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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.

In photos: Bhopal becomes India’s fifth city to join the car-free Raahgiri movement

Wed, 2014-10-08 23:41

The Raahgiri movement is bringing car-free Sundays to cities across India, spreading the principles of sustainable, active transport. Photo by Shamim Khan/Facebook.

On September 21, 2014, Bhopal became the fifth city in India to implement the weekly open streets movement, Raahgiri Day. Organized by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC), Traffic Police, and Bhopal City Link Ltd. (BCLL) in collaboration with EMBARQ India, the event began at 6am and witnessed an overwhelming first day turnout. Over 10,000 people from all over the city participated in the event at Bhopal’s Boat Club Road on the shores of Lake Bhojtal.

Raahgiri Day is India’s first sustained car-free day, first launched in Gurgaon – India’s “Millennium City” – on November 17, 2013. Roughly 10,000 people participated in the inaugural event and now over 500,000 Indian city dwellers have participated in car-free Sundays, including in the country’s capital and largest city, New Delhi.

Bhopal’s rendition of Raahgiri Day saw special programs including fitness dancing, exercises, rangolis, cycling, skating, and sports including cricket, soccer, badminton, hockey and yoga. The Commissioner of BMC, Ms. Tejaswi Naik, also actively participated in a game of hockey with a group of children. Traffic police and officials patrolling the stretch did so on bikes. For the first time at a Raahgiri event, a computerized bike rental system was available.

Large crowds came out to participate in a variety of activities on this car-free road in Bhopal. Photo by Ajita Shrivastava/Facebook.

Traffic police officials gave important information about road safety, educating people about traffic signals, safe driving, and the importance of wearing helmets. Participants brought large banners that read “city for people, not for vehicles.” Environmental experts were also on hand to speak with visitors about to the importance of protecting and preserving our environment for future generations.

Instead of carrying cars – which contribute to the air pollution that causes over 600,000 premature deaths in India annually – Boat Club Road gave residents the opportunity to be physically active and improve their health. Photo by Shamim Khan/Facebook.

Bhopal is the 14th largest city in India and is known as the “City of Lakes” for its various natural and artificial lakes. In recent years, Bhopal has witnessed a gradual increase in vehicle ownership. Civic bodies have adopted different measures to retain the existing mode share of cycling and walking in the city, which is still relatively high. Raahgiri Day is an effort to advance this vision.

Devendra Tiwari, an engineer in the Municipal Corporation of Bhopal, said, “The Raahgiri concept has been brought to Bhopal after being successfully run in Gurgaon for the past year so that we can make people aware about road safety, healthy lifestyles, the use of non-motorized vehicles, and public transport. We will try to expand it to the entire city. Maximum deaths happen due to road accidents and heart attacks, so we want to send a message to be safe on the road and stay healthy.”

The city installed widespread outdoor marketing and advertising at major intersections and popular market places prior to the event to raise awareness. In addition, an engaging social media campaign via Facebook informed supporters and participants about key events for the day. Text messages were sent to people in the BMC database, and several buses played Raahgiri Day videos in the lead up. The media, especially The Times of India, were actively involved in publicizing the event.

Bikers take advantage of new access to public spaces at Raahgiri Day. Photo by Raahgiri Day, Bhopal/Facebook.

Raahgiri Day, India’s car-free Sunday movement, is gradually expanding across the country. With the ‘Raahgiri revolution’ comes an opportunity for India to promote broader solutions for sustainable cities.

Read more about Raahgiri Day in Gurgaon, New Delhi, and elsewhere on TheCityFix. A version of this article was originally published on

What India’s new road safety bill means for cities and citizens

Wed, 2014-09-17 18:27

India’s ambitious new road safety bill, currently open for public comment, is expected to save lives, grow the country’s economy, and create one million new jobs. Photo by IamNotUnique/Flickr.

Road safety issues have reached a pinnacle in Indian cities. In 2013 alone, 140,000 people died in traffic crashes, and many more were severely injured. These premature deaths and debilitating injuries put an intense burden not just on families and communities, but also on the workforce and the economy. One study even estimated the social costs of traffic crashes in the country at the equivalent of 3.2% of GDP. Improving road safety in India, then, is a pursuit that can both support economic growth and save lives.

To meet this aim, India’s Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) published last week a draft Road Transport and Safety Bill for public comments and suggestions. The Bill pulls from global best practices in mobility policy to address issues around transport, motor vehicles, and road safety. If passed by Parliament, it would replace the existing Motor Vehicle Act of 1988.

In its current form, the Bill includes ambitious and far-reaching changes to governance, public transport systems, regulations, and more. Its national impacts are expected to include saving 200,000 lives in five years, growing national GDP by 4%, and creating one million jobs through increased investment in the transport sector.

At the local level, here’s what the Bill means for everyday citizens.

New governing bodies for road safety and transport

The Bill proposes three independent authorities to serve as regulators, facilitators, and enforcers of its grand vision – to make the movement of people and freight safer, faster, cheaper, and more inclusive.

The first of these authorities is the Motor Vehicle Regulation and Road Safety Authority of India, whose principle objective would be to improve road safety and vehicle regulation.

The second regulatory body, the National Road Transport and Multi-modal Co-ordination Authority, will facilitate the government’s ‘Make in India’ vision. This body will serve as an independent authority aiding accountability and transparency in the planning and development of efficient multi-modal infrastructure in order to move goods and passengers safely, swiftly, and economically. With a special emphasis on the safety of vulnerable road users, this dedicated authority will facilitate safe, integrated systems that use innovative technologies for enforcement.

A third agency, the National Highway Traffic Regulation and Protection Force will deal exclusively with the enforcement of this act along national highways. This body will be responsible for the safety and efficiency of national highways via enforcement, investigation of crashes, maintenance of signage and equipment, and secure medical attention to victims of traffic crashes.

New standards for vehicle regulation and driver licencing

Comprehensive regulation with regard to motor vehicles’ design, manufacturing, registration, maintenance and safety standards will emphasize adopting new technologies in areas like alternative fuels and retrofitting.

A new driver licensing system will also standardize processes throughout the country. New models for driver testing facilities will open the industry to private sector participation and create more jobs. Automated testing systems will reduce corruption and bribery in the driver testing process. Education will also no longer be required in order to apply for a licence.

