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«This research project would not have been possible without the assistance of locally-based researchers in Calcutta. We wish to put on record our ...»

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Non-motorized Transport and Sustainable Development: Evidence from Calcutta

John Whitelegg1 and Nick Williams2

This research project would not have been possible without the assistance of locally-based researchers

in Calcutta. We wish to put on record our thanks to Jayanta Basu and Debasish Bhattacharyya who

arranged transport to the interview sites and commented extensively on the research design and the

questionnaire. The interviews were conducted in Hindi and Bengali by Suman Bandyopadhyay and Anirban Paul.

Abstract The important role that non-motorized transport plays in urban sustainability is discussed with particular reference to the developing world and to the links between environmental and poverty issues.

The significance of non-motorized transport in terms of reduced pollution, income maintenance for the poor and providing transport for vulnerable groups is stressed and placed within the general context of sustainable development. More specifically, evidence is presented for rickshaws in Calcutta which demonstrates the vital role that non-motorized transport must play if sustainable development objectives are to be met. This evidence indicates that if rickshaws were to disappear from Calcutta’s streets there would not only be significant increases in air pollution but also a substantial increase in the numbers of people living in poverty.

Introduction It is now generally accepted that the problems faced by cities in the developing world can be tackled effectively only by recognising that they are interconnected, and that policies across a range of issues must be developed and executed in an integrated fashion. The force of the concept of sustainable development is that it is based on just such an integration across environmental, social and economic dimensions. This has been argued strongly by the environmental movement for some time but is also supported by those with a more social or economic interest, and in particular those committed to the reduction of poverty are recognising that environmental issues and poverty must be tackled together. The World Bank has committed itself to the principles of sustainable development (Serageldin and Steer 1994, World Bank

1997) and national governments are now attempting to use these principles as guides in shaping their aid programmes. The UK Government for example is now committed to “support for international development targets and policies which create sustainable livelihoods for poor people, promote human development and conserve the environment” (Department for International Development, 1997, p.6). The reality of action however does not always, or even usually, match the rhetoric of official statements and publications. Development projects often fail to integrate different issues and are also frequently locked into a view of the development process which directly contradicts the principles of sustainable development. Top down, large scale, capital intensive and growth promoting projects heavily dependent on global markets are still being promoted in cities in the developing world, both by international agencies and foreign and home governments, all of whom pay lip service to sustainable development.

These considerations apply to transport particularly strongly. The transport debate globally has changed out of all recognition in recent years. Transport has escaped from the narrow, mechanistic world of highway infrastructure and economic development arguments that dominated discussions in the 1970s and 1980s and is now recognised as a key component of sustainable development and poverty eradication (Replogle 1991, Williams 1998). Transport has significant welfare, environmental and social justice implications just as strong traffic growth has significant negative effects on the economy through congestion and defensive expenditures on health care, road traffic accidents and other diseconomies of John Whitelegg Liverpool John Moores University, School of the Built Environment, Clarence St, Liverpool L3 5UG Fax: 0151 709 4957 Email: BLTJWHIT@livjm.ac.uk Nick Williams University of Aberdeen, Department of Geography, Elphinstone Rd, Aberdeen AB24 3UF Fax: 01224 272331 Email: n.williams@abdn.ac.uk urban life in crowded cities. In terms of quality of life there is a realisation that crowded, polluted and noisy cities are both unacceptable and avoidable. Evidence is presented here for Calcutta to affirm the importance of sustainability principles in transport development and poverty reduction, and in particular to confirm the vital role that non-motorized transport has in sustainable urban development.

Non-motorized transport and sustainable urban development Despite the lip service paid to the importance of sustainability for transport systems (see for example World Bank 1996), governments in the developing world are still being encouraged and assisted to pursue transport policies linked to outdated notions of modernisation and car dependency which are rapidly being abandoned in the developed world. Responses to rapidly rising rates of car ownership and consequent congestion have in the main consisted of expensive road building and changes to urban physical structure which are difficult to reverse, damaging to social cohesion, and regressive in their impact. These measures are ultimately futile since they cannot keep pace with the rate of increase of car ownership, and in any case generate more of the congestion they are designed to reduce; Bangkok is perhaps the most extreme example of the futility of major infrastructure expenditure as a solution to congestion, but it is certainly not untypical. These policies also increase pollution in urban environments which are already the most polluted and health damaging in the world. In social and economic terms, their impact is highly regressive since car ownership is restricted to the wealthy whereas the negative consequences of traffic increase and pollution impact most severely on the poor. Furthermore, expenditure on road construction is money which could have been spent in other ways to benefit the community as a whole and the poor in particular, such as improvements to public transport and pollution control measures.





The irony is that despite their many problems, developing world cities have many characteristics which reinforce sustainability, but which are being ignored or destroyed in the name of a misguided view of progress. In the particular context of transport, modal split is heavily weighted toward walking and non-motorized vehicles. These are the most sustainable transport modes being non-polluting, cheap and labour intensive. They are also the modes most vulnerable to large scale road building programmes. There is now a growing recognition that these traditional means of transport can play a vital part in maintaining sustainable cities (Replogle 1992, 1993; United Nations 1987), a recognition that is being translated into reality in parts of the developed world but is being ignored in most of the developing world. Walking and cycling are healthy, non-polluting and available to everyone including the poor. Moreover, non-motorized transport for hire such as rickshaws and pedicabs generates huge amounts of non-skilled employment and is vital in maintaining the incomes of some of the most vulnerable urban dwellers. Gallagher (1992) in his classic study of rickshaws in Bangladesh has estimated that they contribute 34% of the value added from the transport sector to GDP and support 5 million people (4.5% of the population of Bangladesh). The rickshaw is one of the most important sectors of the Bangladeshi economy and provides a means of subsistence for groups of people for whom there is quite literally no current alternative. Rickshaws are also vital in maintaining mobility in urban areas where streets are narrow and unsuitable for motorized vehicles; rickshaws make up 85% of all vehicular traffic in Old Dhaka (Saito 1993).

