There has been a proliferation of different kinds of public transport
modes over the past few years, yet congestion and vehicular pollution in Indian cities is a cause for concern among citizens. Richard Threlfall,
global sector leader of public transport, KPMG, talks to Megha Manchanda
about opportunities and challenges that India faces in providing world-class urban transportation services:
The opportunity for India is greater than it is for countries like the UK. In terms of urban transport, you (India) are just on the cusp of spending billions of rupees on public transport
system and large part of it would be spent on electric vehicles.
The other reason why the opportunity for India is so great is that it is a densely populated country. In cities like Delhi and Mumbai, congestion is a really big challenge. The efficiency of a private car being owned and used is about five per cent, whereas if it is on a ride-share basis, it may be used 30-40 per cent of the times.
Uber is facing a lot of challenges in the UK as its licence for working in London has not been renewed by Mayor Sadiq Khan over security concerns. Do you think India can have stricter regulations?
We are seeing the birth of a new industry. The regulators are struggling a little to catch up with it and understand how to deal with it. The world was shocked that the Transport for London was not able to renew Uber’s licence. Personally, I think Uber
would continue to operate in London. What you are seeing is a negotiation, legitimately, between the company and the transport authority, which is trying to ensure that transport in London is safe and secure.
Here, the national capital’s mass rapid transport system – Delhi Metro – has seen two back-to-back fare hikes. Is periodic hike in fare a better solution so that the price-sensitive Indian commuter is not hurt from a steep price rise?
No metro service in the world has been able to recover its capital cost. Therefore, the governments all over the world have been subsidising it in order to make them affordable to people. The ability to travel is in the economic good of the country as a whole. It is, therefore, legitimate to spend general tax revenue to redistribute it among taxpayers.
Does India have the ecosystem in place for a technology like Hyperloop or, for that matter, even a bullet train?
Absolutely, it is. Studies have been done on the implications of using Hyperloop technology between Delhi and Mumbai. It reduces the travel time between those two cities to 70 minutes. That is the kind of opportunity it creates. There are a number of city pairs in the world where it could be true – Los Angeles-San Francisco, Sydney-Melbourne, etc.
Should India look at investing in the bullet train or should it leapfrog to Hyperloop?
If we always wait for the new technology, we will never do anything. And, if in due course Hyperloop works out, you do something else with it. But let’s not hold back the development of India for 10 years waiting for the future. India is doing the right thing by getting on with it now.
For any new infrastructure project in the country, the biggest bottleneck is land acquisition and subsequent rehabilitation. How can that be addressed?
There is a global debate as to where we should invest in our transport system, such as in a bullet train. In the benefit of the country as a whole, individual businesses and homes are affected because of the disproportionate compensation. We should recognise that countries should pay for the sacrifices that those individuals and companies
Which is the biggest challenge for urban transportation across the world at present? Is it the same for India?
The biggest challenge is a population increase and lack of capacity. The cost of bringing people as the city boundaries expand is becoming unsustainable. That is the biggest challenge and that is why the technology that is coming to transport is so exciting and powerful.