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Sustain to gain: May 2010 Archives

Delhi urban transport is surprisingly difficult to grasp. Delhi travellers can not only choose between cars, taxis, different sorts of busses, subway, bicycles or walking, but can also enter three-wheelers, such as auto rikshaws or bicycle rikshaws. The old city is so narrow and crowded with people that a single car suffocates street flow, putting riskshaws and hundreds of pedestrians on the hold. In contrast, South Delhi boasts wide avenues and immense space.

Delhi urban transport is also confronted with massive challenges. Rapid urbanization, and more crucially, rapid motorization cause constant congestion, asthma-provoking air pollution, honking-induced noise stress, regular accidents, and GHG emissions (not that this matters for local citizens). A number of recent articles addressed this issue. Sen et al. calculate the marginal external cost of urban transport in Delhi [1]. The marginal costs are dominated by congestion induced by private motorized transport, with air pollution coming in as a dominant second. Noise and accidents play a much smaller role. This is reminiscent of results from Beijing – where the urban transport induced air pollution produces about the same monetarized externalities as congestion does [2]. For citizens of Asian cities the massive consequences of air pollution may come as no surprise. Nonetheless, this observation is crucial for being different in European or US cities, and, hence, the particular focus of transportation planners on air pollution is needed in Asian cities.

Another paper by Woodstock et al. dealing with the health effects of alternative urban transport in London and Delhi uncovers an additional dimension [3]. The main finding is that a combination of reduced reliance on motorized traffic and increased active travel (pedestrain and cycling modes) produces huge health benefits. Crucially, in the two cities, but even more so for Delhi, the health benefits are dominated by active travel itself (reductions in ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and diabetes). Air pollution reduction benefits are, however, also very significant. For Delhi, the burden of road traffic injuries would also be reduced in this scenario, compared with business-as-usual.

Han et al. calculate the benefits for a shift from indivudal motorized transport to mass rapid transit in Delhi [4], recommending an acceleration of the development of the rail-based system, increasing fuel taxes and lower priority for road extension. In contrast, coming from an external cost perspective, Sen et al. recommend market-based mechanisms, such as road pricing [1].

Delhi municipality is of course cogniscitant of the challenge. Already by 2002 the public transport fleet had alreadby converted from diesel to CNG [5], improving air quality. The metro system is rapidly expanding, with 190 km of track expected to be open for the CommonWealth Games in September [6]. The network is expected to span 413 km in 2021. Delhi also constructed the first bus rapid transit line in the city. Arguably, the municipality does its share in the domain of public transit investment – again similar to Beijing. However, and sharing this experience with Beijing, too, mass rapid transit, that mostly induces additional transport demand, is in times of rapidly increasing motorization not even enough to leave a dent in the increase of the massive generalized congestion costs. To make the city more liveable, cars need to be restrained, by physical or financial disincentives. A newspaper from May 11, 2010, suggests that Delhi municipality is heading into this direction: a congestion charge is under discussion [7]. Implementing this more aggressive measure, Delhi would seriously move towards sustainable transport and would leapfrom cities like New York and Beijing.

[1] Sen et al. (2010) Estimating marginal external costs of transport in Delhi. Transport Policy 17: 27–37

[2] Creutzig and He (2009) Climate change mitigation and co-benefits of feasible transport demand policies in Beijing. Transportation Research D 14: 120–131

[3] Woodstock et al. (2009) Public health beneļ¬ ts of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: urban land transport. Lancet 374: 1930–43

[4] Han et al. (2010) Assessment of Policies toward an Environmentally Friendly Urban Transport System: Case Study of Delhi, India. Journal of Urban Planning and Development 136: 86–93

[5] Clean Air Initiative, CNG busses in Delhi, retrieved 13 May 2010

[6] Washington Post, New Delhi residents cheer arrival of new Metro system 11 May 2010

[7] ExpressIndia, Congestion charge for cars to clear air, govt weighs options 11 May 11 2010