How Indian cities look at greening urban mobility: Non Motorized Transport and present-day policies

Updated: Jul 18

Pratyusha Raychaudhuri, Intern

Source: Research Gate

Green mobility refers to those options that reduce the environmental impact of mobility in terms of Greenhouse gases, promoting the use of alternative fuels, NMTs, and other measures. The Indian Government has been paying greater attention to a sustainable transit system as the way forward for India’s mobility sector. Non-motorized transport (NMT), also known as Active Transportation/Human Power, Transportation, includes walking, cycling, and its variants such as cycle rickshaws, skateboards, push scooters, and hand carts. It is a key element in encouraging clean urban transportation. It can be an attractive mode of transport for short distances which makes up for the largest share of trips in cities. COVID-19 has presented us with opportunities to revisit the present transit options and come up with solutions that are pollution-free, low in carbon footprint, sustainable, and follow social distancing norms. 

The key to reversing the trend towards private vehicle usage is making NMT and other

sustainable forms of transportation readily available to the common public along with policy

incentives. The perception of affordability of people encourages the use of public transport and NMTs. A study of 10 low-income settlements in Ahmedabad City found that while 62 per cent of all trips by settlement residents were by NMT, 67 per cent women and 56 per cent men used NMT for their trips; 65% women walked while only 34% men walked. People from Lower Income Groups (LIG) are always seen more dependent on NMTs for traveling owing to its affordability. Women, taking up nearly 50% of the urban population make 84% of their trips by public, intermediate public and Non-motorized modes of transport, which makes them important stakeholders while planning and designing Non-Motorized Transport Systems.

A few of the Green Urban Mobility Policies in Indian cities are as follows:

1) The National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) by the Ministry of Urban Development

introduced NMT initiatives in 2005-06. The key objectives of the policy were to re-allocate

road space to pedestrians rather than vehicles; to incorporate urban transport at the urban

planning stage as well as develop walking and cycling as safe modes of transit. The amended NUTP closely followed its predecessor; however, its implementation remains mostly on paper. The NUTP recommended the creation of a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) in all cities with a population of 10 lakhs or more, to co-ordinate planning and implementation of urban transport programs. 5 UMTAs were established between 2006-08.

In 2009, the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) made it mandatory for cities to

establish an UMTA to access bus funding under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban

Renewal Mission (JNNURM). Currently, there are 15 UMTAs in India, which is low in

comparison to the 53 urban agglomerations in India with million-plus populations as per

Census 2011.The establishment of a Unified Metropolitan Transportation Authority without

any enforcement mechanism for its creation and functioning, has made the States reluctant in taking action. The government had linked Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal

Mission (JNNURM) with NUTP’s vision. Launched in 2015, the JNNURM was to provide

funding for mass rapid transportation through light rail and metro routes.

2) Pronounced in 2015, the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation

(AMRUT) is a revised version of the JNNRUM policy for smaller cities across India. Under

the AMRUT Mission, Urban Transport components include facilities such as Sidewalks,

Foot over-bridges, provisions for NMT usage, Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS), Multi-

level parking and Ferry vessels for inland waterways (AMRUT Guidelines 3.1.5). As of

2019, AMRUT had accomplished a mere 20% of the total projects utilizing just 3% of the

total funds approved. While States such as Bihar and Assam have not been able to complete even one project, Tamil Nadu topped the list by completing 378 projects, closely followed by West Bengal with 194 projects.

3) The National Mission for Sustainable Habitat (NMSH) under the Prime Minister's National Action Plan on Climate Change constituted a sub-committee on Urban Transport systems under MoUD in 2015. Walking, cycling, creation of network of streets, optimization of density to match transit capacity, shift towards sustainable modes by using technology,

regulating road use, parking and fiscal measures were among its main doctrines of

sustainable urban transport, inducing a more focused integration of NMT with urban

planning and continuous assessment of infrastructure.

4) The Smart Cities Mission, by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs(MOHUA) that was

launched in 2015, was an impetus to walkable communities. The selection procedure of

Smart Cities is competitive and based on Co-operative Federalism which follows a Challenge process to select cities in two stages. It initially started off in 20 cities in Annexure-I, with key NMT projects being public bicycle sharing schemes, electric bus and electric rickshaw fleets, IT-enabled fleet tracking for e-mobility options, and EV charging and parking bays. These Smart city projects have considerably diversified the transportation options available in India. There are 99 cities under Smart City plans as of 2018 with a proposed investment of Rs.2,01,981 crores. The implementation of the Mission is to be carried out by  Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) set up at city level and will be promoted by the State/UT and the Urban Local Body (ULB), both having 50:50 equity shareholding.

