The wheels on the bus go austerity and austerity – transportation and the smart city.

The Prime Minister of India spoke effusively on public transportation at a mobility conference entitled ‘MOVE’ in the country’s capital last week. He declared that ‘Common Public Transport must be the cornerstone of our mobility initiatives‘ as he linked mobility with economic growth, both in terms of transportation as a means to reach the market space of employment and as an employer itself. His focus was on electric buses and smart cities for their efficiency and access. Clearly none of these arguments are controversial. How then does the nebulous world of political discourse transfer into policy plans and finally land in the smart city?

There is no separate ministry for transportation and much of the funding for buses has historically been derived from urban regeneration programmes in individual cities. The Smart Cities Mission is one of the most prominent urban regeneration programmes in India and an exciting playground to study if political and policy discourse mirror each other. The Smart Cities Mission has a budget of for the top 99 cities and I will be working with the top 60 cities to answer this question. The top 60 cities have a total budget over INR 2000 billion and over 25 percent of this budget is devoted to roads and transportation. This is a significant slice of the Mission! However, a search for projects to finance buses offers little in the form of bridge between the statements from the government and their processes of planning. Literally only 0.2 percent of the top 60 city budgets spend on buses. If we compare this to the 13% of the total budget of the 60 cities earmarked for roads, car parking and traffic a new picture emerges.

The fiscal value of the projects has only instrumental value while constructing the smart city narrative in India and there is a clear emphasis on focusing on projects that have the potential to generate revenue. The shift in the story line makes it clear that the discourse around the smart cities mission could be linked to the implicit implementation of austerity measures.

The data for this blog has been sourced from my working paper ‘Demystifying the Indian smart city: An Empirical reading of the smart cities mission’

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