Even though the word ‘disaster’ has been used to illustrate transport problems in European and American cities, the term seems far more appropriate for a city such as New Delhi. Environmental pollution, noise, traffic fatalities and injuries, congestion, and mobility problems are far more severe in developing countries, making the problems in Europe and North America seem quite modest by comparison (Gakenheimer, 1999 p.675).

The dilemma of low per-capita incomes in New Delhi is compounded by extreme income inequality. The wealthiest tenth of the population typically earns over half of the total national income (Vasconcellos, 2001). Much of the population is so underprivileged that it cannot afford any motorized transport at all and must spend up to three to four hours a day for travel. Additionally, the concentration of wealth among the economic and political elite has distorted transport policies in other Indian cities as well (Pucher, 2005).

While the poor suffer the most from relentless and aggravating transport problems in New Delhi, government policies generally focus on serving the needs of an elite minority. For example, an inconsistent share of government funds is spent on the ownership and use of private cars, while the needs of low-income citizens and cyclists are ignored (Pucher, 2005). Correspondingly, public transport does not get the funding or traffic priority it requires because the privileged simply do not use it.

While the underprivileged are especially deprived, the Indian middle class also struggles with insufficient housing and transport. The unavailability of good, affordable housing near the New Delhi City Centers forces a rising proportion of the middle class to reside in distant suburbs. Such marginal locations require long, exhausting journeys to jobs using either slow, overcrowded public transport or dangerous motorcycles. Even the prosperous Indians who own private cars must endure long trips on hopelessly congested and insecure roadways (Pucher, 2005).

Transportation and the Environment

In New Delhi, transportation demands in urban areas continue to increase rapidly, which is a result of both population growth and changes in travel patterns (Environment News India, 2001). The largely built areas in New Delhi create a historic transportation crisis that has become a planning war against increasing mobility congestion and air pollution. Given the financial restrictions and environmental concerns, it appears unlikely that this demand can be accommodated without dramatic changes in travel behavior. The principal urban transportation policy needs to adopt a comprehensive strategy for achieving mobility and air quality mandates (Sibal, V., Sachdeva, Y., 2001).

In the absence of a good, convenient and efficient public transport system in urban areas, there has been an increasing trend towards more and more ownership and utilization of personalized motor vehicles to commute which is not more energy intensive and polluting, but also more expensive to the economy (Sibal, V., Sachdeva, Y., 2001). While on the other hand, the vehicle mix in urban areas has aggravated congestion and air pollution, on the other, specific production of buses and their design for mass transportation has not received adequate attention in the national automobile policy (Pendakur, 2002). With growing traffic congestion, thousands of dismayed drivers in the urban areas are finding out that rush hour traffic is slowing to a crawl. This in turn leads to higher oil consumption and emissions which are poisoning the urban areas (Environment News India, 2001).

Four factors make pollution on road vehicles very serious in very large conurbations. First, many vehicles are in poor condition, creating more particulates and burning fuels inefficiently (Sibal, V., Sachdeva, Y., 2001). Certain types of engines, such as two-strokes, are particularly bad, though new options for improving their efficiency may be available soon. The two stroke engines emit hydrocarbon and smoke at a much higher rate than the four stroke engines and produce vast majority of emissions (Kandlikar, 2000). Second, lower-quality fuels used, lead to the emissions of far greater quantities of pollutants. Thirdly, motor vehicles are concentrated in a few large cities, including New Delhi. Fourth, a far larger percentage of the population moves and lives in the open air and is thus exposed far more too automotive pollutants (Kandlikar, 2000).

There are two basic approaches to reducing vehicular emissions: reducing emissions per vehicle kilometer traveled and reducing the total number of kilometers traveled. Without government intervention and aggressive measures, it appears unlikely that the growth of road transportation in New Delhi could be curbed (Sibal, V., Sachdeva, Y., 2001). The rapid growth of Delhi in recent times has resulted in significant increase in environmental pollution. It is widely perceived that the problem is threatening to get out of hand.

Hence, effective and co-ordinate measures for controlling pollution need to be put in place without delay (Pendakur, 2002). In view of the seriousness of the issue, the Minister of Environment and Forests decided to have a series of interactive meetings with concerned government agencies, NGOs, experts and citizens, with the objective of defining a plan of action to combat the problem (Environment News India, 2001). The outcome of these meetings is a White Paper on Pollution in Delhi with an Action Plan covering various aspects of pollution control, including vehicular and industrial pollution, solid waste management and noise pollution (Environment News India, 2001).

Policies and Recommendations

Although the transport circumstances in New Delhi are complicated, they are certainly not hopeless. Indeed, local, state, and national governments could almost directly undertake vital actions that would greatly advance the situation, or at the very least, prevent its decline. In this closing section, five categories of comprehensive policies needed to deal with New Delhi’s transport crisis will be recommended.

1. Improved rights of way for pedestrians and cyclists

One of the most essential requirements is the provision of improved rights of way for pedestrians and cyclists. Throughout the world, these non-motorized travelers are among the most defenseless roadway users (Pucher, 2005). Thus, Western European cities generally provide them with a wide range of separate facilities such as wide sidewalks (pavements), crosswalks, cycle paths, ped/bike traffic signals, intersection modifications (bulb-outs, raised surface, special lighting), car-free zones, and traffic-calmed neighborhoods (Pucher and Dijkstra, 2003). By comparison, New Delhi government officials and planners have fundamentally overlooked non-motorists - although they account for about half of all trips made - and thus expose them to high levels of traffic danger. It is very rare to find any special provisions for pedestrians and cyclists in New Delhi.

