Transportation plays a major role in economic development. However, on the flip side, development and migration fuel the need for more transportation. This has created daunting social, environmental and economic challenges. Public transport is often inadequate in developing countries and owning a car or a two-wheeler is a major aspiration. As a result, our city roads are clogged with vehicles. Daily traffic jams are a given. Parking spaces are short. The air is polluted with contaminants that damage health, leaving the elderly and children susceptible to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.
In India, vehicular air pollution has reached alarming levels. Delhi alone has more than ten million vehicles and ranks among the world’s top cities with foul air. So, how does one address this situation? There’s no single or simple answer, because we depend on our extensive road network for our economic growth. Road transport accounts for nearly 4.8 percent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). Congestion on the roads also has negative repercussions on the local and national GDP. It costs both time and money. Although tangible measures like banning heavy vehicles in some cities during the day are now in place, the economy still takes a huge hit during peak hours, since millions of people waste valuable time simply waiting for the light to turn green!
One thing is clear: More steps need to be taken. The government, citizens, urban planners and innovators have to come together and address the problem of congestion in cities. Simply adding more roads or widening existing ones to make way for more cars is not the solution. This short-term solution will only lead to more congestion in the long run. We need to plan and invest wisely in sustainable mobility solutions, which will give people viable options. Only then will they step out of their cars and into buses and subways.
A smart city is one where the infrastructure is aligned to the needs of the people. It’s about improving efficiency and existing transport systems. The subway is a great option: It’s rapid and more environmentally friendly. Expanding metro rail projects and ensuring that they are integrated with other modes of transport is another important measure. Non-motorised transport—walking, bicycling and cycle rickshaws—need to be encouraged to help reduce air pollution and improve health. Bicycle and service lanes and pedestrian paths are a prerequisite to guarantee safety.
Step On It!
In developed countries, numerous interventions introduced to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution have been effective. Some cities have upped parking rates in central and business districts, making people think twice before taking their cars out. Car-sharing and electric cars is another global trend. Governments are exploring multi-modal integration so people can rely on seamless connectivity between various modes of transport through cooperation among different service providers. Young people in countries like Germany prefer car-sharing, rather than buying their own car. All they need is a smartphone and an app! Today, there are car-sharing services operational in more than 1,000 cities in the world.