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Am I audible, sustainable and mobile?

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Who should instigate the changes for sustainable mobility?

On Friday, 23 July roughly 30 participants logged onto the first of the Talk Dharti to Me Discussion Series. The discussion, led by Sahil Bhandare of the Govt of Maharashtra, and Deepjyoti Das, a PhD candidate at IIT Bombay, aimed to address the issues surrounding sustainable mobility and transit in Mumbai. This event, unlike our previous webinar events, was designed to promote discussion among the participants with the presenters and demystify the concept of sustainable mobility.

The event began with a presentation from Deepjyoti Das, where he asked the audience to share their personal definitions of sustainable mobility in the Zoom chatbox. The general response gravitated towards the environmental impacts of petroleum-fueled transportation. Das noted this and continued on to highlight the impacts of sustainable transportation beyond the environment. He proposed that it is important to realize the social, economic, and technical impacts of mobility when aiming to create sustainable transit infrastructure.

Sahil Bhandare followed with a policy perspective on what needs to be done and what is currently being done in Mumbai. He emphasized the need to retrofit current vehicle infrastructure to support the onslaught of electric vehicles. Additionally, he described how the Government of Maharashtra is incentivizing the use of electric vehicles by restricting the age of vehicles allowed on the road, promoting vehicle trade-ins, and building public-use charging stations. Sahil also greatly emphasized the importance of the individual’s choice to commute sustainably, whether it be by utilizing public transportation, cycling, and/or walking.

With both presentations concluded, the floor was open to discussion. Many related issues were brought up, including the overly competitive housing market of South Bombay pricing out people employed in the area, and the 9-5 paradigm that both result in longer commute times. However, the recurring theme of the discussion was the question of who should instigate the changes necessary for sustainable mobility.

Sahil compared this paradigm to that of “the chicken and the egg; which came first.” Should we rely on the behaviours of motivated individuals to make the necessary changes, or should governments create the infrastructure to motivate behavioural change? Participants suggested that it cannot be either or and must be more nuanced. The desire and necessity for change exist. Both individual commuters and governments need to make changes in their respective behaviours that support sustainable mobility within Mumbai.

Missing from the conversation was the role corporations and local businesses play in promoting sustainable mobility and how public transportation infrastructure can be improved to alleviate traffic congestion. While electric vehicles will certainly lower the collateral damage of petrol engines idling in standstill traffic, it does not fix the issue of traffic and absurd travel times in the city. Motivated individuals can make the personal choice to utilize public transportation, purchase an electric vehicle, carpool, or travel by scooter, bike or walk, but they must also be supported in doing so by adequate public infrastructure.

As with most discussions around sustainability, many of us were left with more questions than answers. The Government of Maharashtra is making its initial steps towards electrifying transit and incentivizing individuals to make sustainable changes to their daily commutes. Motivated individuals across regions and disciplines are working to design better infrastructure to support these changes. There is so much that we can learn from each other and so much we can do together.

“Am I audible…?”

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