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Creating sustainable urban transport solutions for an aspiring Smart City!

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By Praveen Gupta

· 10 min read

Vadodara in Gujarat is a megapolis in the making. Much of today’s needs continue to be met by the infrastructure created by the enlightened ruler Sayaji Rao, of what was then the princely state of Baroda. 

A forum hosted by the well-known NGO SOCLEEN (Society for Clean Environment) deliberates on the challenges of this. It attempts to steer what is now a rather chaotic sea of ever increasing two & three wheelers, private cars and virtually no public transport. Resulting emissions, infrastructure under pressure, road safety challenges, a shrinking green cover and the heat island effect all beg for sustainable growth.  

”In times of turmoil, the danger lies not in the turmoil, but in facing it with yesterday‘s logic.“ 

- Peter Drucker

Vadodara’s infrastructure has sustained itself, to date, thanks to the vision of Maharaja Sayaji Rao. We are today at a critical crossroads when urban transport must become sustainable. What could that be? What ails it? Let’s look at some symptoms, diagnoses and prescriptions from three recent case studies. Is there a pressing need for new metrics and what’s driving the paradigm shift? My panel and I look forward to exploring this space and navigating some challenges.

Case studies  

Linking urban population density to the mode of urban transport – a case study of Vadodara

Nachiket S Gosavi, Lakshmikanth Hari & DS Hegde.

  • The unplanned growth of the city results in variation between the actual growth and changes in the master plan. This form of unregulated development has plagued the Indian urban scape.

  • The total road length under the jurisdiction of Vadodara Municipal Corporation is 1068.86 kilometres and the area under Vadodara Municipal Corporation as per the 2012 revision is 163 km2, this would result in a road density of 6.55 km/km2. This is approximately half the norm. 

  • Additionally, the municipal corporation is not following the scientific classification of roads; therefore it becomes difficult to estimate the urban built area under roads. 

  • Assuming a road width of 30 meters, the area under roads would be 19.33%. This proportion is 1.5 times higher than the norm. Even with an average road width of 20 meters the proportion of urban areas under roads would become 12.88%. 

  • A classic mismatch between permissible road density and the proportion of urban space under roads.

  • Government of India data, over the decade 2002- 11, vehicle stock in Vadodara city grew at a compound annual rate of 5%, in contrast over the five-year period 2007-11, vehicle stock has shown a negative growth. 

  • This could be attributed to two factors- i) scrapping of vehicles older than 15 years and ii) re-classification of RTO jurisdiction into Vadodara urban (GJ-06) and Vadodara Rural (GJ-29). 

  • More than 86% of the vehicles registered are for private mobility, of which 76% are two-wheelers and a bit more than 10% are four-wheelers. 

  • Road provisions for 60,000 two-wheelers and 10,000 cars would have to be made every year.

  • Assuming a road space requirement of 40 m2 for a car and 10 m2 for every two-wheeler would imply a road provision of around 1,000,000 m2 or 1km2 every year. 

  • In standard road dimensions, this provision is equivalent to constructing a road 10 kilometres long and 100 metres wide or road space equivalent to a road 33 km long and 30 m wide. 

  • At the going rate, the existing road infrastructure would get exhausted i.e. get converted to parking spaces within a decade. 

  • Against the backdrop of a mismatch between road construction rates and increasing private vehicle ownership, it may be concluded that Vadodara is on course to a congested future. 

  • In case the town planners intend to implement the proposals of where cities were expected to construct a maze of arterial roads a kilometre apart, the city of Vadodara would have to add another 98 kilometres of road and increase the area under roads by 9.8 Sq Km. 

  • Even with these proposals, whether these newly constructed roads can compensate for the above-mentioned mismatch or whether these roads would induce new traffic remains a pertinent question. 

  • These facts reveal that road expansion for facilitating private vehicles may not be a viable strategy. Thus, it can be inferred, that interventions in the form of ward-level mode priorities and plans for public transport need to be envisaged.

  • The paucity of quality public transport has pushed Vadodara on a private mode centric growth.

  • From the analysis of road infrastructure, it is observed that at present the infrastructure supporting non-motorized transport is in a dismal state. 

  • Even prior to the commencement of the 12th five-year plan (2012-17), vehicle density in the city had surpassed the 2020 projections. 

  • Supporting this private vehicle growth through road expansion does not appear to be feasible. According to the Census-2011 data, the wards are dense enough to operate a financially sustainable bus transport system. 

  • On mapping the ward densities to the carrying capacity of public transport, it is observed that half of the wards have a trip-generating capacity that can be supported by a light rail transport/tram. 

  • It is forecasted that Vadodara would expand two folds. The radial distance would increase from the present 7.11 km to 13.37. Simultaneously the core density would reduce from 47,898 persons per square kilometres to more than 20,000 persons. 

