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New Delhi, June 14, 2020
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has suggested a three-pronged strategy for cities and towns that may be adopted in a phased manner during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
In an advisory issued to the States, Union Territories (UTs), cities, and metro rail companies, the Ministry has suggested steps to revive Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) as most of the urban trips are clocked in under five kilometres.
NMT offers the perfect opportunity to implement in this COVID 19 crisis as it requires low cost, less human resource, easy and quick to implement, scalable and environment friendly, it said.
About recommencing public transport, the advisory said it was imperative at this stage that transmission of infection through the usage of public transport should be curbed by adopting the right sanitization, containment and social distancing measures.
Enabling technologies such as Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), indigenous cashless and touch-less system like BHIM, PhonePe, Google Pay and PayTM and the National Common Mobility Card (NCMC) will reduce human interaction, in operations of public transit systems.
The Ministry said evidence showed a steep drop in public transport ridership volumes by 90%. Further, it has been observed that there was up to 60% reduction in air pollution. Re-establishing the earlier level of ridership in public transport was a big challenge for cities, as people may be looking for more options especially personal modes that allow for safer travel in the post lockdown scenario.
In order to avoid resurgence of car and other private vehicle usage, many cities around the world have encouraged e-ticketing, digital payments and reallocating street space for cycling and pedestrians through street closures, creating Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) priority zones, pop-up bike lanes and sidewalks, providing parking and charging equipment and financing options to make cycling more accessible.
Some of the important initiatives taken recently in view of COVID-19 to promote NMT by cities across the world include New York adding 40 miles of new NMT lanes to support cyclists; Oakland, USA closing 10% of its streets for motor vehicles; Bogotá, Colombia adding 76 km of cycle paths overnight; and Milan, Italy, converting 22miles of streets to cycling lanes.
Auckland, New Zealand has removed on-street car parking and built up 17 km of temporary cycle lanes in addition to widening of existing bike and footpaths. Also, the city has developed a program to fund pop up cycle lanes. Promotion of bike-sharing in China has led to a 150% increase in trips nationwide during lockdown. In the UK, local businesses relocated road space for pedestrians to allow residents to respect social distancing guidelines, while queuing outside shops.
Various studies conducted by MoHUA show that about 16-57% of urban commuters are pedestrians and about 30-40% of commuters use bicycles in the country depending on the size of the city.
Considering this as an opportunity, elevating the priority of these modes in this testing times gives travellers another private vehicle alternative, which is clean, safe, secured particularly if it is integrated with other modes and affordable for all. This area is one of the thrust areas of National Urban Transport Policy-2006[NUTP-2006]. It will also generate employment opportunity for the workforce in NMT industry.
India has a robust 700 kms of operational metro rail in 18 major cities and a BRT network of about 450 kms operational in 11 cities across the country carrying 10 million passengers daily.
But due to the social distancing norms being practised, their capacities would be utilized at 25 to 50% of pre-coronavirus levels. Such dramatic and dynamic changes in demand and supply will require complementing these public transport systems with alternative modes of transit.
MoHUA has undertaken several rounds of discussions with the subject matter experts, industry experts, operators, World Bank and other eminent urban transport experts in the country and other parts of the world, who have clearly outlined, that there will be change in the character of urban mobility post-COVID-19.
With a sense of insecurity in the minds of the public in travelling in public transport during these testing times, in all possibilities, there will be an increase in the number of private vehicles on road, which will not only create pollution but eat away space for other modes of public transport besides adversely affecting road safety and increase air pollution level and serious congestions on the roads.
However, in India, where ownership of personal modes is still at a relatively low level and a large majority of public transport users are captive users with limited transport options, providing safe and reliable mobility options for these users will be a priority for cities, especially those that can no longer be catered owing to the capacity constraints imposed by social distancing.
Public transport, both buses and metro, form the backbone of many cities and with more than halving of capacity, cities will need to ensure alternative mobility options to keep their cities moving as the economies restart.