Friday, July 17, 2009


Sudhir Gota and Bert Fabian
Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities Center

Becoming “refugees” in our own cities

According to international refugee law , a refugee is someone who seeks refuge in a foreign country because of war and violence, or out of fear of persecution "on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group”. Authors draw parallel from the term “refugee” in order to emphasize the growing social discrimination and exclusion of vulnerable road users while making transport decisions.

The authors have investigated various documents and newsreports to argue as to how we are increasingly becoming victims of our own solutions and thus becoming refugees in our own lands. In the subsequent sections, the authors have tried to explore various issues in order to prove this facet, while the WHO (2009) in the latest study provides a very good summary of victimization of vulnerable people.

Our roads are particularly unsafe for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists who, without the protective shell of a car around them, are more vulnerable. These road users need to be given increased attention. Measures such as building sidewalks, raised crossings and separate lanes for two wheelers; reducing drink-driving and excessive speed; increasing the use of helmets and improving trauma care are some of the interventions that could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. While progress has been made towards protecting people in cars, the needs of these vulnerable groups of road users are not being met

The externalities of transport

Outdoor air pollution alone causes an estimated 800,000 deaths each year. Research from the East & West Center based in Hawaii, U.S. on commuter’s exposure to PM 10 while walking in Hanoi (2006) are as high as 495µg/m3. The Health Effects Institute hospital and household studies in Ho Chi Minh City (2007) found a strong link between air pollution, especially ozone and NO2, and health impacts on young children in the form of acute lower respiratory illness.

In a 2009 survey, one in every five people in Hong Kong said they were considering leaving the city because of the air pollution. One in 10 was either seriously considering leaving or already in the process of leaving. Also results indicated that severest health effects aggravated by air pollution are associated with income with poor people as major sufferers.

The WHO in a 2009 study estimates around 150,000 deaths occurring in low-income countries each year due to climate change from four climate-sensitive health outcomes – crop failure and malnutrition, diarrheal disease, malaria and flooding. 85% of these excess deaths were found in younger children.

According to latest WHO estimates, nearly 1.27 million people die in road traffic crashes every year. In addition, road crashes cause between 20 million and 50 million non-fatal injuries every year and are an important cause of disability. Important aspects to be noted are:

• High share of “vulnerable group” in the traffic accidents. In fact, in low-income countries of South East Asia over 80% of those killed are vulnerable road users
• Over 90% of the world’s fatalities on the roads occur in low-income and middle-income countries which has 48% of vehicles
• 32% of countries in world have national or local level policies on walking and cycling
• 50% of world’s population lives in countries which do not have speed limits on urban roads (of less than or equal to 50 kmph) and for the countries which have some sort of speed limits, enforcement is very poor (in a rating evaluation only 9% of countries scored 7 or more in the range 1-10)
• Projections suggest that road traffic fatalities would be the fifth leading cause of death by 2030 with an estimated 2.4 million fatalities per year

Data from many cities (Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, India and Philippines) suggest that average ambient noise levels range from 50-100 with 112db being maximum. Research on noise pollution is indicating that it causes more deaths when compared to heart disease. There is growing evidence that noise pressure levels exceeding 50 db(A) during night time are related to the development of high blood pressure and exceeding 65 db(A) during day time increases the risk for heart attacks in men. Research (footnote 6) indicates that, In a German city “Cologne”, for every third household moving out of city, noise and air pollution in the city was a crucial reason. It is to be noted that people walking, cycling and using public transport face the highest exposure thus are at greatest risk.

Urban sprawl induced development

Asian cities undergo a “push-pull” phenomenon. Many people are abandoning the cities in search of better quality of life and environment and moving out of such cities (push), on the other hand, there are still a high number of people migrating into such decaying cities in order to make a living (pull). Also, the trend of ‘slush and burn development’ is on the raise in many Asian cities. Private real estate developers are developing various periphery business districts and new commercial areas while abandoning the old decaying sections of the city in order to generate the economic boom. This kind of development needs to be understood in context of poor people.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization report points out that the overwhelming majority of the hungry live in the developing world with 65% of them in just seven countries - India, China, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Majority of such poor migrate to cities and live in slums next to major corridors. Some reports indicate that Asian cities currently accommodate nearly 60% of total world’s slum population. In Delhi, approximately 45% of population are clustered into slums and live in inhuman conditions and have to face transport discrimination daily.

Sometimes the cleansing, densification and beatification process carried out for city development (sometimes solutions such as transport focused development which induces sprawl along public transport routes) creates more victims then solutions. Major benefits accrued by land because of such transport development are squeezed by rich people thus further marginalizing the poor.

