Cities bursting at the seams on account of rapid urbanisation have become routine over the last few decades. But the phenomenon has led to many places losing their charm.

These cities particularly include those facing topographical restrictions of being located in the mountains and the valleys. They have lost to the mad race of materialism and illogical transformations brought about by mindless construction.

One such place is Dehradun which was known as a haven for schools, and as the home of the retired gentry in the past. Located at the foot of Mussoorie, the Doon valley had offered a relaxed pace of life that city dwellers could only dream of.

But economic liberalisation followed by greed. The model, marked by tendencies to acquire even what was not needed, wrecked the place to an unredeemable extent.

The city continues to expand in all directions, with its core becoming extremely congested. This expansion has brought about the usual set of problems and primary among them is that of public transport that has failed to keep pace with the so-called development and expansion.

As social activist and politician Suryakant Dhasmana who has been associated with various civic issues related to the city pointed out, “There has been no concrete expansion plan and nor was an effective vision put in place for developing satellite towns. The result has been a humongous increase on both human and vehicular population.

“The scenario at the core of the city that houses its heritage buildings and structures like the clock tower and Astley Hall is such that there is no scope for road expansion of even two inches. There is a need to execute certain solutions by ignoring the concept of profit making. For the good of the public you have to sacrifice profit and this is something this city needs at this point of time.”

Anyone connected to the city will agree with what he says. Today the scenario is such that the Rajpur Road, that once offered a lovely stretch for walking under the canopy of trees, is no better than what one gets to see in Karol Bagh in New Delhi.

The same is the case with the roads leading to Clement Town or Forest Research Institute or Sahastradhara or other famous landmarks. The city stands choked from all sides.

Some interesting takeaways emerged from a recent deliberation on the issue of public transport that was held in the city on September 4 that was organised by the Social Development for Communities (SDC) Foundation that has been working around the civic issues.

It was underlined that the estimated population of Dehradun has crossed 12 lakh with the city having expanded several times over. Due to inadequate public transport, per capita private vehicle ownership is extremely high.

As per the Master Plan of the Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA), Dehradun's population is projected to reach 23.5 lakh to 24 lakh by 2041 which calls for proper long term planning. It was listed that the public transport plan must incorporate the anticipated population changes in Dehradun.

As the SDC Foundation’s founder Anoop Nautiyal pointed out, the population of Dehradun has gone up exponentially from a mere 6.5 lakh at the time of creation of Uttarakhand in 2000. The place grew from being a Municipal Committee to a Municipal Corporation as it was declared the state capital.

The population of outer areas, from Selaqui to Raipur, is also connected to Dehradun's population which has led to increased congestion and traffic in the city. He said that with a weak public transport system and limited roads, the city has been witnessing excessive traffic jams.

“People in Dehradun have been reading and hearing about various mobility options during the past few years – from metro to neo metro, to light rail transit to pod taxis – but the lack of concrete initiatives have diluted public trust in these announcements.

“It is thus critical that the political and bureaucratic leadership in the state government takes ownership of the issue of public transport

in Dehradun and comes up with actionable solutions and fixed timelines,” Nautiyal stated.

The report brought out on the deliberations states, “The city has an extensive transport network, which includes nearly 170 city buses, 30 electric buses of Dehradun Smart City Limited, 500 Tata Magic vehicles, 800 Vikram vehicles, 2,500 autos, and 4,500 e-rickshaws.

“With a population of around 12 lakh, there are nearly 10 lakh vehicles in Dehradun. The city ideally requires 350 buses of 30 seats each. It must also be borne in mind that the Metro Neo solution, if implemented, will not cover the entire city area; thus, there is a need to develop various modes of public transport across the city of Dehradun.”

Dhasmana pointed out that, “Even if the authorities execute one of the promised projects on just one stretch, it will bring a lot of confidence among the locals who will stop having reservations about public transport. Although a lot was promised under the Smart City project, the work on the city roads is far from over and the scenario remains pitiable.”

As pointed out by Dhasmana, the participants of SDC’s deliberations asserted that Dehradun's main roads have reached their saturation point in terms of capacity, necessitating the exploration of new options. In this scenario, the Metro Neo offers a significant solution.

The project is under consideration by the Central government. In house studies by Uttarakhand Metro Rail indicate that the Metro Neo system could be a significant solution for the city.

The report quotes Arun Kumar Bhatt who is the DGM (Civil) of Uttarakhand Metro Rail Urban Infrastructure and Building Construction Corporation Limited saying, “The formation of Metro Corporation in Uttarakhand took place in 2017.

