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Transit-Oriented Development in India: The use of electric transport

This article was authored by Dibyendu Sengupta, Transport Sector Specialist of EBTC.

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is an urban planning practice that aims to maximize access to public transport – thereby reducing travel times and energy misspent in commuting.  TOD works by fostering high-density, mixed-used development along with public transport stops at easy access for all.1

TOD practices have been tried successfully worldwide but are still in its nascent stages in India. In this article, we examine the role of electric vehicles (EVs) in extending the sphere of TOD in the rapidly growing cities of India. It is argued that non-motorised transport (NMT), two-wheelers and intermediate public transport (IPT) can evolve with proper planning and land-use development, and electrification of these forms of transport can provide a viable alternative to fossil-fuel based transport. 

Transport Modes in India

In order to fulfil the existing demands for transport, various intermediary forms of transport have come up, often referred to as “intermediate public transport (IPT)” or para-transit. IPT includes 3-wheeler transport like cycle rickshaws or auto rickshaws and provides relatively reliable feeder services for medium to long-distance journeys in most Indian cities. Indian cities also have one of the highest two-wheeler motorizations in the world. Thus, IPT along with motorized two-wheelers and non-motorized transport (NMT) like walking and cycling provide the backbone of short-distance and feeder journeys. 

Electric mobility and TOD

Although mode choice is influenced by several factors including personal, household and land-use characteristics, distance is the biggest and basic determinant of mode choice in transport. Any development that takes into consideration NMT and IPT modes ensures maximum catchment of the transit system. Hence, these modes can provide a perfect foil to TOD development in the Indian cities.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are gaining ground as a means of reducing consumption of fossil-fuels for transport and gaining ground in the Indian market too.  

Despite the overall dismal transport scenario, Indian cities offer several advantages for incorporating electric transport into the mix of things. Feeder transport to bus systems should be looked at to extend the domain of electric transport. Feeder transport can be expanded by including electric 2-wheelers including bikes, mopeds and scooters. Several manufacturers already exist in the Indian market with adequate manufacturing facilities.

Previous research by Cherry et al indicates life-cycle emissions of various modes of transport, electric bikes fare quite well vis-à-vis motorised four-wheelers and two-wheelers, as shown in the table. The research states that “while bicycles are the most non-polluting and energy efficient mode, electric bikes outperform other modes on almost all metrics’ including CO2, SO2 and other comparable emissions. 4

In addition, Ulrich states that “despite the inefficiencies in the energy conversion processes to generate human power, the bicycle remains about 6-9 times more efficient per km travelled than the single-occupant automobile.” 5

Several Indian cities have undertaken metro and bus-rapid transit (BRT) projects to improve public transport. TOD development can be undertaken in parallel to these transit schemes to increase the viability and ridership of these systems.



In India, the low mode share of motorized personal vehicles and the high share of public transport and non-motorized transport provide the perfect case for encouraging introduction of electric-based feeder transport and provide the much needed link between short-distance and long-distance or inter-city travel.

Some of the ways in urban mobility may become more environment-friendly by encouraging infrastructure and development centered on transit stops and using elements of neighbourhood density, parking and charging infrastructure, are: 

TOD planning strategies have to account for bidirectional shifts that will need to occur in the TOD areas – from private automobiles to public transport or EVs; and also from NMT to two/three-wheelers EVs.  

EVs can provide a lending hand to popularising transit corridors, provided practical models incorporating EV infrastructure can be built into TOD plans.4 Land-use planning, parking and charging infrastructure will provide the much needed mode shift to public transport, decrease the on-going shift to cars and help in alleviating transport related pollution. This would, thus, bring about a paradigm shift in urban mobility.

1.   Cervero, R., Murphy, S., Ferrell, C. etc (2004). Transit-Oriented Development in the United States: Experiences, Challenges and Prospects. In TCRP Report 10. Washington, D.C.: Transportation Research Board.
2.  Wilbur Smith Associates (2008). Study on Traffic and Transport Policies and Strategies in Urban Areas in India: Ministry of Urban Development.
3.  Advani, M., & Tiwari, G. (2006). Bicycle – As a feeder mode for bus service. In Cape Town, South Africa.: Velo Mondial Conference 2006.
4. Cherry, C. R., Weinert, J. X. & Y. Xinmiao (2009). Comparative environmental impacts of electric bikes in China. Transportation Research Part D, Transportation Research Board.
5. Ulrich, K. T., (2006). The Environmental Paradox of Bicycling. Working Paper, Department of Operations and Information, The Wharton School, Philadelphia, U.S.A.


Author: Sustainability Outlook