Overcoming the challenges of COVID-19 to achieve SDG 11.2 – eGov Magazine
The world’s urban population is growing and is expected to represent 68% of the world’s population by 2050 (United Nations, 2018). India alone will add 404 million city dwellers, the highest number in the world (United Nations, 2014), putting enormous pressure on the urban transport infrastructure in its cities. In line with SDG 11 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States, the goal is to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” writes Laghu Parashar, Deputy Project Manager, SMART-SUT, GIZ-India.
One of the important aspects in preparing actions to achieve SDG 11 is to take a holistic look at how our urban mobility systems work in cities. With rapid urbanization in India, the number of motor vehicles registered in India has increased at a compound annual rate of over 10% from 2007 to 2019. Thinking about it, we can paint a picture of the predominant effects of urbanization fast on the country’s transport system. .
In 2019 alone, the number of vehicles registered in the country was 295 million (Statista Research Department, 2021). As a result, various negative externalities such as road congestion, air pollution, road deaths and social equity issues have become commonplace and make SDG 11 target 2 a priority area on the road. which one to focus on. SDG target 11.2 states that “By 2030, to provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, including developing public transport, paying particular attention to needs of people in vulnerable situations, women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly ”.
SDG11 and specifically target 11.2 are relevant and crucial to directly and indirectly achieve the other major SDGs. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered everyday life and affected the travel patterns of people due to the disruption of public transportation services. Exposure to contagion in overcrowded mass transit modes has raised fears, affected ridership, and led to an increase in the use of private vehicles and bicycles due to their ability to meet traffic standards. social distancing.
One of the main thrusts of target 11.2 is to provide accessible, affordable and sustainable public transport. Investing in technological advancements, energy efficient electric buses, multimodal integration and expansion of the public transport network are necessary steps to achieve this goal. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nationwide lockdown and subsequent social distancing policies have disrupted already financially stressed transport agencies. The two main public transport systems in India, namely city buses and metro-rail, have seen drastic drop in ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) in Bengaluru had pre-COVID ridership of 3.5 million per day. During the post-pandemic phase, the transport authority only recovered 2.5 million passengers in March 2021 (PK, 2021). BEST passenger numbers in Mumbai showed a similar trend of losing around 1 million passengers compared to 2019 figures (Sen, 2020). The limited bus fleet and operational instability are likely to result in further financial losses for already loss-making public bus companies.
So far, they have suffered a combined loss of 16.68 billion rupees in 2017-18 (CIRT, 2018). The impact on the metro was no different as the number of Delhi metro riders fell from 5.7 million (including the airport line and rapid metro) in 2019 to just 1 million in 2021 (Economic Survey of Delhi, 2021). Likewise, the Namma metro in Bangalore could only bring back 0.2 million passengers by 2021 out of the 0.45 million passengers in the pre-covid era (Kulkarni, 2021).
An alarming trend towards private vehicles has accompanied the decline in public transport use. A survey conducted by TERI in 2020 found that around 36% of pre-Covid metro users and 41% of pre-Covid bus users would switch to other options. Respondents prefer passenger cars and two-wheelers. Thus, even in the Business-as-Usual (BAU) scenario, the low use of the public transport system and the financial losses will delay the planned investment for the expansion of the fleet and the technological progress towards electric mobility, ITS , etc. The simultaneous growth of private vehicles on the roads will precipitously increase the need for early and increased investment in infrastructure. The resulting widening of roads and road bridges will only fuel the vicious cycle of increased growth of private vehicles and make it difficult to achieve SDG target 11.2.
On the positive side, during the COVID-19 phase, the growing popularity of cycling as a mode of travel has proven to be a convenience. Keeping the same can undoubtedly help achieve SDG 11. According to AICMA, India’s bicycle industry has grown by 15-20% in 2020, compared to 5-7% in 2019. Cycling is has become a promising alternative to private vehicles in India. This can help redirect public transport trips to active mobility instead of motorized personal vehicles, as 70% of the population travel less than 10 km for professional and educational purposes (CEEW, 2019). Cities like Guwahati, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kochi, Mumbai and Chandigarh have invested in cycling infrastructure such as pop-up lanes, PBS systems, etc., during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first measures taken by the Indian government to encourage this sustainable mode of transport are visible in the framework of the “Cycles 4 Change Challenge” of the Smart City Mission. It is a welcome step to promote cycling in Indian cities. However, to improve the modal share of active modes such as walking and cycling, the development of a comprehensive network of NMT infrastructure is vital. Road safety today is terrible, as in 2019, 25,585 pedestrians and 4,196 cyclist deaths were recorded (MoRTH, 2020). The problem will only exacerbate in the BAU scenario in the absence of significant city-wide investments for NMT in Indian cities.
SDG 11.2 goals called for a “new normal” with equitable urban space and wider coverage of sustainable, affordable and energy efficient modes of transport.
To achieve this envisioned “New Normal”, Indian cities need a paradigm shift in their investment priorities in the urban transport sector. Project pipelines need to be reviewed and redefined. Investments allocated to roads and linked to public transport and NMT infrastructure must be reoriented. According to a report by the National Transport Development Policy Committee, by 2031, urban India would need around 1,960,000 buses with an investment of 1,181 billion rupees against the 46,000 buses currently in service. As we move forward, India can turn this into an opportunity by closing the gap with new energy efficient buses (e.g. electric buses) that complement climate targets. In addition, additional funds should be raised by imposing green taxes on the ownership and use of private vehicles and channeling this fund towards public transport and NMT infrastructure.
Several countries around the world have allocated capital funding to promote public transport and the NMT. For example, Paris has allocated 300 million euros for a network of cycle paths, many of which will follow existing metro lines, in order to provide an alternative to public transport (Taylor & Laville, 2020). Likewise, the U.S. CARES Act provided $ 25 billion in emergency aid for transportation agencies to help them avoid bankruptcy due to the effects of the pandemic (Welle and Avelleda, 2021). Cities around the world are also investing in technological advancements and energy efficient transportation systems that have various tangible and intangible benefits.
The envisioned new post-COVID standard requires Indian cities to design a well-integrated transportation system that supports walking, cycling and public transportation, creating safer, cleaner and more sustainable cities.