Sustainable transport and the modernisation of urban transport in Delhi and Stockholm

This article addresses from an Indo-Swedish perspective issues of the development of transport systems taking its examples from Delhi and Stockholm. The introduction of the first bus rapid transport corridor in Delhi and the congestion tax in Stockholm is presented and discussed in terms of modernisation and sustainable transport. The authors explore the perceptions of politicians and examine the two projects in the search for the driving forces for transport policies. Despite all the differences, some similarities in the development of their urban transport projects have been found. The paper inquires into the planning and operationalisation of transport modernisation and the politics of sustainable transport.

Sustainable transport and the modernisation of urban transport in Delhi and Stockholm

Marie Thynell, Dept. of Peace and Development Research, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Dinesh Mohan and Geetam Tiwari, Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India.

This summary has been kindly prepared for India and World Streets as an introduction to the full report which contains the full text, illustrations and tabular materials and which you can obtain from the Elsevier Science Direct Cities series –

The role of transport in urban areas has become an ever more important part of city life. Economic growth and a modern lifestyle make inhabitants travel more frequently and for longer distances. Accordingly, the pressure for efficient and sustainable transport leads cities to invest in new transport technology and management of urban traffic. The profiling of a modern city is of huge importance for its competitiveness in the national and international con¬text. For example, politicians are led to develop plans to generate an aura about their cities: in Beijing for the Olympic Games in 2008,2 or in Delhi in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Their plans aim to increase the attractiveness and the transport efficiency of their cities for visitors to the games, and, more importantly, to make the cities attractive for international investments by multi-national corporations.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the perceptions of politicians and examine some transport plans in two capital cities in the search for the driving forces that influence the urban transport plans and infrastructure development. The intention is to review the background and the outcome of one important transport initiative in each city.

The processes of motorisation in a well-planned and affluent city like Stockholm, and in an urbanising developing city, Delhi, are completely different. In both cities the present transport policies have had a long and messy history before being implemented. Of interest in this paper is also the process leading to new ways of handling urban transport. Were agreements about new transport an initiative based on a short and rapid process, or was a lengthy and stumbling process needed to reach a consensus? Politicians take the final decision. They in turn depend on the opinions of the voters and their preferences.

The question of preferences is highly relevant in finding out whose preferences and needs will set the agenda for sustainable transport. Politicians walk a tightrope, balancing various kinds of interests. For instance, looking back in history we find that in many cities it was the car-dependent middle class whose needs shaped the use of the street space, and the use of cars has transformed the urban areas
The selection of these two different cities is motivated by the assumption that though the two cities have very different historic and economic contexts, the preferences of the middle class are decisive for the way in which transport policies materialise. Of crucial importance for the outcome of these initiatives is how transportation systems are perceived by dominant actors, and the ways in which politicians negotiate the process of motorisation in these two cities. In Stockholm, the needs and preferences of the middle class (a majority in the population) has shaped urban transport by means of established ways of influencing the decision making, whereas, in Delhi the middle class which is a numerical minority dominates.

Despite having modernised their transport systems, both Stockholm and Delhi need to develop in the same direction, namely to move toward sustainable transport systems. The exploration of ways toward sustainable transport is carried out by means of two different examples: the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Delhi, India, and the introduction of a congestion tax in Stockholm, Sweden.

In Stockholm, mass motorisation proceeded in tandem with the modernisation and development of a welfare state. Already in the 1930s, automobility was a mature technological system and some decades later mass automobility spread in Sweden (Falkemark, 2006). In Delhi, however, mass motorisation was introduced spontaneously as a consequence of rapid economic liberalisation over the past two decades within the framework of a low income country. Stockholm had a relatively homogenous population and a small-scale, homogenous motorisation process. In Delhi the population is much more heterogeneous in composition (socio-economic background and income) and this mix is reflected in the heterogeneous use of the street space. Delhi’s roads have to cater to all the modes present in Stockholm plus hand carts, cycle rickshaws, a very high proportion of motorcycles and three-wheeled scooter taxis.

Various policies to regulate mass motorisation and to shape the character of the systems of transport have developed differently in these two cities. Stockholm is a modern and planned city, whereas Delhi has developed as a multi-centric city by plan and serendipity. Stockholm is developing less rapidly, making it possible to plan within a relatively stable situation, while the rapid economic growth and urbanisation of Delhi are going to be quite heady.

The role of urban politics is increasingly important internationally, as some important or global cities have been politically strengthened due to their economic influence (Sassen, 2001). In some countries, the politics of the capital city is influencing politics in other capitals by means of global networks and economic relations even at the cost of traditional national politics.

The experiences of modernisation of transport in the Stockholm and Delhi urban areas highlight different developmental trajectories, and thereby reveal different societal challenges and ways to cope with the problems of urban transport. Although, the imperative to achieve sustainability is present in both cities, the pertinent question is how do they become more sustainable? Despite their differences in political practice, the elected politicians in both cities hold the responsibility and take the decisions balancing perceived public pressure and personal preferences.


