Understanding Urban transport – the Unconventional way!

Samuel Zimmerman and Ajay Kumar at the Center of Excellence in Urban Transport (CoE-UT) lecture series 2017
by Anupama V S
12 September 2017




Mr. Samuel L Zimmerman is an urban transport planner having experience of about 50 years in the field. Since past twelve years he has been working as Senior Urban Transport Specialist at The World Bank. He was also The Project Manager for the Initial Development of York Region Ontario’s (Toronto), an award winning “Viva” rapid transit (BRT) system. As a part of CoE-UT Lecture series held on 7th September 2017, he unfolded the various possibilities of alternatives in urban transport and urged the need to divert from the conventional.

Dr. Ajay Kumar has over 30 years of experience in public policy, strategic planning and management, finance and economic planning, with a specific focus on transport and urban sectors. For about twenty years Mr. Kumar has worked in the sector of operations and management in The World Bank Group. Mr. Kumar has a Ph.D. in Urban Economics and Planning from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. During the CoE-UT lecture series, Dr. Kumar facilitated the understanding of the framework of institutions in urban transport and the dire need to establish a rigid yet feasible framework in the country.



Urbanization trends and patterns present unprecedented challenges to urban mobility systems. Population growth, increases in household income, and increase in commercial and industrial activities have placed heavy demands on urban transport systems, demand that many developing countries, like India, have not been able to meet. Mobility flows have become a key dynamic in the rapid urbanization process of Indian cities with urban transport infrastructure constituting the skeleton of the urban form.

Samuel Zimmerman started off the lecture on alternative analysis of urban transport by quoting that “travel demand is an essential part of transport planning”. Since travel demand is becoming increasingly high lately, he said it is all the more necessary to focus on various transport planning strategies and its alternatives. Forecasting the travel mobility and providing the necessary services can be a challenging task, especially because it deals with uncertainties at a higher degree. In such cases, he stressed on weaving a typical comprehensive mobility planning process, listing various strategies, listing the potential investments and then looking at the alternatives analysis for the same.

Despite the increasing levels of urban mobility in cities, access to places, activities and services is becoming increasingly difficult in terms of convenience, cost and time. Mr. Zimmerman emphasized the need for designing transport access simultaneously along with the transport services. He said transport shapes land use laterally and there comes the need to take affordability into consideration. Conducting feasibility studies and taking public response is vital for the success of any transport planning project.

Elevated highways are not always the answer!

Mr. Zimmerman claimed that most of the highways in India have “eaten up” public transport nodes and are to be well planned and strategically placed to avoid its intervention into bus stops. Since Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) and Public Transport (PT) forms most of the travel modes in Ahmedabad, he highlighted the need to deliver high performance, high quality and high capacity public transport services. He said that bus stops need identity, permanent stations, dedicated driveways and high local service.

While planning for the public, it becomes highly important to follow stringent ethics and codes. Zimmerman talked about how being ethical and unbiased proved much more successful and feasible while designing for the urban transport and concluded his talk by saying that “what makes planning efficient is transparency.”

The session was then taken over by Dr. Ajay Kumar who talked about institutions in urban transport. He rightly stated that urban transport is not just designs and strategies but also people and emotions. Urban transport systems require several functions to be performed in a well-coordinated manner for seamless and comfortable travel experience for commuters. Since these are performed by multiple agencies under the central, state and city governments which do not necessarily work together which in turn have repercussions on the services.

The lacunae lie in the fact that there isn’t any specific department assigned for regulation of institutions concerning urban transport. Unfortunately, there is a severe lack of horizontal and vertical coordination among the agencies at central, state and local levels, making accountability very difficult. Dr. Kumar unequivocally stated that functional integration, modal integration, spatial integration and hierarchal integration formed

the heart of the institutional framework for which the necessary conditions are political support, financial resources and human capacity.

No one size fits all – city context requires unique, tailored institutional arrangements.

Dr. Kumar laid stress on the fact that going the conventional way was not a solution to address different problems. For example, assuming that public transport is always more affordable than the informal transport and thus providing public transport services in a particular region is not always correct. He asked us to first look and analyse the current situation, identify problem and then give relevant solution. He raised several thought provoking questions like should institutions perform functions related to only public transport or to all aspects of transport? Should they have city alone under their purview or consider the entire region? Should they be managed by public enterprises or private contracts? To what level should public opinion be taken into consideration while framing institutional codes?

The sessions gave insight on how to efficiently tackle issues related to urban transport and paved way to develop an unconventional view to arrive at better solutions.






Watch the lecture video here.