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ReDesigning Chennai – Towards a new paradigm for sustainable mobility

From taxi apps to car sharing, from bus rapid transit (BRT) to the metro, from bike sharing to walking, today there are more transportation choices for commuting than ever before.

Transport of goods is also not far behind, what with channels such as road, air, rail, waterways and soon even drones. Increased access to transport and enhanced connectivity decreases travel time and generates higher rates of direct employment thereby elevating overall economic opportunity.
However, the increase in mobility options comes at a high price. The challenges associated with growing traffic, especially in cities, are threateningly insurmountable. And ironically, despite the wide range of ways to get around, there have never been so many people who lack access to mass public transportation or the means to use transportation.
Personal cars were a 20th century symbol of prosperity, but in the 21st century, they contribute to three pernicious trends: congestion, road accidents and pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable transport, as envisioned in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), is defined to constitute four elements: accessibility to all, safety and security, efficiency and reliability and being green, clean and resilient. Sustainable mobility means “satisfying the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability to satisfy the needs of future generations.”

Situation in Chennai

37 per cent of Chennai residents use public transport – bus, train and para transit. The Metro Rail when fully opened, would increase this by about 2 per cent. Chennai Comprehensive Transport Study envisages the share of public transport of 70 per cent by 2026. On a daily basis, the MTS bus services take in roughly 50 lakh passengers, the suburban railway (MRTS) caters to about 18.4 lakh, whilst the Metro Rail services take in merely 24,000 passengers. Chennai is need of about 360km stretch of mass rapid transit (suburban, mono and metro), whereas only 50 per cent of this requirement is currently being met.
A worrying trend as shown in the chart below is the increasing trend to use private transport – two and four wheelers.
The impact of the above trend is that 31 per cent of the commuters using two and four wheelers occupy 64 per cent of the road space, while city bus takes 23 per cent of commuters but occupies only about 10 per cent of the road space!
A comparative study of various cities around the world shows that Chennai lacks good quality public transport.

Chennai’s Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) Policy

Chennai is among the few cities in India with a NMT policy.
The vision of this policy is:
Chennai will be a city with a general sense of well-being through the development of quality and dignified environment where people are free to walk and cycle; equitable allocation of public space and infrastructure and access to opportunities and mobility for all residents.

Goals of this NMT policy

• a minimum of 60 per cent of the Corporation’s transport budget is allocated to construct and maintain NMT infrastructure
• by 2018, build safe and continuous footpaths on at least 80 per cent of all streets,
• increase the share of walking and cycling trips to over 40 per cent and,
• most significantly, eliminate pedestrian and cyclist deaths

Design safer streets

By 2019, the population of Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA) is projected to be 10.5 million. If Tamil Nadu government’s stated goal for public transport mode share of over 40 per cent of all trips (incl. walking and cycling) is to materialise, the following estimates and guidelines will have to be met:
• Public transport should have a capacity of 11 million trips per day
• If this capacity is not built in the form of high-capacity, high-quality public transport, stated goal will not be achieved.
• Rail systems will be able to serve only around 2.5 million trips
• Bus based transport would have to serve around 7 million trips (currently serves around 5 million trips)
• Para transit, taxi aggregators and mini vans will account for the remaining trips.
• Explore other forms of mass public transport like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) with each mode complementing the other.
• These various modes of mass transport – train, bus, autos etc. need to be integrated together with (i) common ticketing (ii) real-time passenger information systems and (iii) passenger friendly access.

Passenger information system (PIS)

This is an automated system supplying users of public transport with real-time information on status of their mode of transport both inside the vehicle, at the station/bus stop or in a smart phone, thereby enabling commuters to plan their journey better. This is provided using mobile phone applications, platform level signage and automated public-address systems. Availability of information on bus / train arrival time at a bus stop/ station would help commuters to decide on which transport to take depending upon availability in a multi-modal network.

Parking management and Transit Oriented Development (TOD)

A study by Chennai Metropolitan Development Agency (CMDA) indicated that about 30 per cent of the city roads are utilised for parking! More parking spaces attract more private transport, which in turn leads to traffic congestion.
A well managed parking management system – on street and off street – together with efficient, well-connected and comfortable mass public transport systems would be the answer to reducing Chennai’s mobility problem in a sustainable way. Incentives like off-peak discounted fares on all mass public transport systems, higher parking fees, congestion charges…would encourage citizens to use of public transport, thereby reducing congestion and pollution in a sustainable way.
Chennai’s planners should look at Transit-oriented Development (TOD), by increasing FSI along major corridors, plan for mixed use, thereby densifying these stretches. This would lead to reduced travel distances and better utilisation of the air space.

The 8 main principles of TOD* are

1. Walk – the pedestrian realm is safe and complete, active and vibrant, temperate and comfortable
2. Cycle – the cycling network is safe and complete; cycle parking and storage is ample and secure
3. Connect – walking and cycling routes are direct, short and varied; walking and cycling times are less than motor vehicular routes
4. Transport – locate development near high-quality public transport
5. Mix – trip lengths are shortened by providing diverse and complementary uses (residential, commercial, recreational)
6. Densify – residential, office and commercial densities support high quality transit and local services
7. Compact – utilise existing urban areas through higher FSI, thereby having shorter commutes
8. Shift – on-street land occupied by motor vehicles is minimised by regulated parking and road use.
* Transit Oriented Development

Institutional & Financial structure

Robust institutional mechanisms must be developed and interagency coordination – Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) must be facilitated. UMTA’s data collection and monitoring programme must be defined. Information on best practices and strategic plans must be disseminated and coordinated. A dedicated Urban Transport Fund (UTF) must be set up, the contributions for which will flow from sources such as parking fees, congestion charges, vehicle taxes betterment charges, petrol cess and advertisements. However, UTF must pitch-in towards capital costs of NMT, public transport, paratransit or TDM initiatives, operating costs of NMT, public transport, paratransit, or TDM initiatives and customer information systems.

Financing structure

At State level: Firstly, lucid guidelines for allocation of funds must be established. SUT projects should take top-priority and TN government should consider funding only if roads are designed as,
‘Complete streets’ and not just ‘road projects.’ No such project must be funded which would lead to increases in the supply of parking space. Focus should be restricted to developing supporting institutional frameworks and streamlining decision making processes.

At City level: Annual budget criteria must be defined for ULBs such as –
Capital investment on NMT: >33% of total
Capital investment on PMV: <33% of total
A robust strategic mobility plan must be approved. If the city does not meet any of the above conditions for 2 or more consecutive years, funding for new and existing projects to be withheld.

Future of sustained mass public transport

The role of autonomous heavy buses in public transport can revolutionise the way we move through our cities in the future. Understanding how we can safely and efficiently manage these modes of mass transit is vital. Using integrated technologies and advanced Intermodal Transport Control Systems will be key to achieving a lasting solution. As autonomous vehicles continue to emerge, our roles and technology will adapt to help define the future of mobility. The use of Electric Vehicles (EV) is also gaining ground, thanks to improved battery technologies that are being tried out. The impact of large-scale use of EVs on the environment needs to be studied – not just the reduction in fuel emissions but also the disposal of batteries after their life cycle.
Cities like Chennai need strong policy guidance and private sector needs better visibility on the evolution of regulatory frameworks to drive tangible change – a strong push for carbon pricing, urban sustainability action plans and climate finance reforms. Getting more Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding for climate-friendly transport projects can leverage public and private investment. It is not about optimising one form of transportation over another, but rather it is about increasing the opportunity for all to live in a more prosperous, healthy and safe environment.

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