08 Dec 2021
Last mile connectivity as a local response
How many of us discuss everyday movement with pleasure? Talk about our unavoidable two to three hours of daily commute with comfort and delight. If we travel by private vehicles then we discuss traffic, if we travel by public modes of transport, we discuss the excess crowd. And if you reside in parts where the […]

How many of us discuss everyday movement with pleasure? Talk about our unavoidable two to three hours of daily commute with comfort and delight. If we travel by private vehicles then we discuss traffic, if we travel by public modes of transport, we discuss the excess crowd. And if you reside in parts where the city, or it's transport infrastructures have not caught up yet, we discuss uncertainty and discomfort. To be placed closer to major transport networks is not financially feasible for the majority of the population. To be placed in an area providing affordable rental options, is alarming due to the lack of connectivity.

I would never mention the prospect of coming home on weekends to my parents because of the dubiety of the journey. The metro ride was straightforward enough, ITO to Central Secretariat, change lines and reach MG Road. The unreliable part started hereafter, what of the journey post metro? Ubers were expensive and unreliable due to the distance, most cancelled after a destination beyond Manesar toll was revealed. The ones that did not, did so either due to surges or rate hikes or because they resided along the same route and were looking to end the day’s trip. Rarely have I come across a hassle-free travel day. Public transport options were almost negligible. Buses ran at stark intervals and were therefore heaving with people whenever available. Auto-rickshaws were hardly ever willing to traverse the distance without additional monetary benefits. Many times I have decided to head back to the hostel and surrender my homecoming plans to the connectivity issues faced on a weekly basis.

The commute

Managing to reach the edge of my township however did not involve a celebration but another round of wariness. There is a line, a very distinct line where external transport systems retired, and a more controlled surveillance system of movement emerged. The transport system inside the township. Ninety percent of the time I would have to resort to a pickup call because the township auto stand was empty and I had been waiting alone for quite some time without the buzzing of any engines nearby. Now imagine the entire scenario being repeated in reverse on my way back to the “city”. For that was what transportation had converted the metropolis to. A city and a non-city.

This external reliance ended the day a familiar auto-bhaiya who had dropped me home a couple of times, shared his contact and asked me to connect whenever I needed a ride in and around the township, putting the unpredictability of my travel plans to significant rest. The power of this one small move had immense repercussions on the daily lives of the people residing in that edge city. The agency that was taken up by the local auto drivers ensured that residents would not be stranded alone at least along the township movement corridors. The initiative helped unleash small changes that appreciably improved local movement mechanisms.

Even before the advent of public buses on the Delhi-Jaipur Delhi-Ajmer Expressways, the bulk of movement was handled by private vehicle owners who recognized the need for daily commute on the route. Fewer private buses gave way to more private buses, private auto-rickshaws to eventually shared and bridged routes, and longer journeys were undertaken on 4-wheeler passenger vehicles such as tata magic. So much of the population is left uncatered for the lack of connectivity and access. It limits one’s resources, prospects and abilities. Change does not need to be big to be impactful. It can be small, replicable and scalar instead. But above all change needs to be accommodative and adaptive to a shift in needs. Local response can become a transformative model for change especially in the transportation sector. Strategies incorporated should ensure that it addresses central concerns with local measures instead of grand schemes.

Periphery in-wards instead of core out-wards

Cities are planned to ensure that the core gets catered to first where the highest population density resides. The planning mechanisms eventually expanded outwards from the urban to peri-urban regions. However, the present trend denotes a change in urbanization and livelihood patterns. Firstly, the increase in dependency of the satellite towns on the core city has deepened with respect to amenities, livelihood, and social infrastructure. Therefore, the daily influx and outflux of population is more need-based than voluntary. Secondly, settlements are no longer proximally placed to the city core or work economies. Both the scenarios hint towards a robust movement infrastructure that has to connect the city to the non-city. Therefore, a one-sided movement strategy can no longer be envisioned. Instead of an outward extension, movement corridors should be identified at the peripheral settlements and connected inwards to the core eventually reducing the settlement-to-settlement transport orifice.

Bridging instead of extension

The inward movement of transport infrastructure is deemed as an expansion process or an extension of the previously existing core infrastructures. Instead, the strategy can take cue from the local responses that have intensified over the years and work towards amplifying the impact area. The local response networks were created on the basis of a supply-demand understanding of ideal routes. They were a retaliation to market forces, origin-destination recognitions and passenger load cognizance. Hence reinstating them and providing support frameworks to bridge the transport requirement gap features itself as a more sustainable approach. This brings us back to the concept of small change yet again, where resonance of a previously acquired need-driven initiative can have pronounced influence.

Accommodate local needs

Given that Delhi is the migrant capital of the country with a current looming population of 26 million that keeps increasing year by year. The infrastructural demise can be conditioned to cater to alternate livelihood options for the influx group. An extension, expansion or connection could be seen as an opportunity to generate employment. Movement corridors are also employment corridors, especially to the local population. They link. connect, disperse and network communities directly and indirectly. They become axes of potential agglomeration of economies. Instead of introducing an alien infrastructure that would employ a tenth of the population it is more sensible to harness the advantage of the already existing local response methods. Familiarity plays a sweeping role here. This allows the inhabitants to have more agency and create a sense of ownership through it. A sense of ownership would then ensure safer streets and improved surveillance.

Formalization may not be the unanimous unopposed answer to everything. Local response is a remnant of association, a fragment of affinity. How many of us discuss everyday movement with pleasure? None at the moment, maybe few in the near future, and perhaps most of us beyond that.   

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