The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) on Friday advised the states and union territories to promote non-motorised transport (NMT) and take proactive steps to prevent transmission of coronavirus infection through public transport by adopting the right sanitisation, containment, and social distancing measures.

As most of the urban trips are clocked in less than five km, the non-motorised transport is to be encouraged in this coronavirus crisis as it requires low cost, less human resource, easy and quick to implement, scalable and environment-friendly, says the advisory.

“In order to avoid a resurgence of car and other private vehicle usages, many cities around the world have encouraged e-ticketing, digital payments and reallocating street space for cycling and pedestrians through street closures, creating NMT priority zones, pop-up bike lanes and sidewalks, providing parking and charging equipment and financing options to make cycling more accessible,” the ministry’s note issued by Durga Shanker Mishra, Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs’ states.

Incidentally, the ministry has come out with these solutions after holding several rounds of discussions with the subject matter experts, industry experts, operators, World Bank and other eminent urban transport experts in the country and other parts of world, who have clearly outlined that there will be a change in the characteristics of urban mobility post-Covid.

The ministry has also outlined global initiatives taken recently in view of Covid-19 crisis to promote NMT.

The initiatives mentioned in the note include 40 miles of new NMT lanes to support cyclists in New York whereas 10 per cent of streets closed for motor vehicles in Oakland, USA. A 76- km of cycle track has been added in Bogotá, Colombia while 22 miles of streets have been transformed to cycling lanes in Milan, Italy.

Besides, Auckland, New Zealand has removed on-street car parking and built up 17 km of temporary bike lanes in addition to the widening of existing bike and footpaths. Promotion of bike-sharing in China has led to 150 per cent increase in trips nationwide during lockdown; in the UK, the local businesses have relocated road space for pedestrians to allow residents to respect social distancing guidelines while queuing outside shops.

“With a sense of insecurity in the minds of the public in travelling in public transport during these testing times, in all possibilities, there will be an increase in the number of private vehicles on road, which will not only create pollution but eat away space for other modes of public transport besides adversely affecting road safety and increase air pollution level and serious congestions on the roads,” reads the note.

However, as ownership of personal vehicles in India is still at a relatively low level and a large majority of public transport users are captive users with limited transport options, providing safe and reliable mobility options for these users will be a priority for cities, especially those that can no longer be catered owing to the capacity constraints imposed by social distancing.

Public transport, both buses and metro, form the backbone of many cities, and with more than halving of capacity, cities will need to ensure alternative mobility options to keep their cities moving as the economies restart.

When it comes to public transport, one of the key measures the ministry has suggested is to enable technologies such as Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), indigenous cashless and touchless systems like BHIM, PhonePe, Google Pay, PayTM.and National Common Mobility Card (NCMC) to reduce human interaction and to curb the possibility of spread of the virus.

The Centre’s advisory has noted “a steep drop in public transport ridership volumes by 90 per cent” and also observed that there has been up to 60 per cent reduction in air pollution.

The ministry has also mentioned that various studies have shown that about 16-57 per cent of urban commuters are pedestrian and about 30-40 per cent of commuters use bicycles in the country depending on the size of the city.

Considering this as an opportunity, elevating the priority of these modes in these testing times gives travellers another private vehicle alternative, which is clean, safe, secured particularly if it is integrated with other modes and which is affordable for all.

This area is one of the thrust areas of the National Urban Transport Policy-2006[NUTP-2006]. It will also generate employment opportunities for the workforce in the NMT industry.

India has a robust 700 km of operational metro rail in 18 major cities and a BRT network of about 450 km operational in 11 cities across the country carrying 10 million passengers daily. But due to the social distancing norms being practiced, their capacities would be utilised at 25 to 50 per cent of pre-coronavirus levels.

Such dramatic and dynamic changes in demand and supply will require complementing these public transport systems with alternative modes of transit.

“Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to visit different public transport options and come out with solutions, which are green, pollution-free, convenient, and sustainable. Such a strategy has to give major focus on non-motorised transport and public transport with the use of technology in a big way for making all kinds of payments before or during the transit and providing information systems to commuters. Even the shopping area should and gradually be pedestrianised to decongest them and make them more accessible to the public for a pleasant and safe experience,” reads the note.

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