audits and data collected from household surveys done in existing communities. EMBARQ’s vision is to work with 250 developments, impacting over 1 million homes or 5 million people in the next 5 years – considered a small first step in the right direction. Through the design audits, EMBARQ is engaging with private developers to ensure greater use of sustainable mobility strategies, such as:

  • Design solutions promoting safe and energy-efficient travel by walking, cycling, and public transit
  • Adopting mixed land uses
  • Creating safe public spaces
  • Increasing accessibility to jobs, schools, amenities, and community functions
  • Improving connectivity to public transport options

A household survey of residential communities conducted by EMBARQ from November 2013 to April 2014 showed that about 49% of respondents chose to buy or rent a home based on the open space and safe environment within that community. Almost 38% selected their home based on the community’s commitment to green practices and environmental issues. Presence of safe physical infrastructure was considered by the majority of respondents as the most important factor that would promote walking and cycling.

A residential community with access to safe, open spaces and a commitment to green practices is a priority of many Bangalore residents. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

Takeaways from CONNECTKaro
  • Developers should focus on mixed use development and urban design aimed at ensuring better connectivity and access for residents. This includes landscape design, which is typically viewed as a visual discipline, not a spatial one; however, done properly, it can help create continuity of space and develop a sense of community. Developers must consider their investment as a means to improve the neighborhood and the civic realm and this can translate to increased market demand.
  • Small projects constitute the majority of sites being developed in the city today. Policy makers should address the wide diversity in demand across dwelling sizes, types and affordability. The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) should consider a town planning scheme to promote integrated and inclusive living.
  • Policy makers and development authorities such as Bangalore Metropolitan Region Development Authority (BMRDA) and BDA should adopt and enforce initial plan approval conditions based on how well a proposed development would perform against quality of life indicators. Having such conditions will incentivize more developers to focus on sustainable developments and can aid in scaling up such efforts.
  • Many differences exist between the government and the real estate industry as typically builders are more concerned about maximizing gains rather than improving quality of life for citizens. Also, platforms like IGBC are voluntary and there is no mandate for developers to follow green practices. With appropriate mandates and incentives from local development authorities, private developers can lead sustainable building efforts in Indian cities. For instance, developers are usually asked to fit in more parking than what is required by the statutory parking regulations. If alternate mobility options are present, developers should have the flexibility to cater to only the required amount of parking.
  • The role of customers is important – if they demand “green and connected communities,” developers will provide it. This market demand can be translated into a checklist of quality of life indicators, which can then be mandated by authorities like the BDA. Residents’ associations can help with retrofitting measures in existing communities and while there could be some initial resistance, experience shows that such efforts eventually lead to a sense of pride and ownership among residents. These individual communities then become evangelists for responsible and sustainable practices, sharing lessons with other similar communities, and helping to scale up such efforts.

Transit and residential neighborhoods: Questioning the affordability of residential neighborhoods around Metro Rail stations, a Delhi case study

Tue, 2014-10-21 21:29

Delhi faces the challenge of ensuring that neighborhoods have access to quality public transport without compromising housing affordability. Shown here: commercialization around the Pitampura Metro Station in the Dakshini Pitampura area. Photo by Prerna Vijaykumar Mehta and Alokeparna Sengupta/EMBARQ India.

Large-scale mass transit projects such as the Delhi Metro Rail often lead to transit-oriented development (TOD) that can enhance quality of life, but also compromise housing affordability. Planning authorities in urban areas around the world have acknowledged the need for the integration of land use and transportation (LUT) planning for many decades. Only since the 1980s though – when the concept of TOD was coined by Peter Calthorpe – have cities revisited this concept and acknowledged its benefits for urban development. While the application of TOD can have positive features, the inherent spike in real estate prices associated with transit expansion can displace lower- and middle-income households to transit-poor neighborhoods. Delhi faces the challenge of pairing land use and transport policies to ensure affordability and access to mass transport.

The affordability challenge in Delhi

Affordability is a function of both housing and transport costs. For example, housing in the urban periphery is cheaper, but requires residents to pay high commuting costs to travel into the city for employment. On the other hand, living in established areas of the city with good access to subsidized public transport is unaffordable for many, given the high price of property in these neighborhoods.

To reduce overall cost of living, cities may work to improve transit in affordable neighborhoods. However, this can lead to considerable speculation in real estate prices, which may undercut affordability and reduce equity. Besides increasing prices, other indicators that neighborhood affordability is changing include:

  • The change in the pace of development in a neighborhood before and after transit provisions.
  • The change in household incomes, which can indicate whether the intended resident income mix has been preserved or eroded.
  • Modifications to the housing stock: the division of single household plots into multi-family divisions can indicate the acceptance of smaller dwelling units and increasing demand for housing.
  • Commercialization of residential units, thereby reducing housing stock. 