Reports from Mumbai indicate that 1,5000 million INR Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) is being opposed the very expert committee which was authorized by government. Reports indicate that the reason being possible damage to the livelihood of local people as well as the burden it will add to an already-densely populated area. Some reports indicate that from a city like Chennai alone about 100,000 people will be shifted out of the city as part of a clean-up. A news report quotes Jeb Brugmann as saying

I have studied migrant communities in several places and one thing that stands out is that they all have a unique psychological profile — they are risk-takers with a strong entrepreneurial drive. Shifting these people to the margins, cutting them off from resources and opportunities is only a recipe for revolution,”

Several research papers have documented the impact of rail system on Bangkok landmarket. It is true that Bangkok has seen some transformation because of improvement in public transport facilities. But not many people have documented the impact of such projects on vulnerable people. ADB’s Urban Transport Project in Bangkok has documented some impact of the ADB’s urban transport project. Nearly 1220 households had to be relocated. The Performance Evaluation Report notes that

1. Increase in commercial area around the corridors ( exploitation of land for commercial reasons)
2. Of every 100 vehicles on the roads that benefit from the project road, 45% of the persons in them are estimated to be bus passengers.

3. Although the information is patchy, the main conclusion is that the relocation has not improved the lives of the relocated people because of project. The main issues were increased travel distances to work and separation from relatives. There were indications that a portion of the resettlers had become worse off: 49% had economic problems, and 44% took more time to travel, with only 9% taking less time.

With such increasing challenges, research from India and China indicate that people spend more on transport then on housing, health and education. With increasing prices, people tend to consume less food in order to afford higher transport costs.

Subsidizing the rich at the cost of the poor and the underprivileged

In 2008, increase in fuel prices severely affected governments that subsidized fuels. Fuel subsidies cost annually about 0.1-15 billion USD across various countries. The Indonesian government acknowledged that “with the increasing fuel subsidy, the government’s ability to fund programs which are oriented to the improvement of lives for the poor has dramatically reduced. These programs include education, health facilities, National Program for Community Empowerment, small business credit facilities, and the development of infrastructure. On the other hand, the fuel subsidy is mainly consumed by those who are not targeted by the program. As much as 40 percent of high income families benefit from 70 percent of the subsidy, while 40 percent of the lowest income families only benefit only 15 percent.”

The Elite and poor Neighborhoods in New Delhi

A recent walkability survey in Delhi by CSE, points out the deficiency in investment planning. It evaluated pedestrian facilities in a low income neighborhood with a high income neighborhood and found that- In Govindpuri (low income neighborhood) where about 100 persons walk per five minutes during peak hour had poorly foor facilities and in Aurangzeb Road (high income neighborhood) lined with ministerial bunglows, where only 3 persons were seen walking in ten minutes during the morning peak hour, has well designed and spacious footpaths.

Banning Cycle Rickshaws in New Delhi

In May 2006, the High Court of Delhi passed an order directing the municipal government to stop granting licenses for cycle rickshaws on Delhi roads, complete a ban on use of cycle rickshaws in Delhi's Chandni Chowk area, and introduce compressed natural gas buses in the area to replace the rickshaws. The reason citied was high congestion caused by cycle rickshaws. Estimates suggested that cycle rickshaws save more than 10 million motorized trips daily across the capital. Infuriated by the authority’s unjust intervention, many NGO’s fought the battle in judicial courts.
Many studies were quoted in the exchange. According to the latest reports, the Delhi High Court took an exception to the ‘unrealistic approach’ of the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) in banning cycle-rickshaws in parts of the capital and slammed it for not fixing a limit on the number of cars a person can possess.

It suggested - ‘We find the guidelines are unrealistic. Why are you so enthusiastic in banning cycle-rickshaws? Why don’t you issue guidelines limiting the number of cars a person can have in the city?’
Though the court battle is still on but the condition of cycle rickshaw drivers have deteriorated over time due to harassment by authorities and fellow motorists. According to a survey by ITDP, the majority of cycle rickshaw drivers (54%) were landless laborer and over 30% were small/marginal farmers with majority of them illiterate. Their earnings from running the cycle rickshaw was around 2$-6$ per day.
It is to be noted that there has been no reports on reduction in congestion at the places where ban took place.

Banning Cycle Rickshaws in Dhaka

One of the main reasons of Cycle rickshaw growth in Dhaka has been the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC), decision on September 1, 2002 to ban two stroke auto-rickshaws. The demand for informal public transport and short trip lengths (<5km)

DUTP – 1998 report showed that the Rickshaws took only 38% of road space while transporting 54% of passengers in Dhaka. The private cars on the other hand, took up 34% of road space while only transporting 9% of the population.