Non-motorized transport makes a substantial contribution to reducing air pollution simply by providing a widespread and attractive alternative to heavily polluting motorized transport. Hook (1998) applied this logic to his study of cycle taxis in Agra (India). Using Chilean-specific emissions data he concluded that if all rickshaw trips were reallocated to highly polluting two stroke IC engines (e.g. the autorickshaw) then the annual totals of pollutants in Agra would increase by 11 tonnes of lead, 4,000 tonnes of particulates, 20,000 tonnes of carbon monoxide and 150 tonnes of NOx.

There is now widespread acceptance that there are important links between transport systems and poverty, and that non-motorized transport offers significant benefits for low income groups, the sick, the elderly, women and children. This is particularly important in the developing world where so many people live in poverty. Non-motorized transport is cheaper, non-polluting and more flexible. It provides employment to the unskilled and is labour intensive in terms of operation and the manufacture and maintenance of vehicles. Energy intensive and “efficient” (in the narrow monetary sense) motorized transport is too expensive for the poor and is capital intensive. A shift from non-motorized to motorized transport will reduce the mobility of the poor and destroy jobs. The pollution caused by motorized vehicles will impact most heavily on the poor and the sick but they will benefit least from their use. Increased use of motorized transport will make walking and cycling, the modes of transport most used by the poor, more hazardous. The construction of new roads to cater for increased motorized traffic will fragment the built environment and disrupt communities.

Despite the significant and obvious advantages that non-motorized transport has for sustainability objectives, it is increasingly under threat in the developing world and in some cities concerted efforts have been made to eradicate it. This is usually justified by arguments that slow moving non-motorized vehicles obstruct faster cars, buses and lorries thereby causing congestion, and also that they project the wrong image for cities wishing to attract foreign investment. The Indonesian version of the cycle rickshaw, the becak, was banned in Jakarta in 1988. In June 1998 activists managed to persuade the Governor of Jakarta to lift the ban in the light of the Asian economic crisis and the need to find low cost transportation problems, and within a short time some 2,000 becaks had entered the city from other parts of Indonesia. The Governor’s subsequent reversal of his decision led to widespread public dissatisfaction. Governments may also be driven by the desire to boost domestic car manufacture even though the employment gained will probably be more than offset by the employment lost from any decline in non-motorized transport and despite the pollution increase and foreign expenditure required for oil importation. Hook and Replogle (1996) have described recent developments in China, a country still at present dependent upon nonmotorized transport but which is devoting substantial resources to supporting motorized modes and which wishes to expand both car ownership and domestic car production. China has borrowed over $1.4 billion in the past 10 years from the World Bank for road capacity expansion and projections of the Beijing Traffic Bureau show the current modal share for bicycles falling from 50% to 17% by the year 2040. Bicycles have been banned from some of the most congested roads in Beijing in the hope of easing congestion whilst at the same time increasing car ownership and use is being encouraged. The involvement of the World Bank with such developments sits uneasily with commitments to sustainability.

Transport and the Environment in Calcutta Calcutta encapsulates the essence of the ‘mega-city’ transport problem in developing countries. It is a city of 14 million residents living at high density (over 10,000 persons per square kilometre on average, and over 23,000 per square kilometre in central Calcutta) suffering severe infrastructure problems. Housing, water supply and sanitation are substandard with over 3 million people living in slums or on the pavements. Calcutta has a motor vehicle population of over 600,000 with low but rapidly rising levels of car ownership (at least 20% per annum) which operates under conditions most likely to maximise air pollution. The fuel used is poor quality, predominantly leaded and often adulterated. Vehicles are poorly maintained (most emitting black smoke) and there is widespread and official ‘approval’ of breaches of vehicle pollution laws (including readily obtainable certificates of pollution law compliance without checks). Traffic congestion is severe and there are no traffic management systems such as bus lanes.

Air quality is as bad as anywhere in the world. Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) pollution (mainly from diesel engines and from auto-rickshaws) frequently exceeds 1000 ug/cubic metre when the WHO standard which should not be exceeded is 70 ug/cubic metre (Chakraborti 1997, Samanta et al 1998). In the UK a limit value of 50ug/cubic metre (24 hour running mean) is recommended as the level that should not be exceeded. Traffic remains the largest single source of health damaging air pollution and the source which is growing in significance over time. Noise is also a problem and levels on any of the main roads and intersections render human speech unintelligible. Road traffic accidents are increasingly threatening the lives of its residents. Congestion levels are not as bad as Bangkok but journeys to and from the centre (BBD Bag) or in and around Barrabazaar, New Market, Howrah and Sealdah stations will incur substantial delay and create an urban environment for residents, pedestrians and rickshaw drivers/occupants that is as miserable as any in the world.



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