  • To ensure Vadodara’s transport remains sustainable, a combination of bus (basic) and light rail transport need to be planned and constructed. 

  • Light rail transport would be operational in the inner city (around 3/4th of the surface area).

A case study on para-transit mode (auto-rickshaw) of Vadodara, by Bhayji Javid and Jayesh Juremalani, Parul Institute of Engineering and Technology, Vadodara, India (2018 JETIR April 2018, Volume 5, Issue 4).

Key observations

  • The city does not have any public transportation facility excluding a few city buses. 

  • Auto-rickshaws are the major mode of transportation - more than 75000 para-transit vehicles. 

  • The study attempts to assess the role and contribution of auto-rickshaws (AR). 

  • On one side, ARs play an important role; on the other, they are creating issues. 

  • Mostly provide two types of services: one involving trips along a more or less defined route with stops to pick up or alight passengers on request. The other is demand-responsive transport which can offer door-to-door last-mile connectivity in a service area. 

  • They are becoming more and more popular in mid-size Indian cities. 

  • Apart from flexible movements to the passengers, they also provide employment to thousands.

Findings and recommendations

  • Passenger distribution is imbalanced because the majority of drivers are running their auto-rickshaw with shuttle system. 

  • A probable solution: city police should take action against the drivers who are riding ARs with more than three passengers. 

  • City police should take measures to restrict the shuttles in the city. 

  • Drivers stop their ARs regardless of stop points thereby creating congestion on the roads of city. 

How can we improve the services of the auto-rickshaw sector?

  1. Pre-defined stoppages to pick up and align passengers. 

  2. The maximum number of passengers should be less than or equal to the capacity of the vehicle. 

  3. Control noise pollution. 

  4. Old auto-rickshaw may be removed from the city for environmental pollution control. 

  5. Fare revision should be done periodically. 

  6. To reduce congestion new parking lots should be provided.

MODE CHOICE ANALYSIS IN VADODARA Mansi C. Rupani, Dr. L. B. Zala, Amit A. Amin 1M. Civil Engineering (Transportation Engineering), BVM Engineering College, Vallabh Vidhyanagar, India (2019 JETIR April 2019, Volume 6, Issue 4).

  • The City faces a lack of street space, resulting in conflicts between people, goods and vehicles, accentuated by a high motorization rate. 

  • Studies have shown that the VTCOS bus services in the city are not available uniformly. 

  • The frequency of the buses is also not adequate. 

  • People in Vadodara majorly prefer two-wheelers for travel. 

  • ARs are generally preferred for short-length trips. 

  • The comfort offered to passengers is not satisfactory. 

  • The rising number of vehicles poses a problem as the road width has not increased accordingly. Even vehicle parking has become a major issue in congested areas. 

  • The cumulative effects of all these factors have a negative impact on the travel efficiency of commuters.

  • The results show that commuters give more importance to the comfort of travel. Travel purpose and travel timeshare almost equal priority. 

  • Travel cost is the second most crucial factor In choosing the mode of travel. According to the majority of commuters, the existing public transport in the city is not satisfactory. 

  • 43.2% find the city’s public transportation noisy, 41.8% find it dirty, and 39.8% of crowded. 

Paradigm shift: Infrastructure will make or break our response to climate breakdown (source WEF): 

  • To address climate change we will need more and better mass transit to get people out of their cars and to encourage greater population density in urban areas to reduce the distance people need to travel to work. This will require more urban infrastructure such as municipal water, urban parks and recreation, and cultural centres such as museums to improve the quality of urban life.

  • The American automotive industry worked with the US Federal government to advance driving and succeeded through the installation of facilitating infrastructure. This legacy is part of the challenge the United States faces today.

  • Going electric does not solve our problems, it only deepens them.

In conclusion

Aren’t we too obsessed with surface transport? The story of the world’s largest auto market offers a lot of learning. Would a switch from fossil fuel solve it all? Electric cars do not appear to be the silver bullet. As I gather from a senior software scientist on the current reality of Vadodara roads, “generates traffic simulations based on input data. Might crash if fed in inputs about auto rickshaws and stray cattle!” 

Can we embed good health and well-being (SDG3) thereby creating sustainable cities & communities that are safe, affordable, and accessible? And have sustainable transport by expanding public transport (SDG11)? 

Last but not least, can we recreate a sustainable future the Maharaja Sayaji Rao would have created - for the next 100 years - when faced with an escalating climate crisis?

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Praveen Gupta was the second most-read author in the environment and sustainability space for illuminem in 2022, and the third most read in climate change during 2023. A former insurance CEO and a Chartered Insurer, he researches, writes, and speaks on diverse subjects. His blog captures much of the work.

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