HDRC study captured the before and after impacts of Cycle rickshaw ban. Few of the conclusions are presented below

a. Average monthly net income of rickshaw pullers decreased by 32%, from3,834 to 2,600 taka

b. The amount of money sent back to their villages also declined following the ban. Before the ban, on average rickshaw pullers spent 64% of net income and sent the rest (36%) to his village. Following the ban, the amount spent in Dhaka decreased by 27%, while the amount sent to the village decreased by41%.

c. Pullers compensated for loss of income by reducing food consumption, particularly of fish, meat, and cooking oil: for NMT pullers overall, 85.9%decreased their consumption of fish, 87.5% decreased consumption of meat,65.1% decreased consumption of cooking oil, and over half (55.3%) decreased consumption of vegetables.

d. There was an increase in the number of income earners in the family from 1.24 to 1.37. This suggests that some children have been taken out of school to compensate for lost income, or that the burden on wives of the pullers have further increased as they must earn money as well as do all the family and household labor.

Sharifa Begum et al. did research on income and poverty aspects of cycle rickshaw drivers and concluded that

a. urban rickshaw pullers in Dhaka come from very poor economic backgrounds consistent with the characteristics of chronic poverty

b. rickshaw pulling provides a route for modest upward mobility for those chronic rural poor who come to the city for work.

c. rickshaw pullers are susceptible to systematic health risks; deteriorating health, combined with health shocks, can impose a significant burden on the urban poor, dragging down the pace of upward mobility during their lifetime.

d. rickshaw pulling represents an unsustainable livelihood, as the initial welfare gains taper off with length of involvement in the sector.

e. intergenerational mobility of rickshaw-puller households is constrained by very limited schooling and the poor range of occupational choices for children.

Before and after studies conducted on some roads proved that there was no travel time gain for fuel dependent vehicle was achieved due to rickshaw ban but instead over the years the travel times for buses did undergo significant deterioration with a 26.1% increase of travel times. Also for shorter trips, there was significant increase in travel time due to non availability of transport-mode.

It can be derived from various research reports that banning cycle rickshaws do not serve any purpose and instead efforts should be made to improve the life of such people by offering them security and benefits. Banning is not a solution as it does not improve the congestion of city, road safety and life of such drivers but instead restricts the accessibility, mobility and increases motorization and environmental damage.

How about the old & persons with disabilities?

There are nearly 207 million aged (65 or>65 years) people in Asia (constituting approx 6% of total population). With mandatory retirement age of 55-60 years , and with huge proportion of older people being poorest people all their life with no savings , aged people become dependent on families as governments in many countries don’t play an active role in providing benefits across various dimensions. From the transport sector, in many countries it does not provide any relief but acts as a catalyst in aggravating the problems. Consuming polluted air for major part of life and travelling in torturous transport services over the later part of the years inflates the problems. Inefficient public transport services with encroached non-motorized facilities by traffic leaves them with little options. Research indicates that very few old people access public transit services in developed countries but its opposite in Asia.

The old people who manage to use public transport facilities often find themselves in mercy of crowded fellow passengers for getting a seat. Deprived of accessibility and mobility over the years, people are left to fend themselves from high motorization externalities.

Some Asian governments provide little transport-finance incentives such as
1. The Government of India has provided a 50% discount for bus transportation for older people (in one state free transportation is allowed on city buses)
2. In Nepal, the elderly get a 25% discount on transportation courtesy Nepalese Municipal Authority.
3. For the elderly in Thailand, only half price is charged for third-class journeys from June to September

Reports suggest that only about 15% of the loco motor disabled in India are able to use public transport. The term “barrier free” movement is yet a vision in Asian cities (exceptions include some developed cities such as Hong Kong and some Japanese cities). Experience from Philippines suggests that only 2 percent of children with disabilities have access to elementary education with the major barrier being “absence of accessible transportation”.