Delhi faces a severe housing shortage and is unable to accommodate the continuous influx of new residents with varying income levels. This makes affordability considerations related to TOD particularly important. The 2011 national census estimated Delhi’s population at 16.7 million. According to the 2007 – 2008 Economic Survey of Delhi, only 23.7% of the city’s population lives in planned communities, while 39.2% of the population lives in unplanned and illegal communities. This shows the absence of affordable housing for various income groups.

A closer look into affordability in Delhi’s Dakshini Pitampura neighborhood

The Dakshini Pitampura neighborhood in northwest Delhi has had a metro rail stop since 2004. We explored this area and found a number of visible clues that indicated how the urban form has transformed and adapted to the presence of metro. We listened to narratives of residents and local real estate agents in order to understand the change they have observed over the last decade.

The tour helped us to understand how building use and the housing stock has changed, while speaking with residents and real estate agents gave us an overview of the changes in the real estate prices due to speculation, appreciation, rate corrections, and overall demand. The people we spoke with described that over the past decade, the rate of development and commercialization has increased. They estimated that residential property prices have grown by about 30%-35% a year, and commercial property rates have increased 100%. Commercialization has also led to parking problems, and the construction rate of multi-family housing in the plotted communities has increased. The housing stock did not appear to be distributed based on the social and economic structure originally intended for the neighborhood.

Delhi’s 2021 Master Plan explicitly indicates that the provision of housing for residents of varying incomes is an important aspect of planned development. The issue of housing affordability in these decade old rapid transit corridors is also highlighted in the Delhi Development Authority’s TOD draft policy, released in 2012. The effectiveness of TOD depends heavily on the connection between land use and transport planning. Strengthening their symbiotic link through equitable policies regarding affordability of living and commuting is necessary for a modal shift to occur, especially in a city like Delhi, which covers 1483 square km (573 square miles).

Delhi’s larger concern is to envision tools and processes through which mass transit and residential areas will be able to exist symbiotically, whereby areas can be accessible to transport and affordable for various income groups.

The authors would like to acknowledge Himadri Das, who contributed to this blog as a reviewer.

Opinion: Ridesharing could revolutionize urban transport in India

Tue, 2014-10-14 23:48

As companies such as Uber expand, ridesharing may become an important means of sustainable transport in India and in lower- and middle-income cities worldwide. Photo by Chris JL/Flickr.

Ridesharing has been gaining popularity in the United States and Europe, with companies like Uber, Lyft, BlaBlaCar, and Wundercar facilitating hundreds of thousands of rides a month. This has presented a new, convenient, and affordable alternative means of transport in some of the world’s largest cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and Berlin, to name a few. After achieving huge success in these metropolises, the biggest ridesharing companies are expanding their operations into several emerging economies, such as India, which offers huge growth potential for this type of transport-on-demand.

Competition in India’s ridesharing market gets fierce

Uber – one of the largest ridesharing services in the world – began operating in India when it expanded to Bangalore in October 2013. In August, the company announced that it would launch its service in four new Indian cities – Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, and Kolkata, and now serves a total of ten Indian cities. With Uber working towards a deeper market penetration in the second-most populous country in the world, India’s ridesharing industry is set to grow and become quite competitive. In addition to the ubiquitous auto-rickshaws, Mumbai-based Ola Cabs is already a well-established player in the market – operating in nine cities with over 11,000 drivers. Both Uber and Ola Cabs offer competitive prices, with UberX charging a base fare of Rs 50 (US 82¢) plus Rs 1 per minute (US 1.6¢), and Ola Cabs charging a minimum bill of Rs 100 (US$ 1.6) for the first 2.5 miles, and an extra Rs 15.00 (US 25¢) for each additional half mile. Meru Cabs is another technology-enabled taxi service that operates in 11 Indian cities, and the owner claimed it books 700,000 trips per month.

As is common in less-wealthy countries, many Indian cities have poor transport infrastructure, and have significant room to improve public transport options. The addition of ridesharing as a transport alternative could lead to a small revolution in the country’s transport industry. As these companies grow in India, however, it remains to be seen how they will become integrated with other transport modes.

Can ridesharing complement public transport in India?

Ridesharing can be more a convenient, fast, and cost-effective form of transport than its alternatives. For many, ridesharing may already be cheaper than owning a car. It can also be an important part of multi-modal journeys by addressing first-and-last mile connectivity to bus, train, or other public transit services, fueling the demand for these already established transport modes. There are some signs that the implementation of bus rapid transit (BRT) may have reached a tipping point in Indian cities, with new or expanding systems in Bhopal, Ahmedabad, and Surat that can dramatically improve mobility and quality of life. However, many cities in India still face heavy traffic congestion. Ridesharing may help connect users to these mass transport systems, making them more accessible. It may also shed light on the deficiencies of existing public transport systems in many lower-income cities in India and worldwide, prompting increased investment to improve these services.

