Tread cautiously on TOD

Tread cautiously on TOD

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Whether, TOD will result in reduced vehicle population? The answer may not always be yes, especially in a country like India where substantial portion of the population is youth and whose income are growing. Owning a car and driving it on busy streets is a status symbol for them and empty roads (if at all we get to see) will encourage more and more people to go for personal vehicles

Recently, Delhi Development Authority came out with a draft policy on transit-oriented development inviting suggestions from public. DDA also plans to develop areas around five Metro stations in the national Capital as high-density, mixed-use developments. The plan is part of its pilot project to implement the revised Transit-Oriented Development. The revised policy, which has been hanging fire for the last four years, focuses on high-density, mixed-use developments around transit nodes, instead of a corridor.

Success of any Transit Oriented Development depends on the effective use of implementation mechanisms for land-use planning, land value capture and travel demand management. There are many supporters among the urban planners, environmentalists and transportation specialists who feel that pros far outweigh the cons of TOD. One of the greatest benefits of transit-oriented development is reduced greenhouse gas emissions which according to the supporters of this plan is due to less cars on the road, which also leads to the benefit of less air pollution and smog. Delhi being one of the worst affected cities by air pollution any development which causes less air pollution is welcome. According to the supporters, reduced vehicles on the roads also mean reduced transportation costs for individuals and families.

However, one of the benefits cited by the proponents of TOD is controversial and one need to be very careful about that because its side-effects seem to be more harmful than the disease itself. Its often argued that TOD results in increase property values, which is good for property owners. But what they don’t realise is that when the property value goes up in a particular locality, property rentals too go up thus making the properties unaffordable to common man. This in turn drives away such people out of the locality which perhaps is not the objective of TOD. In fact, this kind of gentrification is against the principles of sustainability which always promotes social equity.

Whether, TOD will result in reduced vehicle population? The answer may not always be yes, especially in a country like India where substantial portion of the population is youth and whose income are growing. Owning a car and driving it on busy streets is a status symbol for them and empty roads (if at all we get to see) will encourage more and more people to go for personal vehicles.

In most of the cases TODs are also pedestrian focussed, providing an extensive network of walking and cycling linkages to enhance accessibility to all activities, services and transit stops within the area. Demarcation of walking areas and their proper maintenance is of utmost importance for the success of the TOD. In India most of the development authorities and local bodies are notorious for the upkeep and maintenance of walking areas and the same agencies are involved in the TOD too. So, the big question is whether they can make a difference this time?

Further, TOD can work best when all departments and agencies and authorities work in complete harmony with each other with a single motto of making TOD a success. But this is easier said than done. We have state government, central government, local bodies, development authorities, various ministries and so on. All these departments and authorities are at loggerheads with each other always fighting for more authority and recognition. Above all, there is group of over-vigilant activists who always have an opposite for whatever government does or doesn’t do. Further, we have a “C” factor, that is, corruption, which is common for all emerging markets and India may be at the top of the table. In Developing countries, joint urban projects often fail due to the high level of corruption, bureaucracy and a short-term vision of authorities. So, first we need to decide whether we need a policy for TOD or develop a system which enhances the collaborative spirit among various agencies. Without collaborative spirit all programmes and policies will be a failure and waste of public money.

So, most of the benefits we see in TOD is limited to drawing board only and may not turn into reality. If advanced countries like Europe and USA have seen many benefits out of this, the same may not happen in India because of different demography, income level, land availability, efficiency of transportation, etc. Also, remember, in many of the advanced countries TOD plan was executed by providing more subsidies to low-income groups. Therefore, mimicking others success stories blindly may land us in ditches. We need to be innovative and should always keep in mind local conditions and preferences. Above all it should not amount to “neighbourhood change” just for the benefit of a few.