Centralizing the vehicle registration system will standardize the process across all states. The database records of the vehicle registration would be linked to a certificate of fitness, insurance, and past offences. Finally, integrating all stakeholders and opening they system up to private sector participation will lead to greater transparency.

Impact on passenger and freight transport

The Bill aims to make public transport more safe and sustainable. Improved infrastructure and traffic management for freight networks will reduce congestion, helping to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Enhanced regulations will also lower logistical costs, reducing inflation and enabling Indian manufacturing to become globally competitive.

Clear standards for multi-modal infrastructure in both passenger and freight transport include construction, traffic management, and inter-state transit development. These changes can increase safety and reliability while at the same time reduce the cost of transportation.

Offenses, fines, penalties, and claims

This Bill places a high emphasis on safety, and gives emergency and para-medical vehicles right of way, even over VIP vehicles.

Enforcement practices will focus on children and the most vulnerable road users. The Bill also calls for electronic enforcement – like traffic cameras – in urban clusters, especially in cities with populations over one million, and harsher penalties for speeding and drunk driving.

Third party insurance will be made mandatory, as well as detailed accident investigation reports in the event of crashes. Claims tribunals will have an improved case management system, with a time bound application process for claims and the settlement of claims. Compensation payments will follow a structured formula, and payments to accident victims made quick and easy.

Traffic offenses and penalties will follow a points-based system where the scale of the penalty would correspond to the nature of the offence, as well as the accumulation of penalties can lead to harsher penalties in future. The new system will have combination of fines, imprisonment, impounding of vehicles, cancellation of licenses or permits along with penalty points will serve as a deterrent.

What’s next for the Road Safety and Transport Bill?

MoRTH is currently seeking comments from the public and other key stakeholders, after which the Bill will be finalized. It will be presented to the Indian Parliament during its upcoming winter session.

Can auto-rickshaw fare reform in Chennai lead users to choose sustainable transport?

Tue, 2014-09-16 19:55

Rickshaw fare regulation has caused some users to shift their mode of transport from private vehicles to auto-rickshaws in Chennai, though further reforms are necessary to address drivers’ concerns. Photo by Morgan Schmorgan/Flickr.

Chennai, India has long been notorious for its lawless auto-rickshaw drivers. On August 25, 2013, the Tamil Nadu state government sought to change this perception by reforming rickshaw fare structures for the first time in 17 years. The government was forced to implement the reform based on a directive from the Supreme Court following a petition filed in 2010. Tamil Nadu’s transport commissioner hosted a closed door meeting with stakeholders to gather input for the rerforms and with EMBARQ India’s assistance, the state devised a meter-based fare system acceptable to all. However, it remains unclear whether this restructuring will have a significant impact on either the users or the drivers’ perception of the system, or whether the restructuring will shift users away from private cars to the more sustainable transport option.

To uncover whether or not fare restructuring had an impact on user behavior, EMBARQ India spent three months speaking to over 500 commuters and 500 auto-rickshaw drivers in the city, along with stakeholders such as government officials, auto-rickshaw union leaders, entrepreneurs, activists and journalists, to discover how the fare restructuring has impacted customers and drivers – and identify what challenges still remain.

The impact of fare reform on commuter choices

EMBARQ India’s surveys, conducted between February and April 2014, revealed that the price reforms prompted many commuters to shift their dominant mode of transport. At the beginning of the survey, 89% of respondents reported that they use their personal vehicles due to the poor quality of auto-rickshaw and public transport services in Chennai. Nearly 80% of respondents, however, reported having shifted some trips from other modes of transport to auto-rickshaws after the reforms.

The survey has also shown that pricing reform has influenced residents’ decisions to buy cars. Almost 79% of the respondents owned personal vehicles, of which 73% were not planning to buy another motor vehicle after the auto-rickshaw meter reform. From the respondents who did not own any vehicle, 63% are not planning to buy any personal vehicle.

Both of these shifts in mindset speak to the positive influence of fare reform on perceptions and usage of Chennai’s auto-rickshaw fleet, providing residents a viable and sustainable mobility option beyond the car.

Auto-rickshaw drivers more resistant to meter reform

By contrast, roughly 87% of auto-rickshaw drivers were not satisfied with the meter reform, and have been hesitant to accept it. This is largely due to the fact that while the daily average distance travelled by drivers has marginally increased from 97 km (about 60 miles) per day to 98 km (about 61 miles) per day and the daily average number of trips has also marginally increased from 21 to 22 per day, “dead trips” – where no one is in the vehicle – have also increased by about 4% on average. In short, drivers are driving more but losing revenue. In addition, when auto-rickshaw drivers are earning money, they aren’t earning as much – drivers report a drop in earnings of 24% from 720 INR (USD 12) before reform to 547 INR (USD 9) after the fare reform. It must be noted, however, that this reduction in income could not be confirmed because fare price before the reform was largely based on the bargaining acumen of the rider.

Because of the drivers’ resistance, the state government has established a grievance call center for customers to register complaints regarding drivers’ non-compliance with the new meter policy. Transport authorities intend to take strict action against the accused drivers, but putting the burden on the customer to enforce a state-wide policy is not an ideal solution for any party involved.

Challenges ahead for successful fare reforms

For potential customers, the main factor preventing them from using auto-rickshaws during heavy traffic periods is over-charging by auto-rickshaw drivers. According to the survey, 48% of commuters found that drivers are still negotiating for a higher fare or are asking for extra money over the meter reading. Although it is true that drivers are burning more fuel and travelling shorter lengths for the same fare, a middle ground between strict regulation and pure negotiation is the route that would satisfy both drivers and passengers.

Additionally, 16% of customers believe that the metered fares are still not competitive to other cities and other modes of transport in the city. About 25% of commuters blame the culture of the drivers, including rudeness or harassment, as a reason not to use auto-rickshaws, while 5% cite safety concerns.

Drivers’ concerns relate more to overregulation in a competitive market. About 21% of the auto drivers feel that competing share-autos and share-taxis have cut into their ridership and revenue. In such a competitive market, they feel it is necessary to have the freedom to barter. About 4% of auto drivers are frustrated by the need to bribe the Regional Transport Office for permits, license and fitness certificates and feel victimized by the new regulated fare.

