By Vishnu P. Sudarsan & Tanvi Trivedi
Transit Oriented Development (TOD) complements the concept of new urbanism. Compact, mixed-use communities are the answer to suburban problems. Due to the dynamic nature and multiplicity of underlying features and definitions of TOD, no umbrella strategy works for all cities. Every city is different in nature and has a unique fingerprint, therefore, to make a successful strategy for TOD it is important to list out specific indicators or key components for measuring the TOD scope of a city.
TOD categorisation helps answer questions such as ‘‘what mixed uses of public transit will optimize effective mixed-use development and support efficiency under specific conditions (for example, in areas with different levels of density/population)’’ or ‘‘what densities and level of transit service are necessary”. These questions not only help design better TOD policies but also help in evaluating them against success or failure on set parameters. For example, while increased density has the potential to increase ridership, it may result in negative implications on the fronts of social equity and quality of living. As a result, a fine balance needs to be achieved between various factors for a successful TOD environment.
Indian cities are plagued with issues such as rising population and underdeveloped public transport systems, which have led to a rapid rise of personal vehicles, traffic congestion, and increasing pollution. The majority of the population does not use public transport because of the lack of it and inaccessibility to the transit. Hence, planning for accessibility is the need of the hour. The most important reasons for implementing TOD in Indian cities is the emphasis on public transport by all levels of government.
One of the fundamental challenges is that the regulatory framework of most municipalities is not supportive of TOD. Cities have zoning ordinances and land development codes designed for automobile-oriented development. The conditions regarding physical requirements under the zoning ordinances often prohibit the development necessary for TOD. Provisions such as maximum floor area ratio, height limitations, landscaping requirements and minimum parking requirements often cause an impediment to develop and incorporate TOD seamlessly into the existing regulatory framework of the cities.
The Ministry of Urban Development has come out with a multi-pronged policy viz., the ‘National Transit Oriented Development Policy’ (the TOD policy), which seeks to provide a viable solution to challenges like haphazard urban growth and sprawl, mobility, rapidly rising private vehicles on roads, pollution, housing choices etc. The policy seeks to shift current practices to encourage denser, healthier, more productive cities. It recommends transit and land use strategies for compact, mixed-use development, that gives citizens access both to open space and transport services. Additionally, the policy envisages ‘value capture financing’ by means of enhanced or additional land value tax, betterment levies, development charges or impact fees, transfer of development rights, etc. The resources generated, thereby, would be credited into a fund for urban transport (development, upgradation, maintenance, enhancement, etc.)
TOD is already being implemented at the ground level in various cities such as Delhi, Naya Raipur, Ahmedabad, and Haryana. The Delhi Master Plan 2021 has TOD policy included; it provides for mobility options for all, better quality of life, housing for all, cheaper public transport and mixed-use development. The Haryana Government, Town and Country Planning Department has issued TOD Policy 2016, which strives to incorporate TOD principles like allowing mixed-use development and high-density development within TOD Zones. It also highlights that additional fees collected under this policy shall be kept in a separate infrastructure development fund and utilised for MRTS projects.
To move towards a sustainable and successful TOD environment, the regulatory framework should be reflective of the following principles:
Amendment of local laws and reduction in time gap between notification and successful implementation of the TOD policy at state level: There should be suitable provisions in place for creation/designation of an agency with single-point responsibility for successful implementation in a timely manner, including notification incorporation of TOD policy into local building bye-laws. Establishment of enforcement mechanisms with penalties/ sanctions for non-compliance and delays.
Availability of Land and Land Acquisition: As TOD was not a part of city development from its inception stage, suitable parcels of land will need to be acquired to undertake TOD. Land aggregation is a major concern for the TOD policy as undertaking necessary pedestrian-friendly development would require acquisition of land along the right of way of the public transportation system. A possible solution to this challenge is land-pooling which allows land to be aggregated to enable mixed-use development. Formulation of a detailed project report that clearly identifies land parcels that need to be acquired from early stages of project development with specified time line which will aid in the success of TOD.
Increased flexibility in existing contracts and contractual commitments: The contractual framework for a TOD project needs to tie in seamlessly with the existing contractual framework for transit development projects. In case the existing contractual framework does not permit ‘expansion’ or ‘change in the original scope of work’ of the transit-oriented development, it may lead to delay in implementation of the TOD project. Existing contractual limitations in transit development project will adversely impact the implementation of the TOD project. Suitable provisions should be incorporated to allow flexibility and amendments to existing contracts.
Price and Quality Regulations in PPPs: Parking needs to be controlled through effective parking management. Amendments must be made to the local parking policies of the cities so as to deter use of private vehicles and encourage public transport as a preferred choice.
Gentrification: There is an increasing demand for housing in neighbourhoods around public transit projects. Average prices for homes near TOD areas may be costlier than in areas far from such developments. This may deter Affordable Housing. In this context, those with poor purchasing power may get replaced by the richer households through the process of Gentrification. The TOD in the influence zone maybe planned in a manner so as to facilitate Affordable Housing. The allocated minimum percentage for allowed FAR for Affordable Housing as per the present TOD policy maybe revised.
Giving teeth to the guidelines: Cities have guidelines or advisory documents instead of regulations and policies in many cases. Guidelines are simply recommendations which should be implemented, but they are not mandatory. One of the simplest examples here is the case of street guidelines, which have been developed in many cities across the country (including Delhi and Chennai), yet they carry little weight due to their advisory nature. Area Based Development within a Smart City Proposal or a city’s Transit Oriented Development Policy, present an opportunity to turn such advisory documents into regulations and policies. Bhubaneswar has proposed this in its Area Based Development, where it is implementing a complete streets policy to diversify its mode share.
To conclude, it is necessary to adopt the following:
- provision of affordable housing
- provision for variety of housing choices to meet the needs of all sections of society
- progressive and flexible parking policies which deter use of privately owned vehicles and incentivise people to use mass transport
- charging higher market rates for parking
- encouraging walking and cycling through creation of infrastructure that’s safe
- mainstreaming TOD as part of statutory/building/city plans and making use of innovative tools and incentives to finance TOD initiatives and projects into the existing policy framework.
Vishnu P. Sudarsan is a Partner and Tanvi Trivedi is an Associate at J Sagar Associates. Views expressed are personal.