There is now a growing recognition that cities can become sustainable only if auto dependence can be reduced. Says Newman, "Rapidly developing cities that have not put in place any physical or economic restraints on traffic, have not built high quality transit system, and have not protected their traditional forms of non-motorised mobility from the onslaught of motorised traffic, now have huge traffic problems as well as associated environmental and social problems."
The key problem for transit systems in developing cities is the lack of a politically powerful and well-coordinated city planning system that could approve and implement the building of quality, fixed-transit infrastructure. But Singapore has been able to overcome this problem. A White Paper on land transport in Singapore was prepared and debated in the country's Parliament in 1996 and approved in 1999. It states that Singapore will build a "seamless" public transport system. When the system is achieved, every Singaporean, including car owners, should have easy access to a wide selection of public transport choices to suit each individual's preference and pocket. The debate also brought out the people's representatives' commitment to building a world-class public transport system while keeping it affordable and accessible.
The Singapore transport system shows that the number of private cars can effectively be kept low if a good public transport is made available and traffic restraint policies are followed. It also shows that such a system can be set up only through long-term planning and constant monitoring in order to meet the growing transport needs. But Singapore's transit system did not come without its battle. When it decided to develop MRT system in the 1970s, the World Bank had opposed this move on the ground that it would be wrong to invest in an expensive and fixed rail facility and all that was needed was to upgrade their bus facilities. But Singapore officials, with support from United Nations Development Programme, chose to go ahead with their plans. They were convinced of their plan in view of the limited availability of land area and road space. Buses alone would not offer competitive services to the car and they would not be able to implement their transit-oriented city plan without a high capacity rail service. Today, Singapore's MRT service and integrated bus system has been highly successful in both economic and environmental problems.
A city like Delhi will surely become unsustainable if car dependence in not reduced. Vehicles in Delhi are increasing by almost 8 per cent annually. Between 1990 and 1998, the total number of vehicles increased by about a whopping 85.21 per cent. Total number of vehicles on Delhi's road is a staggering three million. Delhi, with one per cent of the total population in India, has 10 per cent of the total vehicles registered in India. Without an integrated transportation system and car restraint policies, Delhi is already heading towards disaster. A headstart has to be made in Delhi to curb the menace of air pollution. The sooner the government begins the job, the better it will be for its burgeoning population.
With inputs from an article by
Avijit Gupta of University of Leeds, United Kingdom, specially prepared for Down To Earth. Written by Anumita Roychoudhury, coordinator, Right to Clean Air Campaign, Centre for Science and Environment,
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