urban transport

What other cities can learn from Delhi's experiments with public transport

Our cities need to respond urgently to the public health crisis of unsustainable transportation and urban growth.

Delhi has taken centre stage for spearheading transportation measures to curb air pollution. But before other cities rush to implement initiatives like the odd-even experiment, what can they learn from the capital’s experiences over the last two decades?

The Global Burden of Disease (2013) report ranked outdoor air pollution as the fifth leading cause of death in India, with around 0.62 million premature deaths in 2010. The transport sector is responsible for significant emissions of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and suspended particulate matter. It is estimated to account for 32% of nitrogen oxide emissions, whereas road transport contributed to 87% of the total carbon dioxide emissions in 2007. These pollutants have health effects such as bronchitis in asthmatic children and reduced lung function, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases or infections, and lung cancer.

More pollution in other cities

Like Delhi, there are 41 cities with a population of more than a million, including Gwalior (1.07 million), Raipur (1.01 million), Allahabad (1.11 million) and Ghaziabad (1.65 million), where particulate matter 10 or PM10 (particulate matter with a diameter of 10 microns or lesser) is at high and critical limits – higher than Delhi, in fact. Also, nitrogen oxide was at high and critical levels in six cities.

Air pollution in million plus cities. Source: Indiastat 2011; CPCB, 2011.
Air pollution in million plus cities. Source: Indiastat 2011; CPCB, 2011.

Cities have concentrated on bettering vehicle and fuel technologies and building bus rapid transit or metro rail systems. However, they need to focus on managing demand, augmenting their bus transport systems, improving last mile connectivity and enabling compact development. This will shift people towards non-motorised and public transport and avoid motorised travel trips.

Improving vehicle and fuel technologies

Delhi introduced the first generation of reforms based on a Supreme Court judgement in 1998, which helped improve emission standards for vehicles, implement the largest public transport strategy on compressed natural gas CNG in India, limit the age of buses, improve the vehicle inspection programme, and divert substantial truck traffic.

The Central Pollution Control Board observed that these measures resulted in a drop in particulate matter levels by 24% from 1996 levels. However, only a few steps were undertaken after – the metro became operational, the number of buses has marginally increased, Euro IV emission standards were imposed in 13 cities and a small network of cycle tracks and footpaths were built.

Shifting to public and non-motorised modes of transport is the need of the hour

Delhi’s public transport ridership share reduced from 42% in 1994 to 31% in 2014. Currently, there are around 6,118 buses (Delhi Transport Corporation and cluster buses) plying in the city as opposed to 11,000 ordered by the High Court in 2007. Around 40% of Delhi’s roads do not have footpaths, and motor vehicle mobility has been prioritised through foot over bridges and subways. Further, 41% of trips involve walking and cycling, which constitute over 57% of the road fatalities (Union road transport and highway ministry, 2014).

Across India, only 96 cities have some form of organised city bus systems (Indian Institute for Human Settlements, 2015). Similarly, an assessment of pedestrian infrastructure in five cities – Ahmedabad, Surat, Hubli-Dharwad, Mysuru and Bhubaneshwar – revealed that more than 60% of the roads had no footpaths. Urban India contributes close to half of all road accidents (0.49 million) and 38% of all road fatalities (0.14 million). This amounts to one road accident death every 10 minutes.

Thus, shift strategies need to establish and augment bus transport systems in cities, increase the frequency and reliability of their services, improve last mile connectivity by providing safer pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and enable multi-modal integration. Road space needs to be prioritised for the above, and these need to work with vehicular demand management strategies such as pricing on-street parking, congestion pricing, vehicle registration fees and fuel pricing.

Source: Tiwari, 2003; Tiwari and Jain, 2013; HPC, 2014; Sudhira, 2011
Source: Tiwari, 2003; Tiwari and Jain, 2013; HPC, 2014; Sudhira, 2011

Key long-term strategy

Between 1992 and 2011, Delhi’s physical footprint doubled while its people density (persons per hectare) reduced. During this time, four-wheeler ridership shares doubled and pedestrian modal shares marginally increased. At least 55% of Delhi’s 17 million people live within 500 metres of arterial roads, which are zones most exposed to vehicular pollution. The Delhi Master Plan has set a target for achieving an 80:20 modal share for public transport by 2020 and has adopted transit-oriented development as a key urban growth strategy.

This is a step in the right direction and cities need to prioritise avoid strategies i.e. enable compact, mixed use growth with affordable housing and parking management along with robust and integrated public transport systems.

Our cities need to respond urgently to the public health crisis of unsustainable transportation and urban growth. Despite relatively lower vehicle ownership compared to other countries, India’s vehicle sales, about 17 million today, are expected to double by 2030. Sustainable transportation then, is not a choice, but an imperative.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.