Road to Sustainability: The Crucial Role of Transportation Sector Reforms in Advancing the SDGs

By Siddharth Jain.

The surge in population and urbanisation, coupled with improvements in living standards across Indian cities, has led to a substantial upswing in transportation demands. According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), the transportation sector in India has exhibited a compound annual growth rate of approximately 7% over the last decade. This has led to an increase in transportation emissions, which contribute significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and air pollution. Nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and other GHG emissions are significant pollutants from the transportation sector. These rising emissions adversely affect the environment and human health.

Sustainable Transportation and the SDGs

To address this issue, there is a growing consensus on the need for sustainable transportation — one of the focal points of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put forward by the United Nations for a better world by 2030. Further, because of the economic, social, and environmental impacts, it is imperative to consider sustainable transportation while working towards achieving the SDGs. Sustainable transportation impacts multiple SDGs; however, the SDGs with significant impacts are SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure).

Steps Towards Sustainable Transportation

To support the achievement of SDGs and mitigate air pollution from the transportation sector, it is crucial to develop a sustainable transport system. Some of the steps needed in this direction are discussed below.

Promoting Electric Vehicles

In the past, the Government of India took several steps to promote electric vehicles (EVs) and achieve the SDGs, with one such initiative being the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric (FAME) Vehicles scheme. While such schemes promote the adoption of EVs, factors such as high cost, low awareness among people, and lack of charging and maintenance centres are significant deterrents in this area.

Further, transitioning to sustainable transportation requires interventions in other areas also, as discussed below.

Improving Public Transportation

Encouraging people to travel by public vehicles, such as buses, will lead to reduced emissions, fuel consumption, and need for parking space. Further, such modes have more passenger carrying capacity than private vehicles, such as cars. Initiatives, such as dedicated bus lanes, priority for public vehicles, and integrated ticketing systems, can encourage individuals to choose public vehicles over private ones.

Developing an Integrated Multimodal System

Promoting seamless connections between various modes of transportation is essential to reduce reliance on private vehicles and transport emissions. Intermodal transportation hubs, such as metro stations, allow the convergence of multiple modes of transport. This facilitates transfers, making it simpler for people to switch between public transportation, cycling, walking, and other sustainable modes.

Encouraging Non-motorised Transport

Increasing awareness of walking and cycling as viable modes of transportation, particularly for short distances, can help reduce traffic congestion and enhance air quality. Establishing safe and well-maintained walking and cycling paths, instituting bike-sharing programmes, and educating the public about the benefits of non-motorised transportation are crucial measures for addressing the transportation emission challenge.

The Way Forward

Incorporating these components of sustainable transportation and renewable energy necessitates a multisectoral approach, involving government authorities, urban planners, transport agencies, and community participation. We can create more habitable, resilient, and environmentally friendly cities and regions by prioritising sustainable transport solutions and investing in the necessary infrastructure.

In the fifth edition of India Clean Air Summit (ICAS), we plan to explore the need to prioritise clean air for sustainable development and Mission LiFE — India’s most ambitious policy yet to address climate change.

The author works in the area of air pollution at the Centre for Air Pollution Studies (CAPS) at CSTEP, a research-based think tank.

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