In a City Dialogue organised here today, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the New Delhi-based research and advocacy body, laid bare the challenge of addressing perils of motorisation in the planned city of Bhubaneswar. Vehicle ownership and motorisation rate has begun to increase and with that the pollution levels. This emerging capital city of Odisha is showing more rapid trend towards automobile dependence.
Bhubaneswar represents a unique challenge of the newly emerging planned cities. Traditionally a high walking and cycling city with large use of para transit usage it is now moving very rapidly towards personal vehicles dominated by two-wheelers. This demands immediate intervention to scale up efficient and reliable public transport system supported by walking and cycling facilities to stem the tide. So far Bhubaneswar has made efforts to develop non motorized infrastructure.
Anumita Roychowdhury, head of clean air and sustainable transportation programme at the CSE said, “Bhubaneswar has the chance to prevent worsening of air pollution and congestion nightmare if it can build on its inherent advantage of compact urban design, high share of walking, cycling and public transport usage and prevent automobile dependence. This is an opportunity to leapfrog to sustainable mobility paradigm.”
CSE also released the findings of its rapid survey and assessment on this occasion.
Air quality challenges in Bhubaneswar:
After the shocking revelation of the global burden of disease estimates that one fifth of global deaths occur from outdoor air pollution in India it became necessary to take stock of the problem and the solution to cut the killer pollution in all cities of India. But the air quality review carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment for Odisha has put the spot light on the challenge of the worsening scenario.
In the grip of killer pollution:
For a long time, Bhubaneswar did not have to worry about air pollution. But over the years, its annual average air quality trends have now started showing deterioration. Out of 9 cities monitored in Odisha, –Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Balasore have high levels of PM10 – tiny particles that go deep inside the lungs. Bhubaneshwar, Angul and Talcher show increasing trends. Berhampur, Rayagada, and Sambalpur meet the standard and have moderate levels. Angul, Rourkela and Talcher have critical levels. While the level of particulate matter is rising, nitrogen oxide levels are also showing increase. Angul, Cuttack and Talcher have moderate NO2 levels. All cities are within the NO2 standard, however almost all cities show increasing NO2 trends.
Proliferation of pollution hot spots:
From public health perspective what matters most is the daily exposure to air pollution that cannot be captured in the annual average levels. Several locations have become pollution hotspots inside cities in terms of daily pollution levels. In several locations these have hit the critical level and increased public health risks. Out of 16 locations in Odisha, the PM10 levels are critical in several locations in Talcher, Rourkela, Bhubaneswar, and Angul; in 12 locations the levels have exceeded the standard. There is wide variation in daily exceedance of standard across all locations. In Talcher, Rourkela the levels exceed the standards between 38 per cent to 82 per cent of days of monitored.
No room for complacency:
Though the overall particulate levels are comparatively lower than the other regions in the country, the levels are much above the WHO guidelines. Also the global assessments that are now available from the Global Burden of Disease estimates show that the most of the health effects occur at lower levels. Also the cities have several local pollution hotspots, and road side exposures are also high. Annual averages do not help to address the risks. Air quality monitoring would need to address these challenges and issue health advisory to people. There is absolutely no reason to think that the risk in southern cities are lower than other cities. There is enough evidence at national and global level to act urgently to reduce the public health risks to children, elderly, poor and all. India will have to take action now to reverse the trend of short term effects as well as the long term toxic effects. Health effects of air pollution have not been assessed adequately in Bhubaneswar.
Vehicles are a major cause of concern:
Independent research done by various organizations has indicated that vehicles emit significant amount of pollutants cities. Studies such as those done by SIM Air show that both killer PM2.5 and heat trapping CO2 from the transportation sector will double in Bhubaneswar in the next decade. The share of emissions from four wheelers, cars will be the maximum. Vehicle numbers are growing rapidly adding to the tailpipe emissions. Vehicular emissions contribute to significant human exposure as it occurs within our breathing zone. Pollution concentration in our breath is 3-4 times higher than the ambient air concentration.
Mobility crisis in Bhubaneswar
Unique trend in motorization: Bhubaneshwar is among the emerging cities that traditionally have had high walk and cycle share and also impressive usage of para transit. But in the absence of adequate formal public transport people are steadily shifting towards personal vehicles. The share of personal vehicles usage – especially two-wheelers – is already very high. Personal vehicles carry close to 40 per cent of daily trips (only two-wheelers carry 33 per cent). Buses carry only 12 per cent of the trips. Already close to half of all households in Bhubaneswar own two-wheelers and 11 per cent own cars. This means more than half of the households in Bhubaneswar have stepped towards personal motorization. The share of personal vehicles may exceed the share of sustainable commuting and cross the tipping point.
People carrying capacity of roads in Bhubaneswar declining:
The Centre for Science and Environment has reviewed the traffic data for different intersections and road mid blocks in Bhubaneshwar. It shows that in almost all roads the personal vehicles – cars and two-wheelers dominate. They are 45 to 90 per cent of the traffic volume. But during peak hours, a car carries only 1.5 persons as opposed to a bus carrying at least 40-50 people. Two cars occupy same space as one bus, but carry 20 times less people. This means as the number of cars increase people carrying capacity of road will decline creating pressure for more and more land to build more roads. More roads induce more traffic, aggravate traffic jams. This is against the principle of the National Urban Transport Policy that states – plan for people not vehicles.
Learn from Delhi’s experience
More roads are not the answer. Delhi has not been able to solve its problem of pollution and congestion by building more roads and flyovers for cars. Delhi is most privileged to have more than 21 per cent of its geographical area under road space. Delhi has built the maximum roads and flyovers. Yet its roads are totally gridlocked. Peak hour traffic has even slumped to below 15 km/hour. Cars and two-wheelers in Delhi occupy 90 per cent of the road space but meet less than 20 per cent of the travel demand. More roads are not the answer.
