A colleague of mine once told me that professionals who were responsible for designing public transport policies never used public transport themselves. This thought has been entrenched in my mind ever since. As a transport professional myself, I always try to use public transport whichever part of the world I visit, be it London, Delhi, Accra, Helsinki, or Colombo. It is one of the best ways to get a sense of how the public transport system operates in a particular city.
I joined the World Bank Nepal office some three years ago. I booked my temporary residence in a hotel through one of my friends. I had no idea how far the hotel was from my office so I took a taxi on my first day. Then I discovered that my hotel was close to a public transport route so I started using microbuses to commute to the office. On my way to work the microbus would never be full, so I could travel comfortably. But I hated my return journey as the microbuses would already be filled up at Shahid Gate and I would never get seats. Often I had to change buses and sometimes, if I stayed at work late, I had to take taxis as there were no buses after dark.
A lot of my Nepali colleagues also shared their experiences with me. A male colleague told me how he was mugged once. I also heard many unpleasant stories from my female colleagues on the experience of using public transport. I have to admit after this, I used public transport less frequently.
From the outset, I was interested and intrigued by research on gender issues in public transport in Kathmandu. Familiar with the chaotic, noisy, and smelly traffic of Kathmandu, the everyday challenges people face in their commutes to work and school were as well known to me as regular excuses for colleagues being late to meetings; buses were ‘full’, ‘late’, ‘broke down’, ‘did not come’. But I was also aware that women in Kathmandu are often quite tough, feisty and assertive especially compared to those in cities of neighbouring countries I had experienced. What were the issues going to be?
My team of a dozen researchers comprised eight women and four men, all in their twenties and thirties. Most, but not all, had long abandoned using public transport themselves, preferring the reliability, control, comfort and safety of riding scooters or borrowing the family car. So, my first task was to get them all to experience public transport again. They spent a whole day travelling on different forms of transport all over the Kathmandu area, between them covering from day break until the last bus plied in the evening. As they travelled they chatted to fellow commuters. The following day the team re-convened and shared their public transport experiences. We worked through simulations of commuter behaviour - dramatizing what happens when waiting for, getting on, traveling on and getting off public transport. We noted the contortions required to avoid touching people in crowded and cramped spaces. We talked through what was acceptable and unacceptable.
All of this helped us draft a short questionnaire to capture the issues which emerged as important. We were very conscious that we would have to administer these in situ as people were commuting and that they needed to be simple. When we came to undertake the study, riding on transport ourselves and conducting approximately 500 interviews, we did not anticipate the enthusiasm with which people wanted to engage. Commuters, women and men, wanted to pour out their frustrations to the researchers and felt that the questions being asked went straight to the heart of the issues which concerned them. ‘Putting up’ with uncomfortable, overcrowded, unreliable, dirty, unhygienic, unsafe travel and the reckless driving, offensive banter between drivers and conductors, pickpockets and harassment had become normalized. Enough was enough.
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The much anticipated Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (“the Act”) has just come into force in India on January 1st, 2014. Unlike the replaced 1894 legislation, this act addresses the rehabilitation and resettlement of those who depend on land, in addition to land owners. As emphasized in its title the new act places a greater emphasis on transparent processes at various stages: for example, through its mandatory social impact assessments, public hearings, and dispute resolution mechanisms.
The other key emphasis in the act’s title refers to a new compensatory mechanism. The new act now provides for up to two times market value, against one time in the previous act and this figure is then doubled by applying a one hundred percent “solatium” against 30% in the previous act (additional compensation). Though people get more compensation under new act, an increase in multiplier does not address the fundamental question of determining “market value” in a country where registered values under-represent land purchase price to evade high stamp duties. The challenge is exacerbated in rural areas where there are fewer land transfers, and therefore fewer registered sales deeds to use as reference points. In such situations, a valuation that is perceived to be more “fair” can be found only through consultations and dialogue, as demonstrated by two case studies from World Bank financed projects in India:
I will never forget October 8, 2005, a day that changed my life forever as it did for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis.
I remember my house shaking violently like never before and my instinctive reaction to get myself and my family to safety outside the house. This was an earthquake that felt distinctly different from others. Things were shaking and moving too much and for too long. When we started seeing plumes of smoke rising from where a high rise apartment building had once stood, we knew this was really bad. Watching the terrified look of affected people on TV shook me inside and forced me to think about difference I could make. When I went back to my job and my life, the question kept nagging at me. When I was presented with the opportunity to work on the earthquake reconstruction project for the World Bank, I took it and have never looked back.
For centuries, cities have been the beacon for economic prosperity. Drawn by the promise of economic, social and political opportunity, more than half the world’s population live in cities today. In India alone, 90 million people migrated from farms to cities in the last decade. The prospect of higher wages and better living standards is expected to draw 250 million more by 2030.
Urban success is based on economies of agglomeration -- where density increases the ease of moving goods, people, and ideas – increasing productivity. However, compared to other emerging economies, Indian cities do not appear to have captured gains from economic concentration. While the service sector and high-tech manufacturing have benefitted from agglomeration more than other sectors, overall urban productivity has not kept pace with India’s economic growth. In fact, the urban share of national employment has not increased between 1993 and 2006.
Are the costs of density overwhelming the benefits from clustering?