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World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

4. Urban Transportation

Box 4.1 The Indian Transportation Paradigm

Conventional urban transportation planning, as defined in the developed world, has been applied to Indian cities such as Delhi for more than 35 years. Delhi's Master Plan includes numerous "district centers" that provide residential, shopping, commercial, and recreational facilities (1). By some measures, the Master Plan has succeeded: Delhi has high population densities and mixed land use patterns, resulting in short trips, many of which are made by walking, nonmotorized vehicles, or public transportation. Private car ownership is low (2) (3) (4) (5). In that regard, Delhi would seem to be a textbook example of integrated land use and transportation planning.

Even so, air pollution, congestion, and traffic fatalities are terrible and continue to worsen. The World Health Organization has classified Delhi as one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world (6). Congestion in Delhi seems to be worsening, despite local road improvement programs. Average speeds during peak periods range from 10 to 15 kilometers per hour in central areas and from 25 to 40 kilometers per hour on arterial streets (7). Delhi's traffic fatalities in 1993 were more than double those of all other major Indian cities combined (8).

What accounts for this mismatch between the Master Plan and the reality of growing transportation problems? Much of it can be traced to attempting to apply solutions for cities in the developed world to a city in a developing country, with its very different vehicle mix and socioeconomic conditions.


Traditional urban transportation models are designed to handle a homogeneous mix of passenger cars, trucks, and buses all moving at the same speed, but in Delhi, cars, trucks, and buses must compete for space with two- and three-wheel motorized vehicles as well as camels, elephants, stray cattle, bullock-carts, rickshaws, and handcarts (9). In fact, cars do not even constitute the majority of the city's 2,097,000 vehicles (10); motor scooters and motorcycles account for nearly 70 percent of registered vehicles. Another 4 percent are locally designed three-wheel scooter rickshaws; the rest are taxis, public buses, and trucks (11).

The city's estimated 1,500,000 two- and three-wheel vehicles are heavy contributors to local pollution (12) (13). As a class, these vehicles emit higher levels of hydrocarbons than cars, trucks, or buses. Three-wheel scooter rickshaws also emit significant amounts of carbon monoxide (14). Because they are a low-cost alternative to the city's overcrowded public transportation services, the number of two- and three-wheel vehicles on Delhi streets continues to grow. Since the 1980s, sales of such vehicles have increased by nearly 20 percent per year (15).

Variations in vehicle size, rate of acceleration, and speed mean that often the best way to advance through the road network is to dart laterally from lane to lane to optimize the available space. The sudden braking and change of direction that are required in this type of traffic reduce overall vehicle speeds, increase the chance of accidents, and adversely affect fuel consumption and emission rates (16).

Because there is no formal segregation of vehicles in Delhi and no enforcement of speed limits, nonmotorized vehicles such as bicycles and carts tend to segregate themselves naturally onto the curb lanes on two- and three-lane roads. However, there is still a considerable safety risk (17). Pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists make up more than 80 percent of Delhi's road fatalities (18). One third of the pedestrian fatalities involve Delhi's buses, which are vastly overcrowded; many deaths occur when passengers forced to ride on running boards or hanging onto the outside of the vehicles are thrown off or struck; many passengers are also struck when boarding or leaving buses.


Many of Delhi's transportation-related problems have arisen because planners failed to provide for the wide range of socioeconomic levels and especially the extent of poverty within the city.

Few people in Delhi can afford the cost of private motorized transportation, even for the journey to work. Instead they must rely on public transportation. Even the slightest increase in the cost of public transportation can be a hardship. A recent survey indicated that nearly 60 percent of the respondents found the minimum cost of commuting to work on public transportation (less than $0.06 per trip)to be unacceptable (19) (20). A ride on public transportation--even at the lowest minimum fare--can consume 20 to 30 percent of a family's income for the lowest income groups. A large percentage of low-income people travel long distances and spend 30 to 60 minutes on one-way travel (21).

In response to both the cost of transportation within the city and the long working hours, many of Delhi's poor have no choice but to establish unauthorized settlements in substandard housing on public land near their places of employment. In 1991, an estimated 1.3 million people resided in these jhuggi-jhopri settlements (22).

