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Heads turned and the country watched as Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, arrived at Parliament on 30 March, in the country’s first hydrogen fuel-based car. With aspirations to become a self-reliant country, he spoke on the need to produce hydrogen-based fuel in India. The unfortunate hostile conditions and sanctions against Russia have curtailed the global supply of crude oil – India imports 85 percent of its crude oil1, worth Rs 8 lakh crore. The cascading effect of this is the need to speed up investments in alternative sources of energy to offset the ever-increasing fuel prices and to meet India’s COP26 commitments. So, is hydrogen that alternate?
Let’s first break down the anatomy of a hydrogen-fuelled vehicle. A hydrogen vehicle has a hydrogen tank that feeds a fuel cell which provides energy, when mixed with oxygen, to power an electric motor. Basically, it has the characteristics of an electric car (because of the electric motor) and a conventional petrol car (as it has a tank). The fuel cell is what turns hydrogen gas into electricity that powers the electric motor and gives it that energy to move. Thus, there are no toxic tailpipe emissions and the only by-product of this process is water and heat. So what’s the catch here?
Firstly, research shows that hydrogen technology, its infrastructure, and supply, are still years behind electric vehicles (EV). In 2021, India reported a total of 1,640 operational public EV chargers in just about 9 cities2. What India needs is 400,000 charging stations to meet the requirement for two million EVs by 2026! Now that we are merely four years away from meeting our goal, the government has undertaken initiatives to fast-track the manufacturing and adoption of electric vehicles in India but the process has been slow. We are still trying to fit the EV puzzle together; are we ready to take on hydrogen?
Secondly, producing hydrogen gas is not as simple as one would imagine, albeit it being the most common element in the universe. If we wish to use hydrogen as fuel, it needs to be produced using other compounds such as water, natural gas, and other fossil fuels3 – this is when its environmental impact starts to become a concern. The Green Hydrogen Policy that was unveiled in India in 2022 gave a green signal to renewable energy plants to produce this fuel – but it can only be considered ‘green’ if the renewable energy source that produces hydrogen is also green. That is not the case in India. In short, the process of steam-reforming through which hydrogen is produced leaves behind carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide as by-products that contribute to atmospheric carbon.
And lastly, let’s address the elephant in the room – the cost factor. India is aiming to produce 5 million tonnes of ‘green hydrogen’ by 2030. The industry giants such as Adani Enterprises and Reliance have already drawn up plans to invest in manufacturing hydrogen fuel cells. But, for now, the uptake of hydrogen in the transport sector is minimal because of the lack of a distribution system and the cost attached to it. Hydrogen is highly flammable and for it to reach vehicles, it needs to be transported safely. Existing natural gas pipelines aren’t suited for this purpose. Technology and innovations can bring costs down – a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation indicated that costs of green hydrogen can decrease to Rs 340 per kg by 2050, which currently costs a whopping Rs 500 – 1000 per kg.
Despite hydrogen being a promising alternative fuel solution, there are several challenges to its adoption in the near future. It will take years for the technology to become affordable enough to reach the masses. It took Delhi 7-8 years to completely shift to CNG (including the infrastructure) – a fuel that was readily available; hydrogen fuel is still at its innovation stage. However, India carved out a path to march along with its peers in the developed world to achieve climate goals – its COP26 commitments are commendable. And with an eye toward meeting these commitments, India can focus on electrification and a shift to more affordable, sustainable modes of transport.
Written by Kashmira Dubash,
Senior Programme Manager – Communications, Development, and Partnerships.
Social welfare, equity, and inclusivity are core to Tamil Nadu’s DMK-led Government. TN Budget 2022-23 builds on these ideals and has proposed several new initiatives for urban transport and urban development.
Here’s our take on what these proposals could do, why we’re glad for some, and what we recommend for others.
An amount of Rs.322 crore has been provided towards post-matric scholarship for Backward Classes, Most Backward Classes and Denotified Communities students and an amount of Rs.162 crore towards supply of free bicycles, in this Budget.
Why we’re glad
Bicycles can enable students to easily access education and other opportunities. As India moves towards a net-zero future, it is crucial that we encourage low-to-zero emission modes such as walking, cycling, and public transport.
Along with the free bicycles, it is also important to provide the right ecosystem and infrastructure that support cycling, not just for students but for everyone! Creating a network of safe cycle lanes, making junctions safer, developing cycling-friendly neighborhoods, allocating cycle parking stands, and providing affordable cycle repairs are a few steps that cities can take.
The Government will develop 500 parks to create public recreational spaces and enhance the quality of life in urban areas.
Why we’re glad
Chennai currently has less than 10% of the national standard of open space per person.*
Since COVID-19, there’s been great emphasis on protecting and preserving our physical and mental health, and parks enable and maintain active lifestyles. Not just that, parks and green spaces help boost local economies, revitalize neighborhoods, lower crime, and also prevent flooding.
* Urban and Regional Development Plans Formulation and Implementation (URDPFI) guidelines
The 50-metre wide stretch of land adjoining the eastern side of the Outer Ring Road (ORR) from Minjur to Vandalur with a length of 62 kms will be developed as a Development Corridor.
This presents a unique opportunity to design safe, compact, vibrant, and mixed-use neighbourhoods that connect people with work and play without the hassle of long commutes.
Developing robust local area plans with a well-designed network of walking, cycling, and public transport facilities that reduce dependence on personal motor vehicles can go a long way in creating and sustaining healthy and happy communities.
In order to encourage transit-oriented development (TOD) in certain corridors such as metro rail, suburban rail, national highways and bye pass roads, the Government has decided to raise the existing Floor Space Index (FSI) in adjoining areas.