Others say that they cannot use the meter system because the reported 24% reduction in earnings does not give them enough income to live on. Another 7% cite the fluctuation of fuel prices, and a fare that does not rise with it, as a challenge. Finally, 37% of the drivers reported an increase in dead trips as a challenge.

This resistance to the fare reform will likely continue without necessary adjustments. To increase the number of commuters using sustainable transport like rickshaws, Chennai must establish a mutual consensus between all stakeholders. To help further reform the system, EMBARQ India plans to expand these statistics with more robust recommendations to help the city, drivers, and commuters resolve these challenges.

To learn more about the impact of auto-rickshaw fare reforms in Chennai, see EMBARQ India’s survey results here. For further questions regarding EMBARQ India’s survey, please write to Roshan Toshniwal at

Making space for street vendors: Towards equitable urban development

Thu, 2014-08-14 19:38

Cities can dramatically improve street vendors’ livelihoods by providing sufficient space and infrastructure for vending. Photo by Prasanth Chandran/Flickr.

As previously discussed on TheCityFix, informal street vendors in cities around the world experience daily challenges to their economic livelihoods. For example, street vendors are perceived to be detrimental to city life, unhygienic, noisy, and to obstruct smooth flow of commuters, pedestrians and traffic. In the minds of some policymakers, hawkers crowd sidewalks, plazas and parks, come too close on the subway, or sell too close to local businesses. Many of these complaints, however, are due to insufficient spaces and infrastructure for street vendors.

These problems are more pronounced in dense cities like Mumbai or Hong Kong. In Bangkok, for example, space is so limited that vendors set up a market on the train tracks, moving their carts and awnings four times a day as the train passes. However, several strategies can alleviate these concerns over space for street traders and provide them with better economic opportunities. These strategies include proper mapping, efficiently managing public spaces, and providing appropriate infrastructure to vendors.

Mapping and enumerating street vendors

Any urban intervention that involves spatial changes depends on maps, yet most urban maps do not accurately account for street vendor populations. One potential mapping solution, called “community-led enumerations,” involves vendors or their representative organizations in the data collection process to form a more complete census. This method increases vendors’ trust in city government and the results of mapping efforts.

In Mumbai, by contrast, the hawkers’ union perceived the city’s surveys as inaccurate and not properly verified. They claimed that new hawkers who had established stalls overnight were being registered, creating increased and unwanted competition for longstanding hawkers. The Mumbai Hawkers’ Union has since planned to conduct its own survey.

Using public spaces more efficiently

Before creating new spaces for vending, cities should attempt to repurpose existing spaces. In Mumbai, the TATA Institute of Social Sciences recommends that the government allow street vendors along the elevated walkways, called skywalks, which lead to the suburban railway stations. This could help vendors and attract more pedestrians to other commercial activity on the skywalks. The TATA Institute also recommends the use of space under “flyovers” (overpasses) for hawking.

Street design and zoning policies can also create space for vending areas. The inclusion of distinct “multi-utility zones” in sidewalks creates built-in space for vending (and for other useful amenities like street trees or signage). A new policy in Jakarta also requires real estate developers to set aside 5% of their space for street vending activity. Proper implementation of these spaces is key, however, as they will only be useful to vendors if they enable access to customers.

Creating infrastructure to support vendors

Finally, cities can upgrade infrastructure to assist hawkers and create better functioning and more aesthetically pleasing urban environments. Pedestrianization of market streets, for example, can create space for vending while simultaneously mitigating the negative effects that street vendors’ use of space has on traffic flow. Constructing high-quality stalls, lockers, and common roofs over street vendor areas increases hawkers’ legitimacy and eliminates the need to transport their wares to and from home each day.

Additionally, increasing the availability of proper sanitation and drainage can help improve vendors’ public image and counteract their reputation as dirty and unhygienic. For example, installing clean public toilets, trash receptacles, and improving vendors’ access to electricity and water would benefit hawkers and anyone else using those public spaces.

Bhubaneshwar, India demonstrates impact of vendor engagement

Evidence from Bhubaneshwar, India shows that proper mapping, efficient use of space, and infrastructure improvements can significantly benefit vendors’ livelihoods. A vendor engagement process in Bhubaneshwar created a series of vending zones through a participatory mapping process. The city then built fixed kiosks in these zones. Vendors have benefited greatly, with 67% reporting an increase in the number of customers and 61% reporting increased sales. Of vendors who reported increased sales, more than 70% reported increases of at least 10%.

Bhubaneshwar’s creation of vending zones shows the importance of inclusive planning to support street vendors. Photo by Daniel Roy/Flickr.

Vendors’ economic well-being is delicate, and policy changes should be undertaken with caution. Any relocation effort or move towards formalization must be context-specific, in consultation with vendors, and transparent in its motives and methodology. For example, when possible, infrastructure should be created where street vendors have already demonstrated their desire to sell their goods.

A number of policy shifts have the potential to benefit the world’s large street vendor population; these represent just a few. However, coupled with social assistance programs and engagement with vendors, these concrete changes have the potential to substantially improve lives for the millions of vendors in cities worldwide.

Friday Fun: Delhi announces Raahgiri at the center of week-long Independence Day celebrations

Fri, 2014-08-08 21:18

Raahgiri is promoting sustainable, active transport in India’s capital. Photo by Raahgiri Day, New Delhi/Facebook.

Delhi’s government just announced a week of Independence Day celebrations culminating in a Raahgiri event at Chandni Chowk. Raahgiri Day first came to Delhi in July as a weekly event that closes city streets to cars to celebrate walking, biking, music-making and socializing. This Raahgiri event will take place on India’s 68th Independence Day across from the Red Fort – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and will also include activities like skating, zumba, yoga, and cycling. On the morning of Independence Day, the Delhi government will offer free bus rides to take people to the Red Fort, outside of the car-free zone.

Raahgiri scaling up

Raahgiri Day took a huge leap forward when it spread from Gurgaon, the 800,000 person city where it began in November 2013, to Delhi, the world’s second most populous city. Over 5,000 people attended Delhi’s first Raahgiri Day in Connaught Place, located in the heart of the city. In its third week, attendance doubled to more than 10,000. Organizers say that the event is becoming the city’s hotspot on Sundays. In Gurgaon, a recent survey conducted by EMBARQ India found that Raahgiri day has had a positive impact on everything from non-motorized transport usage to road safety, greater engagement between local businesses and the community, and increased physical activity. Further, average particulate matter readings on Raahgiri Sunday’s were about half as high as the typical weekday.