The following is an excerpt from the Persons with Disabilities Act from Malaysia, Philippines and India -
Malaysia (2008) - Access to public transport facilities – “Persons with disabilities shall have the right to access to and use of public transport facilities, amenities and services open or provided to the public on equal basis with persons without disabilities”

Philippines - Batas Pambansa Bilang 344 (National Law), Accessibility Law in 1983: purpose of enhancing the mobility of persons with disabilities by requiring public utilities to install facilities to make transportation accessible. Enactment of Republic Act 7277 provides in Section 25 thereof for a barrier-free environment

India (1995) - the act emphasizes the need for access of children with disabilities to school. It further suggests
a. adapt rail compartments, buses, vessels and aircrafts in such a way as to permit easy access to such persons;
b. adapt toilets in rail compartments, vessels, aircrafts and waiting rooms in such a way as to permit the wheel chair users to use them conveniently.
c. installation of auditory signals at red lights in the public roads for the benefit of persons with visual handicap;
d. causing curb cuts and slopes to be made in pavements for the easy access of wheel chair users;
e. engraving on the surface of the zebra crossing for the blind or for persons with low vision;
f. engraving on the edges of railway platforms for the blind or for persons with low vision;
g. devising appropriate symbols of disability;
h. warning signals at appropriate places.

Though many cities provide subsidies in tickets, in-accessibility of public transport terminals and vehicles proves to be a major barrier. Even with the passage of such laws, transport in many cities is yet to become disabled friendly.

Recent news reports from Indonesia suggest that “Instead of requiring level footpaths and ramps, lawmakers voted unanimously this month to demand disabled people wear signs announcing their condition so motorists won't run them down as they cross the street.” Though the reports are yet to be confirmed by authors, but if this is true then it indicates further marginalization of persons with disabilities.

And the women?

Marginalization of women in transport can be understood from the fact that gender specific travel data is rarely collected at national and local levels and with such a mindset, rarely it may happen that the “women” were involved in the project design thus making the modes, mindset and infrastructure are rarely feminist sensitive. The transport challenge faced by women stretch across various dimensions such as safety, equity, accessibility and mobility. Transport opportunities often forces women to make restricted choices in employment as they have limited options in accessibility. For example, in one of surveys conducted in Dhaka, About 58% of women regarded the present bus service as overcrowded and accessibility difficult.

Sharifa et al. researched that many of rickshaw drivers in Dhaka who had switched jobs ( due to variety of reasons) had reduced monthly income. The wives of such drivers showed increase in incomes thus indicating more stress and hard work. Experience from Pakistan also indicates the similar story. Reports indicate that “uncivilized behavior” of some of the public transporters and unavailability of public transport are the main reasons for restricted trips.

One of the interesting findings of Metro Manila Urban Transportation Integration Study (1996) was that the trip production rates of women over the years (contrary to the logic where people expect increase) have decreased. In 1980, trip production rates were 2.17 (women) and 2.28 (men) which changed to 1.78 (women) and 2.40 (men). Perhaps due to growing inefficiencies in the transport system, the women were the victims with restricted mobility whereas mobility of men increased.

In one of the surveys in Delhi, it was found that women either travel by foot (54%) or use buses (39%) for work purpose. Important thing to note here is the incidence of women spending 2-3 hours in commuting (17%). This creates high impact as they not only need to undergo longer work hours but also work at home and manage the family chores. Sad part is that they are wasting more time travelling lesser distances then men because of the inefficient transport systems.

What about the people living on streets? Research from Delhi indicate that at any given time, there are 10,000 homeless women in Delhi who live on streets as there are insufficient shelters (3) available for use by homeless women. Such women are not only exposed to the increased risk of illness and starvation associated with life on the street, but also heightened vulnerability to violence.

Does our transport system help them or victimize them further?

Clearly our transport system has become more and more injurious to health and inequitable. Over the years, we have tried to compartmentalize and segregate many of the problems of transport and tried to derive piecemeal / quick fix technical solutions without much success. Congestion costs as accessed by various researchers from various cities range from 1-8% of GDP. Current transport and city design severely restricts the accessibility and limits people earning capability.

Already the citizens are avoiding non motorized trips and shifting to motorized trips in order to escape the discrimination in accessibility and mobility. Several researchers have established that Asian cities which are conducive for walking and cycling with large number of trips with length less than 5 km are increasingly accessed by motorized modes. The cities are yet to invest huge amounts of money on pedestrian accessibility as they are yet to acknowledge pedestrians as road users. Thus it can be concluded that In spite of decades of investment on roads and infrastructure, cities are yet to realize solutions. The problems have magnified and so called solutions have become counterproductive.

There is a huge disconnect between policies, practices and proposed solutions. Past decades of inefficient policies have made us victims of our own solutions. Transport services in cities instead of providing relief; aggravate the problems and causes marginalization of vulnerable group. Increasingly people are getting dissatisfied and becoming “refugees” in their own cities. Thus top of pyramid solutions create more unrest and victims and the need is to plan and provide solutions for vulnerable people.

Transport Planning focused on such refugees would provide equitable solutions!

note - this study quotes many websites, research papers and news articles. Please contact us in case you would like to have the full references)

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