TOD brings people, activities, buildings, and public spaces together, with shorter walking and cycling connections between them and high-quality public transport to the rest of the city. When TOD planning is inclusive, people of all ages, genders, abilities, and income levels thrive. We hope that CMDA’s Third Master Plan will achieve that in Chennai!
While the initiative is great, TOD is easier conceptualised than implemented. For a successful TOD, interdisciplinary elements such as infrastructure, street, building planning, and design, building codes, regulation reform, and finance must be aligned. This requires participation from decision & policymakers, experts, developers & investors, future residents, and civic organisations.
As a result of the announcement by the Hon’ble Chief Minister to provide free bus service to women, the share of women passengers has increased from 40 per cent to 61 per cent. The scheme has had a huge impact on the socio-economic status of women. In the Budget, Rs.1,520 crore will be provided as subsidies towards free bus travel for women, Rs.928 crore as subsidy for student concession in bus fare and Rs.1,300 crore as diesel subsidy.
The scheme has empowered several women, transgender people, and persons with disabilities. In Chennai’s MTC Ordinary Bus services alone, they have benefitted with over 16.3 crore free tickets.
However, these buses tend to be overcrowded, and clearly, we need more frequent Ordinary Services. By using ITDP India’s People-Near-Transit Analysis Methodology, TN cities can map frequent bus services and their coverage, understand the gaps, and augment the fleet accordingly. Our analysis shows that 4 out of 10 people in Chennai do not have access to frequent buses within a 10-min walking distance.
Under the ‘Climate-Friendly Modernisation of Buses in Major Cities of Tamil Nadu’ Project being implemented with KfW assistance, 2,213 BS-VI new diesel buses and 500 new electric buses will be procured.
Expanding our fleet with over 2700 low-to-zero emissions buses is a great start, but we still need many more buses. As per MoHUA’s benchmark of 60 buses/lakh population, Tamil Nadu’s 8 major cities (Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Trichy, Salem, Erode, Tiruppur & Tirunelveli) need an additional 12,900 buses (including 4,600 buses as a replacement for the old fleet).
However, amidst the unending traffic caused by cars and motorcycles, bus passengers suffer too. What if our buses could move in their own lane, separate from all that congestion? More on this in our next recommendation.
To decongest the increasing traffic on the East Coast Road, it is necessary to widen the four-lane road up to Akkarai as a six-lane road…The remaining stretches covering Neelangarai, Injambakkam and Sholinganallur villages will be widened to six-lane at a cost of Rs.135 crore.
Data shows that widening roads does not reduce traffic congestion, rather increases it.
Wide roads attract more vehicles and high speeds-the biggest reason for road crash deaths in Tamil Nadu. Chennai must use traffic calming methods, create well-designed footpaths & cycle lanes, provide crossings, refuge islands, and other facilities to ensure that the ECR stretch is safe and comfortable for all.
Instead of adding more lanes for cars and two-wheelers, Chennai should focus on creating quick-to-install ‘dedicated lanes’ for buses. These bus lanes reduce travel time by 20-30% during peak hour traffic, and help increase ridership and revenue (Bangalore’s NIMBUS saw a 64% increase in ticketing revenue!).
Last year, the TN Budget outlined several reformative initiatives, and Budget 22-23 continues to do that with progressive proposals- such as TOD planning, free cycle schemes, more parks and open spaces, subsidies for bus travel, and more green & clean buses.
ITDP India is committed to supporting Tamil Nadu in its transformation and helping create healthy streets and healthy cities all across the state. We are hopeful that Tamil Nadu’s cities will leverage the initiatives announced in the budget, and become thriving centres for life.
Over the last two decades, India has seen a steady decline in public transport ridership, especially that of buses. Growing incomes and the need for speed and comfort have led people to shift to personal motor vehicles (PMVs); while the ones who cannot afford this shift continue to deal with poor bus services. Our streets are a cacophonous sea of vehicles—with LOTS of cars and two-wheelers, dotted here and there with just a few buses, all trying to outrun each other but clearly, there is no space. The result? Everyone’s stuck in endless traffic—that’s choking our streets, and our lungs too.
What can cities do to tackle this burgeoning issue, that’s costing us time, money, and lives? What attractive alternatives can cities present, so people can ditch their cars and two-wheelers and shift to other low-carbon modes? And most importantly, how can public transport, especially buses, become that alternative for PMV users, and the default choice for everyone else?
Enter Transport4All Digital Innovation Challenge. An initiative by the Smart Cities Mission of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), the Challenge aims to make public transport safe, reliable, and affordable for everyone—including women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities—so they can comfortably access work, education, and other opportunities.
Kickstarted in April’21 and spanning across two years, the Challenge focuses on digital innovation in public transport and brings together cities, citizens, and startups to develop solutions in key areas, such as fare products and payment solutions; service planning and monitoring; and passenger Information and interaction. More than 130 Indian cities signed up to participate in the Challenge!
Why collaborate with Startups
The Transport4All Digital Innovation Challenge aims to make the most of the talent within India’s startup ecosystem—the third-largest in the world. This year, Honourable Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi even dedicated 16th January as ‘National Startup Day’, acknowledging the immense potential that startup innovations have. The public transport sector, too, stands to greatly benefit from these innovations.
The Challenge will connect cities to startups with the ability to develop robust contextual solutions for public transport, and conduct large-scale pilots in at least 10 cities. Startups and cities will also receive guidance from experts and feedback from citizens. The best solutions shall also be implemented by multiple cities across India, through an easy procurement process.
Stages of the Challenge
The Transport4All Digital Innovation Challenge has three Stages—
Stage 1 is for problem identification—where cities, with the support of citizens and NGOs, identify key recurring problems that citizens and public transport operators face.
Stage 2 is for solution generation—where startups develop prototypes of solutions to improve public transport with inputs from cities, experts, & NGOs.