Delhi’s week of Independence Day activities

Raahgiri will be at the core of a week of Independence Day activities intended to “tap into people power.” Activities will include kite flying, concerts, fireworks and more. The celebrations will begin on August 8th and will feature a city-wide cleanup featuring a massive tree-planting effort. In total, 1.1 million trees will be planted all over the city. According to Lieutenant-governor Najeeb Jung, the week-long cleanup aims to provide a “clean and green Delhi to its citizens.”

Raahgiri Day is already capturing public imagination in Gurgaon and Delhi. The decision to place Raahgiri Day at the center of Independence Day celebrations shows Delhi’s desire to integrate the principals of sustainable, active mobility into the city’s culture.

The video below shows a dance workshop at the most recent Raahgiri Day in Delhi: 

Regulation can help e-rickshaws transform urban mobility across India

Mon, 2014-08-04 20:35

E-rickshaws offer multiple advantages over more common auto-rickshaws, but require increased regulation to ensure passenger safety. Photo by Subhash Barolia/Flickr.

As one of the most widely used forms of intermediate public transport or paratransit – services that connect users to mass transport systems like buses or metro – auto-rickshaws are ubiquitous in Indian cities. The electric rickshaw (e-rickshaw), however, emerged as an even cheaper alternative in 2011. E-rickshaws are similar to a motorcycle combined with a rickshaw, and have immense potential to provide low-cost mobility to many of India’s residents. However, cities need to create safety regulations and build appropriate infrastructure to make sure this transport mode is simultaneously affordable and safe.

E-rickshaws serve as an important form of transport primarily around the expanding Delhi metro area. Over 1,500 e-rickshaws reportedly hit Delhi’s streets in 2013 and an additional 90,000 have been added in the first half of 2014.

E-rickshaws are cheaper to buy and operate than auto-rickshaws, and rising fuel prices have made them even more attractive compared to vehicles that run on petrol or natural gas. E-rickshaws cost about half as much as conventional rickshaws at about RS 85,000 (around USD 1,400), while conventional auto-rickshaws cost about RS 1.68 lakh (around USD 2,750).

E-rickshaws cause safety concerns

The rapid emergence of e-rickshaws on Indian streets, coupled with a lack of regulation of their use, has made them quite the safety concern. E-rickshaws generally carry 6-8 passengers, though their aluminum body is designed to hold only 4-6 passengers. Additionally, the braking equipment has not been checked by any government authority, making it unreliable. The sharp turning capability of e-rickshaws coupled with its high speeds also raises questions about its stability when making turns.

E-rickshaws run on electric batteries and need to be charged, which can put extra strain on the already overused electricity grid. According to media reports, manufacturers equip e-rickshaws with batteries capable of more than 750W of power to achieve higher speeds and carry more passengers – a clear violation of the non-motorized criteria under the Delhi Motor Vehicles (MV) Act of 1993. E-rickshaws take about 6 to 8 hours to charge, and dozens of e-rickshaws often fight over the limited street charging stations. This creates a nuisance at best and a safety problem for other city residents at worst. Because of the lack of charging stations in Delhi, many drivers tap into electric lines on streets to charge.

E-rickshaws are significantly less regulated than auto-rickshaws

Auto-rickshaw drivers must pay RS 2,000 (about USD 34) for a new, renewed, or transferred license. In this way, government officials are made aware of the number of auto-rickshaws on the streets, and can use this information to create and enforce standards that make auto-rickshaws comparatively safer. Auto-rickshaw drivers need to be tested (though minimally), and their fares are regulated – all of which is better for the passengers who use these vehicles. Since e-rickshaws are not considered to be motor vehicles, they do not need to be registered, and neither the vehicle itself nor the driver needs to be tested to see if they satisfy the minimum operational and driving standards. Drivers determine fares themselves, leaving the door open to overcharge or even exploit the passenger.

City leaders are now responding to the rise of e-rickshaws with stricter regulations, though these have been met with stiff resistance from drivers. The Delhi government recently ordered all manufacturers to get clearance and quality inspection on their products. When manufacturers subsequently failed to conduct quality inspections, the government banned e-rickshaws in Delhi in April 2014. Following political backlash and protests from the e-rickshaw union in Delhi, the government decided to lift the ban with the stipulation that all vehicles are required to undergo inspection for safety and operational capabilities. However, on July 31, 2014, the Delhi High Court directed the city government to stop the use of e-rickshaws until a law is framed to regulate them.

How to integrate e-rickshaws into cities safely

Cities can create more appropriate regulations by amending the Delhi Motor Vehicles Act of 1993 to ensure that e-rickshaws are safer, and that road infrastructure safely accounts for their use.

Making sure that e-rickshaws are safe requires starting with quality assurance, from inspecting body parts’ load capacity, tires, brake equipment, and turning radius. These inspections should be carried out for new and existing vehicles. People who drive e-rickshaws for the city should not be penalized if vehicle violations are detected, otherwise problems will never be reported. These policies will require the cooperation of drivers, manufacturers, and India’s Central Government to enforce such regulations.

Infrastructure must also change to support e-rickshaws. Proper charging stations must be installed around the city, and auto-mechanics must be taught how to handle problems specific to e-rickshaws. Charging stations can be integrated into existing fuel stations without placing a heavy burden on fuel-station owners. In fact, developing infrastructure to support e-rickshaws can help Indian cities. Batteries currently imported from China can be made locally to help bring money to India’s communities and lower the cost of batteries for e-rickshaw drivers.

Getting drivers and manufacturers to agree on policies and changing cities’ infrastructure to accommodate e-rickshaws will be enormously challenging. However, once Delhi and the Central Government tackle these challenges and improve safety, e-rickshaws have the potential to expand access to mobility in Indian cities and increase connectivity for residents.

Bridging the divide between vendors and local governments for more inclusive cities

Thu, 2014-07-24 19:34

Governments must create inclusive spaces for dialogue with street vendors and craft policy to support their livelihoods and economic mobility. Photo by Carlos Penalba/Flickr.

