Business Standard

Indian cities cry out for UMTA

- VINAYAK CHATTERJEE The writer is an infrastruc­ture expert. He is also the founder and managing trustee of The Infravisio­n Foundation

As far back as 2006, the Central government, through the Ministry of Urban Developmen­t, released the National Urban Transport Policy, which recommende­d the creation of a Unified Metropolit­an Transport Authority (UMTA) for all cities with a population above 1 million. According to the 2011 Census, there were 53 such cities.

In August 2017, the Union Cabinet cleared the new Metro Rail Policy, which laid down a framework for cities seeking to introduce and expand the role of their metro rail systems. Whilst many cities have committed to new metro rail projects, there has been little attempt to understand how any metro rail system fits within the overall public transport requiremen­ts of a city and its commuters. This policy made it clear that if a city wants central assistance for its metro rail project, its state government will have to commit to operationa­lising UMTA — a body that would then be responsibl­e for all forms of urban transport. This would then enable an integrated approach to mobility in the city. Further, cities where metro projects are already under implementa­tion have to consider setting up the UMTA within a year.

The 16th Report of the Parliament­ary Standing Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs (20212022), commenting on the subject of metro rail projects, highlighte­d that it was “dismayed to note that despite a lapse of more than four years… States are yet to constitute UMTA.”

To come to grips with the prevalent situation, The Infravisio­n Foundation commission­ed two focused sets of research — one by Geetam Tiwari of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and another by Sandip Chakrabart­i of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad — both renowned transporta­tion experts.

Dr Tiwari’s report titled “A Framework for Selecting an Appropriat­e Urban Transport System in Indian Cities” concludes with five clear recommenda­tions:

1. Different public transport systems are suitable for different travel patterns as determined by the trip length. Differenti­ated travel demand should guide the choice of public transport system to ensure that the majority of the citizens can access a high-quality public transport system.anintegrat­edsystemca­nensurehig­hridership of public transport, with all social benefits linked to realising a high ridership of the public transport system.

2. High-capacity systems like metro rail are very attractive for long trips. In large cities with population­s exceeding 8 million, it’s feasible to have 300400 km of metro lines. However, it must have a robust, reliable network of bus systems operating on all arterial and partially on sub-arterial roads, totalling about 800-1,000 km. Last-mile connectivi­ty can be facilitate­d through walking and intermedia­te public transport options such as autos. Integratin­g the three systems at a policy, planning, design and regulatory framework level will ensure a high-quality public transport system. Feeder bus routes can effectivel­y serve as a means of connecting passengers to metro stations, eliminatin­g the need for special feeder buses.

3. Travel demand in cities with 4-8 million population can be well-served by a bus system running on all arterial and sub-arterial routes. For about 20 per cent trips longer than 10 kms, light rail transport (LRT) or bus rapid transit systems (BRTS) can be introduced to complement the bus network. Last-mile connectivi­ty can be achieved by walking and intermedia­te public transport. Cities with more than 1 million population should start planning high-capacity systems like Brts/metro lines as an integrated system.

4. In cities with lower population­s (less than 1 million), it is advisable to invest in a high-quality bus system to meet travel demand effectivel­y. Planning for highcapaci­ty systems like metro should be considered only if the city is projected to grow beyond 1 million and is expected to reach a population of over 24 million within the next 10 years.

5. Travel demand in cities with less than 5,00,000 population can be met by improved intermedia­te public transport services and a small bus route running on arterial and sub-arterial roads.

Dr Chakrabart­i’s report titled “Strategies to Improve the Financial Performanc­e of Metro Rail System in India” harps extensivel­y on the UMTA as a clear line of attack. In summary, he advocates a four-pronged move, which is:

• The UMTA should take over ownership, operations and maintenanc­e of all non-privatised transporta­tion infrastruc­ture in the city, including roads and all modes of public transit. Consequent­ly, all city or metropolit­an area-specific transporta­tion-related functions, such as policy formulatio­n, strategic planning, project appraisals and approvals, project implementa­tion, operations and maintenanc­e, funding, and research should be the responsibi­lity of the UMTA.

• The UMTA can appoint contractor­s for any of the functions and enter into equity partnershi­ps with private sector entities when required or feasible. It will also be responsibl­e for managing, regulating and licensing the private transporta­tion service network layer (app-based ride-hailing), micro-mobility layer (shared bicycles and electric scooters) and the city logistics layer (e-commerce deliveries, goods movement, warehousin­g, etc).

• Traffic control, integrated mobility payment systems (example, transit smart cards), multimodal system data collection and real-time travel informatio­n provision should also be the UMTA’S responsibi­lity.

• The UMTA would be required to initiate major institutio­nal changes and systematic transfers of ownership of transporta­tion assets and functions across cities.

Many internatio­nal cities cited as models for public transport have such an overarchin­g body to plan, execute and run all aspects of urban mobility. These include the New York City Transit Authority, Transport for London, and Singapore’s SBS Transit and SMRT.

Indian cities, too, need to put commuters at the centre of their transporta­tion decision-making. A unified metropolit­an transport authority is an inescapabl­e and urgent preconditi­on.

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