Stage 3 is for pilot testing—where cities engage startups for large-scale pilots and refine the solutions based on citizen feedback.
Set up of public transport task-forces in 99+ cities
Stage 1 witnessed the formation of 99 Transport4All Task Force—that brings together all stakeholders and departments responsible for public transport in the city into one big collective. These include the Municipal Corporation, Smart City Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), City Bus Undertaking, Metro and Suburban Rail, Regional transport office, Traffic Police, Road Owning Agencies, IPT unions, NGOs, and Academic Institutes working in the field of sustainable mobility. The Task Force ensures a fast, collaborative, and integrated decision-making process.
Over 2.4 lakh survey responses to identify problem statements
Stage 1 saw cities join forces with more than 200 NGOs for an intense data collection exercise—the largest of its kind in India — to understand from citizens and public transport operators the problems that they experience. ITDP India guided cities with survey questionnaires, trained NGOs and officials on how to conduct these surveys, and also provided easy-to-use Excel templates to analyze the data.
45 cities surveyed more than 2 lakh citizens—of varying genders, age groups, abilities, and socio-economic status—and recorded the issues they faced. Cities and NGOs surveyed 17,000 bus drivers and conductors to know their operational difficulties. Through surveys and in-person interviews, they also noted the concerns of the 25,000 informal public transport drivers, a group that is often ignored in India’s transport planning. Cities used insights from these surveys and consultations to frame five key problem statements in consultation with the Task Force.
What comes next
In Stage 2 of the Challenge, cities will engage with startups to create solutions for the shortlisted problem statements. Startups will develop and beta-test prototypes with inputs from cities and NGOs. A jury consisting of a panel of experts will identify 1-2 winners for each problem statement, based on how well their solutions cater to the present and future needs of citizens.
Winning startups will receive an award of ₹10 lakhs per solution from MoHUA and will be eligible to pilot their solutions in interested cities in Stage 3. Cities will procure the services of startups for a large-scale pilot and refine the solutions based on citizens’ and experts’ feedback.
Through the Transport4All Digital Innovation Challenge, cities have a unique opportunity to reimagine and reform their public transport system, where fares would no longer be a barrier to travel and everyone can afford it, and public transport would no longer be the last, but the first choice of all.
After all, like Enrique Penalosa, Former Mayor of Bogota, rightly points out, “A developed country is not a place where the poor use cars, it’s where the rich use public transportation.”
We’d like to acknowledge the leadership of the Ministry of Housing and Affairs, Smart Cities Mission, and Urban Transport—hosts for the Transport4All Digital Innovation Challenge. We thank our knowledge partners, the World Bank, for bringing their global technical expertise in digital innovation and guiding startups and cities. We also thank the technology platform partners, Cix and Startup India, for engaging with startups and for providing a platform for cities and startups to collaborate easily.
As Co-host and Coordinator for the Challenge, ITDP India provides technical and communication expertise to cities, facilitates capacity-building workshops and one-on-one sessions with them, and sets up peer-learning platforms so cities can learn from one another.
Written by: Aishwarya Soni
Edited by: Kashmira Dubash
With inputs from Vaishali Singh
With the intent to develop a long term behavioural change in citizens towards taking up walking & cycling and to make city leaders as walking and cycling champions in each city, Smart Cities Mission, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) launched two unique initiatives for the first time: “Freedom2Walk&Cycle Challenge for City Leaders” & “Inter-City Freedom2Walk&Cycle Challenge for Citizens” between 1st to 26th January 2022. MoHUA hosted an online awards event on 17th February to recognise the top performing cities and city leaders in both the Challenges. The event also laid out the goals that cities from India Cycles4Change, Streets4People & Transport4All Challenges will be working towards 2023. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) is the knowledge partner of Smart Cities Mission for the above mentioned initiatives.
Impact of the Challenges
The City Leaders Challenge saw registration from nearly 130 city leaders from across the country, comprising of Commissioners, Additional/Joint/Deputy Commissioners, Smart City CEOs and key SPV officials who jointly clocked in nearly 47,000kms of cycling, 7000kms of walking and 2500kms of running during the Challenge! The Citizens Challenge saw an overwhelming participation from nearly 22,000 citizens from the 75 registered cities, who jointly clocked in nearly 9,80,000km of cycling, 1,82,000 km of walking and 9,350 km of running.
The awards for the City Leaders Challenge were given to the following categories for their performance between 1st to 26th Jan 2022:
1. Cities with maximum kilometers
2. City leaders with maximum kilometers
3. Woman city leaders with maximum kilometers
4. City leaders with maximum time spent in activities
5. City leaders with maximum number of activities during challenge
6. Awards for Ministers, CEOs & Commissioners with maximum kilometers
7. Super Hero Award
The awards for the Citizens Challenge were given to the following categories for their performance between 1st to 26th Jan 2022:
1. Cities with maximum kilometers
2. Cities with maximum registrations
Towards sustaining the momentum beyond the challenge, the participating cities are in the process of signing pledges committing towards institutionalising activities like Cycle2Work, Open Street Events, Pedestrian Days and physical infrastructure to improve walking and cycling in cities.
18 Cities – Ajmer, Nashik, Rajkot, Lucknow, Kalyan Dombivli, Bhubaneswar, Jabalpur, Tumakuru, Surat, Valsad, Dahod, Nagpur, Ranchi, Chandigarh, Kakinada, Ujjain, Pimpri Chinchwad, Indore have signed the pledges so far. Aurangabad, Jaipur, Davanagere, Sagar, Pune are in the process.