As previously discussed on TheCityFix, many cities worldwide are facing a series of challenges around informal economic activity. As they begin to modernize and transform public spaces, street vendors are often left behind or swept away. Yet, these efforts at ‘modernization’ endanger not only the people who depend on the informal sector, but the entire city economy. In Lima, Peru, it is estimated that 5.4% of total employment is in hawking of some kind, while in India the total number of street vendors is estimated at over 10 million. City leaders are beginning to recognize the enormity of this phenomenon, and to understand that large-scale evictions are both unfeasible and short-sighted.

Instead, cities must engage directly with vendors, creating platforms for them to shape the policies that impact them while contributing to and benefiting from economic development.

Building trust for deeper engagement

Any response to the challenge of informal economies demands a common ground of mutual confidence. Governments are wary of economic activity outside their control and bemoan tax revenues lost to the informal sector, while vendors worry about government encroaching on their ability to make a living.

Many cities have attempted to bring hawkers into the formal economy. But street vendors, who often end up paying a great deal in bribes and informal fees in order to operate in the supposedly ‘unregulated’ informal economy, have worries of their own. They fear – often justifiably – that increased formality will increase their costs and prices, cut them off from their customer base, and create insurmountable obstacles to doing business. Creating a basis of trust and a space for negotiation is the first step in overcoming these concerns on both sides.

Creating institutional structures inclusive of street vendors

Local governments must also create spaces for debate and negotiation accessible to vendors. There are numerous examples of cities doing just this. Nairobi City Council Stakeholder’s Forum, created in 2006, convenes the municipal government, the formal private sector, hawkers, and other informal interests to promote mutually beneficial policies. Surakarta, Indonesia brought together local government agencies, the regional parliament, NGOs, and vendors in a public debate in 2006. They reached an agreement between vendors and government on the relocation of thousands of vendors to established markets. Similar efforts at relocation in nearby Jakarta failed without this space for debate.

In India, where vendor evictions are still alarmingly common, a new bill looks to bring informal vendors into the planning process. The bill would create Town Vending Authorities with at least 40% membership from street vendors, who would be selected by vote and of which one-third must be women. This measure ensures participatory decision-making around street vending activities like the definition of vending zones, preparation of street vending plans, and surveying of street vendors. And, while the bill has yet to be fully implemented, it represents a clear statement of the national government’s intent to include vendors in the decisions that affect their lives.

Yet other initiatives focus on economic security and opportunity for street vendors. An insurance program in Chapinero, Bogotá, Colombia allows vendors to pay into a system that can insure them and their families, key for a population in which only 5% are currently insured. Other projects such as Singapore’s job training and education program provide avenues for these workers to advance up the economic ladder at their choosing. In India, the National Urban Livelihoods Mission launched in September 2013, with one of its first projects dedicating USD 1 million to the “skilling of street vendors, support[ing] micro-enterprise development, [and] credit enablement.”

What these approaches have in common is the notion that innovation often comes from the informal sector, and that the government has an important role in developing this existing entrepreneurialism.

Formalization is not the only route

While these types of initiatives are well intentioned and have been successful, they must be undertaken with care. Many programs aimed at improving the livelihoods of street vendors aim to bring them into the formal economy. While the outcome of such formalization varies, in order to truly improve vendor livelihoods, the approach needs to be responsive to their needs. It should not only include “move off streets” or “register your business” measures that impose unreasonable costs on vendors. This, of course, would limit their social and economic mobility and increase inequality in the city, not to mention cutting off consumers from affordable goods they depend on. Instead, formalization must be understood as an incremental and ongoing dialogue with street vendors, reliant on transparent governance.

Institutions can make the informal economy a boon to the city

Engagement with street vendors through programs like those mentioned above has the potential to create debate and spur innovation for cities across the developing world. And in some cases, it has yielded success that has benefited both the city and the individual.

Freddy, a Peruvian entrepreneur profiled in the Informal City Dialogues, turned his one-person sewing stand into seven formal and profitable textile workshops over a series of years. If informal workers and city governments can reach a state of engagement rather than conflict, and keep their focus on improving the lives and prospects of these vendors, perhaps more informal workers will be able to recreate his example.

People-oriented Cities: Mixed-use development creates social and economic benefits

Wed, 2014-07-23 19:38

Mixed-use development combined with pedestrianization on Mexico City’s Calle Madero promotes sustainable, prosperous communities. Photo by Julius Reque/Flickr.

The “People-oriented Cities” series – exclusive to TheCityFix and Insights – is an exploration of how cities can grow to become more sustainable and livable through transit-oriented development (TOD). The nine-part series will address different urban design techniques and trends that reorient cities around people rather than cars.

Mumbai, India can be a commuter’s nightmare. Downtown sits a full ten miles from the residential core, and the two areas are poorly linked by public transport. Mumbaikars have the longest commute of any Indian city resident, averaging more than 47 minutes each way every day. This fragmented urban development has pushed car ownership in the city to rise by an astonishing 3,700% in the past 60 years, clogging roadways and polluting the air.

Travel to New York City and the landscape is much different. A single city block houses a mix of restaurants, office buildings, residences, and shops. This type of development – known as “mixed-use development” – makes it easy to use public transport, walk, or bike, helping to efficiently connect the city’s neighborhoods through sustainable transport. The portion of commuters relying on cars in the city fell from 90% to 59% between 2010 and 2011.

These two cities showcase an emerging urban design lesson: Sprawling cities decrease quality of life; compact, mixed-use developments yield economic and social benefits.

Sprawling and segregated: The cost of disconnected cities

The proliferation of zoning at the beginning of the 20th century contributed to sprawling cities around the world. Residential neighborhoods sprouted on the urban periphery and in suburbs, giving rise to car-dependent commuter towns. City centers languished, shopping malls replaced commercial streets, and the urban poor were segregated from the wealthy elite.

These sprawling cities are increasingly common in developing nations. For example, Mexico’s history of dispersion created thousands of single-family houses on the outskirts of cities. The sheer distance to everyday destinations means some families spend 25% of their income on transport. This type of design increased Mexico City’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 70% and costs USD 2.5 billion (33 billion pesos) each year in lost economic productivity.

