Ranjit Gadgil interviewed by Sanskriti Menon

Sanskriti Menon, Senior Programme Coordinator of the Centre for Environment Education in Pune interviewed Ranjit Gadgil recently about ‘Education for Sustainable Mobility’. Ranjit was actively associated with Parisar until recently and continues to be a well-wisher. In this interview, Ranjit expressed his views about sustainable mobility, the role of education in bringing about the necessary changes in society to move towards sustainable transportation systems etc.  This interview was published in the autumn 2009 issue of ‘Education and Sustainability’ available at www.es-online.info. Read further for the full interview.

 What is sustainable mobility? 

The first step towards sustainable mobility is the recognition that though private motorized transport offers individual convenience, it cannot be the major mode as cities grow. The situation rapidly becomes unsustainable with congestion and pollution. Building a city around the private automobile leads to an insidious reduction of quality of life and equity; there is lop-sided allocation of resources, and even social issues such as people becoming cut-off from one another. Understanding about carbon contributions from transportation systems to climate change has added a global dimension to what was earlier thought of as a local issue.    

Is it understood in Pune and in India?  

The National Urban Transport Policy by the Government of India, and the federal Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission have strongly emphasized enhancement of public transport and non-motorized transport. These are both welcome and important policy decisions however a greater emphasis on Traffic Demand Management is still needed.  In Pune, civil society groups have been discussing the traffic and transport issues for over a decade so the demands for bicycle tracks, improvements in buses, and even the concept of traffic demand management are no longer met with incredulous surprise. However, the old paradigm is still too deeply ingrained – when  we suggest ‘add a bus lane’ or ‘increase the footpath width’, people still ask, ‘ what about space for motor vehicles?’ People are still not thinking of non motorized transport and public transport as the main pillars of mobility systems for the city, but simply as utopian ideas.    

How useful are examples from cities elsewhere? 

The major transformations towards more sustainable mobility seem to have taken place in South America and Europe. The Transmileno, Velib and the London Congestion Charge are powerful demonstrations of this and we have facilitated visits of municipal officials to some of these cities.  It has been clearly demonstrated in Curitiba and Bogotá that a committed politician can bring about radical change, however in Europe, the change has been more gradual and accompanied by wide-ranging discussions and public engagement in the formulation of local and higher-level policies.   In Pune we don’t have a directly elected mayor and nor are our city-level policy formulation processes very well formed as yet, so we have to adapt examples of transformation processes that might have been very effective elsewhere in the world such as design typologies and films prepared by Interface for Cycling Expertise and GTZ.    

How have you engaged with local policy-makers? 

Civil society groups in Pune have largely interacted with the bureaucracy on sustainable transport issues. However, much more engagement with elected representatives is necessary for the evolution of local policies, plans and budgets for sustainable mobility systems. In the future, we aim to help candidates standing for election as well as the electorate, understand how public transport and non motorized transport facilities are related to equity, quality of life, income levels etc. Given that at least half the voting population of Pune uses the bus service (which needs great improvements), it makes sense to be more strategic about engaging with elected representatives.  Mobility needs to be part of election manifestos.  Parisar has organized car-free days, pedestrian protests, a signature campaign by bus users demanding improvements, protests against bus fare-hikes etc. Hopefully, such expressions do convey the citizens’ needs to the politicians!  

What is the role of young people’s clubs and senior citizen organizations? 

 When you’ve just got your driving license, and experienced freedom with a motorbike, it’s difficult to be too serious about footpaths and buses! But students in professional courses of architecture, engineering, planning especially must be exposed to technical aspects of designing sustainable mobility systems as well as the social dimensions such as equity and inclusion. For this, we design projects for students such as passenger counts, footpath designs, opinion surveys, designing communication material, organizing presentations etc.  It’s a good idea to engage senior citizens groups as advocates for sustainable mobility. They are adversely affected because of poor footpaths and bus services and they are often well-connected since they’ve been around, and can influence the local councilors!  

What about schools? 

We’ve developed a survey on how children come to school. Students are supposed to take the survey sheet home and fill it in after discussing it with parents. Often parents call up to complain that cycling is not safe in Pune’s traffic conditions and we explain that the idea is to help children understand the need for city-wide safe and sustainable mobility. We also conduct a short slide-show and a film by ICE, followed by a discussion.   The values dimension (equity, inclusion) is often included as we think it important that students are able to link the state of our city to its governance. We encourage students to write to the Municipal Commissioner presenting their views on the state of traffic and transport in Pune, and how they would like it to be.  Political education is part of learning for sustainability.