Quotes from city leaders on the Freedom2Walk&Cycle Challenge
I have started cycling more often to work and for recreation over the last couple of years. Not only have I become more physically and mentally fit, it has given me a different perspective towards looking at the city and its needs. Cycling is a humble yet very powerful tool that can transform the cities we live in. I urge all city leaders and citizens to experience their cities through walk and cycle and become champions who inspire othersKunal Kumar, Joint Secretary, Smart Cities Mission, MoHUA
The Challenge is an excellent initiative that brought me closer to my old love, cycling. The consistency of the other participants and the appreciation from my fellow colleagues has been motivating me every single day to clock in a ride. I also urge my fellow women leaders to break the stereotypes and take to cycling. It has empowered me and I’m sure it will do so for you too. Let’s seek inspiration from Serena Williams, Krishna Punia, Mithali Raj, PV Sindhu and let’s choose to be more fit, enjoy the thrill, and contribute to making the planet green.Padmini Singh, Chief Account Officer, ASCL, Ajmer
I am extremely grateful for the Freedom to Walk & Cycle Challenge for having triggered a regular walking habit and I look forward to continuing the walks even after the Challenge is complete! Overall, walking is a great solution for physical and mental health and I see the benefits first hand. It keeps my mind agile, fresh, active and focussed throughout the entire day! Over and above this, it is also a good environmental solution in times of climate change.Walking and cycling short distances to work, or to run small errands is absolutely doable by everyone. I urge my fellow colleagues, friends, other city leaders as well as citizens to pick up this habit as a way of life.Pallavi Bhagat, Deputy Commissioner, Kalyan Dombivli
Initiatives like these challenges for city leaders and citizens have the potential to change your life and the culture of your city. My personal journey of walking and cycling started in 2014 through a similar official assignment and it has been one of my best decisions! It improved my physical fitness and my productivity at work. I have seen a huge impact of such interventions in the way people have responded to running, walking or cycling and it has also helped in bringing city leaders & citizens closer! I would strongly urge my fellow city officials and citizens to take up walking and cycling. Let’s start walking and commuting to work on cycle whenever possible and let’s make a difference together.Chetan Nandani, CEO Rajkot Smart City Development Ltd (RSCDL) & Dy. Municipal Commissioner, Rajkot Municipal Corporation
It’s been heartening to see how citizens and city leaders embraced the two national level challenges and that nearly 15 cities have already signed pledges committing to institutionalisng initiatives that promote walking and cycling. It is campaigns like these that help instill long term behavioral change in citizens towards taking up walking & cycling!Aswathy Dilip, South Asia Director, Institute for Transportation & Development Policy
From international leaders being an inspiration for us walking and cycling to work, our leaders are now being an inspiration worldwide! Being part of the coordinating team for the challenges, it was inspiring for us to see the level of participation and excitement that cities and city leaders showed for the two national level challenges! The impact numbers and experiences shared by city leaders reflect the success of this initiative.A V Venugopal, Deputy Manager – Healthy Streets & Partnerships, ITDP India
Video testimonials from city leaders
The Union Budget 2022 is forward-looking and features several proposals to reform urban development and urban transport.
Here’s our take on what these proposals could do, why we’re glad for some, and what we recommend for others.
Modernization of building byelaws, Town Planning Schemes (TPS), and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) will be implemented. This will facilitate reforms for people to live and work closer to mass transit systems. The Central Government’s financial support for mass transit projects and AMRUT scheme will be leveraged for formulation of action plans and their implementation for facilitating TOD and TPS by the states.
Why we’re glad
If done right, modern building byelaws can help create mixed, compact neighbourhoods; eliminate or decrease parking minimums; set guidelines for more active street edges, leading to more safe, lively, and vibrant streets.
TPS would densify urban street networks with smaller block sizes, thus, people can comfortably walk and cycle.
TOD would bring people closer to public transport and improve their access to work, education, and other opportunities.
For developing India specific knowledge in urban planning and design, and to deliver certified training in these areas, up to five existing academic institutions in different regions will be designated as centres of excellence.
Why we’re glad
The centres would produce experts who can partner with local governments to create cities that work for everyone—cities that are safe, accessible, and vibrant!
We will promote a shift to use of public transport in urban areas. This will be complemented by clean tech and governance solutions, special mobility zones with zero fossil-fuel policy, and EV vehicles.
Why we’re glad
High-quality public transport helps more people move at a relatively low cost. Look at Singapore, where people rely on buses and metros to commute everywhere!
By discouraging fossil fuel use, people may be inclined to opt for better alternatives—walking, cycling, and public transport—thereby reducing carbon emissions and taking us closer to our COP26 commitment.
PM GatiShakti Master Plan for Expressways will be formulated in 2022-23 to facilitate faster movement of people and goods. The National Highways network will be expanded by 25,000 km in 2022-23. 20,000 crore will be mobilized through innovative ways of financing to complement the public resources.
Our highways are hotspots for road crash deaths—especially that of pedestrians—because of the high vehicle speeds.
On highway stretches that pass through cities, slow down vehicular speeds through appropriate traffic calming measures. Create safe crossings and intersections for pedestrians and cyclists.
Road deaths are preventable. Let’s aim for Vision Zero!
Innovative ways of financing and faster implementation will be encouraged for building metro systems of appropriate type at scale. Multimodal connectivity between mass urban transport and railway stations will be facilitated on priority. Design of metro systems, including civil structures, will be re-oriented and standardized for Indian conditions and needs.
Metros are expensive to build for ANY city. Our focus should be on making existing metros more accessible for everyone—provide frequent buses as feeders to the station, install public sharing bicycle docks, and create safe cycle tracks and footpaths so people can conveniently reach there. Informal public transport modes—e-rickshaws, share autos, vans—can also bring more riders for the metro.