In the mid-1970s, government officials made a conscious effort to relocate the jhuggi- jhopri settlements to the outer areas of the city where new developments had been planned. Because few jobs are available on the urban periphery, however, residents in these areas now must commute long distances across the city in search of employment (23).

Many of Delhi's poor work in the so-called informal sector as street vendors or as operators of pavement shops and car or motor scooter repair shops along roadways. Government officials call these services "encroachments" and complain that they reduce road capacity. However, they are an integral part of the urban landscape, providing a variety of services at low cost and at locations where demand for these services is high. As a result, they continue to multiply along the arterial roads of the city.


The transportation planning tools of the developed world are not adequate to address the urban traffic mix and socioeconomic patterns characteristic of cities such as Delhi. The challenge for Delhi and similar cities is to accommodate this complexity rather than to try to minimize it or wish it away.

Given Delhi's socioeconomic mix, much of the population will be unable to afford cars or even public transportation for some time to come. Meanwhile, bicycles and pedestrians continue to share the roads with cars, where they impede traffic and are exposed to a high risk of accidents. Requests to provide separate facilities for nonmotorized transport are typically met with the argument that scarce resources cannot be wasted for a mode that is going to disappear in the future. However, if Delhi and similar cities were to consider facilities for nonmotorized transport as an integral part of a program to enhance road capacity, then the investment could be justified. Not only are lanes designed for bicycle traffic less expensive to build than roadways, but they also will divert pedestrians and slow-moving vehicles from the roadway, increasing the efficiency of car and bus transport.

By accommodating the needs of all of its citizens--including the poorest ones--for safe and affordable transport, cities such as Delhi can create an equitable and environmentally friendly transportation system.

--Geetam Tiwari

Geetam Tiwari is a visiting fellow at the Tata Energy and Resources Institute, Arlington, Virginia, and is a member of the faculty of the Interdisciplinary Applied Systems Research Programme at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

References and Notes

1. Delhi Development Authority, Master Plan for Delhi: Perspective 2001 (Vikas Minar, Delhi, India, August 1990), pp. 13-17.

2. Ibid., pp. 6-7.

3. Op. cit. 1, p. 8.

4. Tata Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Impact of Road Transportation Systems on Energy and Environment: An Analysis of Metropolitan Cities in India (TERI, New Delhi, India, May 1993), p. 40.

5. Ibid., p. 46.

6. World Health Organization and United Nations Environment Programme , Urban Air Pollution in Megacities of the World (Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, U.K., 1992), pp. 99-106.

7. Op. cit. 4, p. 36.

8. "Better Traffic Policing Urged," Indian Express, Delhi, India (February 26, 1994).

9. National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), Urban Environmental Maps: Delhi, Bombay, Vadodara, Ahmedabad (NIUA, New Delhi, India, 1994), p. 1.44.

10. R.A. Shaik, "Transportation in India: Current Issues and Problems," paper presented at the 74th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., January 1995, Table 2.

11. Op. cit. 4, p. 28.

12. Op. cit. 4, p. 28.

13. Op. cit. 4, Table 4.38, p. 78.

14. Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP), State of the Art Report on Vehicle Emissions (IIP, Dehradun, India, 1985).

15. Op. cit. 4, p. 30.

16. F.M.A. Karim, G. Tiwari, and A. Kanda, "Simulation of Heterogeneous Traffic Stream," draft research report, World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Injury Prevention and Control (Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India), p. 10.

17. Udesh Jha, "Studies of Heterogeneous Traffic Flows for Planning Facilities" (Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India, 1995).

18. Delhi Traffic Police, "First Information Report: June 1993-July 1994" (Delhi Police Department, Delhi, India, 1994).

19. Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), Mobility Levels and Transport Problems of Various Population Groups (CRRI, New Delhi, India, 1988), p. 32.

20. Based on the exchange rate on December 7, 1995.

21. Op. cit. 19, n.p.

22. Mita Sharma, "Delhi Profile: Transport and Environment," Research Paper No. 8 (The Times Research Foundation, Calcutta, India, September 1992), p. 3.

23. Op. cit. 19, Table 5.17, p. 48.

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