The Crisis of Public Transport in India: Overwhelming Needs but Limited Resources   1 comment

The rapid growth of India’s urban population has put enormous strains on all transport systems. Burgeoning travel demand far exceeds the limited supply of transport infrastructure and services. Public transport, in particular, has been completely overwhelmed.Most bus and train services are overcrowded, undependable, slow, inconvenient,uncoordinated, and dangerous. Moreover, the public ownership and operation of most public transport services has greatly reduced productivity and inflated costs.India’s cities desperately need improved and expanded public transport service. Unfortunately, meager government financial assistance and the complete lack of any supportive policies, such as traffic priority for buses, place public transport in an almost impossible situation.


Public transport faces severe problems in almost all countries of the developing world, although the situation varies from one country to another, and even from one city to another (Vasconcellos 2001). Perhaps most important, the lack of financial resources prevents necessary investments in maintaining and upgrading existing bus and rail systems and building new ones. Likewise, many advanced technologies long available in Western Europe are simply not affordable in most developing countries. Public transport systems in the Third World are plagued  by chronic corruption and inefficiency, overcrowded and undependable service,congested roadways that slow down buses, and an operating environment that is often chaotic and completely uncoordinated. Those problems of public transport occur within the broader context of daunting urban transport problems in general. Air pollution, noise, congestion, and traffic fatality levels are often much more severe than those of developed countries. One might expect the much lower incomes in developing countries to assure a huge potential market of public transport riders. In fact, many city residents are so poor that they cannot afford even low fares, and routes are not designed to serve the poor at any rate. Thus, the poor in developing countries suffer even more than those in the Western World from low levels of mobility and accessibility, especially to jobs.
In many respects, the situation in India is typical of other developing countries. The most important commonality is India’s low per-capita income—only US $2,540 in 2002, less than a tenth of the average incomes of countries in North America and Western Europe (Central Intelligence Agency 2002). With 23 percent of its urban population living in poverty, India has been forced to keep its public transport fares extremely low. That has sharply restricted the operating revenues of all public transport systems, making it difficult to afford even routine maintenance and vehicle replacement, let alone system modernization and expansion.Poverty is not only a problem at the individual level, but also in the public sector, with cities and transport systems desperately lacking the necessary financial resources for investment in infrastructure, vehicles, new technologies, and fare subsidies. The financial problems stemming from India’s low per-capita income are probably the most important challenges facing Indian public transport, but there are many others as well: inefficiency, roadway congestion, traffic accidents, lack of planning, overcrowding, noise, and total lack of coordination of any kind.

Trends in Population and Land Use

The rapid growth of India’s urban population—as in other developing countries—has generated an enormous need for efficient public transport services to carry high volumes of passengers through dense, congested urban areas. By2001 over 285 million Indians lived in cities, more than in all North American cities combined (Office of the Registrar General of India 2001). There has been especially rapid growth of the very largest metropolitan areas such as Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta), and Delhi, which now exceed 10 million residents each. Chennai (Madras), Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Bangalore each have more than 5 million residents. And 35 metropolitan areas have populations exceeding 1 million, almost twice as many as in 1991. Since large cities are far more dependent on public transport than small cities, the need for public transport services has increased faster than overall population growth.Moreover, the lack of effective planning and land-use controls has resulted in rampant sprawled development extending rapidly in all directions, far beyond old city boundaries into the distant countryside. That also has greatly increased the number and length of trips for most Indians, including those by public transport. Most public policies in India actually encourage sprawl. In an explicit attempt to decongest city centers, government regulations limit the ratio of floor areas to land areas for buildings in the center, and thus restrict the heights of buildings and density of development in the center. For example, the so-called “floor space index” in sampled city centers in India was only 1.6, compared to indices ranging from 5 to 15 in other Asian city centers (Bertaud 2002; Padam and Singh 2001). By contrast, government regulations permit higher floor space/land area ratios in suburban developments, yet more inducement for firms to decentralize. Indeed, local governments even advertise the less stringent regulations in the suburbs to promote more development there. Such land-use policies obviously discourage development in the center and force both firms and residences to seek locations on the suburban fringe. Moreover, local governments have permitted scattered commercial and residential development in outlying areas without the necessary infrastructure such as roads, utilities, hospitals, shopping, and schools. That generates long trips between residences and almost all other trip destinations. Just as in North America, most new commercial development is in the distant suburbs. For example, Tidal Park is a software center on the outskirts of Chennai; Gurgaon is a large new industrial area outside Delhi; and Pimpri-Chinchwad is a similar center outside of Pune (Bertaud 2002). Similarly, Bangalore is planning several technology parks on its fringe as well as several circumferential highways in the suburbs, both of which will induce further decentralization. In most cases, there is inadequate infrastructure to serve these new suburban developments and the residences locating around them. Ramachandran (1989) characterizes Indian suburbs as an “uncontrolled mix of industrial development, dumps and obnoxious uses,” with the “extension of urban settlement causing conditions in the overtaken villages to deteriorate, both physically and socially.” The leap-frog development typical of suburban sprawl tends to follow major highways out of Indian cities to the distance countryside.There are important consequences of such low-density, sprawled decentralization for public transport. Just as in North America and Europe, it generates trips that are less focused in well-traveled corridors and thus more difficult for public transport to serve. In India, it has led to rapid growth in car and motorcycle ownership and use and thus increasingly congested roadways that slow down buses, increase bus operating costs, and further discourage public transport use.

Trends in Public Transport
The best statistics for public transport in India are for suburban rail, because it is centrally owned and operated by Indian Railways. As shown in Figure 1, suburban rail usage has sharply increased over the past five decades, with a 14-fold growth in passenger km of travel (Indian Railways 2001). There are no comprehensive national statistics on bus service supply, let alone the number of riders, but the fragmented statistics for individual cities suggest substantial growth. For example, in the 10 years from 1990 to 2000, there was an 86 percent increase in the size of Mumbai’s bus fleet, and a 54 percent increase in Chennai’s bus fleet. While the size of Delhi’s public bus fleet actually fell, the number of private buses rose by almost twice as much, yielding a net 28 percent increase (Association of State Road Transport Undertakings 2002).

to be continued ……………………..

Posted January 7, 2012 by avinash2060 in Infrastructure

One response to “The Crisis of Public Transport in India: Overwhelming Needs but Limited Resources

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