This paper highlights the role of politicians in influencing the urban transport. The text analysis of secondary sources such as official documents, statements, plans and evaluations, has been made. Some examples stressing the perceptions of the politicians and their influence on the process are presented. This paper will not present a chronological account of the historical processes. The perceptions of politicians together with some key issues of sustainability – city density, means of mobility, injuries and fatal¬ities – are scrutinised below, since these factors can be important in determining the road leading towards sustainability.

Stockholm and Delhi in 2002
For the sake of the topic of this paper, the process of motorisation in Delhi and Stockholm will be divided in two major phases: background and some transport initiatives. To begin with, an account is provided of the urban characteristics of Stockholm and Delhi.

Stockholm County is four times larger than Delhi in area, but has a population density 34 times less than Delhi. However, the population density of Delhi is only twice that of Stockholm City, which is the central portion of the urban area of Stockholm. The average income in Stockholm is about 25 times that of Delhi in absolute terms, and 4 times in terms of purchasing power parity (see Table 1).

Car ownership rate in Stockholm is 7.5 times greater than that in Delhi (see Table 2), which is about double the purchasing power parity (PPP) income ratio but one-third the absolute income ratio.

One fifth of the numbers of families own a car as compared to Stockholm. However, when one includes motorcycle ownership in the two cities, the gap in vehicle ownership per family decreases significantly – per capita ownership in Stockholm is three times that in Delhi, and the percentage of families owning a personal motorised vehicle is only 1.5 times in spite of the huge gap in per capita incomes. The availability of scooters and motorcycles has given 50% of Delhi families a personal vehicle at incomes 25 times lower than in Stockholm, while the per capita ownership is only three times lower.

The proportion of personal motor vehicle use (including motor¬cycles) in Stockholm is 2.4 times that of Delhi. The proportion of public transport trips in Delhi is just 15% less than in Stockholm, but non-motorised modes are 10 times more prevalent (see Table 3). In addition, the availability of taxis per capita is 2 times greater in Delhi than Stockholm.

The above figures would indicate that the transportation situation in Delhi is more desirable than in Stockholm because of low share of personal vehicles (cars and motorcycles) and 78% share of walking, bicycling and public transport trips compared to 49% in Stockholm. However, this is not borne out by the road safety and air pollution data shown in Tables 4 and 5.

These data show that the threat to life due to road traffic injuries and pollution in Delhi is much greater than in Stockholm. This shows the complexity of transport planning for a sustainable fu¬ture. It is clear that having the right modal mix and low use of per¬sonal transport is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the provision of clean air, safe roads and optimal access conditions in cities.

• Again, for the full text of these key sections, supporting tabular materials and references you are referred to the full article which is available from Elsevier at

Concluding discussion
The importance of modernisation is recognised by the authorities and the same goes for sustainable transport. In 2007, Stockholm introduced congestion taxes, while Delhi is balancing its needs for the provision of safe walking and bicycling infrastructure, the augmentation of efficient and affordable public transport systems, and becoming a modern ‘world class city’. The domination of the upper-class car-based worldview is supported by the middle-class dream of owning one’s first car.

While in Stockholm, the extensive middle class, having satisfied its desires for car ownership, is gingerly stepping into worries about sustainability and global warming, in Delhi the demand of the motorists for removing congestion irrespective of efficient bus operations might halt the modernisation of public transport and soft modes. In that case, the process of urban renewal will suffer a setback. On the other hand, if the integrated concept of BRT, walkable cities and bicycling becomes more politically attractive in the face of global warming, there might be a chance to counteract the growing risks associated with the globalised use of private cars.

The travel preferences made by families with growing incomes are today of decisive importance if new transport strategies to counteract the increasing global risks associated with the modern systems of transport are to become successful. At the same time, the ways of handling sustainable transport in affluent cities are seen as a way of implementing attractive solutions and setting the agenda for newly rich cities.

The notion of sustainability in Delhi is different from that in Stockholm, but in both cases it is articulated mostly by one socio-economic group, the influential middle class. This is due to the role of transport and the middle class to support economic growth. It is not based on (or to a lesser degree based on) the fact that large groups of citizen’s care about the environment. In Stock¬holm, the car-owning middle class is in the majority. Its influence on the politics of mobility is less conflict ridden due to the established political system. In Delhi, the democratic electoral process forces politicians to listen to the lower middle class and the poor majority at election time. However, after the elections, and during policy making, politicians are dominated by upper-middle-class technocrats and experts with different concerns. It is this battle that is leading politicians to examine alternatives to universal technological solutions, albeit very slowly.

Politicians look for ways of satisfying their voters’ demand for urban access. The way traffic issues are handled in richer cities might be attractive since lessons learned so far shows that behaviour in early modernised cities is being transferred to currently modernising cities.

The notion of sustainable transport emerged during the last two decades when western cities had already been modernised (alt. were already modernising their systems of transport) and hence their process towards sustainable transport contains other elements. Furthermore, the concept of sustainable transport is often defined in general terms that seems to comprehend modernisation of systems of transport plus environmental and social concerns. From this perspective, the acceptance of city street tolls, congestion taxes and bicycle lanes in wealthier cities such as Stockholm, London, and Singapore could be an interesting source of information for the growing middle class in Delhi. One of the lessons from introducing the congestion tax in Stockholm is that politicians take the decision early in their mandate, and enjoy the positive results before the next election.