While slender roads, compactly built central cities, and lack of funding obviously hamper the allocation of roadway space to cyclists and pedestrians, the real problem is government priorities that favor motorized traffic (Pucher, 2005). Since the social elite are more likely to drive private cars, they have powerfully favored highway projects as opposed to improvements for pedestrians and cyclists. Policy makers rarely consider the needs of the non-motorized urban poor. Nevertheless, a handful of Indian cities have made some promising efforts to better defend non-motorists.

In the planned city of Chandigarh, for example, the local government created 160 km of wide cycle paths between 2001 and 2003. Such bikeways enable considerable separation of fast vehicles from slow vehicles on major arterial roads, reducing congestion and improving safety (Chhabra, 2002 p.1). If New Delhi (and other Indian cities) would care to follow the lead of Chandigarh, then perhaps this would provide a helpful solution to just some of the problems that New Delhi currently faces.

2. Improved traffic management

Enhanced traffic management is significantly needed in all Indian cities to moderate the current traffic chaos. New Delhi has benefited recently from modest improvements in traffic management through the introduction of more advanced technology and stricter enforcement of traffic regulations. In sharp contrast, most medium-size and small Indian cities lack even basic provisions such as stop signs, traffic signals, lane striping, and other regulatory and directional signage (Pucher, 2005). Those basic provisions must be accompanied by strict enforcement of traffic regulations, especially those relating to safety. The traffic regulations that currently exist are not well known, thanks to lack of proper driver training, and they are rarely enforced by the police at any rate, due to sluggishness, poor training, and dishonesty.

There are a few bus lanes in New Delhi, and Chennai and Bangalore have plans to install bus lanes in the coming years (Pucher, 2005). Nevertheless, some areas in New Delhi provide no traffic priority at all for buses. Bus lanes, priority signals, and other traffic management policies favoring public transport in Europe are virtually missing in most Indian cities. There is a desperate need to speed up buses stuck in overcrowded urban traffic, since worsening of bus travel in recent years has shifted more and more Indians to more polluting, less energy-efficient, more congesting, and more dangerous means of travel. It would seem that if all of these policies were improved in New Delhi, then the rest of India would also soon follow.

3. Improved public transport services

Improved public transport services are also essential although considerable progress has been made in this area, but much more improvement is needed. For example, suburban rail and metro systems are being extended and better coordinated in India’s largest cities (Pucher et al., 2004). New Delhi’s new metro system will be the most extensive improvement, when completed, but Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Hyderabad have all been either expanding or improving their rail systems as well. For example, several suburban rail corridors in Mumbai and Chennai have been converted from 2-track to 4-track lines to enable separation of local from long-distance rail traffic, increasing both safety and speed (Mumbai Development Authority, 2003).

In New Delhi by comparison, very little is being done to improve bus travel, which accounts for over 90% of all public transport use in New Delhi. Most of the old, frail, and hazardous bus fleet in India is in desperate need of replacement by modern, safe vehicles. Thus, the main focus of public transport policy must be on improved bus transport, including more and better buses as well as some quantity of traffic priority in mixed traffic to amplify average bus speeds. In addition, much better management is needed between different bus routes as well as between bus and rail services. One recent development is the new high-capacity, express bus system now being proposed for Bangalore and possibly for New Delhi as well (Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme, 2004; Gaur 2002).

4. Privatization of bus services

Another potential approach to humanizing public transport services at affordable cost is selective privatization of bus services. Several Indian cities have already privatized the operation of major portions of their overall bus services. Mumbai and Kolkata have the largest private bus fleets (Pucher et al., 2004). Compared to the publicly owned, operated, and subsidized bus services in New Delhi, the privately run services have higher productivity, lower costs, more passengers per bus, and higher revenues per bus km of service.

Public agencies in Bangalore and Hyderabad contract out much of their bus services to private operators with similar results of higher productivity, lower costs, and fewer subsidies needs (Pucher, 2005). While privatization seems to have significant possibilities for improving the efficiency of bus operations and dropping government subsidies, New Delhi to date has shown the crucial need for public regulation of safety, route and schedule coordination, and service value.

5. Improve motor vehicle technology and fuels

Given the rising level of motorization in New Delhi, it becomes increasingly significant to advance motor vehicle technology and fuels in order to boost energy efficiency and safety while decreasing noise and air pollution. Already, the Indian government has introduced a series of regulations that limit pollution from private cars, buses, and trucks. So far, the most successful measure was the complete phasing out of lead in fuels (Pucher, 2005). The permissible levels of sulfur and benzene in fuels were also reduced. Of course, less-polluting fuels must be accompanied by less-polluting vehicle technology.

Thus, between 1991 and 2000, national regulations for new vehicle emissions reduced allowable levels of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides. Further improvements are likely, since an expert commission of the Indian Government has recommended successively adopting the increasingly stringent Euro II, Euro III, and Euro IV emission standards for all new cars, taxis, trucks, and buses, first in the largest cities and then for the entire country (Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, 2002).


The increasing harshness of India’s urban transport predicament may provide the widespread political support needed for the rather striking policy shifts recommended. It seems highly unlikely that all the recommended measures will be adopted, but if a few ground-breaking policies could be tried out on an experimental basis, even that would be a hopeful first step. Clearly, India’s urban transport crisis has many dimensions, and the solution to that crisis will essentially have many proportions as well, implemented in many junctures over many years.