By the time of India @ 100, nearly half our population is likely to be living in urban areas. To prepare for this, orderly urban development is of critical importance…For this, on the one hand we need to nurture the megacities and their hinterlands to become current centres of economic growth. On the other hand, we need to facilitate tier 2 and 3 cities to take on the mantle in the future. This would require us to reimagine our cities into centres of sustainable living with opportunities for all, including women and youth.
Connect people and opportunities with robust and attractive infrastructure for walking, cycling, and public transport. Reduce dependence on personal motor vehicle use. Create vibrant streets and open public spaces where people can sit, linger, take a walk, cycle, support local businesses, and have fun! Our urban areas need that to become thriving centres for life.
Considering the constraint of space in urban areas for setting up charging stations at scale, a battery swapping policy will be brought out and inter-operability standards will be formulated. The private sector will be encouraged to develop sustainable and innovative business models for ‘Battery or Energy as a Service’. This will improve efficiency in the EV ecosystem.
Batteries are why electric buses are SO expensive and unaffordable for cities right now. That’s why India should first engage with private players to produce low-cost batteries for e-buses and e-rickshaws, before they focus on personal motor vehicles.
‘Battery swapping policy’ eliminates the need for charging infra, but still doesn’t solve the bigger problem. Personal motor vehicles choke our streets with traffic, and electrifying them will reduce pollution, NOT congestion.
With a focus on electrification, Budget 2022 holds promise for a better future, that would NOT be powered by fossil fuels. With TPS and TOD, cities can create more mixed, compact neighbourhoods that are walkable, cyclable, and well-serviced by high-quality frequent public transport, where people can safely and comfortably access work and play opportunities.
With the support of the Union Budget, Indian cities have immense potential to turn into thriving centres for life. Fingers crossed that this year is the beginning of big transformations.
Lockdown—the one word we dread to hear but the one word that has resonated with us since 2020. Memes popped across the globe about saving the world by staying indoors; masks made a fashion statement; the airline industry lost over USD $100 billion in revenue; Zoom was our new classroom. We watched in agony the news on daily death tolls and endless demand for hospital beds and oxygen cylinders. We were empathetic yet helpless. But for the India Relief Riders the pandemic was nature’s call for help, for humanity.
From seven cyclists on day one of the lockdown in 2020, to 725 by the end of the second lockdown in 2021, this group of volunteers served 2,500 people across 13 cities delivering medicines, food, clothing and other essentials to the most vulnerable in the community. All this, while saving more than 5 tonnes of CO2 emissions in the process. People even came to rely on their delivery services to survive quarantines. Their noble efforts echoed worldwide and inspired others like the Bike Brigade in Toronto to follow their model.
We are in conversation with Sathya Sankaran (The Bicycle Mayor of Bengaluru), Felix John (The Bicycle Mayor of Chennai) and Santhana Selvan (The Bicycle Mayor of Hyderabad) who lead efforts of the Relief Riders in their respective cities. Hear their stories—what kept them going, what made them vulnerable, and how they felt about being nominated for the prestigious 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
Ready? Steady. Pedal!
Q1 How did the idea for ‘Relief Riders’ come about especially at a time when staying indoors was the new norm? Was there a particular incident that instigated this act of kindness?
Sathya: A day into the lockdown, someone on Twitter asked “What are the cyclists of Bengaluru doing?”. So, I asked the #CycleToWork ambassadors group if they were interested in delivering supplies. Seven signed up immediately. In 24 hours, we had 30 people on a Relief Riders WhatsApp group— with some providing their numbers to take request calls, and others chiming in with coordination roles. We opened up to all cyclists in the city and before the end of the first lockdown we had 80 people in Bengaluru delivering supplies to more than 250 families.
Santhana and Felix drew inspiration from Sathya and kickstarted efforts in Hyderabad and Chennai. It was also their opportunity to change the perception of cyclists in India.
Santhana: We want to reiterate the point that Cyclists are not a problem on the road, but they are the solution on the road.
Q2 Batman had a fear of bats. Deadpool feared clowns and cows. Wolverine had a fear of flying and drowning. What made you vulnerable during your rides as a Relief Rider and how did you overcome it?
All three expressed their fear of the virus itself. This fear impelled the setting of some ground rules for the entire team, for their safety and that of the people who they helped. Thus, their tagline—“We carry supplies, not the virus”.
Felix: Yes, we were scared! Being scared is good because your brain is tuned to not repeat or make mistakes—survival instincts. We developed strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) which was disseminated to the volunteers.
Sathya: We never went into people’s homes and left the supplies at a safe distance. We had algorithms that would spread the sorties among many people and also identified closest riders to reduce exposure. We asked people to mark themselves as ‘inactive’ from deliveries if they were infected, in quarantine zones, or in contact with infected people.
Santhana: We as a community made sure that we were all fully vaccinated, by conducting volunteer drives. Even the government supported this by providing vaccination to our community.
Q3 It started off in Bangalore and spread like wildfire to cities like Chennai, Delhi-NCR, Hyderabad, and many more. How were you able to scale-up so fast in more than 12 cities?
Santhana: While bad things spread fast, Relief Riders is proof that good things can spread faster. In every city, the efforts were initiated and led by the Bicycle Mayors. The cycling community came together under strong leadership, thus, the scale-up was possible.
To scale-up, the use of technology and having strong leadership was reiterated by Sathya.
Sathya: We used technology and had established a clear standard operating procedure. We borrowed open source ticketing tools, built location based algorithms which would take into account the distance of the riders from the requestor, the number of times the person has already delivered etc. For each city we identified an anchor. This person would then lead the relief efforts in their city. The key to scale is to create leadership that can operate with independence but adhering to the core philosophy and process.
Felix: The cyclists network across India is constantly growing for many reasons. And when anyone becomes a cyclist they also become empathetic and that drives every city to do their best for the people.
