Context: Low-carbon transport system and sustainable development of economy.

What is the need for low-carbon transport system in India?

  • Urbanisation: Projections indicate that by 2026, 38% of Indians will live in cities and the urban population will grow to 534 million (“Population Projections 2026,” 2006), as against 31% and 377 million as per the 2011 census. With the exponential growth of the population, need for transportation arises, where present transportation is mostly relying on fossil fuels, so the need for low-carbon transportation is imminent.
  • Economic growth: Cities are referred to as the “engines of economic growth”. Despite having only about 30% of the total population, nearly 62-63%, of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from the urban areas. With increasing growth in future, there is a need for low-carbon growth.
  • Pollution: As per a WHO study, fourteen out of the top fifteen most polluted cities in the world belong to India. Polluted air significantly reduces the quality of life and increases the risk of diseases such as lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and chronic bronchitis. As per the World Bank, India’s welfare losses due to air pollution are currently estimated at 7.7% of GDP (PPP adjusted). By going low carbon emission vehicles huge amount of expenditure will be saved on pollution related health problems. 
  • Congestion: As per a WEF study, the number of Million-plus urban agglomerations has increased from 35 (2001) to 53 (2011). By 2030, the number is expected to grow to 87. Major Indian cities are now consistently ranked amongst the world’s most congested cities. These high levels of congestion have huge cost in the form of reduced productivity, fuel waste, and accidents. The combined cost for four cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru is over USD 22 billion annually. For Delhi alone, the congestion was estimated to cost the city USD 10 billion annually. So present metropolitan cities and upcoming million cities should laid down proper guidelines towards congestion free networks.
  • Two-wheelers: The two-wheeler sales in India have grown at a CAGR of ~8% during FY14-18 period with FY18 witnessing a 14.8% Year-on-Year growth. The faster growth in two-wheeler sales is mainly due to rising income levels, growing infrastructure in rural areas and rising trend of scooterization (especially among women commuters). With increase in income people will buy electric vehicles also, so that government and automobile industry can tap the demand of two-wheelers with introduction of electric-vehicles.
  • Discretionary spending: As Indian economy continues to grow at fastest pace the disposable income in India is also witnessing rapid improvement, which in turn is leading to faster rise in discretionary spending. This led to increase in purchase of premium vehicles. Premium vehicles run on more fuel per kilometer, so there is need to improve the fuel efficiency in this segment.

Transition challenges to low-carbon transport system in India:

  • Transport planning: Transport planning and markets in India are usually distorted with a strong bias towards increased usage of personalized modes. For example, motorists are rarely charged the full costs of congestion, road space, parking, and air pollution. Public policies usually tend to favor personalized modes and the bulk of public expenditure in most cities has been on expanding roads and highways infrastructure to cater to the needs of these personalized modes.
  • performance: major reasons for the poor performance of the public sector transport are the high staff cost and loss on account of low user charges and concessions in fares provided to various special and vulnerable categories of commuters (such as students, freedom fighters, etc.), which are not compensated for by state or central governments. Furthermore, operation on economically unviable routes coupled with high rates of taxation renders the public transport system in India financially unviable.
  • Standards: With regard to emissions standards, while India’s two-wheeler standards are stricter than those in Europe, it lags behind Europe in respect of four-wheelers. Furthermore, the national roadmap for fuel quality and vehicle emission standards is selective and focuses only on the larger cities and neglects the rapidly motorizing medium and small towns.
  • Distortions: The phase of rapid growth of the Indian economy, especially in the new millennium, coupled with the policy of regulating retail prices of petrol and diesel to insulate from international oil price fluctuations, has led to an unabated increase in consumption of automobile fuel. High fuel prices send out signals to consumers that they need to take action to reduce consumption. Thus, removing that signal also removes the incentive to invest in more fuel efficient vehicles and makes consumers vulnerable to future price increases.
  • Absence of low carbon substitutes: The government has been encouraging the use of bio-fuels and has set a target of blending 20 per cent ethanol with gasoline by 2017 under the National Bio-fuel Policy. However concerns related to the trade-off s that may arise with respect to availability of land, food-crop production, land-use changes, and bio-diversity and above all, availability of feedstock, remain in order to rise the blending to the targeted level. In addition, the ability of bio-fuel to reduce greenhouse gases is still contested by scientists around the world.
  • Governance challenges: The authorities and associated responsibilities pertaining to transport planning and management are often fragmented and divided between and within the state and city governments. Furthermore, these authorities also lack the necessary power, resources, and capacity to address problems of congestion, air pollution, and GHG emissions. A particular challenge in institutional development for sustainable transport in developing countries like India is posed by the large share of para-transit modes in public transport.

Measures to transition towards low-carbon transport system in India:

  • Integration of land use and transport planning: Integrating land use planning with transport planning is key to reducing GHG emissions. Travel can be reduced when various forms of land use such as residential houses, shops, public services, etc. are mixed and located in close proximity of one another. Therefore the city governments should frame the guidelines for integration of land-use and transport planning.
  • Use of alternatives to travel: Use of communication and information technologies can help avoid or reduce the need to travel. For instance, introduction of the ‘Easy Bill’ facility in Delhi and the government of Karnataka have set up one stop facility for citizens of Bangalore to access information and pay all government and municipal bills.
  • Regulatory instruments: Regulatory instruments can be used to discourage travel or deny access to certain traffic or vehicles. Some regulatory measures like physical restraint, traffic management, regulation of parking, speed restrictions and economic constraints like road pricing and congestion charging, fuel taxation, vehicle taxation and information instruments include awareness campaigns, mobility management, and driver education and training  will move people towards public transport system.
  • Improve the share of public transport and fuel efficiency: The expansion of public transport in the form of large capacity buses, light rail transit, and suburban rail or metro is a feasible option for transport sector. India transport fuel standards are adopting the euro VI standards, but limited metropolitan cities only, so the government should implement these norms to other tier-2 and tier-3 cities.
  • Electric vehicles: electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) should be promoted in India on a priority basis as they are cleaner than diesel and gasoline powered vehicles despite the fact that electricity generation in India would take long to become less GHG intensive. In fact EVs are already being produced on a mass scale in India (FAME scheme) in the form of two-wheeled bikes and scooters and the four wheeled light duty vehicles are expected to catch up soon.

Way forward: It has become clear that massive urbanization and the transport problems it presents will be one of the most important challenges facing India in the future. Recognizing the importance of this issue, the Government of India has taken important steps to meet the challenge through a variety of mechanisms primarily through the adoption of a National Urban Transport Policy and the launch of the National Urban Renewal Mission. The way forward needs to emphasize a comprehensive and coordinated approach rather than a fancy for high cost facilities. It needs to emphasize governance structures that enable comprehensive planning and coordinated implementation. It needs to work towards innovative financing and alternative fuels. It needs to emphasize that good urban transport planning has to be “People” focused rather than “Engineering” focused.