Transit Oriented Development
by Ashutosh K Agarwal on 22 Nov 2021 0 Comment

In the urban expanses of Delhi, the most recent magic wand is Transit Oriented Development, or TOD. This is likely to be followed in other cities of India, and is being sold as something which will eradicate all woes of Delhi-ites. This is not a novel idea. Rather, it is a takeaway from the West, just as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was; it is being implemented in Delhi in the hope that it will prove to be a “Kalki avatar” in the context of the urban chaos we face, and like an “avatar” will kill the evils of urban development, like pollution and traffic jams, etc.


Currently, there are three TOD-based mega projects slated for Delhi, namely, at Anand Vihar, East Delhi Hub and Redevelopment of New Delhi Railway Station and its vicinity. But does the general public know about TOD? Will TOD really deliver, or will it be just another experiment at the cost of tax payers, which will meet the fate of other ill-conceived experiments? The answers will unfold in due course.


However, Delhi citizens wish to be spared the burden of these expensive experiments. Enough of experimentation has been done and it is time to find solutions that can be delivered, instead of pushing new-fangled ideas that may end in a whimper, with the experts and decision-makers sidling away with feeble apologies, even as they start looking for the next “new” thing which that be sold as newest “avatar”.


TOD, as the name suggests, is a development model based on public transport, and discourages private transport. This model presumes that people will mostly live near the place of their work and will thus require least or nil travel to and from their residence to their workplaces. Such a utopian model will indeed help us to get rid of all the pollution generated by plying vehicles on the road, thereby drastically cutting the carbon footprints that these vehicles generate. It is a win-win situation, theoretically. 


Let’s examine it in the context of Delhi. The TOD projects are accorded special high FAR (proportionate buildable area per plot) and much less ECS (parking requirements). Ideally, for this concept to succeed, the final cost of development (and sale price of the same) should be affordable for the public to own a place of residence and place of work. But that is primarily left to the economics of the project (hence to the developer-builder). Calculations related to last mile connectivity with respect to number of metro coaches needed at peak hours and/or buses needed to ferry people (should they reside elsewhere) are not defined. Further, the reality that people will use their private vehicles till public transport is wholly reliable is also not duly accounted for in the calculations/development parameters. Currently, metro stations can be closed at a moment’s notice during the slightest civil unrest.


Usually these TOD projects are expected to be implemented on PPP model, involving huge capital investment, where the investor would obviously expect returns on investment. Since the investment would be very large, there would be a consortium of investors who would bid. This means that the computations will tilt in favour of the investors (and Special Purpose Vehicles) that would shoulder the task of implementing the project/s, and definitely NOT tilt in favour of affordability by the public, as the extent of returns is left to a seemingly transparent system of bidding.


In other words, the computations are based on assumptions (projections) which are allowed to be changed in future, as seen in cases of concessionaires at highway tolls. And when the project fails to deliver, the maximum the public can expect is a feeble “oops,” and the saga of selling another dream will begin immediately.


Does this imply that development should NOT happen? Certainly not. We need development, but it should be based on tangible and defined principles, not on wishful thinking. Delhi is already experiencing the results of presumptive development planning in the relentless commercialization of “Laal Dora” (urban village) areas. Here, the presumption is/was that planned commercial spaces would be sold after a gap of 10+ years of residential development to fetch better prices of commercial development/plots, spaces for service people like drivers, presswala, maids, who are not accommodated in large residential colonies and are consigned to slums or encroachments. 


The capital’s urban development policy needs better planning, linked with ownership of delivery, lest the pitchers of such concepts be subjected to “criminal offence.” 


(The author is a practicing architect and urban designer, and visiting faculty at various colleges of NCR. The views expressed in this article are personal and do not represent the views of institutions with which he is involved or is/was part of)

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