Q4 How many women were part of the Relief Riders groups?
Felix: There were many women riders who wanted to participate but couldn’t because their family took priority. However, flexible time slots for deliveries (when they felt safe during the day) encouraged many of them to participate.
Sathya: 17% of 275 Relief Riders in Bengaluru were women. The back office was mostly managed by women and personally I found that more work got done by the women, andmen followed the instructions of women better. Smiles
Santhana: In Hyderabad, the entire backend of the ‘food network’ we built was completely served by individual home kitchens led by women across the city.
Q5 Talk about one incident during your ride as a Relief Rider that you will remember for the rest of your life – something that made you proud of the kind of work you were doing for others.
Santhana: We had to transfer clothing, home food, medicines and essential documents from far-east to The Telangana Institute of Medical Sciences (TIMS) Gachibowli in the west. The route was very long and the hospital was full of COVID infected patients. Our Hyderabad Relief Riders did a relay ride, passing the essentials from one rider to the other!
Another incident – we delivered a rare medicine that was needed by a patient in Kurnool (outside the city limits), through a private bus driver. The medicines reached the next morning that saved his life.
While Santhana was able to draw some awe-inspiring moments of how lives were saved because of the timely efforts of the brave cyclists, Felix and Sathya look back at their journey and the thousands of lives that were impacted, including their own.
Felix: Every delivery is something to remember; the act of kindness without any expectations and receiving people’s empathy and their blessings is everything to remember and be proud of. We did this for the people who did not have any help. Like I said, empathy took precedence over courage.
Sathya: From aged people who were looking for help, to the poor who couldn’t feed themselves, to the sick, hungry people who needed food and medicines, every experience of every Relief Rider just reinforced the fact that what we did made a difference to many many lives and to the city by not emitting an ounce of CO2 or any toxic fumes.
Q6 I’m sure you have loved ones who may have been concerned about you stepping out during the peak of the pandemic. How supportive were they in your endeavors?
Sathya, Santhana and Felix owe their efforts to their families. The severity of the second wave in India was jolting for most; there is no doubt their families worried about their safety. But their families were just as empathetic to those who needed their help in the absence of family.
Felix even pointed out that the first point of their SOP was talking to their families about being part of this endeavor.
Santhana: As all the volunteers are full-time employees of companies, we could not compromise on the office time, but we compromised on the personal time (mornings, evenings, and nights) but our families were completely supportive. Thanks a lot to all the families who supported us.
Q7 Should cities and the people need your help again, will you continue your efforts and how do you plan on sustaining these efforts?
Santhana: While I am addressing this interview, we are also about to encounter the third wave with Omicron on the rise. We are gearing up in Hyderabad with the relaunch of Relief Riders as we speak.
Sathya: The systems we have put in place allow us to get started within a few hours with a small team and ramp up to hundreds of volunteers within a few days to be able to service in an emergency.
Q8 Describe in just one word (or two), of how you felt when you heard about the Relief Riders being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
If you wish to be a part of this endeavor, then sign up to become a Relief Rider here.
Written by: Kashmira Dubash
Senior Manager, Communications and Development, ITDP India
Please note, the article is published with consent from The Relief Riders – Sathya Sankaran (The Bicycle Mayor of Bengaluru), Felix John (The Bicycle Mayor of Chennai) and Santhana Selvan (The Bicycle Mayor of Hyderabad). The Bicycle Mayor is a BYCS initiative, intended for cities to benefit from having a catalyst representing cycling progress and the interests of the community.
In 2020, the Government of India launched the Streets4People Challenge to inspire over 100 cities to reimagine streets as safe, happy, and healthy public spaces. This is in line with National Urban Transport Policy (2006) that calls for a paradigm shift from car-centric roads to people-centric streets. In Stage 1 of the Challenge, cities worked towards the vision of creating a city-wide network of ‘Healthy Streets’.
113 cities signed up for the Streets4People Challenge. They adopted a new mantra of engaging with citizens, crowdsourcing ideas, and testing innovative, inexpensive, and quick ideas to create walking-friendly streets. Cities have transformed the challenge into one of India’s most successful community-driven movement!
We congratulate the top 15 cities who were selected as pioneers for showcasing exemplary leadership, creative on-ground transformation, and extensive collaboration with citizens. Read on to know more about the work done by the Top 15!
In Stage 2, the cities will use their learnings and continue to work towards a vision for “Healthy Streets”—integrating walking, cycling, and public transport to make streets safe and convenient for all. Stage 2 will focus on expanding their work by developing long term implementation plans, budgets, making their pilot interventions permanent and building institutional resilience to ensure that we build a nation of Healthy Streets! For those cities who have yet to start their journey, we are now launching Season 2 of both the Challenges.
Register for Season 2 here.
A toddler trots on a traffic-free Lakshmi Road. Elderly men and women, seated at Pashan-Sus Road, chortle over a conversation, their chatter punctuated by the whizz of skateboarders nearby. A mother casually walks with her baby in a stroller on an uninterrupted footpath at Aundh. Her father with a walking stick joins in too.
Everyone’s happy. Everyone’s smiling. Everyone’s moving on foot.
Welcome to India’s—and Pune’s— first Pedestrians’ Day.
On 11th December’ 21, through a series of events across the city, the city reclaimed space for pedestrians, showcased the facilities created for them, and reinforced the need for safe, comfortable, and universally accessible walking infrastructure. We congratulate the visionaries of Pune Pedestrians’ Day—Murlidhar Mohol, Mayor of Pune, and Kunal Khemnar, Additional Commissioner, Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC)—and the supporting organisations and individuals, for achieving this milestone.
