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Written by Thale Henrikke Eddie

With India being one of the fastest growing economies, the demand for faster and more comfortable ways to travel has grown. The majority of people living in Delhi still travel with public transport to reach their destination, but cars are increasing in alarming numbers.

A thousand cars are added to the city every day. Vehicles are the dominant source of air pollution and are taking up an enormous share of the land area. Cars are squeezing buses out of the public sphere. It is a crisis of mobility.

Favouring the car?

Personal vehicles are being pampered- says head of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Sunnita Narain. She also states that the city planning in India is not made for mobility. According to numbers published by CSE in 2006, there exist four million vehicles in Delhi today. This has an enormous environmental impact on the urban landscape. The emissions from vehicles are the most lethal form of air pollution since they are so high in exposure.

- 72 percent of air pollution in Delhi comes from vehicles, says Anumita Roychowdury. leader of the clean air campaign, CSE. Buses in Delhi are a cleaner alternative as they all run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). The paradox is illogical; buses are being taxed 43 times more than the car. When you buy a private car you pay a small amount in lifetime tax, but the buses are being charged a much higher annual fee.

Sustainable urban transport.

Initiatives are being done to increase the equity of mobility. The most progressive and comprehensive initiative is The Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). The system is currently being constructed as a means to create a more holistic approach to mobility. The entire stretch will cover 100 km of Delhi and is set to be finished in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. As of April 2008, four kilometres of the stretch has been completed.

The BRTS has two basic principles; to segregate and to include all individuals travelling. The road will be divided into four lanes, the bus lane at the centre, and lanes for pedestrians, cyclist and cars either side. This will remove the current chaotic friction among vehicles in Delhi. The BRTS has its roots in countries in the south, with Brazil as the first country to implement it.

Transfer of technology.

This is one of the few technologies actually being transferred from the developing world into the developed world. Cities such as Leeds, Miami, Vancouver, have all implemented the system.
The BRTS will independently respect all road users with its very democratic approach, but economic disincentives are also essential in order to minimize the increase of cars.

- The current economic favouring of the car functions as a hidden subsidy for cars, states Roychowdury. The private car does not only decrease the level of travel efficiency, but is also taking up a vast amount of public space in terms of parking lots. Buses today are satisfying more than half of the travel needs of the city and occupying only five percent of the road, whereas cars occupy as much as 90 percent of the road. Cars only carry 20 percent of travellers.

- The infrastructure as it is today is a hostile infrastructure. The urban landscape scenario makes marginalised groups such as pedestrians, street vendors and cyclists even more vulnerable towards accidents, says Roychowdury.

Who is and who should the city be “shaped” for? Roychowdury points out and stresses that- the city should be designed for the majority not the minority.

Within the last ten years initiatives have been done to make the overall urban situation “cleaner” with the introduction of CNG, improved technology and the removal of old vehicles from the road. This has decreased the air pollution, but not as much as it could have done. Traffic jams in Delhi are a deadly combination; by standing still they lose fuel and lead to great pollution. Standing cars also take up the availability of road space.

Roychowdury, says: All the positive gains with CNG, removal of old vehicles and general improvement of car technology will be lost if we do not deal with the increasing number of cars. The innovative BRTS has a great potential of becoming a leading initiative to serve the majority of the urban population globally. Cities worldwide face the problem of undemocratic car use, but the inclusiveness of the BRTS could function as a great inspiration, even to Norway.