Connected communities improve health, environment, and economies

Mixed-use development works against these trends to create inclusive, connected communities. In mixed-use areas, you can find housing, restaurants, services, schools, cultural facilities, parks, and more. This connectivity reduces the need for private vehicles, thus increasing the viability of public transport, walking, and bicycling. For example, Mexico City’s longest street, Avenida Insurgentes, is home to a range of services, residences, and businesses, but traffic congestion initially made the street difficult to access. For these reasons, Insurgentes was chosen as the site for the city’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) system, Metrobús. After the launch of Metrobús in 2005, 100,000 daily car trips were replaced by sustainable transport, easing congestion and reducing the city’s GHG emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons. It’s a powerful example of how mixed-use development supports and attracts sustainable transport, bringing significant benefits for urbanites.  

Everyday needs should be close enough to residential neighborhoods that they can be reached by walking, bicycling, or public transport. Graphic by EMBARQ.

By reducing the need for vehicle travel, mixed-use development also brings shared community space. Plazas, parks, and sidewalks foster interaction among community members—interaction that wouldn’t be safe or possible under a sprawled, car-centric design model. One landmark study of San Francisco compared three neighborhoods identical except for the levels of vehicle traffic on their streets. It revealed that residents of the neighborhood with the lowest level of car traffic had three times as many friends and twice as many acquaintances as their more heavily trafficked counterparts.

Finally, mixed-use, public transit-friendly neighborhoods benefit local economies. They save individuals money on transportation by reducing the length and number of everyday trips and eliminating the need for car ownership. Mixed-use development also supports local businesses by increasing foot traffic. Transport for London found that pedestrians spend up to 60% more money at businesses each month than those traveling by car, while spending less on transportation. Combining mixed-use development with pedestrianization reinforces these benefits.

Human-scale neighborhoods encourage different activities and social interaction, recreating the streets and sidewalks as viable public spaces. Graphic by EMBARQ.

Growing cities can win with sustainable, mixed-use development

According to the World Health Organization, cities will hold 70% of the world’s population by 2050. About 96%of this growth will occur in developing countries, demanding quality urban spaces and services.

As current cities expand and new ones crop up, it’s important for local leaders, urban planners, and citizens to examine what works. Compact, car-light cities spur economic growth, social cohesion, and quality of life.

Stay tuned for the next entry in the “People-oriented Cities” series, which will address the role of vehicle demand management in effective transit-oriented development. For more on the transit-oriented development paradigm, download EMBARQ’s Transit-oriented Development Guide for Urban Communities.

What does a sociological approach to safe cities reveal?: Findings from a national workshop in India

Thu, 2014-07-17 20:24

In order to make cities safer and public spaces more inviting for all, EMBARQ India studied how women perceive – and how they are perceived in – India’s urban public spaces. Photo by EMBARQ.

While concerns of violence against women are not new, women’s safety in public spaces has received significant attention in India in the past two years. Cities are seeing increased demands around making public spaces safer for women, ranging from better infrastructure, effective policing, more stringent punishment for perpetrators, creating “eyes on the street,” and more. Specifically, planning for safer public spaces goes beyond physical features and requires attention to how men and women express themselves in – and interact with – public space; analyzing who uses them, when, how, and for how long

To understand men and women’s experiences of public spaces, EMBARQ India conducted a national workshop on Gender and Public Space at its CONNECTKaro 2014 conference. The 90-minute workshop was attended by around 50 participants – with 21 women and 28 men, predominantly upper middle class, aged 20-50 years. It consisted of professionals and students. The participants were asked to sketch their experience of an outdoor public open space, responding to seven questions. They were then divided into two groups – men and women – to collate their experiences, and regrouped to discuss their findings. The workshop revealed key factors like sense of security, caste, and social class that must be considered when planning for safer public spaces.

The burden of security limits women’s enjoyment of the city 

The workshop revealed the unexpected and alarming extent to which security bears heavily on how women negotiate their daily activities, both consciously and unconsciously. Both men and women listed many of the same the qualities that made pleasant public spaces – including vegetation, public toilets, and quiet. However, there seemed to be a difference in what constituted unpleasant spaces. Women bore the burden of security in addition to factors such as traffic safety and unmaintained public toilets that both groups reported. Crowds, absence of lighting, people, and the time of day were important parameters for women’s use of public spaces in light of this security concern.

Eyes on the street encourage women’s presence in public spaces  

While “eyes on the street” are generally considered natural surveillance systems, the people those eyes are attached to seemed important to the women at CONNECTKaro. In short, women’s presence made this group of women feel safe. Thus, it is important to understand what kind of activities bring and retain women in public spaces.

Contrastingly, the presence of men did not inherently make them feel unsafe. Rather, groups of men – particularly working class men – sparked general apprehension amongst this group of upper middle class women. When probed, the participants seemed to recall from a collective memory or perception, suggesting that class and caste perceptions influence which eyes on the street contributed to their sense of safety.

Familiarity enables both risk and conformity 

For the women at the workshop, familiarity with a specific space enabled them to take risks in environments otherwise perceived as unsafe. However, this could also be a double-edged sword, in which familiarity can also police the ways in which men and women feel they can behave. For instance, women’s feelings of safety and comfort could be conditional on conforming to the expected behavioral norms of that particular space or community.

Finally, there was also a striking difference in the mood between the men and women’s groups at the workshop. The men’s group laughed and joked throughout while there was a heavier, more intense mood in the women’s group during the process of sharing stories and experiences.

The table below details some of the compelling statements men and women made during the CONNECTKaro workshop: 

CONNECTKaro brought men and women together for a discussion on the role of gender and public spaces. Image by EMBARQ.

Re-thinking the approach to safe cities: From protection to inclusion  

While urban planning and design measures often advocate for improved street lighting, mixed uses, and eyes on the street, there is also a need to understand how perceptions of safety are cognitively, sociologically, and spatially constructed.

As argued in Why Loiter: Women and Risk on Mumbai’s Streets, the demand for safer public spaces for women must not be met through the exclusion of other minority groups, be they migrants – especially working class men and lower castes and/or Muslim men in the context of Indian cities – or through a patriarchal surveillance of women’s bodies and actions. Similarly, instead of seeing the city as a place of threat that women need to be protected from – we need to see and design public spaces where women would like to spend time, or “loiter,” or “to not have a purpose to enjoy public spaces, use public infrastructure after dark, or indulge in consensual flirtation and sexual encounters.”