“The same year, the Central government mandated a Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) before initiating any metro project in a state. In line with this, a CMP was prepared for Dehradun, Hardwar, and Rishikesh Metropolitan area in 2019, outlining improvements for the cities’ transportation system.

“Since the metro proposal aims to connect Dehradun to Haridwar and Rishikesh, the government also designated Dehradun, Hardwar, and Rishikesh as a Metropolitan Area.”

He added, “The Metro Neo project for Dehradun is under consideration by the Central government. Our studies indicate that the Metro Neo system could be a significant solution for Dehradun. Plans for personalised Rapid Transit System Pod Taxis are also being developed as a feeder for the Metro Neo project in the second phase.”

During the deliberations it was pointed out that the slow progress of numerous government projects and prevalence of encroachments adversely affects the right to way. Roads such as the so-called ‘Smart Roads’ have been under construction for the past four years.

Despite the removal of encroachments on a large scale and the demolition of people's homes and shops in 2018, the ‘additional road width’ is yet to be integrated into the overall width of the roads. The widespread prevalence of electricity poles, ducts and utilities leads to congestion and chaos on the roads.

The participants asserted that the focus of the government seems to be on roadways, thus neglecting the holistic development of a robust public transport system. In the past 20 years, apart from city buses, nothing significant has been added to the transport network in Dehradun.

Dr Soumya Prasad of Nature Science Institute said, “Public transportation is not readily available for the general public in Dehradun. Auto-rickshaws and e-rickshaws charge arbitrary and exorbitant fares. There is an acute need for a regulated metre system. The public transport system of Dehradun should support and keep the poorest of the poor in mind.

“Bus shelters need to be constructed for commuters, and reliable public transportation is crucial for any city. This is especially true for areas around government hospitals such as Doon Hospital and Gandhi Shatabdi, where we need adequate bus and auto stops. “

Calling for promotion of E-vehicles, she added, “Understanding the needs and patterns of transportation through technology and data is essential. There are many apps that can be used to track movement of vehicles in the city. This will help in better organisation of public transport facilities. Pedestrians should also be provided with safe and comfortable rights of way.”

There is also the aspect of the need to lay stress on promoting walkability and cycling in the city, something that has largely vanished. A takeaway from the deliberation mentioned, “Sadly, no attention has been paid to these mobility options. Pedestrians should be provided with safe and comfortable rights of way.”

Another point raised was that while improved public transport is a demand of the times, interdepartmental coordination is lacking and officers are not held accountable. It was felt that the Metro Neo project, if and when it starts, should not go the way of the Smart City project in Dehradun. Public participation is essential for improving the city's traffic and transportation system.

It was conveyed that, “Political will is a key factor in implementing major rail projects like Metro Neo. This makes the participation of public representatives crucial in terms of advocacy of transport solutions. Despite having several legislative constituencies in Dehradun, public transport has never been an electoral issue. The improvement of public transport in Dehradun will only happen when it becomes a political priority.”

Shailesh Tewari who is the Regional Transport Officer (RTO) said, “Public transport has grown organically in Dehradun. We are making efforts to improve the existing public transportation system in Dehradun. No matter where you live in the city, some form of public transportation is available. Plans are being developed for circular routes in the coming time. Steps are also being taken to reduce movement of E-rickshaws on key roads.”

He was of the view that until the metro arrives, the existing system needs to be improved. “When planning the metro, consideration must also be given to the integration of other transportation options available on the route to avoid existing road congestion.

“It must also be borne in mind that the metro will not cover the entire city area; thus, there is a need to develop various modes of public transport widely and across the city of Dehradun.”

Dhasmana pointed out that some major initiatives are the need of the hour if the situation is to be prevented from deteriorating further. “The planners should immediately draw a road map for developing three satellite towns.

“There is a need to shift the state secretariat, Vidhan Sabha and other state level offices outside Dehradun city that plays host to a huge floating population. The work undertaken on roads under the Smart City project needs to be executed at the earliest.

“The situation is alarming as no more flyovers can be constructed looking at the layout of the city. If the authorities begin work on one such flyover the entire city gets affected and the result is absolute traffic chaos.

“The third immediate need is to develop a series of by-pass roads so that the traffic heading to places like Mussoorie, Haridwar and Rishikesh does not enter the core city area. Unless these steps are taken, the situation will go from bad to worse,” he said.