Ridesharing has the potential to revolutionize transport in places like India and other lower- and middle-income countries that are in dire need of more organized and efficient transport systems. It can provide a cost-effective and more environmentally friendly alternative to car ownership, and an ideal extension to existing public transit systems.

Jordan Perch is a transport analyst and expert in consumer affairs for the automotive industry.

Must a city of 8 thousand follow the same planning processes as one of 8 million? A case for rightsize planning in India

Fri, 2014-10-10 00:14

Indian cities should undertake planning processes that are appropriate for their particular size and needs. Photo by Ryan/Flickr.

India’s urban population currently stands at 377 million, representing 31% of the country’s total population. This urban population is distributed across a diverse range of small, medium and large urban centers. Smaller urban centers – or ‘census towns’ that have recently crossed the threshold to legally gain urban status – have experienced an unprecedented 186% growth rate over the past decade, while larger ‘statutory’ towns have grown at 6% during the same time.

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts empowers local bodies to better plan and govern themselves and the Ministry of Urban Development Guidelines suggest 29 different types of plans, but neither address the differing needs, complexities, and growth trends of small towns as compared to large urban centers. This is also a weakness in state-level Town and Country Planning Acts that set the same legal framework for master plan preparation across urban centers. These master plans define a city’s land uses based on an assessment of future needs and apply development control regulations.

Small towns should not be treated as scaled-down cities, and this blanket approach is an obstacle to effective urban planning. ‘Rightsizing’ can alleviate this by recognizing these important differences in size and complexity in policy, enabling more effective urban planning processes.

Too many urban centers don’t have plans for the future

According to 2011 census estimates, the state of Karnataka houses 347 statutory and census towns. These urban centers are required to undertake identical planning processes under the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Acts (KTCP).

Bangalore is the state’s capital and largest city, housing over 8 million people. City agencies must provide services for a metropolitan area of over 800 sqaure kilometers, and face a range of issues including inadequate infrastructure, declining investment, lack of multi-modal public transport options, lack of affordable housing, environmental degradation, poor air quality, and prolonged traffic congestion. By contrast, smaller urban centers with populations of less than 8,000 such as Koppa, Narasimharajapura, and Beltangadi have economies reliant on a single sector or service, are struggling to become self-sustaining urban centers, and risk losing inhabitants to the lure of the larger city.

The state of Karnataka has a variety of cities of different sizes, contexts, and layouts. Should Bangalore at 8 million people and Beltangadi at 8,000 be forced to follow the same urban planning standards? Graphic by Rejeet Mathews and Tintu Sebastian/EMBARQ India. Data from Bhuvan.

While larger cities have the technical capacity to plan for themselves, smaller towns are dependent on plans from the state’s centralized Town and Country Planning Department. The significant surge in new census towns adds pressure to create master plans similar to that of a big city as per the KTCP Act that end up being unattainable.  Although 98 master plans have been prepared for urban centers in Karnataka, their implementation has suffered from lack of qualified staff, poor inter-departmental coordination, and resource constraints.

Rightsizing the planning process

Large cities facilitate access to resources, technological advancements, efficient labor markets, and contribute to a tremendous share of national and state GDP. As such, their urban planning frameworks should vary from those of smaller cities facing different challenges.

Cities in the United Kingdom and China, for example, accord special status to large cities. London doesn’t stop at a spatial master plan for the city; it also prepares an economic development strategy and a transport development strategy to retain its global competitive edge. Larger municipalities in China such as Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing have been accorded provincial status and hence are able to directly interact with the national government and employ different taxation norms. These municipalities with provincial status can implement local laws, regulations, and exercise unified administration over the economic, social, and cultural affairs in areas under their respective jurisdictions.

The following offer starting points to enable responsive planning processes in Indian cities:

  • Large urban centers: Large cities that have more than 8 million people and contribute significantly to the state and national GDP – like Bangalore – should be accorded a special status. They should follow a richer planning process and be required to prepare connected and complementary spatial, economic, and transport plans that better suit the city’s needs, complexities, and aspirations.
  • Medium urban centers: The complexity of planning processes should be proportionate to the city government’s ability to pay for itself without relying on financial bailouts from centralized agencies. Medium-sized cities should follow a lighter planning process that is more responsive to both dynamism and decline, instead of being forced into a planning overdose.
  • Small urban centers: Small cities and towns that do not face the complexities of larger and mid-sized cities should focus on the provision of basic infrastructure and amenities to improve quality of life and foster a good trade and business environment. These would be more achievable within the resources and capacity that these towns already have.

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act has set in motion the revision of Town and Country Planning Acts in several Indian states, and this revision is particularly important as more rural towns gain legal status as urban areas. Now is the time for such documents to incorporate planning processes that are more responsive to the needs of urban centers based on their size and the complexity of the issues they face.

Editor’s note: The title of this article was updated on October 9, 2014 to increase clarity.


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