Thus, a project for making a city safe for women is not only about physical improvements, but also about their right to loiter without excluding other minority identities. This requires further research on what makes women of different income groups, castes, religion and regions spend time in public spaces, and what kinds of eyes on the street encourage women’s presence in public spaces.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: New mapping algorithm poses problems and promise for cities

Thu, 2014-07-17 03:37

Technology is allowing city residents to interact with their surroundings in new ways, which can have both the benefit of advancing sustainable development and the drawback of reinforcing social divisions. Photo by Daniel Chavez/Flickr.

Yahoo Labs has recently created a mapping algorithm that helps pedestrians find not the shortest route to their destination, but the most attractive one. This is great for visitors who want to spend every second of their time sightseeing in a new city, or for residents who want to explore their surroundings in a new way. However, although the algorithm was meant to showcase the beauty of cities, we must not forget what is covered up in this data-centric quest for the most aesthetic path. While well intentioned, this algorithm allows city residents to systematically bypass areas of poverty and blight, and it raises more than a few ethical questions about how emerging digital applications are changing the way people interact within cities.

The makings of a happy journey

The algorithm was created using data from a range of websites – including, which allows users to choose between two photos of different locations which they prefer, together with Google Street View, Geograph, tags of #happy or #pretty attached to photos posted on Twitter, and 3.7 million Flickr photos that people found “quiet,” “relaxing,” or “cheerful.” Although this algorithm has only been tested within London, Boston, and Barcelona, it is set to be released to application developers around the globe. This creates an almost limitless set of applications. On Halloween, pedestrians can take scarier routes; on Saturday nights, people can navigate through cities based on the highest concentration of pictures that use the words #fun or #party.

However, there are some immediate limitations to the application. The “happiness” of a place is easily influenced by the time of day people take a route, which the algorithm does not take into account. Some streets might have musicians playing and families leisurely walking on the weekend, but are packed with grumpy commuters during morning rush hour.

The formula for what the algorithm’s makers define as a happy place also influences the potential of this algorithm. The demographics of those who initially tested it were 60% male, between the ages of 20 and 50, and tech-savvy enough to actively volunteer for this project. Yet, women, minorities, and elderly populations often experience urban spaces differently, and have different mobility needs. Having an application that suggests the most scenic route for an able-bodied man might be an unpleasant, or even dangerous route, for other users. Furthermore, when the algorithm is developed into an application it might ultimately fail from its own initial success. If too many people are visiting a route marked as “peaceful” it can ruin the very feeling that made the place so treasured.

Ethical issues with location-based technology

Aside from these initial limitations, there is also a much more unsettling issue that needs to be raised about the use of this technology. The places people inhabit the most are the places people care about the most. It’s no surprise, then, that the rapid rise of suburbanization in the 1950s led to disinvestment in cities in the United States at the same time, with many cities experiencing increased poverty and population loss. But what is surprising is that the number of people writing about poverty declined even as inequality was on the rise.

Disadvantaged communities – including those unlikely to live in a scenic (or #pretty) location – are already marginalized from economic and social opportunities in cities. To craft an algorithm to only see the beautiful parts of a metropolis would move poverty from something difficult to solve to an issue that disappears entirely from newspapers, books, and policy debates because it would be a phenomenon people would never be forced to see or think about.

This one ethical issue showcases a growing challenge that city planners are facing with how to address technology that is changing the interactions between people and cities in ways that urban policies are hard-pressed to keep up with. Other applications like Microsoft’s location-based ads text pedestrians with coupons to nearby stores drive traffic – for those stores that can pay for this service. Location-based survey services such as SurveySwipe can provide urban planners with important information about what services people want and what infrastructure they need improved – for those city residents that have smart-phones. Technology can be an incredibly powerful tool for public participation within cities, but it must be remembered that the true beauty of an application cannot be assessed at first glance – or even first walk – but should be assessed by the enduring good it has to make cities more equitable, sustainable, and beautiful for all. 

Scaling up sustainability: ‘Raahgiri Day’ comes to New Delhi

Thu, 2014-07-10 20:29

Raahgiri Day, a day in which streets are closed to cars and open to pedestrians and cyclists is a time to celebrate community and human-centered mobility that is swiftly expanding throughout India. Photo by EMBARQ.

Raahgiri Day, the weekly event that closes city streets to cars to celebrate walking, biking, music-making, and socializing, has expanded beyond Gurgaon, India. The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) together with the New Delhi Police Department has decided to stage the first Raahgiri Day in New Delhi this weekend. Beginning July 13, 2014, the inner circle of New Delhi’s Connaught Place and its various radial roads will be converted into pedestrian and cycling zones each Sunday.

This is a pivotal moment for sustainable, active transport in India’s cities. Moving from the city of Gurgaon, population 800,000 people, to New Delhi, population 22 million, is a huge leap, one that reminds us that reorienting cities around people – not cars – is achievable. This starts New Delhi on an important path towards combatting air pollution and improving public health, and all of India one step closer towards being an exemplar of sustainable urban development for other emerging economies.

Raahgiri Gurgaon a test-bed for a brighter urban future for India

New Delhi already houses 22 million people within its metropolitan region, and this number is growing annually at a rate of 4.6%. This rapid population increase, combined with shifting consumption patterns and increasing infrastructure development, have created more congested roads and compromised public spaces. Delhi is fighting air pollution that is worse than Beijing’s while simultaneously finding that less than 5% of women feel safe in the city’s public spaces. Leaders have been actively searching for innovative ways to show its residents that it is possible, with public support, to make the megacity more livable.  With Raahgiri Day, it seems to have found an answer.

Raahgiri Gurgaon, which began in November 2013, has proved that even in an increasingly motorized city, sustainable mobility is possible. Its success has sparked a shift in mindset and lifestyle among city residents, many of whom have now become proponents of active transport. A recent survey conducted by EMBARQ India in Gurgaon found that Raahgiri Day has had a positive impact on everything from non-motorized transport usage to road safety, greater engagement between local businesses and the community, and increased levels of physical activity. Furthermore, average particulate matter readings on Raahgiri Sundays in Gurgaon were 95 parts per million (ppm) less than the typical weekday in the city (99 ppm compared to 194 ppm). With Delhi’s mortality rate doubling in the past two decades due to air pollution, the potential for Raahgiri Delhi to improve public health and clean the air cannot be ignored.

