Perspectives from ISB

One of the most significant global trends in the past century has been the growth of cities and population. Public transportation is regarded as the foundation of sustainable urban development, as it enables effective city mobility and a step towards sustainable development. However, public transportation systems frequently struggle to offer high-quality services at a price that is affordable for both the public and frequent users. These systems should be attractive enough to be adopted for the population with low incomes and for those who do not frequently use public transport. This will require a high level of service.

According to Khan and Islam, urban populations worldwide practically always deal with traffic congestion. The problem is mostly related to how urban transportation affects people’s ability to travel during peak and non-peak hours. This affects people’s welfare by lengthening travel times and postponing work.

As per records, the population of Shillong in 2023 was about 507,890 and about 350,000 registered vehicles. Shillong’s population grew at a different rare every year from 2007 to 2021. This steep rise, roughly 12.56% was between 2010 and 2011, while the lowest, roughly 5.76% between 2019 and 2020. This continuous population growth combined with a notable increase in the number of vehicles on the road highlights the mounting strain on Shillong’s infrastructure and demand for effective public transportation options.

Public Transport in Shillong and its Challenges

The public transportation network in Shillong primarily comprises buses and mini red buses. However, the system faces several hurdles, including inadequate infrastructure, limited coverage, irregular schedules, and the spread of population across the length and breadth of the city. These factors contribute to congestion and gridlocks, accessibility challenges, seasonal fluctuations, and lack of coordination, particularly in the city centre, where narrow roads and hilly terrain exacerbate traffic flow issues.

The public bus system in Shillong is a distinctive example of how government and private sector services are combined to meet the demands of various communities and modes of transportation. Private proprietors operate the buses, providing customised transit options for certain communities and routes. The buses in Shillong are also up for hire.

However, this ownership dynamic also highlights a conspicuous lack of consistent control throughout the bus system. Because there are no set standards, crucial aspects such as reliability, cleanliness, and accessibility differ greatly amongst buses. Travelers frequently encounter fluctuations in the services rendered, and lack confidence in the hygiene of the buses, the accessibility features offered, or the reliability of the timetables.

Traffic Paradoxes

The induced demand conundrum, also known as the Pigou-Knight-Downs paradox, claims that increasing road capacity may, in fact, exacerbate traffic congestion rather than reduce it. This paradox provides important insights into the traffic congestion issues in Shillong, especially as they relate to the construction of new highways such as the Phulbari-Tura and Shillong-Dawki routes.

In developing towns such as Shillong, extending current roads or building new ones is considered a way to increase road capacity and relieve traffic congestion. However, the Pigou-Knight-Downs paradox implies that this strategy might not produce the expected results.

Here is how it applies to Shillong.

Induced Demand: It is easier and more convenient for people to drive when the Phulbari-Tura or Shillong-Dawki roads are widened to accommodate more cars. Because of this convenience, people who would have otherwise avoided using these routes due to traffic may decide to drive instead, which would increase the number of cars on the road as a whole.

Mode Shift: Additionally, commuters who previously used public transportation instead of driving may decide to do so as a result of improved road infrastructure. This modal change adds more to the volume of traffic on enlarged highways.

Urban Sprawl and Development: Building new highways or extending existing ones may encourage urban sprawl and development along these corridors. Over time, this growth may result in more trips and car ownership, exacerbating traffic congestion.

The Pigou-Knight-Downs paradox is applied to Shillong, where traffic congestion is a recurring problem, which emphasises the necessity for an all-encompassing approach to transportation planning. If alternative means of transportation are not encouraged, traffic management tactics are not used, or road capacity is simply increased, the result could be ineffective congestion relief or possibly worsening over time.

Shillong Urban Mobility Policy to the Rescue

Shillong finds itself at a crucial intersection in the management of traffic and public transportation. To improve the quality of life of its citizens and lessen the disadvantageous effects of pollution and traffic congestion, the city can work towards a more sustainable and effective urban transportation ecosystem by prioritising investments in public transportation infrastructure, encouraging multi-modal integration, and encouraging community engagement.

This is where the Shillong Urban Mobility Policy 2024 aims to reduce traffic congestion through various measures such as promoting sustainable modes of transportation, improving road infrastructure, implementing traffic management strategies, and encouraging the use of public transport. By prioritising the development of efficient and interconnected transportation systems, the policy seeks to alleviate traffic congestion, enhance mobility options, and create a more seamless urban transportation experience for residents and visitors.

Journeying with Ease: A Long Road Ahead

In Shillong, accessibility, frequency, and comfort of bus transit are essential for influencing urban mobility and providing inclusive transportation for locals. Let us understand public transport in Shillong and how it fares in traffic.

Route Coverage: Improving accessibility in Shillong requires bus routes to cover a large geographic area. Currently, the Shillong Traffic Police has announced that the famous red buses (SPTS) of Shillong City can only ply in certain pockets to tackle road congestion.

For passengers who depend on SPTS buses for their daily commute, bus deviations from their regular routes may disrupt their routine travel schedules. Regular commuters may be inconvenienced by this abrupt change, especially if they have special transportation needs or limited mobility.

Frequency and Reliability: To provide passengers with convenient transit options, bus services must operate with sufficient frequency and reliability. Passengers can plan their trips more efficiently when schedules are consistent and deadlines are followed, particularly for individuals who have time-sensitive commitments or mobility issues. The lack of frequency, inconsistent scheduling, and unreliability of buses, particularly in peri-urban areas, poses significant challenges to the accessibility and effectiveness of public transportation in Shillong. 

As a result, potential passengers may be discouraged from utilising buses, which would further lower ridership and make financial difficulties for public transportation providers worse.

Accessibility: Features that improve accessibility for riders with disabilities or mobility impairments should be installed on Shillong city buses. This includes wheelchair-accessible low-floor buses with ramps or elevators, special seating designated for people with disabilities, and audible announcements that provide route and stop information.

Despite efforts to improve public transportation, including initiatives to introduce low-emission vehicles, ropeways, cable cars, smart mobility cards, ticketing systems, increasing parking,  and expanding routes, challenges persist. Many residents still prefer private vehicles because of perceived convenience and reliability issues with public transport. Consequently, the rise of individual cars and motorcycles exacerbates congestion and air pollution in cities.

Author’s Bio: Nakiwanlang K Shullai is a fellow of the Meghalaya Legislative Research Fellowship of the Bharti Institute of Public Policy and Meghalaya Institute of Governance. She holds a master’s degree in Ecology, Environment, and Sustainable Development from Tata Institute of Social Science, Guwahati. Her areas of interest include Climate Change, Food Systems, Natural Resource Management, Public Policy, and Sustainable Development.

DISCLAIMER : The views expressed in this blog/article are author’s personal.

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