Why Pedestrians’ Days are important
We all wonder what a car-free future looks like. A Pedestrians’ Day can show you what that future feels like. It puts the spotlight on the most vulnerable users of the road—the pedestrians, especially the women, children, and elderly—and raises awareness about their safety, needs, and rights. Of the 1.5 lakh road crash deaths in 2019 in India, a whopping 17% of them were pedestrians. By reclaiming space from vehicles, and letting people walk, cycle, run, and roll, the Day presents an impactful image of how our streets could and should be safely redesigned, thus leading to permanent change.
In Pune, car users who were previously sceptical and dismissive of walking projects, began to empathise with pedestrians after the event. That’s the power of a Pedestrians’ Day.
A Pedestrians’ Day? Walking is sooooo unsafe, how are we going to celebrate it?! But that’s exactly why we need one! A ‘Day’ like the ‘Environment Day’ attracts people’s attention towards related issues. It leads to discussions, ideas, initiatives, projects, and improvements. Likewise, if you want your near and dear ones to be able to walk safely, among other initiatives, start observing Pedestrians’ Day in your city.Harshad Abhyankar, Director, Save Pune Traffic Movement
Your guide to doing Pedestrians’ Day right!
Partner with local organisations, experts, and volunteers
Pulling off an event like Pedestrians’ Day is no easy feat, and a single entity or organisation may not be able to do it all. It’s smarter to collaborate with experts from different backgrounds to ideate and execute the plan for a greater impact. A city should partner with social impact organisations, urban design and planning experts, civil society groups, who best understand the local context and the issues around walking and cycling. The partners can help with managing, coordinating, and executing the Day and its various activities. Also, rope in volunteers who can help with tasks like conducting outreach, documenting with photos and videos, managing the crowd, measuring the impact, and so on.
Secure the backing of one or more city leaders
A Pedestrians’ Day is bound to get a lot of attention, and with that comes criticism too. When a leader champions pedestrians’ rights and endorses safer walking facilities, it becomes easier to get support from other city agencies and departments—like the urban local body and traffic police— who need to come together to make the event a success. In Pune’s case, the Mayor championed the Pedestrians’ Day, handled pushback from various stakeholders, and even made a public commitment at the event.
For this pedestrians’ day we (PMC) along with other NGOs have created pedestrian-friendly infrastructure in different parts of the city…. But we don’t wish to stop here. We want to see Pune having better accessible pedestrian infrastructure all across the city by our Pedestrians’ Day next year.
Murlidhar Mohol, Mayor of Pune
Host the Day around an ‘anchor’
‘Open Streets’ events are hosted globally, where streets are closed to traffic and opened to life. Does your city have a street that everyone wished was rid of cars and bikes? Along the beach, in a shopping district, or close to a lake? Choose your anchor location for Pedestrians’ Day, one that will attract people to experience this car-free carnival. Lakshmi Road, a bustling and overcrowded commercial street, was Pune’s anchor. Talks of pedestrianizing this street have been going on for more than 30 years, so it was a pretty big deal when it finally happened, even temporarily.
Pedestrians’ day was not just a celebration of past walking infrastructure projects, but it was a day to kick off multiple activities that will ensure pedestrian safety in coming years. ‘Lakshmi Road Open Street Mall’ was one of such initiatives conducted on the day. The idea behind Open Street Mall was—if we can’t stop vehicles just for a day for pedestrians to move freely on Lakshmi road, it will defeat the purpose of Pedestrians’ Day.Pranjali Deshpande, Urban Planner-NMT committee member of Pune Municipal Corporation
Alongside the anchor event, host events and activities in other parts of the city too, thus catering to a diverse demographic, with varying socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
Consult with local stakeholders
The street may be owned by the Government, but it belongs to its people. This means that there would be a lot of local stakeholders, who need to be consulted before the Day is rolled out. Shopkeepers, business owners, shoppers, residents—they may have their fair share of concerns about the event. Empathise with them. Seek their inputs and feedback on how you can improve your action plan.
When you engage them in the process, they start to feel more invested in the event, and sometimes turn into its biggest advocates too! By giving them space for dialogue, you can allay any fears or worries they may have, and reduce potential pushback.
It is imperative to solicit the feedback of the local stakeholders, at every stage of the process. The critical inputs from shopkeepers, vendors, residents, and visitors should be documented before, during, and after the event. This dialogue helps to identify concerns, create inclusive proposals, help reduce pushbacks, garner support, and most importantly, it can bring out champions for the cause.Pranjal Kulkarni, Deputy Manager-Healthy Streets & Compact Cities, ITDP India
Time it right
‘Open Streets’ events are typically hosted during the morning hours of the weekends, when there is less traffic anyway. Why not host these events across the entire day? Make a statement—that you prioritise your pedestrians and cyclists over motor vehicles—by organising the Pedestrians’ Day during busy hours. Traffic movement is likely to change, and car users may get frustrated, which brings us to the next point…
Provide alternate ways for people to reach the event locations
Strategically plan how vehicles will be rerouted. Deploy special bus services and buggies for people to reach the venue conveniently. These arrangements make it easier for people to ditch their personal vehicles, and experience the Day as a pedestrian would! Communicate these details in advance so people can make an informed decision.
Organise spaces and activities for all users
Make people feel welcome—by ensuring there’s something for everyone to do. Include all age groups, genders, and abilities while planning your activities. Play and art zones, yoga sessions, laughter exercises, street performances, free cycle repair clinics— think of the different ways in which you can engage with your diverse audience. Taking it a notch higher, Pune even hosted an ‘Accessibility audit’, inviting persons on wheelchairs and with walking sticks, and caregivers with prams and strollers, to experience what a street accessible by ALL feels like.
