Article by: Anirudh Raheja

Held at Delhi, CONNECTKaro 2015 looked at smart cities, transport and people.

Smart cities and urban mobility are finding a place in India’s journey into the future. For a nation whose population is 1.28 billion, and counting, such infrastructural developments matter, and not just for the government but also for the people of the country. Speaking at CONNECTKaro 2015 in Delhi, minister for railways, Suresh Prabhu, stressed on the need for an integrated public transport in a way that suits the local needs rather than simply copy a system that is successful in another part of the world. The two-day event, organised by Embarq in association with World Resources Institute India, was instrumental in highlighting the fact that the government has allocated Rs.2.73 lakh crore for the development of 100 smart cities. Another 500 cities will be subjected to upgradation, including the setting up of dedicated mobility services for seamless connectivity. Vikas Gupta, Commissioner, Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon, mentioned that they are gearing up to introduce 500 buses for improving intra city travel in the next one year. Averred Gupta, that he would like political support for public transport to grow. Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia stressed on the need to privatise Delhi Transport Corporation. Pointing at the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system in the national capital, Sisodia said, “BRT has been effective in various parts of the world, but not in Delhi. It is simply due to poor planning where the people of the city were not consulted before deploying the system.” Thinking aloud that there was a need for collective efforts to develop smart cities and converting the existing ones into smarter cities, Sisodia opined that policy paralysis has been prevailing in Delhi. “Infrastructure here has never been planned in totality. Various departments need to come forward without competing with each other to ensure that people take to public transport,” he added.

A collective opinion that a city can only be termed as a smart city if it channelises its resources towards a larger section of the society seemed to emerge at the event. Participants at the event were exposed to the fact that in the last two decades cities in India have invested in constructing wider, elevated roads, crossovers and flyovers. This has however had a negative impact on the environment in terms of rise in pollution, as well as an increase in traffic fatalities. Private vehicle population has grown exponentially. A thought process seemed to emerge that para-transit has a huge role to play in the metamorphosis and the transformation of the paradigm, ‘moving vehicles’ to ‘moving people’. Urban mobility not limiting itself to individual transportation and blocking the roads creating a chaos, but adapting to other ways like cycling, walking, BRT, shared transportation, and taxi aggregators. There is a need to adjust and help in the evolution of new trends to make sure that each and every initiative exists instead of feeding on each other expressed participants on the sidelines of the event. They were of the opinion that the Government should assess the pros and cons of inter-transit, and its influence on the climate, water supply, sanitation and thermal comfort, prior to investing in infrastructure that is ecological and sustainable.

Prasanna Patwardhan, MD, Prasanna Group, which specialises in the transportation of people, said that the government plans budgets for laying roads but fails to speak about public transport. “If they are asking people to adapt to public transportation and leaving their vehicles at home, it should start making separate schemes about such a target audience too. The only way it (public transport) can be subsidised is when the government supports it. Makes it sustainable,” he added. According to Shivanand Swamy, a BRT designer, it is difficult to acquire security in mobility without BRT. “It is impossible to cover the entire smart city with a rail system. A Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system of 700 to 800 km is required which can now be a combination of both MRT and BRTs,” he said. Deepak Trivedi, General Manager, Ahmedabad Janmarg Ltd., said that BRT is a high-quality, customer oriented transit that delivers, comfortable and low-cost urban mobility. “The busiest corridor in Janmarg has 48 buses per hour per direction in peak hour,” said Trivedi. Expanding services with limited human resource for junction management is an issue apart from the need to maintain frequency so that a negative image for other motor vehicle users is not created, he added.

The conference also paid attention on the role public spaces play in smart cities. The need to keep them clean, and to maintain them. Even streets that make a large per cent of the public spaces, and are meant to prioritise the interaction between humans. Both are instrumental in shaping the lifestyles of the people there, making them recreational and grooming areas rather than mere functional spaces. Raahgiri Day (open street day) was cited as an example by Sarika Panda of Embarq India. Drawing attention to 1,40,000 deaths every year in India due to traffic crashes, Panda advocated the need for Raahgiri to encourage higher physical activity through cycling and the use of public transport. This, she said, would also aid in improving the air quality. Stress was also laid on achieving efficiency in terms of security and time. It was debated upon at the conference that most of the services are disruptive and create different ideas and propositions from what was planned and what the outcome is. A thought process calling for the need to employ new ideas of participation, experience, methods and measures seemed to emerge. Those, that would support the fact that there was a need to insert disruptive technologies to find solutions that are pressing. The consensus at the end of the two-day event was, a smart city can’t be defined through a constrained definition, but by a willingness to discard the old and embrace the new. Decisions, it became clear, need to be m

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