In 2006, the Central Government launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) to provide programmatic funding for upgrading urban infrastructure in Indian cities. In total the program offered roughly $20 billion for 63 cities to implement projects in a wide range of sectors, including urban transport. The launch of the JnNURM program also coincided with the development of India's first National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP), which emphasizes the idea of "moving people, not vehicles".

As a condition for receiving funding for urban transport projects under JnNURM, mission cities were required to develop Comprehensive Mobility Plans (CMPs), outlining a vision and strategy for urban transport as well as identifying specific projects that would help achieve these goals. The CMPs, therefore, constitute a critical link between JnNURM funding and the practical implementation of the NUTP vision in Indian cities.

The general consensus among urban transport and development practitioners has been that the JnNURM and the NUTP are significant advances. Requiring CMPs is also seen as a significant and positive reform that is encouraging cities to think about mobility in a more holistic way. Nevertheless, there are aspects of the CMP development and implementation process that require improvement.

This article provides an assessment of the current CMPs developed under JnNURM (based on interviews with domain experts and reviews of other studies), and specific recommendations on how to improve CMPs to address the main concerns.

According to the Association of Municipalities and Development Authorities (AMDA), 25 cities had completed CMPs through December 2010, and 10 had plans under preparation. Many of them were completing the planning exercise for the first time. Guidelines were released by the Union government, and many municipalities used these guidelines in advancing their plans directly, or with the help of consultants. The result was an enormous quantity of data being made available as well as a recognition of the importance of integrating land use planning in a city?s transport strategy.

However one major critique, according to responses by experts, was that the preparation of CMPs was rushed and funding for advancing them very limited. The CMPs often merely listed together several local initiatives to improve mobility. According to M L Chotani, the CMPs had "more focus on listing out a number of projects rather than a holistic approach".

The most effective way to develop and implement CMPs would be to work backwards from the results we expect to achieve through their adoption.

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There were also other critiques of the CMPs by AMDA, including the neglect of slums and the informal sector, a focus on road widening projects without regard to the impact on pedestrians, a lack of consideration of broad changes in city structure itself, etc. Also, only a few CMPs focused on the wider metropolitan region, and most were confined to city areas only. And public participation and stakeholders' consultation were quite poor in drawing up the CMPs.

A second review by The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) came to similar conclusions. This review additionally pointed to the lack of clear implementation strategies for many plans, the lack of focus on identifying the capacity building requirements in pubic administration, and the absence of a communication strategy to build public support for projects to be implemented under the plan.

With all this, it is clear that while CMPs are a beneficial requirement, improvements are required to make them more effective instruments to achieve the national policy vision. How can this be done?

The most effective way would be to work backwards from the results we expect to achieve through the CMPs. What is needed then is a framework for determining how effective specific transport investment proposals are in achieving the goals and vision of the CMP. How many people are served by the new investments? How much of 'moving people' happens through public transport, walking or bicycling, all of which result in less energy consumption and harmful emissions. How much time are people spending on travel? How many people are killed or injured in accidents? How much harmful gases and particles are we putting into the atmosphere from tailpipe emissions?

If we measured and monitored these things, then we would have a simple understanding of whether the interventions are working. For the moment, this is not happening. We're still focused on inputs, and not alert to the outcomes very much. But monitoring, reporting and verifying the advance of the CMP is as important as developing it in the first place. The only way to manage the results of the CMP is to measure its actual results.

Measuring and monitoring does not require very expensive and complicated mechanisms. A well planned annual survey can be a simple and low cost mechanism to get the key data and indicate the actual results of the CMP. This type of approach is being used effectively in Latin America by the CAF (Latin American Development Bank) and by the independent program "Como Vamos" (How are we doing?), supported by the private sector and major media outlets.

A citywide survey to monitor the activity data is therefore essential. To ensure adequate representation, some clear categories are needed: trip purpose (work, study, other), gender (male, female) and income level (high, medium, low). We could get reasonably good results from 300 random surveys in each of these categories, for a total of around 5400 surveys. At an approximate cost per survey of Rs.200, this is very affordable - and critical to get feedback on whether the CMPs are actually working. This is also a fraction of the cost of a typical transport planning study, so it would make sense to do this first before launching big ticket initiatives.

The results of such an annual survey will enable a continuous and direct evaluation of the sustainability and efficiency of a city?s transport system (through indicators such as mode share, trip distance and travel time), as well as its environmental impact (using mode shares, trip distances and emission factors from available literature).

Last but not the least, the CMP isn't much use if it doesn't specify where the money for its implementation will come from. There are several options - local and state funding in the form of taxes, public-private partnerships, Central grants, urban transport funds, loans from development banks, climate change funding, etc. Exploring these options may also result in a wider variety of inputs for the CMP itself.

A results oriented CMP will encourage adequate actions beyond simply identifying and sanctioning projects. By measuring citywide impacts, and not just those of isolated projects, the plan will result in sustainable outcomes and overall city efficiency and safety, as indicated by modal share, travel time, fatalities and tailpipe emissions.