Are Indian Cities ready to take the massive challenge of Urbanization?

Are Indian Cities ready to take the massive challenge of Urbanization?

More than 50% of global population stays in cities. India is projected to add more than 300 million urban population by 2050, which is more than the current US population.

Worldwide cities consumes 70% energy produced, 80% of greenhouse emission, and 75% of waste. Looks scary?

Consider Delhi, the national capital region, and one of the most developed cities of India. Is Delhi ready for this vast challenge of rapid urbanization?

Here’s my point of view.

A city is defined by its built, culture, demography, socio-economic strata and environment. Excellence in all these hinges on the quality of infrastructure and services delivered.

By infrastructure I reckon the primary parameters to be Housing, Transportation, and Power, Water, Telecom and Waste management.

Delhi being one of the most commercially developed cities and has enormous options for education, job and business. It has reasonably good infrastructure in most of the parameters. But, there is major scope of improvement in quite a few parameters if Delhi has to stand out as a true smart city compared to its global counterparts.

Consider Transportation.

Let me highlight factors on which we can judge the performance of city’s transportation system: Efficiency and Attractiveness.


Time efficiency relates to the time taken to travel point-to-point within the city. It depends on two factors: congestion and reliability. While congestions impedes flow of traffic, reliability denotes the probability to reach destination within a stipulated time. A low reliability forces commuters to factor buffer time for travel, which reduces efficiency.
Energy efficiency deals with energy consumed by transportation system and amount of pollutant it is generating. City transport system on an average contributes 30% of global energy consumption, 25% of CO emission. So, it’s important to optimize energy consumption and emission for each commuting vehicle, thereby improving pollution levels.
Cost of transport is another important indicator of the overall efficiency Can we transport more commuters at lower cost? Can passenger get more mobility service at same or lower cost? What % of earning is spent on transport by average citizen (This has implication on prices and subsidies)?This refers to the comparative performance of public and private transport system and generally assessed by:

Accessibility: Is public transport available in all corners of the city?

Affordability: Is public transport more attractive than private cabs? Is it affordable to all classes of the society?

Inter-modality: Can they avail multiple modes of transportation with single ticket saving precious queuing time? Are important bus junctions connected to metro stations?

Convenience: Is the public transportation system safe, secure, clean and comfortable?

Developed city transportation infrastructure is planned considering housing infrastructure or residential colonies. Urban Planners make housing or residential areas away from commercial hubs of the city. Public transportation system are planned such that it is accessible easily from residential locations. The metro stations and bus stops are located close to residential areas. Also a plan is laid down for the last mile connectivity – to and fro residence to bus stop/metro stations. Thus have emerged the secondary transport system like cycle or shared bike services complementing the primary one.

City transport planner and managers work to do all the above to make it efficient and attractive.

Let’s look at Delhi’s current state of transportation system. Public transport system is perceived to be insufficient compared to the citizens’ needs. Bus service is generally one of the most important mass transit mode, however Delhi bus service is lowly ranked by citizens. Metro rail is felt to be an effective public transport. But, it still is not accessible to many corners of the city, it’s not interoperable with other modes of transport like the bus service. One cannot use the same metro ticket to avail a public bus after getting down from metro to reach workplace, which may be couple of kms away from the nearest metro station.

It is important to build Mass Transit System so that Public Transportation is available and accessible to majority of citizens by having wider and more frequent bus service coupled with the coverage of metro rail. If achieved this has a positive multiplier effect – commuters will use less of private transport – which means lesser vehicles on road, lesser congestion and thereby lesser pollution. This adds to the preferred quality of life of the citizen – convenience, time and health.

There has been discrete efforts to improve the public transportation system & pollution by introducing odd-even system for some time, banning diesel car, introduction of CNG, BRTs et al. But the programs and initiatives possibly needs more integrated and holistic planning. City transportation system management needs to take a more holistic approach – in planning, operations and maintenance- through a City Master Plan.

A few suggestions are offered below:

Integrate transport and housing plan: Urban sprawl of Delhi is increasing in all direction, population growth of 40% by 2020, motorized vehicles growing more than 20%, and new residential and commercial areas are being developed in and around Delhi at a very fast pace. Transport managers should better integrate transport and housing planning to increase the share of public transport – whether by incentivizing usage of public or discouraging usage of private cars. More importantly, planning should consider mobility demand of next 10-15 years as pressure of population & commercialization will increase further in years to come.

Improve efficiency and attractiveness: Public transportation should be more accessible and affordable so that majority of citizens can use it.

Coordinate and involve all stakeholders for long term planning: Unlike electricity distribution system, transport management system is fragmented and under-coordinated. It consists of multiple authorities for different modes of transport (Bus, Taxi – Public and Private, Metro Rail), licensing authority and road development departments. Adding to the complexity, is huge agglomeration of cities around Delhi (Gurgaon, Noida, Greater Noida, Faridabad, and Ghaziabad) in the NCR, and their respective transportation authority having discrete jurisdictions. So, management needs to do a holistic planning by including all these stakeholders to have sustained long term plan to assess the correct demand of mobility of the citizen and plan infrastructure and resource. Only, then can congestion be controlled and pollution reduced.

Integrate multimode transportation system: While on records, this may exist in Delhi, but, this is not available in the true sense. Delhi may need to have a single time table for bus and metro which can guide passengers to plan their trips in the city in most cost and time effective manner, using the same ticket.

Introduce greener mode of transport: Lesser diesel cars, more CNG (in fact, management should increase the cost of owning non-CNG vehicles) and electric cars need to be the future, to address the environmental challenges.

Holistic planning: Alternate public transportation system should be available before executing some of the above plans. Discouraging use of private cars would not be feasible if there is insufficient transportation arrangement available for commuters.

ICT based technology: ICT can create a virtual service layer and make public transportation more efficient and attractive. It can offer easy access to citizens and empower them to make informed decisions on their mobility. We have seen the Uber success story. Why can’t transportation managers build an Uber like public transportation system (the whole concept and app based approach) including Taxi, Bus and Metro Rail? Passengers can better plan their trip by having access to comprehensive online and dynamic time table, they can find out fastest route and modes of transport, track the bus or taxi through GPS enabled app to reach the bus stand or taxi pick up point on time, book bus or train ticket online or book a taxi online and pay digitally. On the other hand, transportation managers can better do their demand planning, decision and operations by using smart analytics, as information is available on-demand to offer better resource planning. This whole digital and app enabled system can give different experience to commuting citizens and revolutionize the way public transportation works. This can also reduce the cost of public transportation, make it more predictable and convenient and truly introduce citizen’s mobility as a service.

Delhi is just a case in hand and represents the national challenge. What do you think? Eager to have your observations and feedback.

Note: Thanks to Prof. Matthias Finger, Professor, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne for educating me on Urban Infrastructure Management & Mr. Koushik Chatterjee of iThink for motivating me to write.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn by Prasun

Prasun Talukdar on sablinkedin
Prasun Talukdar
Prasun is Country Manager - Enterprise Channels & SI at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. He is responsible for Enterprise Group sales for Channels and System Integrators . He is managing this relationship to bring growth in sales of Enterprise Group portfolio. In his words he is learning everyday to achieve perfection. He has 2 decades of work experience out of which last 10 years he has been working with HP & HPE.

Prasun is Country Manager - Enterprise Channels & SI at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. He is responsible for Enterprise Group sales for Channels and System Integrators . He is managing this relationship to bring growth in sales of Enterprise Group portfolio. In his words he is learning everyday to achieve perfection. He has 2 decades of work experience out of which last 10 years he has been working with HP & HPE.