Focus on car centric infrastructure:
There is increased focus on flyovers and less crossings in several intersections as a site specific traffic mitigation measure. As experience from other cities show flyovers and road widening only induce more traffic and relocate congestion without addressing the root cause. But these also disrupt walking, cycling and public transport network, increase travel distances for all modes. This also adds to more energy consumption and pollution.
Impact of car centric infrastructure on travel and CO2 emissions:
CSE checked out the impact of car centric infrastructure – flyovers, signal free corridors, etc on the travel distances in their vicinity and its impact on carbon emissions in Bhubaneswar. For instance, the signal free and barricaded corridor on Rajpath has increased the original crossing distance in the surveyed spot from 100 m direct walk access 1.1 km of detour. This increases CO2 emissions (that depends on the amount of fuel burnt) by 154 g of co2 from one car and by 44 g of CO2 from a two wheeler. On a cumulative basis this increase from the total volume of traffic taking detour increases manifold. Thus, signal free corridors convert short distance zero emitting walking and cycling trips to motorized trips and that adds enormously to pollution.
Nurture the inherent strength of Bhubaneswar
The strength of inherent urban design of Bhubaneswar: The urban form of Bhubaneswar which is among the very few planned cities in India is compact. This allows more than 50 per cent of its daily travel trips to have average length below 4 km. This is an opportunity to maintain a compact city design and build densities to reduce distances. This makes the city very conducive to using non-motorised transport and public transport systems. The short trip length makes the city walkable. This is the low polluting and low carbon mobility that the world is trying to imbibe today.
Majority in Bhubaneswar use sustainable mode of transport: Despite the growing usage of personal vehicles more than 60 per cent of the daily travel trips in Bhubaneswar are still on foot, pedal, cycle rickshaws, buses and auto rickshaws – several times more than those who use cars – a mere 6 per cent. Larger share of trips are on cycle than even buses. It is important to protect and scale up this base line to be able to stay on the track of sustainability.
Parking — the biggest encroachers on urban space:
Personal vehicles demand enormous land area for parking. Studies show more than 36 per cent of the road network in the city is used for parking. In Bhubaneswar, new registration of cars and two-wheelers every year creates demand for additional land for parking equal to 30 football fields. It will be much more if share of cars increase. Use of valuable urban space is either available free or for a pittance. This is a hidden subsidy to car owners as the cost of using up scarce and valuable urban space for parking is not recovered through proper pricing and taxes. Supply of free parking space can further incite motorisation. It is more important to promote public, common and shared parking to maximize its utility and reduce pressure on land.
Bhubaneswar has begun to build its public bus service. Build it to scale.
Buses pay more taxes than cars: Bhubaneswar has just begun to build and expand its bus service. The CSE review shows that almost all state governments tax the buses higher than cars. Bhubaneswar also reflects this national trend. While the cars pay a one time life time tax equivalent to 5 per cent of the vehicle cost, buses pay an annual tax based on the capacity, distance covered per day and nature of service. Thus, a mid segment car pays approximate Rs. 2000 per annum while buses pay taxes to the tune of Rs. 40,000 per annum. This needs to be reversed to reduce the overall cost of bus operations and make them viable. Higher taxes on cars can offset the revenue loss. Currently, bus operations are treated as commercial operations and taxed high. But cars need to be taxed higher than buses (something which many other countries are already doing).
Bhubaneswar has the chance to plan its future growth differently and avoid the path of pollution, congestion and energy guzzling.Soft options have all been exhausted. Reducing personal vehicle usage, upgrading public transport, walking and cycling, and leapfrogging vehicle technology are the key options left for us. Plan cities for people not vehicles. Design roads for public transport, cycling and walking. Not cars. This is the option for the city to cut killer pollution, crippling congestion, expensive oil guzzling and global warming impacts of vehicles.
Strengthen air quality, health monitoring and risk communication:
Review the monitoring network keeping in mind the growth in pollution, population exposed and newer challenges like ozone, PM2.5 and toxics. It should strengthen its monitoring grid, deploy air quality forecasting modes, must regularly and systematically monitor the health indicators etc. at the same time implement an air quality index system and health advisory for informing people about ill effects of poor air quality.
Scale up and accelerate bus transport reforms. Integrate bus, cycling, walking and para-transit systems. The emerging cities require composite plan to scale up, modernize and integrate public transport and non-motorised transport. The roadmap for this must be put in place immediately.
Build pedestrian infrastructure:
The government should mandate pedestrian plans and make it conditional to infrastructure funding. Investments must be linked with explicit pedestrian and cycling plans. The relevant laws will have to be harmonised and strengthened for more direct legal protection of pedestrian space and rights. We need a comprehensive Road users act for targeted pedestrianisation; segregation of space by users; system of penalty to prevent encroachment in pedestrian space; prevent usurpation of pedestrian space for motorised traffic without proper justification. Implement walkability audits. Public transport plans must include pedestrian plan for multimodal integration. Need zero tolerance policy for accidents.
Enforce parking controls, rationalise parking charges on cars:
Experience from around the world shows that parking controls, parking pricing along with taxes top the list as the first generation car restraint measures worldwide. CSE’s assessment shows that cars are the becoming the biggest encroachers in Jaipur. At the same time parking charges are minimal, therefore a revision of parking charges has become necessary.
Set up public transport fund to meet the cost of transition:
The cost of transition will be high. This requires innovative financing policy and taxation measures to create dedicated urban transport fund.
( A CSE press release )