In India, Physical Infrastructure Fundamental To Enable Mobility

High quality mobility in cities is crucial for the success of other sectors and the creation of jobs, and plays a key role in cultivating a conducive environment for residents and business.


It is estimated that by 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Over the same period, more than two billion people are likely to enter the middle class, with the majority of them living in cities in emerging markets such as India. The number of megacities with more than ten million people is also expected to continue to grow. One of the key challenges to the cities efficient survival will be how people will get about: will they continue to pursue the 20th century dream of the automobile, or will cities graduate to be planned with another generation of more future proof mobility methods?

Urban Mobility As A Challenge

Urban mobility is one of the most difficult challenges faced by city governments, presenting economic, social and environmental implications. High quality mobility in cities is crucial for the success of other sectors and the creation of jobs, and plays a key role in cultivating a conducive environment for residents and business. As urban population increase, rising demand for efficient mobility within limited physical infrastructure capacity has becoming challenging in existing and emerging cities.

Presence of physical infrastructure is fundamental to enable mobility. However, beyond a point, additional supply will no longer provide an efficient means to service demand. Having observed patterns of mobility in many cities, it is evident that there is significant under-utilised capacity on existing infrastructure because of the nature of vehicles used and for long periods of the day. This is where smart solutions can help to improve the efficiency of the system.

Urban Mobility As An Opportunity

The rise of new technologies and information based services in the mobility sector offers a range of valuable responses to the challenges of operational efficiency and personal travel demand in cities. Travellers, transport operators, urban planners and city governments are expected to be the key beneficiaries, who together can enable improved system functionality, environmental sustainability, traveller experience and new economic value.

The whole system is underpinned by the physical infrastructure of urban mobility; that is the roads, railways, bike paths, footpaths and other physical assets that enable transport to operate. The data and information that support smart mobility are generated continuously from dynamic patterns of human behaviour as people navigate the city using the available infrastructure.

Operational technologies generate the raw material required for smart solutions i.e. the data. They allow real time collection and communication of raw data from physical infrastructure and services, and rapid adjustment of infrastructure management to create additional capacity where it is needed. Such technologies are already installed in many cities to direct traveller behaviour and maintain traffic flows, therefore contributing to increased operational efficiency on the network. For example, Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) encompass the range of operational technologies used for transport management, including the sensors, payment and ticketing infrastructure, surveillance, remote controls and display equipment that are employed along transport routes to monitor and manage travel conditions.

Another way to tackle this challenge is to reconsider the way streets are designed. It should be designed to support people of all socio-economic levels and their need to walk in and around their city and their neighbourhood. Further, it should accommodate cycling; besides providing access to goods and services. Public transportation may be accommodated below or above the street surface, but in many cases a tram or BRT would be considered the most economically viable solutions. Finally, the wise street should accommodate the limited use private motorized two and four wheel vehicles assuming air quality permits them. Parking should be systematically restricted to discourage the use of private cars and should be prioritized for shared cars and taxi services.

Integrated security surveillance and scanning technology should be able to largely eliminate car and baggage inspections as well as metal detectors. Real time Information boards should provide important transport information, air quality reports and variable lighting to enhance the street experience.

Way Forward

As per estimates, about 25–30 people will migrate every minute to major Indian cities from rural areas in search of better livelihood and better lifestyles. With this momentum, about 843 million people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050. To accommodate this massive urbanization, India needs to find smarter ways to manage complexities, reduce expenses, increase efficiency and improve the quality of life.

Realistically operational technologies, communication and information technologies will only go so far to solving India’s urban mobility challenges beyond 10 years from now, since they provide relatively small incremental gains in capacity. India’s sheer numbers, political and economic constraints will require a deeper thinking regarding the future of mobility. Even driverless cars are only a stopgap measure in the Indian context. Likely answers will range from virtual connectivity and drones to our own two feet – but they will certainly be well beyond what is currently on offer.

This article was published in BW Businessworld issue dated '' with cover story titled 'Cities On the Move'

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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