i) In 2017, the Government of India initiated a Green Urban Mobility Scheme in 103

cities, to promote the use of Hybrid or Electric vehicles and non-fossil fuels for public

transport. Inaugurated by the Minister of Urban Development, this scheme was to be

implemented in a span of 7 years, comprising of proper footpath, cycle tracks, public

bike sharing, Bus Rapid transit (BRT) systems, intelligent transport systems including

non-fossil fuel public transport, and urban freight management. Operating under the

Smart cities mission, this scheme has been allocated a budget of around 70,000

crores, with 10% of the same to be contributed by urban local bodies, 70% by the

Central Government, and 20% from State governments.

ii) The CYCLES4CHANGE Challenge is, an initiative of the Ministry of Housing and

Urban Affairs through the Smart Cities Mission in 107 cities to implement low-cost

interventions like pop up lanes, community cycle rental schemes, cycle training

programs, etc. emphasizing on the importance of NMTs in the pandemic, taken up on

25th June 2020 with the India program of the Institute of Transportation and

Development Policy (ITDP) as its information partner. It has 107 registered cities and

49 city locations selected to pilot cycling interventions. 

Alongside these government policies in 2019, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Prime

Minister Narendra Modi, her Indian counterpart, for the 5th German-Indian government

consultations in 2019, with emphasis on cooperation regarding Sustainable Urban Mobility.

They agreed to speed-up the construction of sustainable transport infrastructure, the rollout of E-busses, and various modes for seamless travel by signing a new Joint Declaration of Intent on the Indo-German Partnership on Green Urban Mobility. Germany has further expressed readiness to provide financial aid of £1Billion for improved infrastructure and smart mobility solutions in Indian cities. Also, both leaders welcomed E-Mobility as an important area of collaboration, under the already established Joint Working Group on Automotive.


Although policies even when they are comprehensive enough to lay down the infrastructure and promote NMT usage, implementation remains questionable. Improper allocation of funds has been found in the study by SUM Net India, comparing the budgets of Pune, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Nagpur and Bangalore. It revealed that expenditure on Motor Vehicle-related projects held the highest share across all 5 cities. Furthermore transit projects are commonly handled by multiple organizations, making the planning complicated and poor compliance with the vision of greening urban mobility.

NMT users also have one of the highest shares of traffic accidents. Additionally, the use of NMT has also declined due to the rise in private vehicles on the road; government data shows that the total number of registered motor vehicles has increased from 0.3 million in 1951 to nearly 142 million in 2011 to 253.3 million as of 31st March, 2017. The rising numbers of motor vehicles has led to the shift of focus of the transport authorities, from construction and maintenance of NMT infrastructure such as foot-over-bridges, subways and footpaths to allocating more road space for uninterrupted flow of vehicles. This jeopardizes the safety of NMT users, especially pedestrians. Pedestrians especially have one of the highest shares of traffic accidents accounting to around 1.49 lakh people in 2019 alone. To accommodate the rising number of motor vehicles being one of the major focuses of transport authorities, provisions have enabled the uninterrupted flow of motorized vehicles for proper functioning. The constructions of foot over bridges, subways, and footpaths have thus ensued resulting in jeopardizing the safety of pedestrians. 

While technological advancement has introduced Electronic Vehicles(EV), which is a

sustainable,  environment friendly alternative to the generally used Internal Combustion

Engines(ICE), EV’s have higher upfront costs however having lower operating costs than

internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles which heavily add to environmental pollution. The

time is taken to make up for the higher upfront cost of privately owned vehicles, typically unused for 95% of their lives, but putting electric vehicles at a disadvantage. For service vehicles however, the cost shrinks considerably because of the increase in vehicle usage and trends towards shared cabs services, making it a golden avenue for green mobility, the need of the hour. Apt security and safety of streets to encourage NMT in cities must also be ensured by means of better lighting, properly designed footpaths connecting the bus stops/metro stations, and display of emergency contact numbers in stations. Consumer awareness of the benefits of electric vehicles as well as NMTs along with incentives for purchase, tax subsidies, and easy permits could act as an important boost to the adoption of such goals. There still is significant scope for improvement in infrastructure and planning. Significant failures such as that of the National E-Mobility Mission Plan 2020 which came out in 2012 to incentivize Electric Vehicles including electric powered government fleets and public transportation, achieved only 0.263 million of the target of 6-7 millions sales of hybrid vehicles by 2020 have proved to be major setbacks in India’s progress towards Green mobility. The automobile industry alongside the State and Central Governments and various stakeholders need to collaborate and invest in achieving India’s target for green mobility.

Pratyusha Raychaudhuri is pursuing her Masters Degree in Political Science and International Relations from Jadavpur University.

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