25 years is a long time. In the two-and-a-half decades since ITDP started working in India, we’ve been fortunate to have front-row seats to many milestones in the country’s sustainable transport journey. This is a look at just one eventful decade from 2010-2019. And the last three years definitely feel longer than they were, with the pandemic forcing to us to rethink many of the things we took for granted.
As I think about this journey, I’m filled with two overwhelming feelings—gratitude and wonder.
Looking back, we’re immensely grateful for the opportunities we’ve had, the support of our partners, the wisdom of leaders and mentors, and most importantly, the relentless hard work of our team.
Looking forward, I find myself wondering one thing—what will be ITDP India’s legacy? Our team recently started a strategy discussion with this question, and it was inspiring to see what everyone thought we should be remembered for. Many of these things we hope to achieve will take a few more years, but we wanted to begin this one with a clear understanding of why we do what we do, so we can plan how to move forward.And so, as we start this year, I want to share with you five things we hope to see happen in India in 2023:
01 | A renewed and long-term focus on sustainable transport at the national level
We’ve seen great progress with three national programmes we launched with the Smart Cities Mission, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA)—the India Cycles4Change, Streets4People, and the Transport4All Challenges.
There are more big opportunities shaping up at the national level. At COP27, India submitted its Long Term Low Emission Development Strategy, with a focus on developing an integrated, efficient, and inclusive low-carbon transport system. The national government has decided to add three new missions for the implementation of its National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), including one focussed on sustainable transport. Under India’s G20 Presidency, the country will host the Urban20 Engagement Group, providing a platform for cities from G20 countries to facilitate discussions on various important issues of urban development including sustainable mobility.
We hope to see this momentum build on the progress of current national programmes with the allocation of the funds required to scale up implementation of low carbon mobility infrastructure in cities across the country.
02 | Legislative support for safe, inclusive, and sustainable urban transport
Many states and cities have been developing policies and plans for sustainable transport. But in the absence of strong statutory backing, there is a risk of many of them remaining on paper. A legislative framework for sustainable mobility would show a commitment to ensuring that every individual—including children, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups—has a right to access safe and affordable transport.
And we have examples to look at. In October 2020, Mexico included a universal right to safe mobility as an amendment to its Constitution to address the increasing number of people dying in road crashes. We don’t have to look that far, closer to home, Karnataka’s Directorate of Urban Land Transport submitted an Active Mobillity Bill to the State Legislative Assembly in 2022 that aims at protecting the rights of pedestrians and cyclists across the state.
We may not become the first country to introduce such a framework at the national level, but if we do, it would guarantee the right to over 1.4 billion people. That’s over 17% of the world’s population and almost twice the number of people in the entire European Union!
This is the time. Let’s get this right.
03 | Cities embracing low emission zones for cleaner air
Air pollution can have several health impacts including respiratory illnesses such as asthma and increased risk of premature death, particularly from heart attacks and strokes. Air pollution contributes to almost one-fifth of all deaths in India. Transport is the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in India, responsible for almost 15% of the country’s CO2 emissions, over 90% of which comes from road transport.
Some cities like Delhi and Pune have tried measures to restrict vehicles to address air quality, mostly when air pollution levels have spiked dangerously. But they have been one-off or stop-gap arrangements rather than part of a consistent strategy. Low emission zones (LEZ), can be an effective strategy to reduce transport emissions and improve air quality.
Cities like London have already demonstrated the effectiveness of LEZs. London launched an Ultra Low Emission Zone in 2019. Within 6 months of its launch, the city saw a drop of 31% in nitrogen oxides and 4% in CO2 emissions. London expanded the zone in 2021 to benefit over 4 million people, more than one-third of London’s population. The city will further expand the zone in 2023 to benefit 5 million more people.
The electric vehicle (EV) policies of many states like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh already propose the implementing of LEZs to promote a shift towards cleaner vehicles. States should leverage existing supportive policies like the EV policies but also develop state-level roadmaps to support cities implementing LEZs.
Cities have an urgent need to clean up their air and create more liveable cities for their citizens, and LEZs can be one of their routes to get there.
04 | Incentives for a private sector transition to electric buses
In India, the private sector continues to serve the majority of public transport trips across the country, both formally and informally. While approximately 130,000 buses in India are operated by the public sector, about 1.9 million buses—over 14 times that number—are operated by the private sector. Given that private buses comprise over 90% of India’s bus fleet, electrification of the private sector has huge potential to reduce emissions from the bus sector.
The private sector currently operates with limited or no financial assistance from the government. Without financial assistance, the private companies will be unable to transition to electric mobility, and will continue to use polluting vehicles.
A dialogue between the private sector and public agencies and a supportive environment with financial assistance will be critical to accelerate a private sector transition to electric mobility.
05 | Geospatial data leveraged for urban transformation
The National Geospatial Policy 2022 was notified in December, which will create an enabling ecosystem for data collection, sharing, and analysis in the country. The policy envisions using geospatial technology and data as agents of transformation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and instill accountability and transparency at all levels of governance. Transport Networks, Buildings & Settlements, and Land cover & Land use are three of its 14 themes. Accurate and updated geospatial data can inform city planning and decision-making at the national, state, and local levels.
This citizen-centric policy will bolster the existing DataSmart Cities Programme of the Smart Cities Mission, MoHUA, launched to promote data-driven governance.
We are at the cusp of a data analytics-led disruption where policy, investments, and infrastructure will be rooted in data and evidence. We hope to see cities and states harnessing the power of data to guide their sustainable transport initiatives.
We hope to see these things start to happen in 2023, and look forward to supporting the Government of India in their efforts to transform the country into a shining role model for sustainable transport.
We leave you with a year-end roundup of what we did in 2022.
And who better to hear from about our work last year than our team. Here’s a short recap from the ITDP India team:
Written by Aswathy Dilip, Managing Director of ITDP Pvt. Ltd., representing ITDP in India.