Create hype with a robust communications strategy
To effectively reach your target audience and leverage the event for permanent change, put together a comprehensive communications strategy for all the phases—before, during, and after the event. Start by
1. Identifying the target audience: A Pedestrians’ Day has the potential to influence and impact a lot of stakeholders. But not everyone may be on board with the idea at the start. List your most important stakeholders and understand what their concerns might be.
2. Sending out the right message: Be empathetic to the concerns raised by the target audience. Try to show them the big picture by sending out the right message about the event, and its long-term benefits.
3. Choosing the right communications channels: Reach your target audience through different media. Leverage print media—newspapers have a wide readership, from city leaders to the common man. Actively post on social media. Consider other offline media too—like posters, banners, billboards, and radio.
4. Allocating the right resources: Put together a team to effectively execute the communications plan. Hire a videography agency to document the event. Monitor the plan closely, so you can pivot when required.
5. Analysing the results: Track the impact of your strategy to understand how it did, and how you can improve the strategy next time.
Measure the impact
Impact assessment tools—footfall counts, surveys, before-after photos, testimonials—demonstrate how people use and experience their spaces differently when streets are reclaimed for people to walk, cycle, and loiter on their streets, where they are not overwhelmed by the sounds, smoke, and scare of motor vehicles. If the intervention is planned in a commercial zone, increase in sales and revenue also indicate the positive outcome of making the street walkable. These numbers and stories of impact are a great way to build support for permanent pedestrian projects in the future.
The Laxmi road pedestrianisation trial was meant as a proof of concept and to get a sense of what issues will arise and how one might tackle them. It also gave us a chance to develop methodologies for collecting data, so that they could be refined based on how they worked. And while some impacts can be meaningfully measured, such as reduction in noise and pollution levels, footfalls and revenues on the other hand cannot be assessed based on a half-day event.Ranjit Gadgil, Programme Director, Parisar
That’s it! We hope that the guide inspires you to go and launch your own Pedestrians’ Day. Following Pune’s lead, other cities in India want to host Pedestrians’ Days too, and we can’t wait to see the transformation they create.
Because as Janette Sadik Khan says, “If you can change the street, you can change the world”.
We take this moment to appreciate the efforts and initiatives of:
- Organisations and individuals— Save Pune Traffic Movement, Parisar, and Pranjali Deshpande;
- PMC’s engineers—V.G. Kulkarni, Dinkar Gojare, Ardhapure;
- PMC’s urban designers—Abhijit Kondhalkar, Tanmay Bhalerao, Megha Sharma;
- ITDP India’s Pune team— Pranjal Kulkarni, Naveenaa Munuswamy, Siddhartha Godbole, Suraj Bartakke;
- The people of Pune who brought its streets to life;
and everyone else who made the Pune Pedestrians’ Day possible.
Written by: Aishwarya Soni
Edited by: Kashmira Dubash
With inputs from Naveenaa Munuswamy, Siddhartha Godbole, Pranjal Kulkarni
If you have any suggestions for our How-to guide, do share them with us at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you.
With Covid on the rise again, changes to commuting patterns and travel behaviour is beyond doubt. In 2020, as the pandemic brought cities to a halt, staying at home opened people’s willingness to commute via foot or cycle to reach essential services. Since then, cities have been forced to rethink and reshape their public spaces, streets, public transport and shift focus on people. Unfortunately, as soon as restrictions were lifted, roads were taken over by motorists en masse and cities are now grappling with traffic congestion all over again. How do we make our cities more resilient with Covid on the rise again?
With the intent to develop a long term behavioral change in citizens towards taking up walking and cycling, and to make city leaders as walking and cycling champions in each city, Smart Cities Mission, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) has launched two unique national level Challenges for the first time: “Freedom 2 Walk & Cycle Challenge for City Leaders” & “Inter- City Freedom 2 Walk & Cycle Challenge for Citizens” between 1st to 26th January 2022. ITDP India is the knowledge partner of Smart Cities Mission for the two Challenges.
Freedom 2 Walk & Cycle builds on the success of the two national-level Challenges – India Cycles4Change Challenge and the Streets4People Challenge by MoHUA and ITDP India, which was launched in 2020 to encourage cities adopt a healthy walking and cycling culture, during the pandemic.
75 cities have registered so far for the Inter-City Challenge with over 12,600 citizens sign-ups. 66 cities and nearly 300 leaders comprising Commissioners, Additional/Joint/Deputy Commissioner, Smart City CEOs and Key SPV Officials have signed up so far for the city leaders Challenge.
The participants will be required to track their walk & cycle activities daily and best performing cities will be awarded. Citizens interested to join the Freedom 2 Walk & Cycle Inter-City Challenge can register for their respective city through the website: https://www.allforsport.in/challenges or through the registration links shared by the official social media handle of the city corporation.
“I have started cycling more often to work and for recreation over the last couple of years. Not only have I become more physically and mentally fit, it has given me a different perspective towards looking at the city and its needs. Cycling is a humble yet very powerful tool that can transform the cities we live in. I urge all city leaders and citizens to experience their cities through walk and cycle and become champions who inspire others’ _ Kunal Kumar, Joint Secretary, Smart Cities Mission, MoHUA
As a part of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, MoHUA organized a successful nationwide campaign titled “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav- Freedom 2 Walk & Cycle” between October 1-3, 2021. The 100 Smart Cities actively hosted over 220+ events, to promote walking and cycling. The events ranged from activities to empower women & children to walk and cycle, to bring more pedestrians and cyclists to the streets, testing temporary interventions and more.
If you are a citizen interested in taking part in Freedom2Walk&Cycle sign-up now on https://www.allforsport.in/challenges
Winners will be announced after January 26, 2022.
Watch this space for how cities and their leaders encourage the entire nation to get active and rise above the pandemic stronger and healthier.