With an ever-increasing rate of urban growth at 31.8 per cent in the last decade, the average Indian city is beset with several infrastructure-related problems — especially concerning transport. There is widespread congestion, worsening air quality, inadequate public transport services and poor last-mile connectivity, not to mention lack of pedestrian walkways and cycle-friendly tracks.
Urban transport affects all facets of life in a city including safety, access, socio-economic growth, and it needs to be an integral part of the urban planning process, rather than an afterthought. Currently, urban transport planning is dispersed among different, siloed agencies at multiple levels hindering co-operation and co-ordinated planning to meet urban transport needs.
The National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) 2006, and again in 2014, advocates for a people-centric transport policy planning and decision-making. A good urban transport policy is people-centric, ensures that multimodal public transport systems are integrated and offer a seamless experience to the commuter. The challenge is to create an institutional structure under which these various transport options can be integrated to work seamlessly. The current regulatory framework in most metropolitan cities poses many challenges to such an integration.
At present, there is no legislation that comprehensively deals with urban transport in the city. The solution to this problem is to conceptualise and bring into place an umbrella agency that comprehensively deals with urban transport. An empowered Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) would undertake policymaking, regulatory, planning, funding and co-ordination functions in the city for all matters connected to urban transport. In the United Kingdom, Transport for London (TfL) is an example of such an integrated transport authority, which runs the day-to-day operation of the city’s public transport network and is responsible for implementing the mayor’s transport strategy, whose target is for 80 per cent of all trips in London to be made on foot, by cycle or using public transport by 2041.
In 2006, the Union government asked states to set up a dedicated UMTA for all million-plus population cities. Out of a total of 53 cities with an urban area population of more than 1 million (Census 2011), UMTAs have been established in only 15 cities. However, even among the UMTAs set up, not all of them survived or worked effectively.
In Bengaluru, for instance, the Bengaluru Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA) was first set up in March 2007 through a government order. However, due to a lack of teeth and adequate authority, interest flagged, and the committee lapsed. Instead of creating a separate independent authority, Hyderabad constituted a UMTA under the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority, which has been largely ineffective, meeting only 11 times in the nine years of its existence.
The UMTA must be created through statutory backing, endowed with an executive body governed by a board with representation from all city-based agencies, local political representatives, citizens, experts and other stakeholders. In order to be effective, it must be endowed with a well-staffed secretariat led by a chief executive and properly funded. Therefore, while existing agencies will continue to perform their roles of implementation and operation, it will be in accordance with the priorities set by the UMTA.
It is widely accepted that the most effective and sustainable solution for majority of urban transport problems is a robust public transport system and promoting the use of non-motorised transport modes, such as walking and cycling. An UMTA-like agency, statutorily empowered, would be best positioned to tackle not only short-term problems afflicting urban transport in our cities but to also undertake long-term people-centric plans focused on sustainability, access and equity to change the landscape of urban transport, democratising public space and affirming the ordinary person’s right to the city.
The current urban governance structure for transport is highly-inadequate and ill-equipped to deal with the problems facing it. These structures were put in place long before modern problems of urban transport began to surface in our cities. They do not have the institutional framework facilitative of co-ordination, people-centric planning and designing sustainable mobility policies.
Our cities need a unified transport authority that will be able to undertake integrated transport planning, marshal resources to deal with pressing problems of traffic, pollution, safety and infrastructure while working towards a future-oriented sustainable urban transport policy.Sneha Visakha is a Research Fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, Karnataka. Views are personal.