Time for a unified transport system

In August 2017, the Union Cabinet cleared the new Metro Rail Policy, which laid down a framework for cities seeking to introduce and expand the role of metro rail systems in urban transport. But while many cities have committed to new metro rail projects, there has been little attempt to understand how any metro rail system fits within the overall public transport requirements of a city.


This is where the new policy stands out. It makes it clear that if a city wants central assistance for its metro rail projects, its state government will have to commit to setting up and operationalising a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) — a body that is responsible for all forms of urban transport, thus enabling an integrated approach to mobility in the city. Further, cities where metro projects are already under implementation have to consider setting up the UMTA within a year.


Many international cities cited as models for public transport have such an overarching body to plan, execute and run all aspects of urban mobility. These include the New York City Transit Authority, Transport for London, and Singapore’s SBS Transit and SMRT.A unified transport authority will integrate all options through the prism of last-mile connectivity, and efficient integration with each other. It will craft solutions like a common travel card, which a citizen can use to pay digitally across transport modes. It will consider pedestrian requirements, inter-changes, road design and transportation concourses.


A fragmented approach to urban transit planning means that 27 per cent of the workforce in Delhi and Bengaluru, and only 11 per cent of the workforce in Lucknow, used public transport to commute to work, according to the 2011 Census. These are low numbers — the comparative figures for London and Singapore are 45 per cent and 59 per cent respectively.


One critical reason for this lack of usage of public transport use is the absence of convenient door-to-door connectivity. A main reason for that is the absence of an integrated approach to urban mobility. As cities expand their limits, and urban commuters have to travel ever greater distances to reach their places of work, this problem will only get more serious.


According to a report released by the Union Ministry of Urban Development in May 2016, on the setting up of an UMTA in Hyderabad (“Final Operations Document for Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority in Hyderabad”), there were 20 legislations and 13 agencies governing various aspects of urban transport — in the capital city of Telangana. There was limited coordination between these agencies with many of them having conflicting aims and objectives.


As a result, important functions such as common ticketing, multi-modal passenger information and multi-modal terminals fell through the cracks. Fares were set in isolation, and bus routes were dictated by operators, who channeled capacity towards the tried-and-tested routes with other routes being underserved.


Early efforts at uniting transporting systems under one authority in India have been sporadic and relatively unsuccessful. In Delhi, the setting up of the DIMTS (Delhi Integrated Multi Modal Transit System) has not lived upto its initial promise mainly because its responsibilities have remained restricted to the cluster bus system. Even this system does not cover the complete bus transit system in Delhi since the publicly owned Delhi Transport Corporation buses are outside its ambit.


Things are changing, though slowly. In 2006, the Central government, through the Ministry of Urban Development, released the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP), which recommended the creation of a UMTA in all cities with a population above 1 million; according to Census 2011, there were 53 such cities.


In 2016, a handful of cities — including Bhopal, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kochi, Lucknow, Tiruchirappalli and Vijayawada — made moves towards setting up an UMTA.The 2017 Metro Rail Policy has only given a further fillip to these steps. Moreover, cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, which have historically had suburban rail systems run by Indian Railways, could hand over the ownership and operations of such systems to the new UMTA. In return the UMTA could pay infrastructure-usage fees and related charges to the Railways.


The Singapore Land Transport Authority (SLTA) is a good example of the scope of possibilities and how it can impact urban mobility, especially in the context of public transport. The SLTA has been coming out with a masterplan on a five-year basis for land transport. It released one in 2008 and another in 2013, and both documents are intended to make “public transport a choice mode” in the island city.


The 2013 masterplan aims to ensure, that by 2030, 80 per cent of all public journeys of up to 20 km are completed within 60 minutes, that 75 per cent of all peak-hour journeys are made on public transport, and that 80 per cent of houses are located within a 10-minute walk of a metro station. It then quantifies its planned expansions in rail network and trains, sheltered walkways and cycling paths accordingly.


Indian cities, too, need to put commuters at the centre of their transportation decision-making.


UMTA is an inescapable and urgent precondition.

The author is chairman, Feedback Infra

Twitter: @Infra_VinayakCh

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