Raahgiri’s success and expansion enabled by collaboration

Expanding Raahgiri to Delhi required collaboration between government and civil society. For example, the Delhi Police and NDMC conducted route reviews to evaluate potential sites in the heart of the city, while the initiative in Gurgaon was originally spearheaded by a founding group of NGOs, namely EMBARQ India, Pedal Yatri, India Cycle Service, I am Gurgaon, and Road Safety Officers. Moreover, EMBARQ India and NDMC plan on expanding Raahgiri Delhi even further, expanding routes within the city and gradually increasing attendance.

In order to help Raahgiri Day gain traction in Delhi and other Indian cities, EMBARQ India’s Amit Bhatt hosted a webinar on The Hub to share lessons learned in implementing this event in Gurgaon to inspire and instruct other cities. Experts in the fields of sustainable transport and urban development joined representatives from India and around the world – including Delhi, Gurgaon, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune in India as well as cities in the Netherlands, Australia, Germany and Canada – to explore what active transport and streets for people could do for their cities.

Spreading sustainable mobility internationally

Raahgiri Day is slowly moving from a Gurgaon phenomenon to a country-wide practice. As Bhatt has stated:

“This movement has sparked a ray of hope in many cities in India, which now realize that non-motorized and public transport will be the chosen modes of transport in the future. We have been hearing from passionate citizens and public agencies from different cities in the country, who have shown interest in replicating this initiative.”

The cities of Ludhiana and Navi Mumbai have already followed Gurgaon and Delhi’s lead to begin Raahgiri Days of their own. It is no longer a question of whether Raahgiri day has been a successful sustainability initiative, but simply a question of which city will join in next. 

Friday Fun: Mumbai’s Seatbelt Crew wants you to buckle up

Fri, 2014-05-30 20:20

Groups like the Seatbelt Crew combine education and entertainment to get automobile drivers on Mumbai, India’s crowded roads to buckle-up. Photo by Jerry H./Flickr.

Imagine it’s a hot, sunny day in Mumbai, India. Traffic is stopped. As you watch people passing by, suddenly a group of hijras – sometimes referred to as India’s transgender “third sex” – in matching saris file into the streets and strategically position themselves among the cars. Are they extras from a Bollywood movie? Perhaps a flash mob?

No, they are The Seatbelt Crew.

The Seatbelt Crew is a public service initiative of VithU, an emergency App, and Ogilvy and Mather, an international advertising, marketing, and public relations agency. The hijras’ goal is to remind drivers that they have a simple safety tool in their car: the seatbelt. It turns out to be a pretty effective tool as well: according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2013 Global status report on road safety, “seat-belts reduce the risk of a fatal injury by up to 50% for front seat occupants, and up to 75% for rear seat occupants.” The statistics speak for themselves, but seatbelt-wearing rates, as well as urban design techniques that can reduce the likelihood of traffic crashes in the first place, still lag in many cities. Studies have shown that an effective way to increase the use of seatbelts is to strategically combine educational social marketing efforts with legislation and law enforcement – and many countries have set out to do just that.

Countries entertain for education and impact

Popular campaigns over the decades have taken a variety of approaches, from humorous to dramatic. Some have left their mark as cultural treasures and award winning works of art. Others are remembered solely by the lives that they’ve saved.

Costa Rica combines love and the law for record change

In Costa Rica, the Por Amor campaign of 2003-2004 asked drivers, “por amor use el cinturón” (for love, use your seat belt) prompting drivers to choose to wear a seatbelt for the sake of family and friends. The campaign paralleled the introduction of a new seat belt law. The goal was to achieve a seatbelt-wearing rate of 70%. After the campaign, a survey confirmed that a combination of the campaign, seatbelt legislation, and police enforcement raised seatbelt useage by drivers from 24% to 82%, and recorded traffic fatality rates in the same period dropped by 13%.

The United States: Learning from Vince and Larry

The Crash Test Dummies, Vince and Larry, was a campaign in the United States that addressed this serious problem with a humorous approach. The dummies were so beloved that they now sit in the National Museum of American History collections as cultural icons. Their message also has had widespread impact – from 1985-1999, seat belt usage in the United States increased from 14% to 79%, saving an estimated 85,000 lives, and US$ 3.2 billion in costs to society. The Click It or Ticket campaign has continued Vince and Larry’s dedication through a new series, #3Seconds2Life, making an emotional connection between life’s special three-second moments and the time it takes to buckle up.

Europe embraces drama for impact

Language is not a barrier for understanding the dramatic campaign “Do not disconnect the line of life,” produced by the Ministry of Health and WHO in Russia. Likewise, the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership in England launched the impactful seatbelt and road safety campaign Embrace Life in 2010. The video won numerous safety awards, along with attracting 11.8 million hits on YouTube.

Meanwhile, a 2011 campaign in Afyonkarahisar, Turkey promoted that “Life has the right of way over time,” reminding watchers that the fun moments of everyday life are best enjoyed when protected by a seatbelt.  This video, combined with intensive social marketing campaigns across various mediums, local media support, and increased enforcement, all helped to increase the initial seatbelt wearing rate to about 49%.

Entertainment, combined with legislation pushes safety forward

Countries around the world understand the full importance of having citizens wear seatbelts. At least in terms of legislation, the outlook is positive. WHO states that 111 countries (69% of the world’s population) now have comprehensive seat-belt laws covering all occupants. However, to translate this into acculturating social norms towards safety (getting people to actually use their seatbelts) it will take a combination of enforcement by trained police (generally through fines) as well as more lighthearted approaches, from Vince and Larry to the Por Amor campaign. From seatbelts and helmets to speed limits and transport planning that supports safer streets, strengthening safe road behavior will require persistent attention. Yet, the potential societal shifts are vast, for convincing individuals to make smarter decisions today can pass down safer societal norms throughout generations.

What entertaining ways can you think of to promote seatbelt usage? Let us know in the comments!


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