The social differences in Stockholm and Delhi stress the inherent conflict between ecological and social sustainability. The ways of handling this call for different approaches. The explicit goal of social sustainability is to improve quality of life through providing opportunities in terms of incomes, housing, health, equity, liveabil¬ity and so on. Persons having a small ecological footprint need increased access, and for this reason raising taxes on vehicles and energy is not an alternative. Therefore, improved access in urban areas by means of sustainable transport is an essential goal.

The continuing high proportion of non-motorised modes and public transport use over the past 50 years in Delhi is due to low incomes and a lack of investments in modern transport technology. This provides another political lever for shaping the future of Delhi into a more inclusive city. In Stockholm, the heightened awareness about the role of CO2 emissions in spurring climate change makes the Swedish road users inclined to accept a congestion tax.

In Delhi, where 13% of the households have a car (2005), the transport needs of a significant percentage of low-income families are creating social tensions. This socio-economic conflict manifests itself politically, with no easy or fast solutions. Perhaps the emergence of sustainable transport in a developing urban area will have to be based on the transport needs associated with the lower middle class. The needs and resources of such families could be the point of departure for the design of sustainable transport policies and regulations. For the rapidly growing middle class, structural conditions such as city form, land use and accessibility issues, will have to be addressed in order to increase sustainability. In Stockholm, some debate about the risk of excluding low-income families took place in the media at the time of the congestion tax trial. This discussion, however, did not influence the final form of the congestion tax.

Finally, in conclusion, the modernisation of urban traffic is not the same as building a sustainable transport system. To increase sustainability, a number of social and environmental aspects have to be developed and integrated as well. The lesson learned from reviewing the experiences in Stockholm and Delhi is as follows.

Planning for the BRT in Delhi shows that it will have to be mediated through the inclusion of ‘modernisation’ in transportation discourse. The builders of transport systems who are engaged in extending mass automobility in Stockholm and Delhi will try to maintain their influence. For instance, in modernising the systems of transport, new and costly technology is applied focusing on modifying (transitioning to CNG, ethanol) and maintaining the car-and-road system, and only to a lesser extent addressing the light-rail-based modes of transport. The BRT becomes more acceptable when it is shown to introduce modern sleek buses, the use of intelligent transport systems, and gentrification of bus corridors. BRTs are more acceptable when the interests of the transport and construction industry are safeguarded. The extension of the metro system and preparations for introducing a monorail and LRT are not questioned, and they are pursued with the required investments and policies.

If BRT designs incorporate traffic safety and provision of non-motorised transport facilities and universal design concepts as integral to its functioning, it is possible that this new system will demonstrate that it can lead the city closer to the goal of a ‘world class’ and ‘liveable’ city.

In comparing the emergence of sustainable transport initiatives in a developed and in a developing city, the following can be concluded: Examples of strong government, efficiency or energetic action were not found. The need to improve the transport system was recognised decades earlier, more or less at about the time when mass motorisation was adopted. Then it became evident that major revisions of the infrastructure system were required to meet the growing demand for urban travelling. But, the decision-making remained slow, taking about 10–20 years, and was far from a linear process in the two cities. In Stockholm, despite lack of strong opposition, the decision was delayed. The initiatives that were finally decided on can be described as a modernisation of the systems of transport, and the process has been characterised by a lengthy muddling-through process. In a long term perspective, the emergence of the initiatives has been messy.

The experiences presented in this paper show that modernisation leads to sustainability only to a limited extent. It can be stated that the decisions about urban transport have favoured modernisation at the cost of sustainability although politicians have claimed to increase sustainability.

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The full nine page article on which this posting is based originally appeared in the Elsevier Science Direct Cities series –

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About the authors

Dr. Marie Thynell is a Research Fellow with the Dept. of Peace and Development Research of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Her main areas of interest as a researcher and teacher are in Sustainable Development, Global Development Research, Global Motorization, Global Cities, Social Sustainability, Transport systems and policy. We would like to thank Dr. Thynell for working with us to prepare these extracts so as to give what we consider to be important research findings the broadest possible circulation.)

Dinesh Mohan is Professor for Biomechanics and Transportation Safety and Co-ordinator of the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. Concerned with mobility and safety of people outside the car he is trying to integrate these issues within a broader framework of sustainable transport policies, urban transport options and people’s right to access and safety as a fundamental human right. Recipient of: Distinguished Alumnus Award of Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, the American Public Health Association International Distinguished Career Award.

Geetam Tiwari is TRIPP Chair Associate Professor for Transport Planning at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and Adlerbretska Guest Professor for sustainable urban transport at the Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. She has extensive research experience in dealing with transportation issues of special relevance to low-income countries. Dr Tiwari received the International Velocity Falco Lecture Prize in Barcelona, the Stockholm Partnerships award for local impact, innovative thinking and a potential for replication or transferability, the Centre for excellence grant from Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF), and the Prince Michaels award for promoting road safety research.


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